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Protect Trans Youth: Gender Affirming Healthcare for Youth is Necessary

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Jan 31, 2023

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This article was originally written by Dr. Lin-Fan Wang and Nina Kossoff. The article has since been edited and updated by Adryan Corcione.

As of January 24, 2023, the Atlantic Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has been actively monitoring 185 anti-LGBTQ+ bills in the United States, many of which criminalize trans youth and their families for pursuing gender affirming healthcare. Not only are the civil rights of youth already limited, but now they’re being restricted or denied further particularly in places that already are lacking in access to care for all trans people.

Legislators are making unjust medical decisions that should be made by young people with trusted parents or guardians alongside healthcare professionals. That’s not right.

Medical care for LGBTQ+ youth, especially trans and nonbinary youth, is under attack. These attacks, spearheaded by lawmakers, deny crucial truths that queer-and-trans-affirming healthcare providers center when providing care to youth. Here’s what we know to be true.

Kids understand themselves

Anti-trans lawmakers perpetuate the misguided and harmful belief that gender nonconforming children don’t understand themselves. This myth goes against what we know scientifically about child development. There’s a reason why so many stories of transgender people include harkening back to their childhoods, particularly about the feelings of body and gender exploration that fit outside of their assigned gender. Transgender children typically just need the opportunities to explore (such as with pronouns, gender expression, etc.) to affirm their existing sense of self.

Puberty blockers create space to explore

When children typically begin puberty around ages 11 or 12, the body releases testosterone or estrogen that aids in the development of secondary sex characteristics such as breast development or growth of facial hair. Puberty blockers simply provide time for a child to continue to explore and understand their gender identity.

Additionally, puberty blockers allow youth and their family to decide if pursuing further treatment is a next step. Once a child stops taking puberty blockers, the body’s natural puberty will resume its course.

Denying care is about transphobia

Contrary to conservative media narratives, gender affirming care for youth isn’t experimental. Puberty blockers have been in use since the 1980s to stop "precocious puberty" (or early puberty) in children as young as 6. Existing medicines are safely used for preventing puberty for seemingly cisgender-identified children. The difference today? Transgender kids experiencing gender dysphoria are seeking treatment with puberty blockers, or even hormone therapy, to be affirmed in their bodies.

As the need to access care is to explore gender, we’re seeing options taken off the table. However, gender affirming care is critical, life saving, and completely vital to trans youth seeking it.

Affirming trans youth benefits their overall mental health 

Medical transition for children and youth is a multi-disciplinary collaboration. Plus, it’s well studied from this approach. The physical outcomes of supporting trans youth in healthcare access related to their gender results in positive mental health as well. Plenty of studies have found that use of puberty blockers in trans children generally leads to improved mental health and wellness in adolescence and young adulthood.

If you’re a parent of a trans, nonbinary, and/or gender nonconforming (GNC) child, teen, or adult child, check out our educational guides for parents:

Trans rights are human rights and trans kids deserve care

Even in 2008, the Journal of Medical Ethics wrote about treating trans children managing their gender identity:

“If allowing puberty to progress appears likely to harm the child, puberty should be suspended. There is nothing unethical with interfering with spontaneous development, when spontaneous development causes great harm to the child. Indeed, it is unethical to let children suffer, when their suffering can be alleviated.”

While the present attacks on healthcare for trans youth are daunting, the advocacy, activism, and overall support by healthcare providers, community members, and other allies is abundant. Even within our own community of LGBTQ+ people, we have a lot of grace and love to give to young trans and nonbinary people. We stand with trans youth and are in this for the long-haul. Protect trans kids now!

If you're a parent of a transgender and/or nonbinary child, teen, or adult, FOLX offers parental consults through our Virtual Healthcare visits, where you can get information on how to support your child through any of the following processes: questioning, social affirmation, legal affirmation, medical affirmation, surgical affirmation. Schedule a VHC visit with a FOLX clinician today to learn more about gender affirming care options for your child, teen, or adult. Additionally, stay tuned for our parental support groups, soon to be available in our community content platform, INNERSPACE.

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