Presentation on Trans Youth in Michigan

| Dec 7, 2015
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By Kristina Mayhem

In collaboration with the Washtenaw Community Medical Society, Corner Health Center of Ann Arbor, Michigan presented a two-hour education and training on how to provide care for the growing number of trans youth in the area. This October 15, 2015 event was another example of local progress being made.

Director of the Corner Health Center, Dr. Kathryn Fessler, gave the keynote address and Q&A afterwards. The Corner Health Center is committed to helping young people make healthy choices. One hundred people were in attendance, including nurses, psychologists, educators, social workers, and parents of trans youth. Dr. Fessler said, “There are no assumptions you can make based on the label they carry.”

Dr. Fessler began with the story of Leah Alcorn, a transgender teenager who took her own life. Before her passing Leah Alcorn wrote, “My death needs to mean something. Fix society Please.” Dr. Fessler gave statistics on the difficulties trans youth face. These include violence, poverty, and rejection from family and friends. She said as a pediatrician working with trans youth means saving someone’s life and that’s why she’s passionate about this topic.

The Gingerbread Person

The Gingerbread Person

Dr. Fessler then showed the Gingerbread Person, a graphic showing the different facets of identity, attraction, presentation, and sex. Dr. Fessler said seven countries recognize a third gender and cited four scientific studies demonstrating unique differences in the physiology of trans youth. Next she gave sample screening questions for service providers conducting evaluations. For boys ask: “Do you sometimes think you should have been born a girl?” For girls ask: “Do you sometimes think you should have been born a boy?” Follow up with: “Can you tell me a little more?”

Dr. Fessler says transgender youth are usually aware they are transgender. It’s the parents who have to figure it out. She says it’s important for health care providers to know if a young person is trans. If someone is trans, health care providers should ask, “What pronouns or names would you like me to use?” She said some trans youth are out at school and the family doesn’t know. Some will complete a transition riding the bus to school, and then change on the ride home. Health care providers can also ask:

“Are you out to your family or friends?”

“How did they react?”

“Are you comfortable with the way you are living right now?”

Dr. Fessler then played highlights of a YouTube video by Chandler, a transgender teenager who made several popular and informative videos. Dr. Fessler next described what health care providers should do about transgender youth. She said many trans youth have anxiety, but many do not. It’s important to help both the individual and family with issues of denial and acceptance. For trans youth a goal is to live authentically through “intentional and systematic planning.” Some youth will be content expressing themselves as both genders. Some will make a social transition that doesn’t include physical changes, and some can’t wait for hormones for a complete transition.

Dr. Fessler then played a Chandler video in which a friend helps define different types of transgender behavior. These include genderqueer, bigender, and agender. Dr. Fessler said adolescents who want to transition can take “fully reversible hormone blockers.” She then answered questions from the audience and gave feedback. An endocrinologist from The University of Michigan, Daniel Shumer, also answered questions. They said health care providers should figure out what the child wants and help them reach their goals. “Don’t give up on them.”

Three days later was the Stand With Trans’ Transgender Youth Empowerment Workshop in Ferndale, Michigan. This was a ground-breaking one-day event for trans youth between the ages of twelve and twenty-three. It was organized by Stand With Trans, a nonprofit organization designed by Farmington Hills, Michigan teenager Hunter Keith. Last year, Ann Arbor Schools joined school board administrators across the country in developing greater protections for transgender students.

Sources Cited

Ann Arbor Schools Exploring New Policies For Transgender Students.
Community Education & Training on Providing Services For Transgender Youth.
From The Daily: Equal Treatment for All Students.
Stand With Trans: A Hunter Keith Story.
Suicide of Transgender Teen Leah Alcorn Sparks Emotional Debate.
The Corner Health Center.
The Gingerbread Person V.3.

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