Story highlights

Six years ago, 11-year-old Marcelas Owens was photographed standing next to the president as he signed Obamacare into law

Now Marcelas is 17 and marking another rite of passage -- as a transgender teen

CNN  — 

Sometimes it’s hard to be what you want to be when people only know you for what you used to be.

This is the challenge facing Marcelas Owens, who just turned 17. For much of life, people have only known Marcelas as the “Obamacare kid.”

He was the chubby 11-year-old African-American boy who stood next to President Barack Obama as he signed Obamacare into law at a White House ceremony on March 23, 2010. He was the miniature health care activist in the black vest dwarfed by powerful lawmakers in a famous photo of that moment. He was a modern-day Peter Pan, perpetually frozen in childhood even as the news cycle moved on.

But so has Marcelas. As supporters prepare to mark the sixth anniversary of Obamacare’s signing, Marcelas is marking another rite of passage – as a transgender teen. After years of questions, she is starting to tell family and friends what she has long known: Though born male, she’s long identified as a female.

“I’m going through a reinvention process,” she says. “I’m growing into adulthood. I’m not the Obamacare kid anymore.”

Will they still like me?

Marcelas doesn’t look like a kid anymore. The chipmunk cheeks are gone. So is the baby fat. And the voice is deepened. She’s a teenager now. She listens to hip-hop artist Drake and Michael Jackson. Hangs out at the mall with friends. Even writes songs to express what she struggles to say to others in conversations.

Each March, Marcelas goes through a ritual. She gets calls from the media to talk about her front row seat at a historic moment. She’s proud of her role in Obamacare. And she understands why people would be curious about that kid in the White House picture.