Parents of transgender kids take issue with simplistic portrayal of issue
For Katie, a southern Illinois university researcher and mother of Seamus, their 16-year-old transgender son, the past few years have been harrowing.
"We didn't see any gender dysphoria until middle school," Katie told Yahoo News. "The development was: a very vocal lesbian feminist at the age of 13, a time of identification as non-binary and at the end of the first year of study as a transsexual."
While Katie said that she and her husband, Jack, a college administrator, both consider themselves liberal when it comes to issues of sexual identity and expression, the town they raised Seamus in was “a difficult place to be. to be a flawed child ”.
As a result, Seamus found a community online waiting for him.
"For me, a lot of young people understand they can't fit in one box, but then learn that if they don't fit in that box, they are in an opposite box," said Katie.
In fact, during the course of Seamus' trip, Katie said that she and her husband asked more questions about what happened to their child and why. For parents of transgender children, navigating a child's newfound desire to transition from the gender of their birth is a daunting array of opportunities and finds itself amid an ever-changing web of complex issues against the backdrop of a larger national debate.
Transgender rights became a major political issue again last week in Washington, DC, when the Senate held a hearing to confirm the first openly transgender candidate for a Senate-approved position and the House passed the Equality Act, a law that prevents discrimination prohibits people based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
These two milestones, however, were partly overshadowed by two Republican lawmakers - Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky - whose outspoken public comments angered parents of transgender children.
While some simply reject the notion that someone was born into the "wrong" gender, others struggle to make decisions about whether to start their child on hormone blockers to suppress puberty or hormone therapy for the ultimate goal Start sex reassignment surgery. To make matters worse, the number of children who identify as transsexuals continues to increase. The way the medical establishment thinks about transgender care has also evolved rapidly over the past decade.
"During the non-binary phase, Seamus, who had started at puberty, asked for a chest strap to be worn and that really surprised me," said Katie. “To me, tying is a misogynist practice that men have committed to women, so I thought, 'Why would you want to do this to yourself?” So much about this trip has figured out why what is called the' gender mismatch ' , bears so much resemblance to patriarchal misogyny and intense conformity. Sometimes I feel as far as I can in a completely upside-down world. It doesn't make sense to me. "
Seamus' parents were concerned about tinkering with the biology and turned down his request to take hormone blockers and testosterone.
"Jack and I agree that the science of the implications of these things in terms of longitudinal studies is far from clear," said Katie When your birth sex hormones try to kick in - I mean, there are so many unanswered questions about it that we just do say, "No, we will watch and we will wait and if you turn around 18 and that's still what you want to do, that's your choice." '”
The law in the United States prohibits health care providers from performing sex reassignment surgery on minors. However, you can start giving hormone blockers at an early age, which delay the onset of puberty, giving young people more time to decide whether to take testosterone or estrogen before moving on to surgery.
Outside the Georgia office of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene. (Al Drago / Getty Images)
Northern California resident Stacy, a home mom, and her husband Rick, the CEO of a nonprofit, made a decision to allow their 16-year-old transgender daughter Maya to start taking estrogen Years of fear. At first they resisted when Maya urged them to start hormone blockers. After all, she was only 14 years old and had just announced that she was trans a few months earlier.
“She kept pushing. Sometimes she said she wanted hormones and we said no, it was too much and we weren't ready for it, ”said Stacy. “We took her to Kaiser [Permanente], and when she first met the therapist, she told me privately that she thought it would be a good idea for Maya to take hormone blockers. I was surprised. It was my first time talking to a therapist about it and she had such a strong demeanor. I was very scared of doing something biological. "
Maya's transgender identity wasn't the most worrying chapter of her life, according to her parents. In the years leading up to her 7th grade proclamation, she began stealing money and using drugs, and eventually she was diagnosed with ADD. She often cut herself with knives on the way so the family would have to lock away all sharp objects in the house. Her mother suspects Maya is on the autism spectrum, which experts say is the case for a statistically significant percentage of transgender people.
"Given that we've struggled with all of these different things, the bottom line for us is that we're on this path now, and we have people to help us with it, and Maya is shopping, or at least that's how it feels at like we're crazy about what the hell is going on, ”Stacy said.
After several months of taking hormone blockers, Maya was given small doses of estrogen.
"Since we started the blockers and then made the transition to estrogen, which felt like part of a trajectory, she's been a lot happier in terms of mood," said Stacy.
The endocrinologists at Kaiser's Transgender Care Unit start off with a low dose of hormones and take time to build it up. As they walk, patients receive regular therapy to assess their physical and mental condition. Some children find their hormone levels comfortable on the way and never have any further surgery. Stacy said she was happy with this approach, but wasn't sure how it would continue to affect her daughter.
“Maya would be operated on tomorrow if we would allow her. Fortunately, there is a law that you can't do it until you are 18. Thank goodness because this piece is just so hard for me to take on, "Stacy said, adding," I'd say it's likely that it will happen. "
Senator Rand Paul, R-Ky. (Tom Brenner / Pool / AFP via Getty Images)
For Republican politicians like Paul, doctors and parents just shouldn't allow children to start taking hormones.
"American culture is now normalizing the idea that minors can be given hormones to prevent their biological development of their secondary sexual characteristics," Paul said Thursday during the confirmation hearing for Dr. Rachel Levine, President Biden's nominee for Assistant Secretary of Health. Paul then cited a controversial report from the American College of Pediatricians which found that 80 to 95 percent of pre-puberty children would simply outgrow gender dysphoria if medical intervention or "social affirmation" were not introduced.
"It's just so insulting to me that these so-called libertarians believe the government should make these decisions for families on these extremely difficult personal matters," said Nevada journalist Jon Ralston, the father of a 25-year-old transgender Son said Yahoo News. "What might be right for one family and child might not be right for another."
Paul compared sex reassignment surgery to genital mutilation, and also deplored any steps a parent or child might take regarding breaking puberty.
"Dr. Levine, do you think minors are able to make a life-changing decision like changing sex?" Asked Paul.
Levine, who switched in 2011, didn't reply directly to him. “Well, Senator, thank you for your interest in this question. Transgender medicine is a very complex and nuanced area with solid research and standards of care that have been developed, ”she said. "And if I am fortunate enough to be confirmed as Assistant Secretary of Health, I look forward to working with you and your office, coming into your office and discussing the details of the standards for the care of transgender medicine."
Nevada Independent Editor Jon Ralston. (Ethan Miller / Getty Images)
For Ralston, this exchange embodied a black and white mindset that prevails among many politicians. In 2016, he shared his experiences in bringing up his child who, from an early age, did not seem to have anything to do with being a girl.
“When she was growing up, Maddy avoided the traditional girl stuff. "If you get me a doll for Christmas, I'll cut its head off," she once admonished me, "Ralston wrote in a moving article on his blog.
After he was 18, Maddy switched and legally changed his name to Jake. For Ralston, experience taught him about the myriad of complex problems that transgender people and their families face. He said that they "cannot be understood by people unless they have to go through them".
"You hope parents make the right decisions, but using terms like 'genital mutilation' to bring people to your side just isn't the real world. It's just an attempt to divide people," said Ralston.
"I call it 'genital mutilation' and I can't stand it. It just pisses me off." Stacy said. "It just feels like the old guard. I mean come on, the world is passing you by." All family names in this piece except Ralston and his son have been changed to protect the privacy of the underage children.)
A second tense exchange took place in Washington last Wednesday ahead of the House vote on the Equality Act.
In a speech on the floor of the House in Support of the Law, Rep. Marie Newman of Illinois stated that it would provide protection for transgender people like her daughter.
“The right time to pass this law was decades ago. The second best time is right now, ”said Newman. "I am voting for Evie Newman, my daughter and the strongest, bravest person I know, yes to the Equal Opportunities Act."
MP Taylor Greene, who tried unsuccessfully to block a vote on the legislation, followed Newman on Twitter.
“As mothers, we all love and support our children. But your birth son does NOT belong in my daughters' bathrooms, locker rooms, and sports teams, ”wrote Taylor Greene.
In response, Newman posted a video in which she installed a transgender flag in the hallway separating the two congressional women’s offices. In order not to be outdone, Taylor Greene filmed a video in which she posted a sign in the hallway that read "There are TWO Genders MALE & FEMALE". "Trust Science!"
"It is very difficult for politicians to legislate when there is no one-size-fits-all solution," said Ralston. "The first thing I would say to all parents is to love your child, but it manifests itself. The real problem here, of course, is that it separates families. The suicide rate among transgender people is so much higher than most cohorts and so many parents refuse or just don't accept that their little boy is really a girl or that their little boy is really a girl. It can be very devastating for families and especially the child. "
Some transgender skeptics refer to religion when taking their case. Christian Broadcasting Network host David Brody targeted the controversy this weekend over Hasbro's inclusion of a gender-neutral version of the famous Mr. Potato Head and Mrs. Potato Head toys.
There are only two genders. Male and female. That's it. If you have a problem with this, just open a Bible. It's right there in black and white. #Mr Potato Head
- David Brody (@DavidBrodyCBN) February 27, 2021
"I think these people have a hard time believing that there really is a social construct of gender, rather than that it is 100 percent biological," said Stacy. "I feel like I've become more aware that this is really true."
A large amount of research supports them.
"The idea that a person's sex is determined by their anatomy at birth is not true, and we know it has not been true for decades," said Dr. Joshua D. Safer, endocrinologist and executive director of the Center for Transgender Medicine and Surgery at Mount Sinai Health System in New York, told the New York Times.
MP Marjorie Taylor Greene. (Sarah Silbiger / Reuters)
On the other hand, Katie and her husband have sometimes argued with doctors who practice what is known as a gender affirmative care model, in which young patients' self-reporting takes precedence in order to guide a course of treatment.
“In an argument I had with a doctor, he said, 'Well, I just worry about my patient and I don't want my patient to commit suicide. 'I said,' Look, I am the one who has to guard this person through the choices they make and you are playing with that person's fertility and you can't tell me that you can even definitely say what's going on? "Said Katie.
Ralston said that while he understood the reluctance to simply outsource health care decisions to teens at a turbulent time, he initially denied that his son was transgender and needed to change his own thinking on the subject.
"No parent should answer," Always trust your child. “You're not going to be a very good parent if you answer that. Of course, you shouldn't always trust your child,” Ralston said. “But the point here is very simple: every single family, every single one of these situations is different and they are very different difficult decisions. "
At the center of the debate, Katie said, is whether children are able to make such lasting decisions and whether doctors should encourage them to do so. Senator Paul made this clear at the Levine BBQ, quoting "dozens and dozen" of people who have regretted having undergone gender-affirmative surgery.
On a Friday in Stat, Sai Shanthanand Rajagopal, a researcher at the Center for Gender Surgery at Boston Children's Hospital, and Henna Hundal, a researcher at the Max Bell School of Public Policy, questioned Paul's characterization.
"In a 2015 national survey of nearly 28,000 transgender people in the US, only 8% of patients were redesigned - and of that 8% two-thirds were temporarily redesigned," the authors wrote. “Most importantly, only 0.4 percent of respondents said they transitioned because switching sex wasn't right for them. Instead, the few who had permanently reshaped were most likely to cite parental and marital pressures as the cause. As Paul criticizes, regrets about changing sex are statistically rare. "
Dr. Rachel Levine, President Biden's nominee for Assistant Secretary of Health. (Daniel Shanken / Reuters)
While a record high of 5.6 percent of US adults now identify as LGBTQ, only 11.6 percent of that total consider themselves transgender, according to a Gallup poll released last week. For Generation Z or those born between 1997 and 2002, just 1.8 percent say they are transgender, the highest of all age groups in the survey.
"Over three generations, trans identity has increased from 0.2 percent to 1.8 percent, a staggering 800 percent increase," wrote author and longtime gay rights activist Andrew Sullivan in response to the results of the Zum survey Better and more people can express themselves, it may also be due to a shift from lesbians to the trans category as butch dykes increasingly turn into men and part of that is likely due to the sheer tendency to be trans among the trans young. "
Stacy and Rick shared what a friend's daughter who recently came out as a transsexual first told them: "Why can't she just be a butch lesbian?"
Katie made a similar point about acceptance and changing attitudes.
"Right now, I can tell you, it's way cooler and you're going to get a lot more exposure as a transsexual than as a lesbian. When you come out as a tranny, you are brave, you are brave, you get a lot of praise," she said.
Stephen Rosenthal, medical director at UCSF's Adolescent Gender Center, which addresses children on a range of gender issues, said back in 2018 that the rise in self-reporting for transgender children was partly explained by changing attitudes in society.
"The question I get asked the most is whether the transgender population is actually growing or if more people are coming out," Rosenthal told the Washington Post. "I am convinced that it is the latter. It seems that there is almost a critical mass that has arisen due to increased public awareness and acceptance of diversity."
Ralston, who still has a close relationship with his son Jake five years after his sex change surgery, believes we still haven't reached a critical mass for the percentage of children who identify themselves as transgender.
"It will keep rising. People who just had no idea what this was or what this is now will very soon know someone, either in their family or in the family of a friend or friend who is trans," said Ralston.
Katie attributes part of the surge in trans self-reporting to the fact that today's kids can hop online and create some kind of script about how to become transgender.
“I think the internet plays a big role. The conversations there have no nuances. The most extreme voices are the loudest, ”she said. "So many of the transitional individuals are on the autism spectrum, or they have ADHD, or they are highly sensitive children, or they have anxiety problems. In addition, a large number of them are same-sex attracted. So if they switch, it turns out they were lesbian or gay." . And that's not what we're dealing with. We're not dealing with the true ability to be gendered and that really annoys me. "
While the three parents of transgender children who spoke to Yahoo News each had different understandings of transgender identity and its implications, they all agreed that what they heard from Paul and Greene last week wasn't helpful .
"I feel like at this point I'm ready to tell people I don't think the trans thing is a terrible tragedy that befell our families," said Stacy. "I don't think it's completely abnormal, although I don't understand it. It's really new to all of us."
In response to the Washington debate, Ralston republished his 2016 story about his son last week. "The reason I wrote this piece wasn't to ask for more tolerance for transgenderism, but to tell parents, 'Just love your child no matter what," he said. "The fact is, there is so much ignorance about what transgenderism is and what people are actually going through, what creates this type of intolerance or, worse, hatred. That tormented me again and again. "
While Katie struggled with her decision to stop Seamus from taking hormones and blockers until he was 18, she made sure he understood her motivations. “Anything that hurts Seamus hurts me. I'm attached to this being and my whole life has been focused on helping it thrive, ”Katie said. "I take this pretty seriously and don't assume I know everything."
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