Arin Andrews, 17, and Katie Hill, 19, look like any loving young couple posing in their swimwear. It is hard to believe that just two years ago he was a girl called Emerald and she was a boy called Luke. Both have undergone surgery to change their gender.
Just over a year ago Katie, a college student, had gender reassignment surgery. Last month Arin, who is still in school, had his breasts removed. He says: "I hated my breasts. I always felt like they didn’t belong. Now I finally feel comfortable in my own body. Now when I’m out in a public pool or lifting weights, no one raises an eyebrow. They just think I’m a guy. I can wear a tank top, which I couldn’t before, and I can go swimming shirtless. I can just be a regular guy. And I’m so lucky to have my family and Katie to rely on."
The couple met nearly two years ago at a support group for transgender teenagers. They bonded through their shared experiences. Katie says: "To me, Arin’s just my Arin. He’s always looked manly to me. But now he’s had the surgery he’s much more confident and comfortable with himself. Being transgender myself, I understand Arin better than anybody else — how good he feels and how complete he feels."
The teens now love to go swimming and sunbathing together like other couples. Both their families are supportive of their relationship and say the way the teenagers, from Tulsa, Oklahoma have supported each other has helped in their transition.
But they have not been so lucky with their peers. Katie was bullied and Arin had to change schools when he revealed he was transgender. He says: "I lost one of my best friends through the transition."
Katie started her degree course last fall but has struggled to make new friends. She says: "I had a lot of friends in college that were really close to me. Then, all of a sudden, they just stopped talking to me. I think they found out I was trans through gossip and decided it was too much for them."
It has also been difficult for the teenagers' families, as they have had to come to terms with losing their son and daughter — and also some of their own friends. Arin’s mother Denise says: "There are still people we don't interact with me anymore. I know they questioned me as a parent."