Molly Parker

The harmful myths around transitioning

March 1, 2023

In the past few decades, the movement for queer rights has made undeniable progress, according to a Jan. 11, 2021 American Bar Association article. Societal acceptance and institutional protections have made it possible for many queer people to be themselves and live without fear. 

Still, there is work to be done. Transphobic rhetoric is altogether too common and is not just contained to conspiracy theories by fringe right-wing personalities, according to an April 21, 2022 Vox article, but is also used by well-known celebrities such as J.K. Rowling, as detailed in a Feb, 16 article by The Cut. 

For those paying attention, Rowling’s transphobia is nothing new, but the recent uptick in well-known, respected, liberal news sources running anti-trans articles under the guise of innocent skepticism is concerning, especially in conjunction with the on-going rightwing campaign against transgender rights.

New York Times writer Pamela Paul even compared the criticism against J.K. Rowling’s transphobia to the violent stabbing of prolific author Salman Rushdie in a Feb. 16 New York Times Op-Ed.

The attack against Rushdie was motivated by religious extremism and a 1989 execution order, called a fatwa, by Ayatollah Khomeini, former supreme leader of Iran, after the publication of a novel he deemed blasphemous, according to a Feb. 6 The New Yorker article

The majority of the criticism hailed against Rowling exists independently from her published works, instead focused around her aforementioned outspoken transphobic rhetoric.

While Rowling may not enjoy that there are people on the internet who disagree with her, she can hardly be compared to the target of a decades-long political and religious crusade.

In addition, journalist Emily Bazelon called current protocols for gender affirming care into question in her June 15, 2022 New York Times article titled  “The Battle Over Gender Therapy.”

Articles like these may seem harmless to the untrained eye, but they can actually be used in anti-trans legislation. For example, Bazelon’s article was quoted by the State of Texas in order to target families of trans youth, according to the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.

Misinformation surrounding gender affirming care and misinterpretations of clinical research can be especially impactful because of the opportunity for weaponization by legislators looking to ban medical gender-reaffirming treatment, according to the GLAAD website.

Gender-reaffirming care can look like many different things.

Typically, medical transitioning consists of puberty suppression, hormone therapy and various possible gender-affirming surgeries, according to a report from the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Population Affairs. Thorough psychological evaluation and support are also practiced throughout the process. 

Every trans person is different and may choose to partake in as many or as few gender-reaffirming treatments as they are comfortable with and financially able to. 

For trans youth, the first step is typically not so much medical, but rather social. This may include going by a different name and sporting gender-affirming hairstyles and clothes, according to the DHHS OPA report. 

The second step is often puberty blockers, which tends to be the most controversial and scrutinized step of treatment despite being one of the oldest and well-supported practices in gender-reaffirming care, according to a 2020 study published by the International Journal of Transgender Health, as well as being completely reversible, according to the DHHS OPA report.

For young people questioning their gender identity, puberty suppression can be a time-sensitive but invaluable form of care. 

Gonadotropin-releasing hormone agonists, the most common form of puberty blockers, work by inhibiting the release of sex hormones during puberty, according to a Feb. 28, 2022 Columbia School of Public Health article

There are some concerns surrounding the long-term effects of GnRH use, but these are often wildly exaggerated and pale in comparison to the benefits of gender-affirming care, according to a Nov. 22, 2022 World Professional Association for Transgender Health article. 

In fact, puberty suppression has been shown to greatly improve the mental health of patients, according to a 2011 study published by the The Journal of Sexual Medicine

The same study found that gender dysphoria and body dissatisfaction weren’t improved with puberty blockers alone, and that as a result, those involved in the study chose to begin gender-affirming hormone therapy.

If you’re anything like me, you’re probably sickened by seeing often-repeated statistics about how transgender individuals are more likely to consider suicide or attempt suicide.

Statistics like this are exactly why accessible support and care is essential. Gender-affirming care has been shown to greatly alleviate gender dysphoria and improve mental health, well-being and self-image, according to a 2014 study published by the Pediatrics Journal

Before writing this column, I confided in two of my trans friends from home, Andrew Crews and Eli Calderone. I asked them about their coming out, transitioning and current experiences in college. 

Both Crews and Calderone described significant improvements in mental health and self-image since transitioning.

“I felt that something was just off generally,” Crews said. “I couldn’t put my finger on it until I had the exact words for transgender, because before that point I didn’t even know that existed, I just felt so weird in my body. Once I began my transition, it just started to feel right.”

Calderone expressed a similar sentiment.

“I was so uncomfortable and sad and depressed living in my body, and top surgery helped me to love living in my body,” Calderone said.

Both Crews and Calderone greatly emphasized the importance of the support they were given during their transition. They acknowledged they were incredibly lucky to have parents who were accepting and were privileged to be able to transition when they did. 

Support is one of the most essential external factors in the mental health of trans youth, according to an April 26, 2021 research summary from the National Council on Family Relations

Unfortunately, not every trans person has the privilege of being able to transition with the acceptance and help of their parents. For many, college is the first time people can feel comfortable experimenting with how they express their gender.

So, how does the University of Vermont accommodate and support trans students?

As it turns out, we do pretty well, all things considered. UVM was ranked in the top ten trans-friendly colleges and universities, according to an April 29, 2013 article by Campus Pride, and again in their 2020 BEST OF THE BEST Top 40 List.

And that ranking isn’t just based on “campus vibes,” but on an evaluation of protections and accommodations available to queer students, known as the Campus Pride Index. UVM scores five out of five stars in the index.

One of the most essential parts of UVM’s support for trans students is the gender-affirming care available through Student Health Services. Some services available through SHS include hormone therapy, referrals to specialists and ongoing clinical care. 

The Prism Center is also an important source of community and support for queer students. There, queer students can find a collection of relevant resources from information on inclusive housing to the Meezan-Brittenback Student Emergency fund—an emergency grant program founded to support queer students in times of financial hardship—to local services not covered by UVM and more.

Public restrooms can often be anxiety-inducing spaces for genderqueer people, which is why this map of gender-inclusive restrooms on campus is so useful. Although, like most of UVM’s interactive campus maps, it may not be the most smartphone-friendly website. 

Before we pat ourselves on the back for being such an accepting campus, we should recognize that we are not exempt from moral licensing, which is the psychological tendency to excuse negative actions due to a history of moral behavior. This institution, additionally, should continue to be conscious of transphobic rhetoric and dog-whistling, no matter how subtle or innocent it may seem.

As members of the community of the University of Vermont, we must be united in our support and celebration of trans people and condemn the rise in transphobia, whether it be in legislation, media or even in the words and thoughts of our less progressive family members. 

No matter who you are, even if you’re cisgender and may not be personally affected by transphobia, we all have a responsibility to care about and fight for trans rights.

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