Transgender Twin Offers New Insight

Oct. 23, 2004 — -- While many people would assume that identical twins are exactly alike, Liana and Juan Barbachano are showing the world that in some cases, they couldn't be more different.

Juan Barbachano was actually born as Juanita. She and Liana were like two peas in a pod until Juanita began to realize that she and her twin sister felt very differently about themselves. When the two played house, Juanita always wanted to be the daddy, never the mommy. And when Juanita went to bed on Christmas Eve, she wished Santa would help her wake up as a boy.

"I was afraid that if anybody knew that I was really a guy, that no one would have anything to do with me, so I kept that to myself," Juan said.

While Liana felt like a normal girl, Juanita felt as if she was a boy trapped inside of a girl's body

At age 4, Juanita chopped off her long hair and wore pants as much as she could. In high school, she joined the football team and asked her teammates to call her "Juan."

Juanita wouldn't be granted her Christmas wish to fully become a boy until many years later.

Now 35, Juan, formerly Juanita, says life has improved with hormone therapy and surgery, and with the support of a loving sister.

"I'd been told that, you know, God doesn't want me to do this. Something's wrong with me, I'm sick. But then I came to realize that God made me the way I am and he loves me just the way I am," Juan said on ABC News' "Good Morning America." "I never expected to receive the support and love I have received from Liana.

Liana, now married with eight children, says she accepts Juan for who he is and is happy with their relationship. "You love who the person is and you support them as a person," she said.

Juan's experience is more perplexing than those of most transgender individuals because he is an identical twin.

Nancy Segal, a professor of developmental psychology and director of the Twins Study Center at California State, Fullerton, says Juan's experience is helping researchers understand twins better.

"From what Juan and Liana tell us, genes do not predict identical behaviors," she said.

Doctors think that something happened in the womb that made the twins different.

"We expect that Juan was exposed to higher levels of testosterone and male hormone, which might have redirected her brain somewhat, making her feel like a man. This did not happen to her sister, who grew up as a full female," Segal said.

Segal, author of "Entwined Lives: Twins and What They Tell Us About Human Behavior," says scientists are beginning to look at what happens to identical twins within the womb to explain similarities and differences that surface later in life.

"The womb is a very different experience for identical twins, and in some ways it's surprising that identical twins are as alike as they are," Segal said. "Gender is a complicated behavior affected by many things. Even with identical twins, who are so alike in many ways, as Juan and Liana are, there still can be profound differences between them."

After a long struggle, Juan's parents have come to terms with his gender and have decided to look beyond that one aspect of his life.

"When you look at a person in-depth, you're looking at a person, a being, not simply a man or a woman," said Juan's father, Joaquin Barbachano. "Love can move anything, anytime, anywhere, as long as you have it to give, it's very powerful."