I’m noticing that a fair number of Americans think it’s clever to “identify” themselves in various ways to get some cheap laughs at the expense of others. Well, I decided to give “identifying” a try too. I’m a white cis-gender male with decades of experience in the medical field so I’m going to use that experience to try to identify as a 16-year-old trans girl and envision what her life has been and must be like.
I started feeling like a stranger in my own body in third grade. Since I was born with male anatomy I have always been called a boy, but the social expectations of “boy behavior” never seemed to fit how I felt inside. It was confusing and I didn’t know who to talk to about it, so I just tried to ignore it. I was able to live the lie until my hormones started raging in seventh grade.
I started to have voice changes and hair growing where it hadn’t before. My uneasy feelings got more intense each day — I didn’t know what was wrong with me. The physical changes my body was undergoing were not syncing up with what was going on inside my head. Other kids told me puberty was messing with their heads too, but this was different. I was totally confused and needed someone to talk to.
I decided I was going to talk to my parents, but my dad was making more and more comments about people “choosing lifestyles” like being gay or intentionally changing their “sex.” He would scream, “there’s boys and girls, period!” I love my dad, but I was too embarrassed and afraid to approach him with how I was feeling. I was sure my mom wouldn’t understand since she wasn’t born a male.
I suffered in silence and became sad and depressed. I didn’t fit my classmates’ definition of “normal” and they started to make fun of me and exclude me. Like any teenager, I was in desperate need of friendship. They posted disgusting things about me on social media that made me more depressed. It seemed like no one cared about me. I started researching how to kill myself that would be the least upsetting to my family.
My Social Studies teacher must have sensed I was in deep trouble. He asked me to stay after class one day to figure out what was bothering me. I wouldn’t tell him then, but I knew he was truly worried about me. I finally broke down and told him how I was feeling; I almost puked — it was the hardest thing I have ever done. I was at the end of my rope — I had to finally trust someone. It took two months, but he finally figured out a way to help me tell my parents.
My dad was pissed! He went to the school and screamed at my teacher for “grooming” me and “indoctrinating” me with “crazy” ideas. He demanded that the school fire my teacher. My mom was not happy either, but decided to take me to see my pediatrician. She spent a long time talking to me and my mom — it was the first time I felt someone really cared about what was going on inside me. My mom was unconvinced.
The doctor helped me understand our brains are very complicated, and while most people’s inner feelings about their gender match their sex assigned at birth, some don’t. Some don’t even feel male or female which I still have trouble understanding. The doctor said I needed more expert care and referred me to a clinic that specializes in helping kids sort out what’s making them feel so bad.
I could tell the doctors and therapists at the clinic had a lot of education and experience to help kids like me. They spent a ton of time talking to me and doing tests to make sure I met the definition for what I eventually learned was gender dysphoria. I wanted them to help me feel better right away, but they said they had to take their time to confirm what was going on. I was crushed that my dad would not accept me — it took six months for him to even come to a clinic visit after he found out I had almost hung myself a couple of times.
All the tests showed I didn’t have any medical problems that would explain my feelings. The doctors sat down with us and carefully went over my diagnosis and the options for helping me feel better. They thought the best option would be taking medicine to block puberty while I was getting more counseling to sort out my gender. I had read about people getting surgeries to change their anatomy but the doctors told me no. They stressed that’s a major decision that should wait until I’m at least a young adult and that hardly any kids my age get surgery.
I’ve been on puberty blockers for six months. It was an agonizing decision for my parents to agree that I could take them. I don’t like some of the side effects, but I can’t describe how much better I feel! I’ve come so far and feel so much better and hopeful for my future. I still have some normal teenage sadness, but I’m finally starting to feel better inside. I think this will give my brain a chance to rest while I continue to figure out who I am.
People continue to berate me for “choosing” to be transgender and that I’m making up the whole thing for attention. Why, in God’s name, would anyone choose the hell my parents and I have been through for so many years? Friends I’ve made at the clinic all have similar stories to tell and they can’t understand why total strangers who don’t know their personal situations are making things so difficult for them and their families.
I don’t understand why legislatures across the country are passing laws to take away our freedom to get the care we need to help us feel better. They say it’s to “protect children”; from what? I’m getting more worried and anxious every day. Our lawmakers say I have to stop taking my medicine by the end of the year. It looks like we’re going to have to move to another state so I can continue the care that’s helped me so much.
Legislators always talk about wanting to improve the mental health of teens; don’t they know that trans kids are at super-high risk for suicide? I’m really afraid that denying care to us will cause some of my friends at the clinic to kill themselves. I worry every day that I’ll be forced to be someone I’m not — why are people so afraid of people like me? I wish with all my heart that they would just accept me for who I am.
John Roberts, MD, Crawfordsville, contributed this guest column to the Journal Review.