British Columbia

Trans teen hits the screen with unconventional coming-of-age story he hopes will inspire, educate

Levi Nahirney, 19, has long straddled several identities — being Canadian, Vietnamese, an adopted son, and a twin, growing up on the North Shore of Vancouver. But at age 13, he realized something was different. While he was in a girl's body, he felt like a boy.

'It's okay to feel scared throughout this transition,' says Levi Nahirney, 19

Levi: Becoming Himself follows Levi Nahirney's journey as a transgender teen. It also explores his family connections and search for identity from Canada to Vietnam. (Shannon Kaplun)

Levi Nahirney, 19, has long straddled several identities growing up on Vancouver's North Shore — being Canadian, Vietnamese, an adopted child and a twin.

But at age 13, he realized something was different. While he was in a girl's body, he felt like a boy.

"I was always different from the other girls but I didn't really know what that was until I was about 10 or 11 when I had access to the Internet and, you know, figuring stuff out for myself," he said.

"Since I was really young I always liked dressing more masculine than all the other girls. My sister always wanted to play with Barbies while I wanted to play with Hot Wheels."

The realization sent Nahirney on a journey — first to tell his parents and twin sister, Kailyn, that he was transgender, and then to make the decision to start his transition by taking hormones and puberty blockers.

That journey has now been documented in a film, Levi: Becoming Himself, which is available on CBC Gem. Nahirney said writer and director Shannon Kaplun approached his mother a few years ago about the potential to share his story in the form of a documentary, but they decided to wait until he was 18 to start filming.

Levi Nahirney and his twin sister, Kailyn, were adopted from Vietnam when they were seven months old. (Mina Lumina)

The film pieces Nahirney's story together through a combination of interviews, videos and footage shot by Nahirney himself, and home videos of the twins growing up in B.C.

The story touches on more than Nahirney's physical and emotional transformation, but also the impact it had on his twin sister, Kailyn.

In the film, Kailyn addresses the difficulties of watching her twin, previously identical, change physically.

Nahirney said as he began dressing more masculine, his sister became more feminine in her style, as she faced questions from well-meaning friends about whether she, too, was transgender.

"We're complete opposites in identity and personality as well and I think that just made us stronger ... we need to remember that we're the only blood we have right now, so it just definitely [made us] a lot more stronger than some people would be in this situation."

Nahirney said it was complicated to explain to his birth parents, who had given up two little girls for adoption, to explain his transition. (Levi Nahirney)

The documentary also traces the twins' trip back to Vietnam to meet their birth parents for the first time. Nahirney said it was complicated to explain to his birth parents, who had given up two little girls for adoption, that he had willingly changed.

"There was no word in Vietnamese for being transgender, so it was very difficult to tell them that I was transitioning into being a boy," he said.

"They got it eventually. I'm assuming that they are very accepting because they still do talk to me over Facebook and stuff."

Nahirney lives the life of an average 19-year-old, living in his own apartment, working night shifts at his part-time job and during the day completing courses in hairdressing. But he said he hopes the film's release will have a positive impact on transgender youth who may be struggling.

"I hope that people just realize that it's OK to go through multiple identities while finding yourself," he said.

"It's OK to feel scared throughout this transition. This transition is not going to be easy whatsoever, emotionally and physically. In some parts you're going to feel disgusted with yourself and you have to remember that these feelings that you have right now are just temporary."