I am writing in response to recent works by Professor Donna M. Hughes, specifically her letter to the editor in the Good Five Cent Cigar.
In this letter, Dr. Hughes paints transgender people as victims of a diabolical scheme to convince them to undergo medical procedures. She writes, “There is very big funding behind the transgender movement from billionaires and pharmaceutical and biomedical companies. Once a young person enters the hormone and surgery pipeline, they are patients for life.”
Dr. Hughes, I would like to come clean and say that absolutely no one came up to me and told me I was transgender. No shady figure in a dark alleyway offered me vials of testosterone. On the contrary, the current medical system puts many roadblocks on the path to gender-affirming care. I had to do a lot of legwork to find healthcare professionals who would listen to my needs and who had experience working with transgender patients.
Many people know they are trans for years before coming out because they are afraid of rejection from friends and family. When I came out to my parents, I had already packed a “bug-out” bag, just in case they took it the worst way. I knew I was risking every relationship I had and my opportunity to attend college. But being able to be myself is worth it all.
Before I could talk to a doctor about hormones or fill out a form to change my name, I had to undergo six months of therapy. This is primarily because gender dysphoria and fear of rejection often cause intense depression and anxiety for trans youth.
Therapists can help young people handle mental illness and teach them about their options as far as legal, social, and medical transition. Throughout the (lengthy) process of changing my legal documents and for the first year of receiving testosterone, I remained in therapy to make sure I was doing well. I was a minor at the time, and my parents went to therapy with me, did extensive research, and were a huge source of support. I wouldn’t be here today if they hadn’t decided to listen to me and let me walk my path.
No medical intervention is ever undertaken lightly, and gender-affirming procedures are no exception. Before any procedure or prescription, a physician will inform their patient of potential side effects and complications. What I choose to do with my body is a matter for me and my physician to discuss; everyone else can mind their own business (no offense).
Transgender medicine has been around for over a century. One of the first physicians to offer hormone replacement therapy to his transgender patients was Magnus Hirschfeld, a German physician at the Institute for Sexual Science in Berlin, in 1918. These treatments are by no means new or experimental.
Dr. Hughes claims that a person cannot change their sex; I would counter that many people (myself included) can and have changed their hormones and other physical attributes that are part of what makes up their “biological sex”. My lack of a Y chromosome has never come up in my day-to-day life – with the exception of when transphobes attempt to wield it as a weapon against my identity.
Furthermore, many trans people choose not to undergo any medical transition at all. Trans people have existed long before surgical procedures and hormone treatments were options. There are many third and non-binary gender identities recognized in cultures around the globe. Rhode Island has its own transgender historical figure, the Public Universal Friend. Born in Cumberland in 1752, the Friend was a preacher who chose not to go by their birth name or gendered pronouns. Treating trans identities as a recent phenomenon dismisses the longstanding historical record of trans lives worldwide.
Dr. Hughes’ transphobic rhetoric cannot be separated from the rash of anti-trans legislation breaking out all over the country. Just this month, Arkansas became the first state to ban gender-affirming care for transgender youth. This would prevent trans kids from receiving the same medical care that saved me from a very dark place growing up.
Many states are also banning transgender students from competing in school sports. Even in Rhode Island, a bill was introduced to the Senate in March that would ban transgender students from playing on the team that aligns with their gender identity. According to the guidelines presented in this bill, I would be required to play on a women’s team, despite being on testosterone for over five years!
Transgender people know who they are. We are not being duped or manipulated or exploited by some global conspiracy to make Big Pharma more money. The medical procedures we choose to undergo are between us and our medical professionals – politicians and ideologues can keep their noses out of it! These interventions are never done without due consideration, knowledge of the risks, and fully informed consent. And rhetoric like that espoused by Dr. Hughes is part of a much wider campaign by anti-transgender lobbyists to extinguish us – either by making it impossible for us to access healthcare or legal recognition, or by pushing us out of public life.
— Jake, URI Class of 2021