- Associated Press - Sunday, May 22, 2016

ROCKWALL, Texas (AP) - In the front room of her family’s Rockwall home, Charlotte Roggenkamp stretches her willowy 6-foot-4 frame across a low-rise couch.

The 17-year-old runs her fingers through her long brown hair, trying to get her part just right. She rolls her eyes when her mother comments that her dress, barely covering her thighs, is too short.

Karen Roggenkamp, scooting closer to her daughter on the couch, responds with a smile. Charlotte has taught her mother patience, the kind that comes from living with a teenage daughter.

That’s something Karen has only done for a few months.

Before Charlotte became a snarky teenage girl who argues with her mom and takes too long in front of the mirror, she was Simon, a talkative kid with a thoughtful character and a secret.

The feeling of being trapped in a stranger’s body had haunted Simon for years. (“Gender dysphoria” is the formal diagnostic term.) The depression that came with it was obvious, though no one knew the extent of the daily torment.

Last summer, before the start of junior year at Rockwall High School, Simon nervously sat Karen down and explained that she was transgender. She wasn’t Simon, she was Charlotte, and she was desperate to begin the transition from male to female.

Fears and questions raced through Karen’s head as she tried to understand. Still, she says, she was grateful for the conversation.

“It was a gift to me as a mother that she had the confidence to tell me,” she told The Dallas Morning News (http://bit.ly/1spbmjp). “It told me that somewhere along the line I had made it safe for her to share something so personal.”

Once Karen knew, things started to add up.

Charlotte’s favorite toy growing up was a pink stuffed cat. The child struggled to make friends with boys and refused to have haircuts. Puberty brought extreme body-image insecurities and numbing bouts of depression.

“I was visibly dead inside,” said Charlotte. “I was not all there for a long time.”

Charlotte’s eyes peek above her glasses as she recounts her journey, piecing together a timeline of pain and confusion.

“The prospect was overwhelming,” she said, “but I knew I would be happier living as a girl. Because I knew I was a girl.”

Accepting that realization, though, was just the beginning.

Her grades dropped, so she began home-schooling. Her depression persisted, as did a desperate yearning to begin her transition.

Last fall, Charlotte attempted suicide.

“I saw it as fixing myself, because I didn’t believe I was in a body I could live in,” said Charlotte. “After you come out, you start comparing yourself, and there’s just a horrible feeling of inadequacy.”

Charlotte’s mom knew her daughter needed help.

“It was clear she wouldn’t survive if she had to wait any longer,” said Karen.

In November, Charlotte began hormone therapy under the care of Dr. Aimee Wright, a family practitioner in Plano who began treating transgender patients eight years ago.

“I just decided that’s what I’m supposed to do, to help these people who need help,” the doctor said.

Charlotte takes two estrogen pills a day. That will continue for the rest of her life. Her hormonal transformation will take about two years. Someday, she hopes to undergo sex-reassignment surgery, a series of operations that typically costs tens of thousands of dollars.

Some days, Charlotte is heartened by the progress she’s made in accepting her body and its slow transition. Other times, when she looks in the mirror, she’s tormented by what she sees as the masculine face staring back at her.

Her family has been thoroughly supportive. Charlotte shares the Rockwall home with three younger siblings. Her father lives out of state.

But when things seem futile, she says, it’s a mother’s love above all else that eases the burden.

Earlier this month, Karen publicly took on Rockwall’s mayor in what she saw as a fight for her daughter’s rights and dignity.

Mayor Jim Pruitt proposed an ordinance that would require people to use public restrooms based on their biological sex at birth. A similar statute in North Carolina has brought protests from LGBT advocates and others, and a civil rights challenge from the U.S. Justice Department.

Pruitt’s measure failed for lack of a second when the City Council considered it on May 2. Karen was among those who addressed the council to oppose it.

“This law is designed to interfere with transgender citizens in the worst possible way,” she said. “These are not outsiders. These are your neighbors.”

Days later, she would say the bathroom tussle had awakened her “Mama Bear instinct.”

On the couch, Karen scoots closer still to Charlotte. She holds her daughter’s arm.

“I just want her to be happy and fulfilled,” she said. “I want a world that’s not going to try and put these silly, politically driven laws in her way.”

Charlotte’s wish for herself is simple: to be OK with who she is.

“I want to be at a point in life where I feel like I’m someone I’m genuinely happy being,” she said. “I want to be a better Charlotte. My goal is that I get to a point where I can wake up every day and feel proud of my body and feel proud of myself.”

For now, that struggle begins anew each morning, in front of the mirror.

___

Information from: The Dallas Morning News, http://www.dallasnews.com

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