Imagine you were born with a headband permanently glued to your head.
No, no — hear me out. You have a headband permanently glued to your head. It’s orange. It’s ugly. It’s garish. And you can’t take it off until you’re 18.
Maybe you were always aware of this hideous headpiece. Or maybe you weren’t — one day in middle school, you glanced at a mirror and it was suddenly there, and you frowned because suddenly you’re aware of it. It’s like being aware of your own breathing, or maybe like the headband doesn’t quite fit. Maybe as you hit puberty, it just gets tighter, digging into your scalp like it doesn’t belong.
This is just a metaphor, of course, and a rather silly one at that, as many trans youths’ gender dysphoria manifests in different ways with varying intensity. For me, it’s like being claustrophobic in my own body. It’s like wearing a really uncomfortable bra that I can’t ever remove, and every day since I hit puberty, I’ve only become more and more aware of it. Because the person in the mirror; they’re me, but they aren’t me.
Imagine you’re the only one who can see that headband. When you confide in someone about it, they just blink at you, confused.
(“But, that’s silly, isn’t it? It’s weird.” “Why does it even matter? You’re the only one who can see it, can’t you just pretend you don’t have it?” “Why are you so distressed about this?”)
One day, you learn you can get that headband removed. It’s causing you pain and distress, but there’s a way out. All you have to do is get your parents’ permission because you’re a minor. Otherwise, you’ll have to wait until you’re 18.
Except your parents don’t believe you. (“I don’t get it...” “Just ignore it, you’re still young — it might go away.” “It’s not that big a deal, is it…?”)
For many trans minors, this is a best-case scenario. A mismatch between what you see or feel and what others do can make puberty a traumatic, painful experience.
There’s a way out, though. Medical procedures like top surgery and hormone therapy can alleviate these awful feelings of dysphoria that are a serious contributor to the horrifically high suicide rates among trans minors, along with oft-negative experiences at home and school. And yet, many organizations and facilities that perform such procedures require something that many teens aren’t able to provide: parental consent.
(“Why does it even matter? Can’t you just pretend you don’t have it?” “You’re delusional. I want my son/ daughter back.”)
New England’s primary LGBTQ+ health center Fenway Health states: “If you are already a patient at Fenway Health and are currently under the age of 18, your parent(s)/guardian(s) must consent to any hormonetherapy.”
There are two hormones that are primarily associated with a traditionally “male” or “female” puberty. All sexes have varying amounts of each, but estrogen is responsible for curves, breast growth and secondary-sex characteristics generally associated with folks assigned female at birth. Testosterone, on the other hand, prompts muscle growth, makes one’s voice deeper and kick-starts the growth of facial hair. Having one’s hormone levels corrected to better reflect one’s personally-recognized gender, as opposed to the one they were assigned at birth, can cause tremendous relief for a trans person’s physical and mental well- being. A big worry that many parents have is that hormone therapy has a lasting effect, but you know what else has a lasting effect? Puberty!
If 16-year-old girls can consent to sex in the state of Massachusetts, if 16-year-olds can take driver’s ed and potentially get into a fatal accident (still more socially acceptable than a life-affirming procedure), why does such a rule exist?
One might argue that Fenway Health’s criteria for transition aren’t universal, and they’d be right. Rules and regulations vary from organization to organization, but lack of consistency aside, it can be difficult to find a clinic that will operate on minors. And, hell, that’s even if you experience “sufficient” dysphoria to “qualify” as trans, according to doctors, most of whom aren’t transgender.
What then? If cisgender children (or children who identify as the gender they were assigned at birth) are old enough to know they’re cis, why disbelieve your own child when the thought of growing breasts is causing them visible distress?
Teens aren’t allowed to be responsible for their own transition, but isn’t it during this tender, fragile time that they need the most support? Puberty blockers exist, but they can cost thousands of dollars, and transition-related care isn’t covered by many insurance plans either. (Seriously, what’s up with that?)
Transitioning should be covered by insurance. Parents should take their teen’s gender identity as seriously as they would if their kid broke their leg. At the very least, the age at which trans youth can provide informed consent and get access to life-saving hormones should really be reevaluated.
If a teen is old enough to make sexually-charged decisions or get into a fatal car accident, they’re old enough to make life-saving decisions about their body, and that’s my hot take. If kids can realize they’re gay, they can realize they’re trans. If they’re old enough to have a panic attack over having a girl’s butt or a man’s chest or a garish orange headband glued to their forehead...they’re old enough.
(I’m old enough.)