29 March 2012

Not Standing Idly By Transgendered Youth

There are days when I wish I'd gotten on a bus, or my bike, the day after I graduated high school and gone to some place where nobody knew me.  Then, I could have done whatever I needed to do to begin my transition into my life as a woman.

However, I also realize that such a thing would have been infinitely more difficult than it is now.  Part of the reason for that, of course, has to do with societal attitudes.  While many of us still face ostracism, and worse, there was even less understanding of, and hostility directed toward, us three and a half decades ago than there is now.

Another reason why transitioning into a life in my true gender would have been more difficult is, of course, the cost. I, like most new high school graduates, didn't have the money necessary for everything from psychotherapy and hormonal treatments--let alone surgery.  In fact, about the only way I could have gained access (legally, anyway) to that much money was through a loan--which I could have used only to go to college.

Still another thing that would have made my journey much more arduous and perilous than it has been is the lack of facilities and competent (let alone willing) providers of health care and other services for transgenders.  In most places, such facilities and services didn't exist at all; those services and techniques in use at the time were, at best, primitive compared to what we have today, simply because so few providers and policy-makers understood our needs and concerns.

So, it is heartening to read about resources and people available to trans people, especially the young, that weren't available in my youth.  

In particular, I'm glad to see someone like Dr. Norman Spack doing the kind of work he does.

Dr. Spack has worked at the Boston Children's Hospital for 39 years.  In his early days at the hospital, he treated street kids as a volunteer on a medical van.  Some of those young people were "throwaways" who were rejected by their families and communities because of their gender variance.    That is how he first learned of the difficulties faced by transgender children and teenagers.

Later, a colleague referred a young transgender adult, who was a Harvard graduate, to him.  This patient introduced the doctor to other transgender young adults.  Dr. Spack would become one of the few doctors who was willing to provide care and treatment for transgenders.  Even today, many doctors are reluctant or unwilling to take on trans patients, let alone those who are young adults or children.

Five years ago, Dr. Spack co-founded the Gender Management Services Clinic, or GeMS, at the hospital.  This clinic provides many services to transgender children and teenagers.  Among the most controversial is treatment with hormonal suppressants that delay the onset of puberty.  In addition to relieving depression and cutting down on self-destructive behaviors, the treatment buys time for the transgendered child.  A teenager is better able to decide whether or not to start taking the hormones of the "opposite" that trigger permanent physical changes.  Hormonal suppression treatments, on the other hand, are fully reversible.

Dr. Spack's work at the clinic is not limited to medical treatments.  He, who comes from a family of noted Jewish educators, does what he can to reassure this young patients that God has not played a trick on them.  "Things happen," he tells them. "It's not because of anything you did.  It's our job to find a way for you to be balanced, to be happy."

His inspiration for his work, he says, comes from Leviticus:  If your neighbor is bleeding by the side of the road, you shall not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor."

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