Some parents don’t see the need to mix politics and parenting, but you can’t be a responsible parent without being an informed citizen. Policies put into place by voter-appointed leaders directly impact our families and our children. And the parents of transgender youth will not back down to the recent threats by politicians.
There are currently seven states that have introduced bills that will not just punish, but criminalize doctors for providing gender affirming care to transgender youth. I am one of millions of parents raising a transgender child; my child and my ability to parent her is being threatened by the uninformed opinions of politicians who are making medical decisions for me, my child, and their team of doctors without having medical training themselves or without having met the transgender youth they are putting at risk. If even one of these states pass the bill into law, this will give momentum for other states to enact similar laws. An already vulnerable population will be decimated.
Facts About Transgender Youth
Children as young as three (or sooner) have a strong sense of their gender identity. When a child is insistent, consistent, and persistent that their gender is not what was assigned to them at birth, they are described as transgender or nonbinary.
In 2019, the CDC reported that 2% of high school students ages 13-17 identified as transgender. This number does not capture transgender youth younger than 13, nor the number of transgender youth who chose not to self-identify.
Transgender youth are youth first, and they are beautiful people. Unfortunately, society does not agree. Harassment, bullying, and discrimination are common. GLSEN reports that 76% of transgender and gender nonconforming youth feel unsafe at school. 59% of them have been denied access to the bathroom of their gender identity.
Transgender and gender nonconforming youth are likely to experience mental health disorders, including depression, anxiety, self-harm and suicidal ideation, up to 13 times more than their cisgender peers. 35% of transgender youth attempted suicide in the past year.
Transgender folks deserve to live happy authentic lives. With affirming care, mental health and self-esteem improve and suicidal ideation is reduced.
What Does Affirming Care Look Like For Transgender Youth?
All transgender people need and deserve support, unconditional love, and respect. Every transgender person’s transition is unique, and social transitioning is often one of the first steps. One way to affirm a person’s identity and true self is to acknowledge their new pronouns and name if different from the ones assigned at birth. Encouraging and supporting a person’s gender expression through their hair, clothing, and accessories is also affirming.
When I, my ex, and my other two children began to use the correct pronouns and appropriate gendered language around and about my daughter, she became happier, more confident, and less anxious and explosive. We, her friends, and her community validated her by finally seeing and acknowledging her true identity.
Affirming medical care looks different for each transgender person and can depend on the age of the transgender child. Medical care for most transgender youth is critical to their mental health; access to the treatments they need to live comfortably in their skin is lifesaving.
When my daughter gets older she should be able to access hormone blockers if that is what she and her doctors know is the next step to allow her to continue to thrive. Hormone blockers are usually given to a child before their body starts puberty based on their birth sex characteristics (around age nine or ten). This means that my daughter won’t develop an Adam’s apple, facial hair, or a lower voice. As she ages she will keep “looking” like a girl. Not that there is one way a gender has to look, but society still needs to catch up to this, and until then it is much easier for a transgender teenage girl to navigate high school without being forced to go through male puberty. She has every right to live in the body she wants and present herself in a way she wants society to see as well.
Puberty blockers are used for a few years before the introduction of cross-sex hormones or hormone therapy. Hormone blockers buy time for families and youth to figure out next steps and are reversible. Dr. Jack Turban, resident physician in psychiatry at the Massachusetts General Hospital, says, “Without them, the adolescent will have physical changes that are difficult if not impossible to reverse. Often, it requires surgery to undo these changes down the line.”
Vanessa Nichols’ son, Dylan, was sad, shy, and self-harming before he came out as transgender at the age of eight. As puberty approached, his anxiety increased again. He is given a quarterly shot to stop his body from progressing into what is known as female puberty. Dylan, now ten, is beyond thankful. “If I wasn’t able to receive these shots, I would cry every day and wouldn’t want to leave our house. I would be so depressed and wouldn’t have any confidence. I would have to think about how my body and my brain don’t match every single day. And that’s not much of a life.”
Rebekah Bruesehoff, 13, is a transgender activist and agrees with Dylan and so many other transgender youth who are thankful for doctors who treat them with compassion and responsibility. “I can’t imagine not having access to the care I receive that helps me be me. It would make everything about my daily life harder, if not impossible.”
When my daughter, Dylan, Rebekah, or other transgender youth become teenagers, they have the option to begin hormone therapy to send their bodies into puberty of their gender identity. A transgender boy will grow facial hair and their voice will drop, for example. A transgender girl will develop breasts and rounder features. The goal is for transgender youth to be able to age into adulthood in the body they want.
Many Politicians Don’t Care About Transgender Youth
Politicians are using transgender children as pawns to get votes, and they are doing this by feeding into the conservative and often religious viewpoint that allowing children to live as their true identity with affirming support is child abuse.
Bills in Missouri, Illinois, Oklahoma, Colorado, South Carolina, Kentucky, and South Dakota will punish doctors who follow guidelines set by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, and the American Psychological Association among many other well-researched and scientifically based organizations that know and understand the necessity for transgender youth to receive medical care. Doctors are faced with losing their license, paying fines, and spending time in prison for treating transgender kids.
Some bills also call for government and school officials to report a child who is either questioning gender identity or expressing gender outside of what is considered “normal” for their assigned gender. Parents who support these children would be reported to Child Protective Services for abusing their child.
You read this correctly: Politicians are telling me and other parents that we are abusing our children by loving them, lowering their risk of depression and suicide, and increasing their chances to do well in school because we are providing them with the medical care they need.
Politicians seem to think their opinion of what is best for transgender children is better than what a transgender child, their therapists, their doctors, and their parents have decided is best.
Should children with cancer, bad eyesight, or allergies also wait on what a state representative has to say before they get treatment to improve their quality of life? To save their life? Or should we just pray it away and give up on medicine all together?
Rebekah’s mother, Jamie Bruesehoff says, “My family has made careful medical decisions with the support and guidance of our medical and mental health professionals, decisions that are appropriate for our child. Legislators that have never met our child and that have no medical expertise are trying to interfere with that life-saving, life-affirming treatment.”
Politicians are not using facts or science to back up their claim that giving transgender youth hormone blockers or cross-sex hormones are damaging to youth. Their arguments are from special interest groups, not medical professionals. They are trying to sway voters with eloquent bullshit.
If these bills are turned into law, politicians will be responsible for ending the lives of transgender youth, both figuratively and literally.
“I need parents who don’t have transgender children to understand what this means,” Jamie Bruesehoff adds. “Put yourself in our shoes. What if it was your kid? What if it was medical care they needed? Every parent should be outraged by this. Every parent should be calling their legislators.”