To parents, from a transgender person: Let’s clear up some anti-trans misconceptions
Transgender Day of Visibility is centered around acknowledging the transgender people around us and making the world safer for the trans people in our community, our workplace and our families.
This year’s TDOV feels a bit more somber, as it comes during a year full of anti-LGBTQ+ bills, and just weeks after the murder of trans 16-year-old Brianna Ghey and the forced detransition and suicide of trans woman Eden Knight.
I am getting so tired of being visible. It is lonely, it is terrifying, and it feels like there is a target on my back and the backs of my loved ones.
Currently, it feels like a wide-spreading narrative is that transgender people are malicious. And, of course, we’re apparently coming for your children. Won’t someone think of the children?
Amongst the cries to “protect the children” are several bills across the country that bar trans children from accessing gender-affirming health care, including a reintroduced bill in Ohio and a bill that just this month passed in Kentucky. Protect the children, indeed.
As the country debates my existence (and whether I’m, apparently, a threat to society) misconceptions about trans people pop up regularly on the Twitter feeds of concerned parents.
Let’s clear up some of those misconceptions.
Transgender identities are not a new trend, even if you’ve only just heard of them
The terminology of “transgender” is new. But the experience isn't.
Trans people have always existed. Going as far back as ancient Greece, there are documented accounts of people living their lives occupying a different gender role than the one they were assigned at birth. These don’t just include well-known trans activists in the 1980s like Marsha P. Johnson but also figures like Albert Cashier, a trans man who served in the Union Army in the Civil War and Victorian-era writer Jennie June. (Not to mention, any number of pre-colonial cultures that had existing “third genders” or nonbinary genders, including the Samoan faʻafafine or the Bugis, a South Sulawesi Indonesian people whose society includes five genders).
Some may think that being transgender is a trend, a sudden wave of indoctrination. But it’s just as possible that trans people are simply coming out in greater numbers because they feel safe.
It's similar to that chart depicting how many people said they were left-handed, over time. The number skyrocketed in the 1920s when left-handedness stopped being treated like a stigmatized disorder. That doesn't mean left-handedness was a trend.
Past generations of trans people would never tell anyone their trans status out of fear of repercussion. Many older trans men and women have wanted to transition since they were young but put it off for decades. Some never medically or socially transitioned at all.
There are not only two genders. And as a matter of fact, there are not only two biological sexes
Male and female are not the only two biologically occurring sexes. A child can also be born intersex, meaning with biological traits that don’t exclusively align with male or female.
It is estimated that up to 1.7% of people have some form of an intersex trait, ranging from atypical hormone levels to a varying chromosomal makeup. Of those people, around 5 out of 1,000 people (around 0.5%) have clinically identifiable sexual or reproductive variations.
If you don’t think you know any intersex people, statistically speaking, you probably do. By some estimates, the number of intersex people is higher than many estimates of the number of trans people. However, about 1 or 2 per 1,000 people born end up being given “corrective” genital surgery, often obscuring their intersex status.
Many grow up to be adults with chronic pain, sterilization and scarring that they never consented to have, or even with a gender identity that doesn’t match the one they were given surgery to conform to, and many intersex people and doctors alike are fighting to stop the harmful practice. If you’re concerned about children being given surgeries they might one day regret, the plight of intersex children is an actual cause to advocate for.
No one is ‘mutilating’ children, for the love of God: An explainer on trans treatment for youth
I often read comments on stories involving trans health care from people worried about a mob of far-left doctors and politicians trying to “mutilate” children.
Let's set something straight: A doctor’s recommendation of gender-affirming care for young children is never going to be surgery or intensive medical treatment.
For any child under 11 who has not reached puberty, the recommended treatment likely includes letting the child express themselves and (maybe) a haircut or change of clothes.
If a child has reached puberty age and still expresses a desire to transition, most doctors at a gender specialty clinic will recommend a psychological evaluation to determine if the child is experiencing gender dysphoria. After that, the treatment might include puberty blockers.
Puberty blockers are not a dangerous hormone with permanent effects. All puberty blockers do is temporarily stop the development of things like breast tissue or prevent a voice from deepening. Puberty resumes when the medication is stopped.
But what about hormones? Under most medical guidelines, trans teens are not accessing hormone replacement therapy, or HRT, until they are 16, with 14 being the absolute earliest age (though that depends on the state they live in, the recommendations of their doctor, and whether they have parental permission.) HRT will give the teen signs of puberty attributed to their preferred gender, and many (but not all) of the effects of HRT are even reversible.
Regarding surgery, almost all doctors recommend a teen wait until they are adults before getting bottom surgery, though some doctors will OK a surgery for someone who wants a breast removal operation if they’ve been taking testosterone for over a year. Otherwise, surgery is reserved for adults, though It's important to note that not all trans people get (or even want) puberty blockers, HRT or gender-affirming surgery.
But for those who do pursue medical treatment, acting fast makes a big difference. The effects of puberty blockers are 100% temporary, but the effects of puberty are permanent without surgery. I would argue that anti-trans bills that prevent children from accessing puberty blockers are only increasing the chance of that person one day getting a surgery.
Nobody is trying to trans your gender, or your child’s
When a trans person exists in a television or movie role, they are not trying to change your identity or your child’s identity. Similarly, if I am in an Olive Garden, wearing something that is gender-nonconforming, I am not secretly trying to indoctrinate people. I’m just trying to eat my overpriced pasta.
Simply seeing a trans person would not make a cisgender person want to be trans, anymore than seeing someone with a mullet is going to make someone want a mullet.
Representation is not propaganda. Nobody, not even children, decides on a whim to completely change their lives because they were exposed to the concept of trans identity in a film. Especially not when it so often leads to violence and discrimination. After all, hate crimes against trans people have gone up 587% between 2013 and 2019, according to the FBI’s Hate Crime Statistics.
Gender-affirming care is not just for transgender people
We need to address something: Everyone, not just transgender people, gets gender-affirming care.
Gender-affirming care is any care that makes you feel more comfortable within the context of your gender identity. Are you a woman who has enjoyed putting on makeup because it makes you feel more feminine? Are you a man who has treated his male-pattern baldness? You’ve had gender-affirming care. Even for plastic surgeries, cis people do not need permission from a senator to feel more comfortable in their bodies.
Even treatments that are thought of as "experimental, transgender” treatments are regularly diagnosed to cisgender people and have been for decades. Women who reach menopause have been offered HRT for years. Boys who have the condition gynecomastia, which results in oversized breast tissue, could get breast tissue removal surgery, even if the tissue poses no physical health risk.
Denying these treatments to only transgender people is discrimination, and many anti-trans laws make it more difficult for cisgender people to access some treatments.
Anti-trans laws don’t just hurt transgender people. They hurt everyone.
In the last decade, we’ve seen a slew of discriminatory bills, including proposed bathroom bills that aim to assess your birth certificate before entry, a passed “Don’t Say Gay” law in Florida that bans discussion of LGBTQ+ people in schools, a Tennessee ban on drag shows, an effort to ban trans health care for youth in Kentucky and a proposed law in Ohio that will effectively ban trans health care and force trans children to detransition or move out of state.
But this wave of bills, made to target the transgender community, will affect everyone.
It will affect men with long hair and women with short hair (some of whom are already getting violently interrogated in the bathroom).
It will affect young girls (cis or trans) who just want to play ball and are forced to undergo a physical genital exam or disclose medical records simply to be on a team (as seen in an Ohio bill proposed last year).
If anyone is suspected of being trans, these laws will suddenly legalize the invasion of their privacy and the inspection of their body. It isn't a system I would want to live under, even if I weren't trans.
Anti-trans bills pose real dangers to trans youth, even beyond the suicide rates
I often read comments under stories about anti-trans bills along the lines of, “These stories always begin with a cherry-picked study warning about suicide.”
Studies showing the increased rate of suicide in the trans community are far from cherry-picked. The numbers are staggering.
One study performed across multiple countries by the Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine showed suicide rates in transgender people between 32 and 50%, with similar figures found in a study by the American Academy of Pediatrics. A third study by the Williams Institute at UCLA showed an overall suicide attempt rate at 41% for trans and gender-nonconforming people. I could list other studies with similar rates, but we’ll be here all day, and frankly, these numbers are depressing.
But does gender-affirming care reduce suicide rates in transgender people? The science we have suggests it makes a big difference.
A Harvard Medical School study has shown that gender-affirming care led to a 42% decrease in psychological distress, and an American Medical Association study showed that in youths between age 13 and 20, gender-affirming care led to a 73% reduction in self harm or suicidal thoughts (though the leading researcher did say that feelings of hopelessness tend to increase when anti-trans bills are introduced in the states that youth live in).
But even so, if you're a parent of a trans teen, perhaps you think your child will grow out of this, and these suicide figures don’t apply to them.
Allow me to speak from experience. I am a nonbinary transgender person and I left home when I was 16.
While I was not out to my parents at the time, it was not a household where I felt safe as my authentic self, and I didn't go to a school where I could talk to anyone about my queer identity. When I did come out of the closet, I had to do it alone.
If a trans teen does not feel that their parents have their back and trust them to understand themselves, it will not magically transform them into a cisgender child.
If that child is not able to talk to a counselor or a trusted school adult about their future or concerns because it is literally illegal to express themselves or discuss queer identity, it won't change their mind. It will only make them seek that acceptance elsewhere, leading to homelessness, and increased vulnerability to hate crimes.
I navigated my entire college education, my first steps in my career and my first foray into adulthood without any family help.
I made it, and I’m in my late 20s now. I have a great life, but I had to do it on my own. My parents were not at my wedding. Relatives of mine have passed away who I never got to say goodbye to, and others had babies that I never got to know, and likely never will.
I wish I had my family in my life. It would have been nice to be able to depend on them. But at the same time, I am still happy that I am able to live my own life authentically. The kind of imprisonment that one feels when they can't truly be themselves is soul-sucking and dehumanizing.
Imagine someone else choosing what you're called, expecting you to buzz off your hair or grow it out, deciding whether you're expected to wear makeup or a beard. Wouldn't you feel like you were robbed of something? Now imagine that the risk of ostracism, unemployment or even violence, is hanging over your head if you don't conform. That is the balancing act that transgender people are forced to live through every day.
As hard as it is to be without my family and as scared as I am to be a trans person in this world, I am still happy that I chose to be myself. I would choose it again and again.
If you have a trans child, they are going to face obstacle after obstacle. I am sure that both you and your child would rather you be there to help.
Hana Khalyleh is a lead digital producer for Cincinnati.com and The Enquirer.
This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: This Transgender Day of Visibility, let's clear up anti-trans myths