Second Nature

In an exclusive preview from our March issue, meet a local family that is raising a little girl born in the wrong body.

March 2008

Lucia Martin loves the color pink, she barely stops to breathe when she talks, and she resembles the striking child actress Dakota Fanning. Like the little Hollywood starlet, Lucia's hair is long and blond, she has prominent cheekbones, her wide eyes are an almost neon blue, and her skin is so fair that it's nearly translucent. On an unseasonably warm winter afternoon, Lucia wears jeans, a billowy blouse, and platform sandals. She's accessorized with a floppy reddish corduroy hat, and her pink scarf matches the pink polish that's begun to flake on the nails of her toes and fingers. A few days before Christmas, the two of us are sitting in the Martins' dining room, and Lucia's gushing about what's on her wish list.

Most of all she's hoping for some toys from a line called Littlest Pet Shop. As if she's pleading her case, Lucia explains, "OK, so it's like these tiny, tiny little toys. OK. So all of the little animals are bobble-heads. And there's doggies. Oh, can I bring it up?" She disappears and within seconds returns with what looks like a 12-inch-by-12-inch wall that's a maze of plastic tubing—the kind of thing a hamster runs through. She presents what looks like a stuffed hamster with a spring for a neck. "That's my favorite little guy. And, so, there is a shower. So you go like this"—she opens a hatch on the tubing and drops the pet-thing inside—"they crawl around in here. They have little magnets on their feet." Just then Lucia's favorite little guy gets stuck. She falls silent and directs all of her attention to freeing the pet, and only then resumes talking, as if she never stopped. "Anyways, to get this guy with like a food thing and another thing would be like $10. But...."

Lucia's discovered she loves the video camera and would like a filmmaking software program for Christmas. And if Santa were looking for ideas for her stocking, he might think about art supplies. She likes to draw shapes, concentrating to make them as geometrically flawless as she can. Or maybe Santa might leave her the DVD set of her favorite television series, Avatar. It's one of those Japanese anime-style cartoons that airs on the children's network Nickelodeon. It's about a wide-eyed, androgynous-looking child, Aang, who leads a band of friends armed with supernatural abilities. "It's really cool," Lucia says, "because they all have the power to bend nature."

Lucia's playthings and interests are windows into the young person she is. In her Littlest Pet Shop, she cares for the smallest of creatures who sometimes need help navigating their maze. In her blossoming filmmaking hobby, there's the possibility to create her own world, where heroes bend nature and the endings are just. And in her passion for shapes, there's Lucia's concern with the way things appear. For Lucia, things need to be a certain way, whole and perfect, which is why seeing pictures of herself before her transition tends to make Lucia uneasy.

The first picture ever taken of Lucia isn't a picture at all. It's an ultrasound image captured in the fall of 1996. Judy couldn't wait to tell Michael, who was at work. "This was back when they had fax machines," Judy says. "The nurse drew a circle on the ultrasound and an arrow to the circle and wrote 'penis.' And when it came through the fax at Michael's office, all of his buddies came up to him and were like, 'Dude! Congratulations!'"

Judy and Michael met on the CU campus and began their romance at an off-campus party. Michael had strategically positioned himself at the threshold of the room, with the drinks and food, and chatted up just about every girl who passed by. After watching from afar for a few minutes, Judy walked up to him and said, "You must think you're pretty smart with this routine you've got going." Michael replied, "Well, it worked for you." They immediately realized they shared an intelligence and a sense of humor. Judy was majoring in journalism at CU. She wanted to change the world. Michael was a double major. He saw an exotic future abroad. After CU the couple moved to northern California, where Michael earned a graduate degree and Judy interned at a local TV news station. From there it was on to Europe. Michael worked for a couple of years with a transportation company, after which the couple moved back to Colorado, where they married. Judy took a job with a travel company while Michael signed on with a consulting business. When he got that faxed ultrasound of his incipient firstborn son at work, the daddy-to-be, an avid cyclist, couldn't help but picture himself and his boy, together, pedaling around the world as father and son. Naturally, Judy and Michael put a great deal of thought into the boy's name. Inspired by their shared affection for the Old World that Judy and Michael had left behind, they chose a European name, Luc.

A decade later, in the Martin family dining room, Judy asks her daughter if she would mind if we look at an old family photo album. Lucia shrugs in a way that conveys she'd rather not, but she understands. In the pictures Luc is a chubby boy, often wearing denim, with every hair on his head sticking straight up. "Do you remember when people used to see your hair and ask me if you'd stuck your finger in an electrical outlet?" Judy asks. Lucia smiles. Here's a shot of Luc on his first birthday, surrounded by family, with a slice of chocolate cake. Michael is ducking into the frame, hovering over his son with a smile. And here's Luc, age four, at a pumpkin patch, with Michael and some extended family. Judy is absent from most of the pictures because she's the one holding the camera, the one who organized the shoots. Whereas Michael exudes a quiet confidence in fate, Judy is fastidious about coordinating and achieving whatever task is at hand as best as she can. "I wanted everyone to be happy, happy," Judy says, running a hand over the photos' plastic sheathing. "I was like, c'mon, we're at a birthday party. We're picking out pumpkins. We're all together." Everyone in the pictures is smiling, except for Luc. He appears to be miserable, like he'd rather be somewhere else. Judy and Michael never dreamed that their child wanted to be someone else.