This June was a lively, if not a bit limited return, of public Pride Month celebrations after coronavirus made it too dangerous to get together. We kicked off the month with a supportive statement from the White House for the LGBTQI+ community and the usual exploitive influx of rainbow capitalism, which was a return to normalcy after the last year of chaos.
While we were hoping to see the month of June end with the Senate voting on the highly publicized Equality Act, but have instead been faced with the upsetting news that 2021 has set a new record for the number of anti-transgender rights bills introduced to the American legislature. These bills have been aimed at transgender children and young adults, primarily, to limit their access to gender-affirming treatments.
Medical professionals across the country, such as the AMA Executive Vice President and CEO James L. Madara, MD have been actively speaking against the measures these bills are taking. “Decisions about medical care belong within the sanctity of the patient-physician relationship,” Madara has stated. In order to understand how dangerous it could be to the mental, emotional, and physical health of gender-dysmorphic people to make these treatments illegal, we first need to break down what they are.
What is Gender-Affirming Care?
Gender-affirming care describes ideal medical, surgical and mental health services sought by transgender, non-binary and gender non-conforming people. The usage of each service varies by the means of individual patients, so the definition is a bit wide. That being said, the effectiveness of the different services are dependent on each other, so it is paramount to understand the scope of the three core areas of service.
Medical treatment refers to the use of active medication to slow, stop, or adjust changes in the body, as well as the treatments that would be needed to maintain those changes and their effects. One of the most endangered methods right now is puberty blockers, which are medications that focus on halting the effects of puberty on a young adult’s body, both internally and externally.
Puberty blockers are under attack because they are easy to conceptually villainize, but studies have proven that they are, ultimately, largely reversible. There are always risks involved, as there are in any medication, but none that pertain to long-term health. Instead, the positive effects that come from giving gender dysmorphic people time to find themselves without fighting time and biology has proven to help teens feel happier and healthier.
While puberty blockers are a large focus of anti-transgender medical movements right now, they are not the only step in a medical treatment for transgender people. With the help of medical professionals, transgender people can begin to introduced testosterone, estrogen, and other natural chemicals to begin redirecting the body’s growth in the direction the person wants. This is certainly a more permanent step, with enough time behind it, but ultimately immensely helpful in letting youth feel comfortable in their gender presentation.
Surgical treatment for gender affirmation is considered to be the more permanent type of change. While many medications can be reversed, surgical treatment can be difficult or dangerous to reverse, so it is largely reserved to legal adults. There are movements to open up non-emergency treatments to transgender youths, but due to the risks that can come with altering a changing body, many professionals warn against it.
While this could technically be considered the second step to confirming a gender presentation, many transgender, nonbinary, and gender non-conforming people never take this step as they feel it is unnecessary for their journey. in 2011, a survey by End Transgender Discriminations showed that 33 percent of people who identified as trans, nonbinary, or nonconforming had not transitioned to and 14 percent of trans women and 72 percent of trans men did not want genital construction surgery.
Mental Health Treatment
As mentioned in our Semi-Annual Healthcare Industry Update from earlier this month, the LGBTQI+ community finds itself commonly at a high risk for experiencing mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression. In the transgender community, the likelihood of developing mental health challenges are nearly 50%. Even more harrowing is that 41% have attempted suicide.
The movement for destigmatizing therapy has made great strides in recent years, but, for marginalized and discriminated-against groups like trans youth, therapy can take on a different tone. Therapy for a transgender individual is a must, as becoming comfortable with who you want to be and the changes you feel is just as mental and emotional as it is physical.
What many do not understand is that, especially for trans youths, it is important for the family to attend therapy as well. Mental health providers are there to address the core of a message by clearing away the ingrained social beliefs that could be blocking its proper expression. Speaking with a therapist will both give people the safe place to focus on themselves and who they really are and learn how they want to express that, be it to family, friends, or the world as a whole.
How this Will Affect Transgender Mental Health Treatment
Mental health treatments are constantly developing. The evolution of the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) can speak to that. Along with our understand of disorders themselves, we have come to better understand the factors that can cause or worsen them.
Should bills that restrict gender-affirming medical treatment continue, we expect to see the LGBTQI+ community, which, as previously mentioned, is already at high risk, begin to show growth in anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders.
We can expect this because the evolution of treatments, which open up the ability to express gender for gender dysmorphic young adults, created a way for people to directly and legally address their stressors. With the restriction of this practice, transgender and nonconforming people lose the ability to heal with the practical application of changing their gender.
Should restrictive bills stop being presented or stop being passed, we would still have a way to go, as it is not easy, mentally, emotionally, or physically to create a new presence in the world, but it would be one less stressor for patients to worry about.
This is article is a good place to start learning about the factors involved in the recent anti-transgender bills, but it certainly does not cover all that can be said. Thankfully, we have great groups like the National Center for Transgender Equality that can keep people updated on important news and help people find ways to get involved.
If you are interested in helping from a medical standpoint, from mental health to speech therapy, we are here to help. Check out our job boards to see what opportunities we have open or, if you are looking for something else, send us your resume and we’ll connect you to a recruiter who can help.