The star of TVNZ’s new local drama Testify, Stacey Hayes, tells us what she learnt from a childhood living in New Zealand’s foster care system and her advice for the parents of trans teens.

Where did you grow up, and what was your childhood like?

I was born and raised in New Plymouth, and my childhood was a rollercoaster!


I was raised in and out of foster care and felt very isolated. The only times I didn’t was when I was with other foster kids or back with my family. However, all these ups and downs taught me resilience and that negative situations don’t last forever.

Growing up this way taught me to raise others up with me, not bring them down. It showed me how hard the world could be if we don’t support each other.

What was your experience of the foster care system like?

Growing up in foster care is really different for each foster child and very confusing. My experience wasn’t as bad as others, as I didn’t have any physically abusive foster parents. I got to experience what was considered a ‘normal life’ as well as the bitterness of a ‘disadvantaged life’, and the sweet taste of a ‘privileged life’. I got to meet many different families, and the majority of them were people who had foster kids for great reasons, such as having an open space, giving a child love and security. However, some took in foster kids for not-so-good reasons, like using a foster kid to make themselves look like a good person, getting their foster kid to do all the house chores, using the child for their monthly clothing allowance and weekly pocket money. All of these things happened to me, good and bad, whether intentional or not. I am grateful, though. I can step into my future with confidence and hold my head high, knowing who I am.

Do you have any advice or recommendations for our readers who are considering becoming foster carers?

If you aren’t doing it to give a child a loving home, then you aren’t doing it for the right reasons. Patience and a stable source of love, security and comfort are what a foster kid needs. A loving home is not just a roof over your head, clothes on your back and food in your stomach. The child needs to know and feel you truly care for them.

Stacey Hayes stars in Testify on TVNZ+.

You began transitioning at 14. Can you tell us a bit about what that journey was like for you?

My gender journey actually started when I was 10. I remember telling one of my teachers, who had taken me into her loving family, that I wanted to be a girl. She said that it was okay and we could see a doctor and start making changes. She bought me dresses and heels and supported my decisions. The doctors asked me a lot of questions – they were unsure as I was a child. I mistook their queries for warnings. I heard “Are you sure about this?” so often that I went back and told that foster mum that I didn’t want to be a girl anymore. She supported that too.

Instead, I started dressing up as a girl in the night (during ‘sleep time’) – acting out scenes I saw on TV. I was in a place of my own, fighting crime with my magic powers, dancing on the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, building a Transformer car, becoming a Power Ranger, and in all of these scenes, I was the woman I am today.

During my first year of high school, at New Plymouth Boys High School, I told my foster sister how I felt. She said to tell my new foster mum… I told her how I felt, and she took me to the doctor. She learnt that I had already tried to transition, and since I had a record of everything, it was a lot easier this time. They believed me and reassured me that the doctor who kept asking negative questions wouldn’t be seeing me again.

Not many people knew I was trans until I started at a new high school, where some people recognised me as a boy from primary school. I was wearing a skirt, and some kids labelled me as gay. Others just started getting to know me as a girl, and no one doubted it like before.

Worldwide, there has been a lot of debate around whether under-16s should be able to start transitioning. Please, could you share with us your perspective on this and how transitioning at 14 changed your life?

Before I transitioned, I felt confined. I acted out as a child from time to time because of the emotional drain I had always felt. I was constantly comparing myself to other boys and girls my age. When I transitioned at 14, I wished I had pushed harder for it at 10. Looking back, I feel as if I had succumbed to peer pressure and people stopping me from being myself.

At first, I still felt quite awkward and weird and like everyone was judging me, but once I had started my hormones, that all changed. I had long hair and started wearing bras and felt like I was who I was meant to be. And people recognised me as that. I didn’t feel like a prisoner in my own body anymore. People have told me I’m a lot happier.

Knowing there were others who felt like me also brought me comfort, and once I met those beautiful souls, I truly felt like I was free from the barriers stopping me and that I had support.

Do you have any advice for the parents/carers of trans kids out there?

Your kids need your support and your love to deal with outside comments and judgements.

Help them feel confident in who they are. Reassure them that they are normal and that there are many others like them. You’ll notice they’ll start opening up about what they are actually interested in. Invest in them finding interests and trying new things, but don’t force them. I had an experience where I was bought something pink because I had become a girl. I understood that it was a way of supporting me, but I felt like I was being put in a box. Listen and ask them what they need to feel supported.

We are seeing more transgender characters on television played by transgender actors. What does that mean to you?

More transgender characters means that there is more representation for us out there. When I saw a trans-sister-doll playing Supergirl, I couldn’t stop thinking about how that could be me in the future. She became a superhero and had a story that told me, as a viewer, that she was always meant to be a girl. I resonated with that so much that I cried.

Stacey Hayes stars in Testify streaming now on TVNZ+.