Gender reassignment: 'I always wanted to be a girl...'

Kim Petras is a model and an aspiring pop star. She is also the youngest person in the world to undergo gender reassignment.
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She may be just 16 yet Kim Petras exudes a confidence and articulacy that belies her years. Whether discussing her new record deal, the latest modelling contract or plans to become a top fashion designer, the girl with the pretty blond hair and penchant for pink is clearly riding high, a bright young talent seemingly on the verge of a glittering career.

But though she can now look forward with confidence to future success, the young singer's adolescent life has been anything but straightforward. As the fallout continues over the news that a 12-year-old British boy was seeking to become the world's youngest person to undergo gender reassignment – particularly traumatic for the child apparently because of his school's clumsy handling of the matter – in Germany, Kim Petras is quietly moving on from the issue which defined her adolescent years. For Kim began life as Tim, a little boy growing up with two older sisters in the German city of Bonn.

Tim, like his unnamed counterpart in southern England, never accepted the gender to which she was born. "I always wanted to live as a little girl," she explained recently in fluent English. "I always knew exactly why it was." While the boys her age were playing with cars and robots, she preferred her Barbie. At elementary school, she hung around with female friends and wore girls' clothes under her uniform.

It was only when she arrived at her state run secondary school that the problems began. There, she admits, the questions and then the bullying started. But these playground taunts were to be the only negative reactions she has had, she claims. "It was pretty stupid," she said. "But that's over now because I am going to a private school. They wondered why my name was Tim and I looked like a girl. There were so many people who didn't understand it. I just tried to ignore it."

At home with her jazz-singer mother, Konni, and father, Lutz, it was a different matter. "My childhood was very happy and my family accepted me as a girl," she said. Not that there were not issues to be confronted on the way, her father acknowledged.

"I suppose it took me longer than my wife to accept it, but Kim is a very persuasive girl," he said. "She knows what she wants and how to get it. I am very proud of what she has achieved, how she has managed to get there and how she sticks to her dreams no matter how hard and painful they are to follow. We saw Kim as a girl, but not as a problem. Our life was surprisingly normal."

Petras started hormone therapy at 13 and in 2006 appeared in a German TV documentary which drew attention to the plight of transsexuals and German laws which prohibit sex change operations on people under 18.

Her campaign led to her being given legal permission to undergo the reassignment operation in November last year, when she was 16. "I went to a lot of psychologists and many of them agreed that it would be really important for me to have the surgery as soon as possible and not wait until I was 18," Petras said in a recent interview with the German media. "Because I had so many psychologists on my side, I got the legal permission I needed."

She says she has no regrets about her surgery and insists that the operation did not really change her, although she admits to feeling a soaring sense of deep satisfaction when the doctors had finished their work. "When I first saw my body I was just so happy," she said. "I finally knew that I was complete."

She enjoyed singing and – thanks to the early age at which she started hormone therapy – her voice never broke. She started making videos of herself singing Alicia Keys songs in 2007. But nowadays she writes, performs and co-produces all of her own music, using her past as an inspiration for her lyrics. She has just signed a deal with the top German record producer Fabian Gorg.

"I get my inspiration for my songs and the lyrics from experiences in my life but I'm also very inspired by the Beatles and Cyndi Lauper, as I really like their music," she says. Petras says she got into music after posting a few videos of herself singing cover songs and her own songs on YouTube.

She got more than a million hits on her MySpace page. Her breakthrough on the British charts has made her far more well-known in the UK that in her native Germany. Petras says that she is not just interested in music. She signed a modelling deal with a chain of German hairdressers who felt her look and image was perfect for their customers.

She also wants to study fashion after completing the German equivalent of A-levels: "I really admire Vivienne Westwood because she always done her own thing. She is eccentric but really great at the same time. Maybe later I could become a designer as well."

She insists there is very little extraordinary about her life now, apart from her new-found fame. "Things seem pretty normal living as a girl," she said. "As a singer doing music it is not that normal." It is the same with other usual teenage interests. "When boys are attracted to me it makes me very happy because it is such a compliment."