Happy Birthday, Admiral Ocean Freireich

Meet the 8-year-young trans girl who is taking ownership of her gender identity with the support of her family and the network they’ve found.

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Admiral Ocean Freireich is an almost-8-year-old trans girl living in Chicago with her mom (Mika), dad (Ben), and brother (Rei). She also has an older sister (Mia) and an older brother (Kei) who no longer live at home, but always support her. In just 8 short years, she has embraced her gender creativity and begun a journey of exploration and identity that is sure to inspire.

“Admiral has always been gender creative since she was about 2.5 years old. This has never been an issue in our family, but we discovered in December of 2017— when Admiral was in 1st grade — that she was being relentlessly teased for her gender creativity,” Mika Yamamoto, Admiral’s mom, says.

There was a dress code at Admiral’s school but she showed her creativity and interests through items such as her My Little Pony socks and her Frozen lunch box. Mika and her husband, Ben Freireich, tried resolving the consistent bullying with the school for three months with little success in receiving support and empathy. The principal told Mika to homeschool Admiral and Rei, because, “the community was not ready for [her] child.”

Mika is an elementary school teacher and had no doubts that she could support her children intellectually but recognized a need for social support and engagement. She knew she would have to reach out to community members who understand the journey her family was on and reached out to Vanessa Sheridan, Director of Gender Equity and Inclusion at Center on Halsted. “This situation forced us to seek out support and resources. The first person I reached out to was actually Vanessa. She did a training at the school and I approached her afterwords.

“Almost immediately after meeting Vanessa, Admiral and Rei were indirectly kicked out of school,” Mika says.

“I initially reached out to Vanessa for emotional support. She responded immediately and compassionately with a very long email that, even talking about it now brings tears to my eyes…We didn’t know anybody else. We didn’t have a community. My child was six years old and I was told that community is not ready for her. It was a very scary time. Vanessa’s kindness was such a gift and she even went beyond that by helping us figure out how to address the issue.”

Vanessa gave Mika recommendations of other advocacy agencies and organizations such as Illinois Safe Schools Alliance, ACLU of Chicago, Lambda Legal, and Lurie Children’s Gender Development Program. “All of these organizations helped change the narrative for us. We realized we were not alone. It all became less scary,” remembers Mika.

“At Lurie Children’s, both kids started seeing a gender therapist. They started a playgroup for kids between the ages of 6–10 years old and they recommended Admiral as a candidate for it. Right after her 7th birthday, we went to the playgroup which was made up of six families which included separate facilitated groups for both parents and children. By the end of the first session, Admiral started to adopt the language to describe her gender fluidity and experience. She had not yet transitioned.”

It can be extremely complicated for parents to navigate this experience with their children. Mika recalls feeling torn because she did not want to tell Admiral how to identify. She knew that was not her place and that her role would be to support Admiral throughout her exploration.

By session two, Admiral shared that she feels like a girl. Mika and Ben approached this conversation with patience and curiosity to what else Admiral was feeling and thinking through this journey and asked if she was thinking about changing her name. Admiral immediately said yes.

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“What’s your name?

Admiral Ocean Freireich.

After three months of homeschooling and an upcoming end of a lease, Admiral’s family decided to move to Oak Park for its diversity and inclusiveness. “The kids started school in April and it has been wonderful. There’s another trans girl who is in Admiral’s class and the entire school has been trained on gender creativity and identity.”

By the summer of last year, Admiral had settled into her name, gender pronouns, and her 7-year-old identity. She was supported in her transition by all her family and her friends. There are now several trans families in the district and the family is gaining a larger sense of community through this.

“Vanessa and I have stayed in contact and she continues to be a huge support,” Mika says. Admiral’s birthday is this week, May 24th, and the family is pleased to be able to celebrate it with an official name change the day before.

“[Vanessa] is coming to Admiral’s name change court date. In a little over a year, we have gone from feeling so lonely and scare to feeling lucky and supported. It all started with one act of compassion from Vanessa. It was about feeling seen and heard. We needed that first and foremost. Vanessa gave us ways to find more community.”

Support is imperative for our youth — especially our trans youth. In a climate where hate speech fuels hate violence, and where reality of “safe spaces” can be compromised at any given moment, community becomes key.

Today, we honor and celebrate Admiral Ocean Freireich for her courage, bravery and strength. We hope you have a beautiful 8th birthday, Admiral! Happy birthday from your friends at Center on Halsted!

*Thank you to Mika Yamamoto for sharing her family’s story and journey with us!

While Admiral has a supportive family, a new school, a community of friends, and the freedom to explore her identity, many trans youth lack access to many — if not all — of these factors. Center on Halsted is committed to advancing community and securing the health and well-being of the LGBTQ community, in all of its intersections. 60% of the 500 youth served by Center on Halsted are experiencing homelessness and 25% of those youth identify as trans. Your financial contribution ensures that we can continue our work through outreach and advocacy. Join us today by donating!

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Center on Halsted is the Midwest’s largest community center dedicated to advancing the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) Movement.

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