World’s first fully transgender family urge others to be true to themselves
EXCLUSIVE: Shirley Austin and Daniel Harcott have found new happiness after coming out as transgender, and have now been joined by Daniel’s children Mason, 14, and Joshua, 17
Bride-to-be Shirley Austin was married twice as a man… and dad Daniel Harcott got hitched once as a woman.
But together they have found new happiness – and with Daniel’s two children are thought to be the world’s first entirely transgender family.
Daniel, 44, was born female before deciding to live as a man, while fiancée Shirley, 66, lives as a woman after years as a male digger driver.
And Daniel’s children Mason, 14, born a girl, and Joshua, 17, who was a boy, have also come out as transgender.
Today the Harcott family tell their incredible story to encourage other transgender people to be true to themselves.
Daniel says: “When the children decided to transition I think we understood each other, so that was kind of neat.
“It wasn’t like in families where one person comes out and they wonder how they’re going to be treated and whether they’re going to be rejected.”
Shirley met Daniel when he and his kids attended a support group for parents of trans children in Queen’s Creek, Arizona.
The couple began messaging on Facebook and got engaged in July 2019. Shirley says: “I’m the happiest I’ve been in my life.
“The last four years with Daniel have been the best.”
Both are on hormones but currently have no plans to undergo realignment surgery, although Shirley said she would “love to have breast implants”.
Daniel says he knew “something didn’t feel right” from an early age. After leaving school, he married and had two children but still felt unsettled.
It was only when son Joshua wanted to join the Girl Scouts that Daniel realised he, too, was transgender. Daniel says Joshua was six or seven when, as a boy, he battled to join the Brownies. Pack leaders refused, saying Joshua would need to join the Scouts.
But things came to a head in 2016 when Joshua, who uses a wheelchair and is assisted by a service dog, was asked to give a talk to Brownies about the family’s golden retriever, Promise. Joshua was by then aged 12.
Daniel says: “As soon as Josh was finished talking, she went to the leader and said, ‘Now can I be a Girl Scout?’ and she said, ‘No because you are not a girl’.
“Josh went home and just blew up. ‘They want my dog, but they don’t want me’.”
Daniel – then married to a nuclear specialist – started researching transgender after talking to the Brownie leader. He said: “I went home and it took me two weeks to realise I didn’t know what the word transgender meant and I’d heard it again and again.
“So I looked it up and I read through it and I went, ‘Oh, I know what this is’.”
Daniel gently asked Joshua if he thought he was a boy or a girl.
He says: “Josh looked at me suspiciously and said, ‘I am a boy’. I said, ‘Yes, but you like it when you get your nails painted, especially when they’re pink and you like flowers. How do you feel in your heart? Josh looked at me and said, ‘I’m a girl’.”
It was only when Daniel then spoke to Joshua’s doctor about the conversation that he realised he was transgender too.
He said: “The doctor said, ‘We know that Josh will be fine because you know what this is’.
“It was then I realised the doctor realised I was trans too.”
Daniel said the final realisation was like a huge weight had been lifted. He explains: “To finally change has, on one hand, been so freeing and wonderful but on the other, created a sadness that I’ve missed so many years of living not feeling awkward or out of place.
“These last few years have been just awesome. It’s like the whole world’s open.
“I can do anything.”
Even using a men’s clothing section is “a relief” says Daniel.
“Before, my clothes were just jeans and like a Mickey Mouse shirt or sweat pants and a T-shirt. I used to hate trying on women’s clothes. So when I first headed to the men’s department, I looked in the mirror and I went, ‘Oh my gosh, these clothes fit, these clothes fit me’.
“And it was like the first time I’d been able to buy clothes in years. I finally figured out what had been different about me.”
There was pain, too though – with divorce in April 2017.
Soon after, Daniel’s younger child Mason – born a girl – came out as a transgender boy.
According to America’s William Institute, 1.4 million people in the US are transgender while around 150,000 teenagers aged 13 to 17 identify as trans.
In Britain 2,590 children were referred to the gender identity development service in 2018-19, up more than 300% on 2014-15.
Shirley and Daniel often laugh at the changes they’ve made to their lives – even teaching each other their new roles.
She has shown Daniel how to change the brakes and tyres on a car – while he gives her tips on make-up.
Shirley, who has two children and four grandchildren, admits it is all a far cry from the life she once knew when working as a digger driver, in car repairs and as a sound engineer.
She started wearing tights under her clothes while at high school, then began cross-dressing when she was 18.
Shirley says: “I was an owner-operator of a backhoe (digger) service for many years.
“I was a union labourer. I was a union carpenter and then I was in the operating engineers union. It was funny because I’d be on this equipment thinking, ‘If they only knew I was a woman. If they only knew I was wearing pantyhose (tights) underneath my blue jeans’.
“In winter, I’d get away with a bra underneath my clothes. I felt a little more like I could breathe.
“I would feel better about myself and I just felt like I was a woman equipment operator.
“I got into the car business and started repairing cars.
“I would often think what would happen if I got injured and as they pulled my hurt leg and they cut open my trousers or whatever, and there’s pantyhose. How is that going to go?”
Daniel proposed in church through a pastor who used sign language – which Shirley knows – to the words of Bruno Mars’ song, Marry You.
The wedding is on ice, for now, while the couple dedicate themselves to their charity Rebel and Divine, which has helped hundreds of homeless and troubled teenagers and young people.
Shirley and Daniel say their new lives have drawn support from the transgender community, but admit close family members find things difficult.
“A friend once told me ‘Be who you be’ and it is one of my favourite quotes,” says Shirley.
“If somebody’s going to call me ‘Sir’ with my pink shirt, my leggings, long hair and trying to be as feminine as I can, if they’re going to call me ‘Sir’, it’s like, ‘OK, whatever’.
“We are transgender yes, but it is people in their mindset who need to transition about how they look upon us. Be who you are. Live your life for you.”