The gender and sexuality wars will, I opine, continue for a long-time into our future. I lament that I believe this, but yet, I consider it to be my best prediction of the future. I will be happy to be proven wrong. For now, in the midst of rapid fire arguments pro- or con-, in response to what Supreme Courts do or do not say, productions like Growing Up Trans remind us that these religious and political contentions are not mere philosophies, beliefs, or even convictions. These are people, with names, emotions, and tears. It was never gracious to dismiss these families in the past, and it is no longer permissible to continue dismissing them into the future. To ignore anyone that must face the challenge of gender identity is to do an injustice to their humanity, and in the process, to demean our own.
Convictions are hard things to change. How one feels about what is “right” and “wrong” in this world, buttressed by the beliefs about how the world “should be,” make facing realities like transgenderism a disturbing confrontation. Yet, for those of us who believe in compassion, empathy, and true love–of the αγαπη (agape) and חסד (hesed) brand–embracing these realities is exactly what the faithful do. Simple reasoning and pithy theologies are insufficient in light of LGBTQIA+ realities. Anyone wishing to uphold a belief that conforms to reality must embrace complex tensions. For those wishing to “know” or believing that they already “know” fully and completely would do well to embrace the wise words of the “man in black” from The Princess Bride: “Get used to disappointment.”
Yet, there is something inherently valuable about convictions that have yet to be emboldened by reason. Watching Growing Up Trans also leaves one a bit unsettled as access to medical treatments for gender dysphoria is being made available to younger and younger clientele. There are many unknowns, risks, side-effects, emotional regrets, etc., that can only be found out through the passage of time and the embrace of an experiment. And there is far too much human diversity to have a good sense of how each person will respond, emotionally or physically, to therapies.
Wisdom would lead us to ask some deeper questions. How shall we continue to seek love, acceptance, and social propriety for our children and protect them from the harms and misappropriations of untested methodologies? Are we reading our sacred texts in ways that honor the author’s intention and context? Have we truly thought through all the implications of our own beliefs? Do we recognize what compromises we make by being so dogmatic? Do we understand that families, as was stated in the production, are sometimes simply choosing between the lesser of two evils?
And that is what I hope and pray more people of religious conviction would understand, viscerally, emotionally, spiritually, and theologically. When the choice is between hormone therapy and identity or actual suicide, most of us would choose life (Deuteronomy 31).
Thank you, Frontline, for contributing these stories and voices to our public conversation.
Miri Navasky & Karen O’Connor
WRITTEN & DIRECTED BY
Miri Navasky & Karen O’Connor
LIA HEGARTY, Age 9: I am transgender. I was born male and identify as female. But I like to say that I’m a girl stuck in a boy’s body. I transitioned when I was 6 or 7 to more of a girl. And now I’m— well, almost completely female.
Second grade was the last year of Liam. And this year, I changed my name officially. So I’ve changed. I’ve changed my name, my clothes, my room, and my pronouns. And that’s really all you need except for the fifth one that I still need— surgery and medicine to help me look like a girl.
NARRATOR: Just a generation ago, it was adults, not children, who changed genders, usually late in life and often in the shadows. But today, as transgender adults gain wider acceptance, many children are transitioning, too, with new medical options and at younger and younger ages. This is a new generation, growing up trans.
[home video] Naima, Naima, do you like the bubbles? Let’s count to 10, ready? 1, 2, 3, 4— count, Naima. November 7th, 2009. She’s 4. Ready? Go!
DANIEL HEUMANN, Age 9: My given name was Naima, and now my name is Daniel. I’ve been a boy for three years. And I’ve been— I was a girl for six.
I don’t like to be called a “she” anymore, and I just— I really like it that they think of me as a—as a boy. I think it’s hard to get used to it because I was a girl for so long, and I haven’t been a boy for a very long time.
SARA HEUMANN, Daniel’s Mother: As soon as Daniel could start to express preferences in clothing, he was gravitating toward the boy section, hand-me-downs from cousins, wanting to wear just boy T-shirts and boy shorts.
MICAH HEUMANN, Daniel’s Father: From the very beginning, it seemed like to me, just didn’t look as comfortable in a dress. Initially, a tomboy came to mind, right? That’s our standard “go to” for our society, is tomboy.
SARA HEUMANN: And then the comments would start to come. “I don’t feel comfortable. I don’t feel right. I just wish I were a boy.” And I would say, “I understand that you wish you were a boy, but we can’t do anything about that. You were born this way.”
And then starting 2nd grade, the tone of our conversation just took on a more serious depth. And Naima felt like, “I have to— I have to tell you that I’m so— I’m very unhappy. I don’t like being in this body. I wish I had a penis,” and just sort of laid it all out there.
And so at that point, it just sort of snowballed into a conversation about, “Well, you can live as a boy. I don’t know what that means. I don’t know where to go really from here, but you can live as a boy and you can change your name.” And Daniel, or Naima at the time, immediately jumped on that idea.
I did feel a pressure from society, from our family members. “What if— what if Daniel changes his mind?” But we knew that we just had to listen to what we heard from— from our child. And it didn’t— nothing else mattered.
NARRATOR: Although Daniel transitioned two years ago, recently, he’s started to worry that his body is beginning to change.
DANIEL: I’ve been feeling a little weird. And it’s been feeling weird, so I stay up a lot at night, talking with my parents about it. And I don’t get a lot of sleep. Yeah, and— I just don’t like feeling different. It starts making my tummy hurt a little, so— sometimes, it makes me cry when I’m very, very, very, very, very tired.
MICAH HEUMANN: To develop breasts would be horrifying for him.
SARA HEUMANN: He doesn’t want to be the kid that has to be different. And he has talked about suicide or killing himself before, which is why we immediately sought the help of professionals. I think he finds a great deal of reassurance knowing that there are things— there are steps we can take where he can look like— more like a boy and pass to be more like a boy.
NARRATOR: It’s now possible for kids like Daniel to never have to go through the puberty of their biological sex. But timing is crucial, so Daniel’s parents are taking him to a clinic in Chicago. The Gender Program at Lurie Children’s Hospital is one of a growing number of clinics around the country providing treatment to gender non-conforming and transgender kids.
CLINIC STAFFER: Hi! How are you? Did you grow since the last time I saw you?
CLINIC STAFFER: And you just had a birthday, right, on the 20th? Happy belated. Shoes off, if you don’t mind, OK?
COURTNEY FINLAYSON, M.D., Ped. Endocrinologist, Lurie Children’s Hosp.: So these kids really are a new generation who are being cared for completely differently than children were in the past. And that is— it’s exciting for them to have opportunities that somebody wouldn’t have had even— even 10 years ago. But it’s also very challenging for the medical community to find the right way to do this.
NARRATOR: One of the biggest developments in the treatment of transgender kids came in 2007, with the introduction of hormone blockers, drugs that suspend puberty and slow all physical development.
Dr. COURTNEY FINLAYSON: The pubertal blockers are the medicines that pause puberty. So the idea is that we can just put the pause button on puberty and let children have a little more time to grow and develop and be more confident of their gender identity.
NARRATOR: But the treatment of transgender kids can be controversial. It’s a field of medicine with very little research, and the few studies that do exist suggest that for most kids, the distress about gender will shift with time.
LISA SIMONS, M.D., Adolescent Medicine, Lurie Children’s Hosp.: The majority of children with gender dysphoria will not grow up to be transgender adolescents or adults. But I think the challenge is that we’re not able to definitively predict for whom gender dysphoria will continue, and for those that it may not continue.
Dr. COURTNEY FINLAYSON: Our goal is to try to figure out which children are going to continue to identify as different than their natal sex. And we don’t have any definitive test to do that right now. And that’s— that’s very challenging. I wish there was a test to say, “Oh, yeah. Of course. You’re 5 and you think this now, and you will when you’re 15, and you will when you’re 30.” I mean, we don’t have it, though. So it’s a real challenge.
NARRATOR: But there is growing consensus that the more intense gender dysphoria is in childhood, the more likely it is to persist and that puberty itself can also be a telling predictor.
Dr. LISA SIMONS: And I just wanted to see if you were noticing any changes in your body recently that had you maybe feeling worried or sad?
DANIEL: Well, this one over here— it— like, it started getting real tender.
SARA HEUMANN: I think Daniel had been really concerned about how quickly this was going to happen and just really feeling strongly about not developing breasts. And my husband and I want to do anything we need to to keep his emotional wellbeing in mind and how he feels about himself.
Dr. LISA SIMONS: OK.
Early intervention does make a huge difference. Once physical changes— some physical changes of puberty have occurred— you know, voice deepening in boy-bodied people, for instance— they’re irreversible. So really starting puberty-blocking medications as early as possible is really important for some people who are really experiencing distress.
Dr. COURTNEY FINLAYSON: So there is a very, very faint amount of breast tissue under the— under the right breast. I mean, it’s just a little tiny bit. We typically want to see that a child has had a little bit of pubertal development. But that’s the point at which we can start sort of talking about blocking puberty. The medications that we use for puberty blockers all work, and for the most part have few side effects.
This is a sample of what the implant is.
SARA HEUMANN: That’s small.
Dr. COURTNEY FINLAYSON: Yeah.
The medications are very expensive, and so they can be $15,000 to $25,000 a year for some of these things, which is cost-prohibitive for most people. So we have been— we have worked on an option that we have that we can offer here now, actually, which is called Vantas.
And its FDA approval is for men with prostate cancer, but this has been used successfully by pediatric endocrinologists taking care of kids like Daniel, and it seems to work just as well and it is a lot less expensive. And so, you know, Vantas is not— it’s not approved for children, but none of these medications are actually approved for use in this situation—
SARA HEUMANN: In—
Dr. COURTNEY FINLAYSON: For any of these medications.
SARA HEUMANN: Oh, for any of them. OK.
Dr. COURTNEY FINLAYSON: We have a lot of experience in pediatric endocrinology using pubertal blockers, and from all the evidence we have, they are generally a very safe medicine. But the concerns with this population are just different because we’re using them at a little different age and for a different purpose.
So whether it is having any negative effect on their adult bone density or their neurologic development I think is— we don’t know. I much prefer to take care of conditions that have been well researched and well studied for 50 years, and that is not the case here. We just really need good research that we don’t have yet.
Dr. LISA SIMONS: They’re not easy decisions to make, and they shouldn’t be made quickly. And I think the take-home message today is that nothing is going to happen quickly, OK? Nothing.
Dr. COURTNEY FINLAYSON: This generation of kids are really— they’re the pioneers. They’re going to be the ones to teach us.
ARIEL, Age 13: My name is Ariel. I am 13 years old, and I identify as a girl. I haven’t really experienced puberty at all. I mean, the hormone blockers are, like, my life saver. But me turning into a man is just— probably the most horrifying thing ever I could ever think of in the farthest reaches of my mind is me not going on the hormone blockers anymore and me developing into a man. That would just be horrible.
The hormone blockers, they give me a space where I can really feel completely just sure of myself, and I can just have that little breathing space before I enter puberty. And you’re just in this nice little world where you’re still like a child, and it’s just great, before you develop.
It’s harder, teasing and bullying-wise, when you’re a girlie-boy, when you’re in that in-between stage, than when you’ve fully transitioned. It’s much harder to be gender-nonconforming than to be transgender because when you’re gender-nonconforming, that is when really a lot of difficulties set in.
NARRATOR: Ariel did not transition until she was 11, when she started blockers. But there was a long period of time when she was living in secret as a girl.
KERRY, Ariel’s Mother: That was a difficult time—
ARIEL: Very difficult.
KERRY: —very confusing. If we went into a restaurant and she was wearing something that was more feminine, and she saw somebody from school, she would run into the bathroom and wouldn’t want to come out.
ARIEL: It was kind of like a double life. I think a lot of people are completely just comfortable and fluid, but for me, I was really scared.
My name before was Ian. And then I guess when I was around 9 years old, I started deliberating, like, maybe I should change my name because to really show the world that I wanted to fully transition.
KERRY: So she asked us to call her a different Disney princess name every day. So every day—
ARIEL: Oh, I forgot—
KERRY: Every day, we had a different name. And there was an order to it. Cinderella, Belle, Ariel—
ARIEL: Snow White.
KERRY: —Snow White, and they were in order, all the Disney princesses. And on that day, I would have to call her that.
ARIEL: And I remember my grandmother, she wrote— she cared so much about me. And she wrote on her calendar every day, like, what princess I was supposed to be! [weeps]
KERRY: So she— she would make sure she called you the right name.
ARIEL: It just made me think, like, she cares about me so much that she writes on her calendar what— who I am each day, which was really amazing and made me so happy.
NARRATOR: As Ariel’s girl world intensified, her double life began to take a toll.
ARIEL: I’m going to live in a castle someday, and all the Disney princesses are going to visit me every single day! I can play mermaids in the water. Oh, yeah, I’m going to have five courtyards, one main courtyard and one main garden. And the garden is going to be so pretty with hummingbirds—
I feel like at that point in my life, I wanted to prove to everyone that I wasn’t, like, any part of a boy in any way, shape or form.
ARIEL: [singing] What a perfectly, perfectly awful year!
KERRY: Geez! This is from Cinderella 3, right?
ARIEL: It was just, like, horrible and just confusing for me, and I tried to just— I was trying to ground myself with all the dresses and the princesses, just trying to say to myself, you know, “I am a girl” and prove to everyone else that I am a girl.
KERRY: Which Disney princess do you think is the most beautiful?
And it was like I was putting on costumes. But now I’m putting on outfits and clothes, and it’s not a Snow White dress or a princess dress anymore. It’s, like— it’s actual girl clothes. Now I’m actually me.
ALEX SINGH, Age 13: For me, the age that everything started to happen was around 5th grade. I started really going through puberty. That was— that is horrible. I hate it. I mean, for any transgender, male or female, it’s probably the worst time in their life because they’re actually becoming what they don’t want to become.
I was wearing three sports bras. I was very self-conscious of my chest because guys obviously do not have a chest. They are flat, completely. And so before that, I was able to pass. I was able to kind of be a guy. But then once that started happening, I was, like, “Oh, that is not going to help my appearance much. Yikes!”
In my mind, I saw this really strong, flat-chested guy that had an Adam’s apple and a beard. When I looked in the mirror, I saw this small girl who was not supposed to look like that. I felt like I just needed to look the way I looked in my head, to be who I was and feel comfortable with who I am.
NARRATOR: This year, at the age of 13, Alex began to transition and formally changed his name in school, where everyone had known him as Karen.
ALEX: Middle school can be kind of a scary time for lots of people. Even after I started really transitioning, I would— I would want to stay home because I know that everyone there knew me as a real girl.
I can feel them kind of, like, wondering why I couldn’t just be a tomboy, why I couldn’t just dress like a guy and I didn’t have to become a guy. So instead of calling me, like “he’s,” and by the male pronouns, they’ll call me “it” because I’m kind of in the middle. I mean, I can deal with that. I don’t really like it, but I have a minimum amount of friends. I want to keep the friends that I have, so I kind of just let it go.
I definitely get depressed sometimes. I will listen and dance for hours. Whenever I’m feeling upset or something, it’s kind of a way to soothe me down, and like, get me happy again.
I have my imaginary world, and that’s one of my coping strategies. Like, when I’m feeling down or depressed, I’ll kind of, like, go into my imaginary world. And in my imaginary world, I am a guy. I have a flat chest. I’m strong.
There are definitely girls and guys in this world, and they just help so much. And to me, they’re real. And like, if I’m feeling so down that I just can’t talk, they’ll sing or listen to music and dance with me. And that definitely helps.
It’s kind of like a telepathic thing. I can hear them in my head, and then I’ll speak to them either through my head, or sometimes, I’ll look really weird walking down the street and I’ll be, like, “Hey, when I get home, do you want to, like, dance and sing with me?” And they’ll be, like, “Yeah, yeah, sure,” and stuff. I’ll, like— I’ll have something to look forward to when I get home.
I think at times, my mom can get a bit worried. I think she’s sometimes worried that I don’t know reality from imagination. I definitely know the boundary line. But like, I’ve brought them over so much that I think the line has definitely, like, thinned and kind of become blurry.
LAURIE SINGH, Alex’s Mother: Alex does have an imaginary world that he has talked to me about, that he’s talked to his therapists about. And they do feel that Alex has his feet firmly planted in the ground, in reality, but that it has been a mechanism to deal with his problems.
It’s very hard for him to have female hormones in his body, raging through his body. He wants those shut down.
NARRATOR: Alex’s parents are considering puberty blockers to stop his menstruation, but they have serious concerns about the medications.
LAURIE SINGH: I think the real struggle is in the risks of the drugs. We know that the drugs have not been used for that long on children and that there isn’t really adequate data. And then there are potential side effects and possible long-term effects that are not known.
RASHPAL SINGH, Alex’s Father: And so we have been kind of wrestling with this decision, talking to a lot of doctors, reading a lot of information. And not making a decision has implications also because, you know, doing nothing is not really an option here. But I mean, I would like to choose that option, and— but I don’t know how a transgender person feels. And based on our conversation with Alex, doing nothing is not really an option.
NARRATOR: But the decision to take blockers can also lead to another complication. Two years ago, when Ariel first transitioned, she and her mom decided to make a fresh start. They moved to a new town and enrolled in a new school where nobody had known her as Ian.
KERRY, Ariel’s Mother: When she first went into school, she went into school with the teachers, the faculty knowing that she was transgender. But her classmates or any of the students in the school did not know.
And I wanted that for her not because we were even embarrassed or we wanted to hide it, but I wanted everybody to just know Ariel as Ariel. I would rather you meet her as her, and then if you find that out about her, it’s just something about her. It’s not who she is, it’s just another part of her.
NARRATOR: Although puberty blockers had allowed Ariel to pass, three months into the new school year, while changing in the girls’ locker room, she was outed.
EMMA: At first, I sort of felt bad for her because it must have been so hard, obviously. And it was just sort of, like, tension between us. Like, I didn’t know how far I should go, like, if I should bring it up, or if I should just treat her normally, or just like nothing happened.
GABE: Yeah, that’s— that’s probably the reason that I felt uncomfortable because— not— not uncomfortable. That’s— the reason I was, like, surprised, and like, it was just a new idea to me, too. I didn’t even know what transgender was before that. And so because she was like— she’s such a girl that it really— it was so shocking.
EMMA: Well, it would have been different if I had met Ariel as a boy first. But we still would be where we are now, I think.
ARIEL: I— like— I know we’re really close, but I really— like, I’ve had— I had an experience at my old school, and I really don’t think it would be, like, as close as we are now, like, it would never be like this if I came in as a boy. Like— and it would have changed our relationship. I definitely know that.
EMMA: You’re right. It would have, actually.
ARIEL: It would.
EMMA: We’d still be friends, but it wouldn’t— I guess it wouldn’t really be where we are now.
ARIEL: There is still some of that awkwardness. No matter how comfortable— you know, say, like, all the girls in the class are having this giant slumber party, and they’re all just, like, throwing off their shirts, and like, just dancing around and, like, just changing and stuff. You know, it’s kind of hard, and I’m always sort of changing in the corner still, even though how comfortable I could be— so I feel kind of left out.
EMMA: It’s almost like there’s a fine line between trying to include her and trying not to include her so much that it made her feel excluded from everything. I keep accidentally making her feel bad, and it— it’s just— it must be so hard for her. I can’t even imagine it.
ARIEL: I remember a couple years back, like, everyone was talking about, like, having babies, and it— it really makes me upset. I mean, I don’t want to tell them to stop talking about it, but you know, it’s like— it kind of hurts my feelings when they’re always talking about that.
It’s, like— it’s so hard to explain. It’s, like— but I’m, like, a girl, so it’s— but it’s, like, could I— could I, like, have the pain of labor? Could I have to deal with that? [weeps] And it’s kind of hard to have that happen, like, those conversations. But— and I feel like a lot of people, it’s hard for them to understand, but I don’t want to, like, burden them with that.
I kind of just— I just either walk away or I just kind of deal with it. I try to sometimes get into the conversation, but you know, it’s hard.
SELVI: Do you ever feel like you’re like, you can get so close to being a girl, but you just can’t get to that exact point? Is that what upsets you?
ARIEL: Yeah. That’s exactly how I feel. Like, the thing with having a baby, it’s, like, I can never be fully there. That’s just, like, a natural thing that happens. I buy a bra, but it’s not to hold in my boobs. It’s for, like, an illusion. It felt sort of like an act. So I kind of feel lost sometimes.
ALEX SINGH, Age 13: For me, I always, like, see these really cool guys, and I’m always, like, “I want to be like them!” And Morgan was— and Morgan and Ben were those, like, cool guys that I wanted to be like. Once I really realized that they were perfectly fine with me being transgender, it was, like, a whole new world for me.
MORGAN JOHNSON: I kind of think that it really shocked people, like, knowing that we’re hanging out with this— like, because I know that people were thinking that, like, Alex is weird and stuff, like, think that he’s, like, really different from everyone else. In all reality, he’s just— he’s— he’s the same as us.
BEN COSTELLO: I sometimes mistake Alex— like, if I’m talking to Morgan, I’ll be, like, “she,” but then I might, like, correct myself and be, like, “He did this.” But I think I’ve gotten a lot better about that, definitely. I never— I didn’t know she changed her name to Alex, like, since this year, like, before I knew her. I always thought her name was Karen. I said “Hi, Karen” in the hallways and stuff.
I can’t imagine, like, what the changes between that stuff, like, being a girl to a guy. I don’t even know what being a girl is like, so—
MORGAN: Just in general, I’ve been showing him the ropes of being a guy, and saying, like, “You’ve got to start working out more. You got to build up that upper body muscle.”
BEN: Try and talk in a deeper voice. Even if it’s not normal, get used to it. Burp— you have to burp. Just let it fly. Don’t try and hold it in. Girls do that all the time.
MORGAN: In terms of girls and dating, I’d just say, like, try not to really show any emotion towards it. Just, like, treat her like you don’t even like her. Just treat her like that. So I’m, like— I mean, I’m not trying to make that sound bad or anything, but I mean, I’m just saying.
ALEX: Well, the like, tactics and all the information that they’re giving me, I definitely use it. Like, sometimes I know that I’ll, like, slip up a bit. But their tips are amazing and I’ll go with them.
MORGAN: I’d still say that he’s still in the process of, like, really learning how to be a guy. But I’d say he’s coming close to finishing that, for sure, so—
KYLE CATRAMBONE, Age 13: I’ve been struggling with depression for about four years. It’s more anxiety and sadness, the kind of depression I have. I have medicines to, like, boost my— my happiness, but those don’t always work.
I had thoughts of hurting myself, cutting myself, killing myself even. I got very close, very close, twice. I was just thinking I can’t do it anymore. I can’t live like this. I can’t live in this body. It’s not going to work.
My mom’s just been super-supportive. She’s been great the entire time. I was terrified of telling my dad because when I was younger, he was always, like, “No, you have to wear a dress. You’re a girl. You can’t. Not allowed. Nope. Can’t do it.” So that probably made me terrified.
I finally told him, which was not that long ago. My dad was really worried about the effects of the medicines and what if I, you know, later in life decided that this wasn’t the path that I wanted to go down.
NOEL CATRAMBONE, Kyle’s Father: I had some concerns. And there were some things about me that— or about it that kind of bothered me a little bit. We have these educated doctors offering kids who are at a young age some options that I’m not really sure should have been available to them. I was really kind of surprised and put off by it, quite honestly.
KYLE: Because I was only 13. He didn’t want me to make a life decision like that at this age. It was still hard. I couldn’t really see why. It was horrible. I felt like my parents— my dad, he didn’t love me. I felt like he didn’t want me to be this way.
NOEL CATRAMBONE: I didn’t want her to think that she could make some changes to her outward appearance, and then suddenly, everything would be fine, and you know, she would just move on from there and life would be great. I think there are a lot of other implications to this than just, you know, the few that you’re focusing in on right now.
NARRATOR: But Kyle is still hoping to start testosterone. And although his father remains concerned, he’s agreed to go to Lurie’s gender clinic for the first time to learn more about hormone treatments.
Cross-sex hormones, estrogen and testosterone, used to be given only to adults. But treatment guidelines established in 2009 now include children, though they do not recommend starting before the age of 16.
ROBERT GAROFALO, M.D., Div. Chief, Adolescent Med., Lurie Children’s Hosp.: The age limits, which used to say 18, now are 16. Now you’re seeing people starting cross-sex hormones at 15 or 14. And with the changes in the age of onset come some challenges to care that I think teams need to be very savvy about.
I mean, I think, you know, the big decision that families have to make when they embark on cross-sex hormones is that now you’re not hitting a pause button, right? So when you move on to cross-sex hormones, you’re now initiating medical therapy, where some of the changes that are going to take place are permanent. And that’s all a whole other, like, ball of wax, I think, for some of these families And that can be really hard.
So when we think about medications, if we’re going to go with the route of medications, there’s two— there’s two kinds. One are medications that sort of block progression through puberty, right? The other medicines that you could use would be right to going to sort of what we called cross-sex hormones, or in this case, it would be sort of testosterone.
NOEL CATRAMBONE: And there are drugs that get approved by the FDA, and everybody goes on their merry way and thinks things are great. And then two years later, people are dropping dead from one thing or another.
Dr. ROBERT GAROFALO: And this is really important, so I’m actually going to pull up a stool so I can sit and face you. So testosterone as a medication has been around, obviously, for a long time. The way we would consider using it here sort for a cross-sex sort of way, there aren’t, like, a tremendous amount of studies that have been done to document, like, all the potential side effects and the risks and benefits.
But I think, in general, it’s fairly well tolerated. Some of the changes again are permanent, and some sort of aren’t. And I think that those are the things that kind of freak people out. But when you think of things like, you know, hair loss on the temples, you know, facial hair growth, deepening of the voice, all things that go along with sort of a male sort of hormone. You’re going to have increased muscle development. So some of it’s going to be things that he’ll, you know, want.
But some of the things that you want to look out for are things like acne, mood changes, and then all the risk factors that go along with a typical male predisposition. So things like heart disease, stroke, you know, those kinds of things. Males are more likely to have heart disease than females.
We’re asking families to take some leaps of faith based upon the child that they have in front of them, and really, what we don’t know with regard to some of the long-term consequences of these medications.
I mean, if you look at our consent forms, they’re fraught with, like, vague language, and like, “may,’ “could.” We know very little about things that are really important to families, like fertility, like cancer potential or oncologic potential of these agents, cardiac risk— I mean, things that are— like, families want to know when they’re making decisions about their children.
There definitely is the potential for the testosterone or the cross-sex hormones to prevent sort of normal— what we call normal— fertility to sort of occur.
Have you ever thought about having kids yourself? We’re sort of asking you to be really grown up really quickly, you know, when you make these decisions, and that’s what’s tough. But I want you to really think through some of the stuff we’re talking about here, like— does that make sense?
KYLE: Well, you know, I would like to have kids maybe someday.
Dr. ROBERT GAROFALO: You know, if you’re saying, you know, “I might want to have my own kid one day,” then I think it’s probably a good thing for you and your parents to sort of at least get some information and find out whether sort of preserving your fertility might be something that you’re interested in.
NOEL CATRAMBONE: Up until now, it’s been things that were reversible. You know, change your name, we can refer to you as “he” and “him” and— sure. Fine. But at 13, I— I don’t think she’ll change her mind, but you have to think a little bit more about that. I mean, those are— and those are things that your parents should be there for, to help you be as certain as you can about a decision that, you know, later in life could have a huge impact. So there’s a lot to think about.
Dr. ROBERT GAROFALO: I don’t envy these parents. I mean, I think they’re making decisions in a very difficult environment. I mean, I know that we do informed consent, but really, I mean, how realistic is it to believe that a 14 or a 15-year-old or a 16-year-old has really the capacity to make that kind of decision for him or herself? But the same time, to deny them, that’s tough. I mean, there’s a— there’s a— this is a— it’s— this is tough stuff.
SKYLARKELEVEN, Vlogger, 7 Million Views: Hi. OK, so— so I guess around 11:00, I injected testosterone into my body! And so today’s my first day. Like, being born, I guess.
ALEX: I watch lots of YouTube videos of, like, SkylarkEleven and stuff. So, like, having him, like, kind of explain everything through his videos has helped me a lot.
SKYLARKELEVEN: So this is kind of, like, me pre- testosterone, but seems like it’s floating around through my bloodstream right now. And I feel really good.
ALEX: I’ve looked at other videos. I realized that they were exactly like SkylarkEleven, that they had the same thoughts and the same, like, views of things.
LAYNE, Vlogger: These are my muscles pre- T. They’re not that bad for a biological female, I think.
ARIN, Vlogger: And these are my absolutely. So this is all, like, pre-testosterone.
ALEX: Cross-hormones I can’t wait for. It’s going to mean that I’m going to start being able to gain muscle easier, the way guys should be able to. My voice is going to drop. I’m going to get an Adam’s apple. Woo-hoo! I can get a deep voice, I can get a beard, I can get a flat chest. Did someone look at my Christmas list?
BENTON, Vlogger: To inject testosterone, you have to use specific needles and a specific syringe, depending on your dosage.
SKYLARKELEVEN: I always pull out more than I need because I just push the rest of it back up and do it.
BENTON: One, two, three— just like that.
CHASE, Vlogger: Today was my first T shot. It was actually about half an hour ago.
[one month] Hey, guys. Today is July 16th, 2010.
[two months] Hello, people!
[three months] Hey, guys.
[nine months] Hey, guys. Hey, guys. Today is my nine months on T.
[11 months] Hey, guys. So today— actually, it was yesterday— was my 11 months on T.
[12 months] Hey, guys. So this is my voice 12 months on T.
SKYLARKELEVEN: I’m a lot hairier. As for my happy trail, which is the hairiest part of my body, it’s like a happy superhighway.
ARIN: Today is my first day on T. I feel like a new man. Basically, I was pretty much born today.
Today is my one year on testosterone. It is my official T birthday. I am now 1 years old, and it feels freakin’ awesome. It’s the best thing in the world, you know?
ALEX: Cross-gender hormones and top surgery are going to be the two major things that I’m, like, looking forward to in my future of being able to transition all the way.
SKYLARKELEVEN: I myself, I got top surgery — I take testosterone. I got top surgery about two-and-a-half months ago, and this is what it looks like. But it’s several different procedures. This is a double incision procedure.
ARIN: I can finally show off my wonderful abs, like, they’re really there. But they kind of are. That’s about it, yeah. So this is my chest.
KYLE CATRAMBONE, Age 13: On line is a great place for trans people. The Internet is the best place you can go to if you’re, like, scared about talking to anyone. The Internet— like, Tumblr. Oh, my God, Tumblr. And just YouTube, too. YouTube is, like, one of the— that’s how I found out I was trans. It was from a YouTube video that I found a long time ago.
NARRATOR: Kyle met his friend, John, in a support group for transgender teens. The on-line world has helped them learn to pass as guys even without testosterone.
JOHN: When I officially came out as trans, yeah, it took my parents a long time. And my dad— my dad is still having his issues with it.
KYLE: It seems super hard for dads, though. It seems a lot— because it’s, like, “Oh, Daddy’s girl,” that thing. Did that ever happen to you?
JOHN: I don’t feel like that’s what was up with my dad. I don’t think it was a “Daddy’s girl” kind of thing. I think it was— I think it’s just hard for him to imagine, like, being able to be born one way and identify as another. I think he’s just— guys aren’t really allowed to play with their gender at all.
KYLE: Oh, yeah!
JOHN: So I think that was more about what— what it’s hard for him to wrap his head around.
JOHN BLANCHARD, Age 16: My birth name was Giana. For as long as I can remember, I always felt male. I did come out to my parents as a lesbian some time around 7th, maybe. You know, I thought, “Oh, well, I seem to wear boys’ clothes all the time. I feel masculine, and I realize that I like girls,” so I was like, “OK, I must be a lesbian.”
That was tough. My dad, he just— he just wouldn’t have any part of it. I think he said something to me— he was, like, he said, “This is not a world that you’re going to be a part of.” Then when I got to my freshman year, I identified as trans, so I came out to them again as a trans male.
LISA BLANCHARD, John’s Mother: At that point, I was using pronouns “she” and “her.” And he said, “Mom, you know, when you say that, when you say ‘she,’ it feels like I’m actually naked. And I feel horrible and I just want to disappear.” So I started to say “Gi.” And now he would like to be called John. So I just go between both names still. I’m still getting used to the process of the name.
BURT BLANCHARD, John’s Father: So it’s still Gi to me. It’s certainly not the Giana from, you know, childhood, but it’s still Gi. And just— I haven’t switched over to the John. It’s a little harder for me.
I feel, in a sense, like something’s been robbed, right? Like, you know, so my daughter’s gone, it seems, and is morphing into this other person. But I feel this may be where it ends up. I don’t know. I hope not, but I think there’s another way.
There’s a whole spiritual side to this, to me. So I pray a lot. And you know, and the whole spiritual piece of this is, you know, I just don’t believe that this is the right way to go. This is the personal place that I’m at.
I want Gi happy. I want, you know, the best life for her, you know, want that life based in— how do I put this? It’s just, you know, on the— on the path that God has planned for her. I don’t know that this is it. This route to me can be an eternal death. She may not see that, but there’s a hope that if I can just stay there, you know, show the love, see what happens, and we have to take it day by day.
LISA BLANCHARD: With the upbringing that we had, you know, we were taught that, you know, a man and a woman, and a man and a man is bad, and you know, they’re damned and— that’s how we grew up— that’s what we grew up thinking.
But in time, I realized, with— with regard to my child, this is the way he’s felt on the inside for so long. I mean, he could hardly speak when he was pulling on his tights, saying, you know, “This is not what I want, and this is not who I am.”
I don’t understand how you could be born that way and have that happen and yet, you know, it’s something that you could be damned for. It doesn’t make sense to me.
JOHN: I always had a hard time making friends. I think part of it was that I was a very strange kid. I would just feel bad because every day I went to school, I just felt like everybody wanted me to go. Nobody wanted me there.
One time, this— this girl— we were in the girls’ locker room because we have to change for gym. She just went off on me. She was, like, “Man, you’re— you’re an ugly dyke.” You know, “You’re a lesbian.” It just kind of went from shaky to unstable to almost impossible, is what it felt like. By the end, I was just trying to hang on.
I started getting some anger issues in my sophomore year. When I was very stressed out, well, sometimes I would break and I would punch a hole in the wall or kick a hole in the wall, or things like that. I would just get so mad.
Eventually, I could keep it from all spilling out, but it would— instead, it would spill in. I was just drifting off into this very violent experience— very violent into my head. Sometimes, I would think about harming my family. The images would pop up in my head.
It got— it got so bad. And that’s when I really decided, I feel like a threat to my family. I feel like a threat to myself. I just can’t control myself. So very late at night, I went down to my mom. I was just crying. And I said, “Hey, I want you to take me to a hospital and I want to get locked up.”
LISA BLANCHARD: That’s what really motivated me, to know that he was in so much pain and that I could be causing it. That was too much for me. I just have to support him, and I kind of just have to figure out whatever’s going to happen’s going to happen. But today he needs me, and that’s what I’m going to do, whatever he needs me to do.
BURT BLANCHARD: You know, I guess I’m holding out on hope that, you know, could this reverse? There’s a possibility. Is this going to move fully forward, and this is, you know, where Gi’s going to go? That’s a possibility, too. I just can’t make that switch just in— for me, myself. I don’t talk about anybody else. It’s because it’s a personal issue, and where you’re at. The choice for me is, I just, like— I can’t go there.
ARIEL, Age 13: I’m on the verge of cross-hormones right now. I’m excited just to become a woman, to have breasts, to have a beautiful figure, to just be a woman. And I think now with the technology and the hormones, you can actually transform into who you actually envision yourself as. And that’s what I think is really amazing.
We signed the legal papers on Friday, so it’s all set with the cross-hormones. And I’m really excited.
JEAN MALPAS, Therapist, Dir., Ackerman Gender & Family Project: It’s really big news.
ARIEL: I know.
JEAN MALPAS: And I’m also just aware of— I feel like you’ve been waiting—
JEAN MALPAS: —for quite a long time.
ARIEL: Very long time. [laughs]
JEAN MALPAS: And you know, I mean, it’s interesting. Some people think, How come someone your age knows so well and so clearly, you know, who you are and who you’re going to be? And you know, you’ve known who you are, you know, as a girl for so long already—
JEAN MALPAS: —that, you know, from my perspective, sort of asking you to wait longer feels more harmful—
JEAN MALPAS: —than— you know, than not.
KERRY, Ariel’s Mother: The guidelines have always said that cross-hormones should start when an adolescent is 16 years old. And that’s something that we’ve been working on with our therapist. He really feels that Ariel is ready. He’s asked— we’ve gone through, you know, many sessions of therapy. We’ve gone through questionnaires. We have to— the endocrinologist has to talk to us, the pediatrician. And we’re— now we’re at the point that Ariel is going to be able to get the cross-hormones earlier than the guidelines of 16.
JEAN MALPAS: So taking this next step of taking cross-hormones means something in terms of your ability to have biological children. You know, some transgender adolescents decide to actually postpone, you know, even taking cross-hormones until they can store their genetic material.
ARIEL: I wouldn’t really want to produce sperm. I really wouldn’t. Like, I don’t want to have a child that way. And it just wouldn’t make me feel good. Like, if I— if I had, like, sperm, I wouldn’t be happy, like, “Yay, now I can have, like, a baby or something.” I would just be, like— like horrified.
JEAN MALPAS: You know, it’s interesting you said, “I wouldn’t even want to produce sperm and have a child that way.” And I wondered what you meant by that. Like, if you meant it would— like, remind you that you’re having a child from your boy’s body?
ARIEL: Yeah. Yeah. That’s partially. And it’s also that I couldn’t have a child in a— like, in a girl’s body.
JEAN MALPAS: Got it. But you want children?
ARIEL: Yeah, I want— well, of course I’m going to have children, but I’m just not going to have them that way.
JEAN MALPAS: OK.
ARIEL: It’s not, like, I’m not going to have a child. That would be, like, the worst thing.
JEAN MALPAS: But that’s a bit painful?
ARIEL: Yeah, it’s very painful.
JEAN MALPAS: And the—
ARIEL: I think about it constantly, cry about it sometimes.
JEAN MALPAS: Of course. Yeah. It’s OK.
ARIEL: Really sad. But my excitement to start the cross-hormones completely overrules my, like, despair to just to not have, like, a child— a child of my own. Like, that just completely overrides it.
JEAN MALPAS: Any other thoughts or questions about that?
RASHPAL SINGH, Alex’s Father: When Alex was young, like, I would say 3 or 4 years old, one of the favorite activities, at least for me, used to be on Saturday morning, where I would make pigtails in the sunroom. And we would, like, capture some information on video. And just I was— I was trying to, you know, have a chronology of, you know, different parts, moments of Alex’s life— in Alex’s life.
KAREN: You’re the best!
RASHPAL SINGH: Well, thank you, my baby.
Every once in a while, I still call— call him Karen. There’s, like, a Karen phase in my mind, and then there’s the Alex phase. So if I was to, let’s say, look at a picture of 4-year-old— it will be Karen. And then if I’m looking at a picture now, it will be Alex. So— and accidentally, sometimes I call— I call him Karen.
NARRATOR: Alex and his mom come to the clinic every six weeks for an injection of Lupron, the puberty blocker. But today, they are also here to sign a consent form for testosterone.
LAURIE SINGH, Alex’s Mother: It is very, very hard to make the decision to allow your child to take a medication that has unknown side effects. But it becomes a lot easier when you’ve come to the conclusion that the benefits outweigh the risks.
And when you see your child suffer the way I have— and struggle, the way we have seen Alex struggle, we don’t have a choice. I don’t feel as though we have a choice.
LISA SIMONS, M.D., Adolescent Medicine, Lurie Children’s Hosp.: So some of the changes of testosterone are permanent, meaning these changes won’t reverse, OK? Once your voice deepens, there’s no going back. So hair loss at the temples and crown.
Other thing is facial hair growth and body hair growth. So those are things where, again, if you decided to stop at one point in your life, that hair growth may slow down, but it may not stop, OK? So once your estrogen goes down, there’s actually changes in that area, usually thinning. And sometimes you can get a little discomfort with that, with the walls of the vagina, OK? That can increase the risk of sexually transmitted infections.
You know, there are some transgender men who use that area to have sex, to use the vagina for sex, and some people don’t. But you know, when we talk about increased risk for infections and things like that, that’s really related to, you know, if you’re using that area for vaginal sex. OK? So I know a little bit hard to think about and perhaps not comfortable.
LAURIE SINGH: Especially at 13.
Dr. LISA SIMONS: Especially at 13. I hear this. I know. We have to go over this now, and you’re, like, “Why do you have to bring that up with anyone?” It’s not known whether this increases the risk of ovarian cancer, breast cancer or uterine cancer. So pelvic exams and regular cervical screenings are strongly recommended unless there’s been a removal of those organs, the ovaries, the uterus and the cervix.
LAURIE SINGH: It is very difficult to have a 13-year-old in the driver’s seat and playing such a big role in this decision. I think that we would both prefer to see Alex transition naturally to live his life as a man without medical intervention, but— and without the need for puberty blockers or cross-hormones.
But we feel that, you know, we are not experiencing what he is experiencing. So from my perspective, I do feel that testosterone is the right course for Alex.
NARRATOR: John’s father remains opposed to testosterone, but John was hoping he might agree to a smaller step, a legal name change.
JOHN: Dad had just come home from a business trip, and I said to him, “I’m hoping to get my name changed. I was hoping that you could sign.” And he told me, you know, “I’m just not ready. I’m not ready for that yet.”
I— I did start getting angry, but I tried to— tried to explain to him why I need this. He still said that he wasn’t going to sign. Then I got really mad and— well, I threw a cup at him, a cup of water. And I— I said to him that he’s not my father. I didn’t— I didn’t mean that, so—
BURT BLANCHARD: It pains me that you have to go through that process. I’m not unempathetic about that. The bigger piece for me is it’s— I don’t know that I am going to be comfortable with this life and the way it’s going for you. And it’s just my fatherly concern. Everything else aside, I’m still at, “I don’t know that this is the right way because I’m basing this on love.” And I just in love, for the way I’m thinking, the way I’m feeling, I couldn’t sign.
LISA BLANCHARD: I said, you know, “You say you love him but it just doesn’t feel like love. And if— if I were John, it wouldn’t feel like love. So I’m just telling you what it looks like from the outside.”
So whether he can see it or agree with it, I sort of just laid it out that I’m going forward with giving John his name and trying to do everything we can to get that— to get that to happen with or without his OK.
BURT BLANCHARD: I don’t know what that holds. I don’t know— I don’t know what that means. I don’t know if we split. I don’t know if we— I don’t know. I don’t know what that means.
I care, though. I mean, I would love to keep us together, but I don’t— I don’t know what that’s going to do. I mean, I think people have to— Lisa’s going to have to make up her mind. Gi will have to make up her mind. If I choose this route, this very well could be it. While I hate that stance, I— there’s— I just cannot get off this point. I can’t. I can’t.
JOHN: I guess knowing that I’ll leave out in maybe a year or so, it kind of— I hope the tensions don’t last, you know, because it would be nice to leave out with less conflict, have the family be a little bit more happy, a little more put together.
BURT BLANCHARD: The life we live.
[transgender support group]
TONY, Group Leader: OK, so we’re going to start— let’s start group now, and just a couple of guidelines, highlight, lowlight, preferred name and pronoun. And we’ll go this way.
LIA HODSON, Age 18: I’m Lia— female pronouns. I’m going— I’m leaving tomorrow to go to Arizona for surgery. So that’s cool. [group members applaud]
LIA: So, yeah, I had a really, like, good week and month. I graduated from high school. I was prom queen.
LIA: Yeah, I really was.
TONY: Oh, my God~! That’s wonderful! [applause]
LIA: Yeah. My friend, A.J., who’s gender nonconforming, was prom king. So like—
TONY: Very cool!
LIA: —that’s cool.
TONY: Very cool!
GIRL: Oh, I know A.J.
LIA: A.J. Jonathan.
GIRL: Oh, my God! I know A.J.
LIA: Yeah, so we were prom king and queen, which was awesome. I graduated from high school. I’m having surgery. Pretty good.
NARRATOR: Lia Hodson, who just turned 18, is among the first wave of kids in the United States to medically transition with puberty blockers, hormones and now surgery .
LIA: I’m about to go in for surgery. It’s an SRS bottom surgery, so I’ll be getting a nice little vagina. [laughs] It means Sexual Reassignment Surgery, or GRS, Gender Reassignment Surgery. I think that’s what they call it. They just kind of put it all inside and invert and sew it all up, and I got new parts.
I think soon as I realized who I was, I was, like, “Oh, yeah, I’d like to have the correct anatomy.” In my mind, I felt it would— I wanted it to match. It was never really, like, a question of if I would. I just kind of felt like I would, and it was— it was a matter of time.
I don’t think that surgery’s going to magically, like, change anything in my life. I mean, it’ll just make me feel more comfortable with my body and myself. I don’t want to focus on being trans forever. It’s kind of just the little hassle I have to deal with. I’d rather just go to college and move on, so be as complete as I want to be, and just start my next chapter of my life, I guess.
I don’t want to make it my life. I don’t want to— I don’t want to— I don’t really identify as being trans. I’m just a girl. I’m just myself. And I don’t— I don’t really like making it a big deal. I feel like a woman. I don’t feel trans, I just feel like myself. I feel comfortable and I feel like a woman.
NARRATOR: Isaac also fully transitioned with blockers, hormones and top surgery. Now 19 and a sophomore in college, his perspective has been gradually shifting.
ISAAC, Age 19: I mean, in a way, I very much fit the very, you know, typical trans narrative. I decided to transition. I legally changed my name. I, you know, started taking testosterone. I got top surgery.
But I started realizing at around 16, 17 what a huge, huge decision I had made to— to embrace this masculine part of myself so deeply.
Going through an artificial puberty, you know, I didn’t really experience this sort of formative time. And I kind of mourn that, in a way because, you know, as much as we all know puberty that sort of, you know, gross, slimy molding of everybody into a person. And the way that I went through that was, you know, meticulously tested and controlled and dosed.
And it’s been good, but I wonder what that experience— or what role that experience has in a person’s conception of his or her gender. And I can never know that for me.
You know, none of this is to say that I made any sort of wrong decision or— or regret transitioning because it was really painful to be presenting as male and not be on testosterone and not have top surgery.
And my mind was really cleared of that sort of pain after that in a way that allowed me to come to this openness, I guess, about my gender. But I think it— you know, it’s become really clear in recent years that any sort of big problems that I thought I would fix by transitioning weren’t really fixed.
I really don’t like to use the term “regret,” although it’s kind of hard to speak about how I feel about my gender without there being some element of— of regret, or at least of fear, I think a little bit, of what the implications of the choices that I made are. I’m putting a chemical into my body once a week. I’m, like— and there are very, very, very clear effects of that. And I’m assuming that there are also unclear effects to that.
I mean, it is super easy as kid to hear, you know, these things are irreversible and be, like, “OK. I don’t care.” You know, “Just— I want it.” Because time doesn’t— you don’t— you don’t think of time in the same way when you’ve only experienced a tiny little sliver of it.
But I think— I think in the past few years, at least for me, I would at some point like to take a break, at least from— from testosterone because I— I don’t like to imagine that, you know, the entirety of the time that I spend on this earth will be spent sort of separate from what my body actually is.
Like, I don’t know— I don’t really know what it means to be, like, a man in this body, or a man in the body that I was born in because I’ve only really been a man in the constructed body, which I enjoy and it’s comfortable, but also, it’s just, like, not really my body.
LIA HEGARTY, Age 9: I do not want any of my boy puberty. I don’t want, like, the big hairy legs, or like— the— like, the body they get, like, with all the muscles. I mean, I want to be a muscley lady, but not a muscley man that’s, like, “Oh, strong man.” Whoa! Whoa! Like, yech. I want to be as close to a girl as I can.
NARRATOR: At the age of 9, Lia has not yet entered puberty. But Daniel has, and he will start blockers in the next few months.
MICAH HEUMANN, Daniel’s Father: We don’t have a lot of choices. It’s a drug that they say is, you know, reversible, that, you know, they don’t think will do a lot of harm. And so we’re forced to pick the lesser of two evils, in some ways, just because of what we don’t know for one of them. But it’s our son’s happiness, and that’s the bottom line. We want him to be happy.
NURSE: All right, so let me show you your medicine. So this is testosterone, right? OK. So always get in a habit of reading your vial.
RASHPAL SINGH, Alex’s Father: I wish we can fast-forward to, you know, a hundred years from now, and then, you know, go get the data which is going to be available and being generated, and there would be a better understanding about this— the gender dysphoria. But we don’t have that information. So what we are trying to do is make the best decision possible with the known facts.
NARRATOR: Soon after meeting with the doctors at the clinic, Kyle’s father agreed to let him start testosterone.
KYLE: It was the happiest day of my life. Just seeing my dad finally accept me for who I am, it was the best day.
JOHN: I need testosterone to be comfortable with myself. And my dad, he keeps saying, “I’m just not there yet.”
BURT BLANCHARD: Can I see it down the road? You’re asking me today, no. I’m just being honest, you know, and so we’ll need to, you know, sort through that and talk about that as a family and what that means. But today, I don’t see it. It’s hard for me.
NARRATOR: Not long after this interview, John was suspended from school for punching a classmate who had just started testosterone. Three weeks later, his father relented and signed the consent forms.
SELVI: Right when she found out she was going to get it, she sent me a text in, like, this long, and like, all capitals, like, “Save the date! I’m getting the hormones!” In, like, all caps with, like, a million exclamation marks!
EMMA: Actually, it was, like, kind of exciting for us when she finally said that she was going to get them.
ARIEL, Age 13: Well, I remember the first day, like, I got the hormones. So I walked around my room and touched every article, like, every fiber of my carpet and every, like, piece of thing on my bookshelf. And I said, “I’m— this— these are the last things I’m touching while I’m a child.”
And I was, like, walking around, and like, touching the entire thing. And it was so funny! And I, like, finished touching, the last thing and I’m, like, “Now I’m a woman!” And I’m, like— and I was just so happy!
I already feel like I’ve gone so far, and I’m only 13, so— before, I just wanted to be a girl, like, just a girl, girl, girl. But now that I’ve gotten on my feet a little bit, I want to show people, like, I’m a trans girl. I mean, if you’re sure of yourself, then why do you need to hide it?
ALEX, Age 13: There’s definitely times where I felt like, OK, well, now that this town knows, maybe I could move, so I could just start a whole new life and just be the guy that I am.
But some part of my mind sees that as kind of lying to myself. It’s— I mean, I’m never going to be a cisgender guy. I’m never going to have been born an actual male. I’m always going to have, like, that sense in me.
And if you lie to yourself, then you’re kind of lying to the world. And it puts a lot of weight on your shoulders, a lot of pressure for you. And I think that if I can just clear that pressure off, I’m Alex, the transgender guy.
ROBERT GAROFALO, M.D., Div. Chief, Adolescent Med., Lurie Children’s Hosp.: These are not families that are living in the shadows anymore. You know, the world is changing. I mean, this is movement that is happening. It’s not going not happen, it’s going to happen.
But the stakes are super high, and we don’t have all the answers. There hasn’t been a lot of research in this area. Hopefully, there’s going to be more research and some of those unanswered questions, hopefully, will begin to be answered. And then we can give families, like, legitimate options in terms of what we’re doing now, which is really, I think, approaching families with a lot of unknowns.
COURTNEY FINLAYSON, M.D., Ped. Endocrinologist, Lurie Children’s Hosp.: We are all kind of navigating this new world. I hope that what we will have done is to give them a chance to have what for many of us is natural for us, to appear and live as the gender in which we identify.
I also hope that these individuals will be able to give us feedback, both— both just to tell us and that they will be involved in studies that we can learn what things we did right and what things we didn’t, and that it will be even better for the next generation. I really hope what we’re doing is the right thing.