NEW HAVEN — Hannah is a 14-year-old girl, clad in leggings and an oversize T-shirt, with long brown hair that she curls around a finger. She was also born a boy.
The government can’t seem to decide whether it should affirm children like Hannah. President Trump jumped from supporting workplace protections for transgender people to ending supportive policies for transgender students in public schools. The Supreme Court waffled on whether or not these kids can use the bathrooms of their identified genders, sending the question back to the Fourth Circuit. Last month, North Carolina repealed a law that forced transgender people to use the bathroom corresponding with the gender on their birth certificates, while strangely prohibiting schools from adopting policies that would let transgender students use the bathroom of their choice.
Politicians could learn something from the doctors who treat these patients. Over the past few years, it has become clear that if we support these children in their transgender identities instead of trying to change them, they thrive instead of struggling with anxiety and depression.
Hannah is using a puberty-blocking implant and getting ready to embark on the path of developing a female body by starting estrogen. Ten years ago most doctors would have called this malpractice. New data has now made it the protocol for thousands of American children.
Being transgender doesn’t affect Hannah much. She is a straight-A student and auditioning for her school’s production of “Annie.” She’s both embarrassed and excited to talk about the two boys who asked her out this year.
“I turned to him and said, ‘You know I’m transgender, right?’ ” she tells me. “He said that he knows I’m transgender and that he also knows I’m pretty and sweet.”
Taking her red cheeks as a sign to change the subject, we switch back to medicine. I feel around her bicep, where a hard rod just beneath her skin releases a drug that turns off the brain cells that would otherwise kick off puberty. The implant has been in place for two years, preventing the process that would have deepened her voice and given her an Adam’s apple. She has been happy with the blocker, but is ready to move on.
“I’m tired of being the only girl in my grade who looks like a little kid,” she says.
She has a point. A review of recent studies suggests we could start cross-sex hormones as early as 14, so that transgender kids don’t suffer the stigma of starting puberty years after their classmates.