A Frantic Rush for Treatment: How Transgender Kids are Impacted by Bans

by Joshua Brown
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Elle Palmer, an 8-year-old in Utah who plays the mandolin and loves math, recently told a friend that she was going to change schools the next year. She hoped her new classmates would see her as a girl.

Asher Wilcox-Broekemeier, who lived far away in the northeast, often listened to punk music in his room, wanting to join the shirtless boys playing outside in the South Dakota sun. It was only when he got his period that he realized he was one of them.

This discovery led both of their families down a path of looking for doctors, therapists and specialists that focus on helping transgender people.

Now, as teenagers, they have encountered an obstacle on their journeys.

In lots of Republican states, care for people looking to change their gender has been forbidden. This already happened in eight places, like Utah and South Dakota, and will happen again soon in nine more.

People who disagree with gender-affirming care worry about what treatments could do to teenagers in the long run and think we don’t have enough evidence about them yet. They are especially concerned about things that can’t be reversed later on, such as operations on a person’s genitals or taking out one or both breasts.

Going to surgery is not very common for kids. Usually, doctors recommend therapy or speaking lessons first before any medicine. The usual medicine they give you are called puberty blockers, anti-androgens and hormone treatments. All of these have been around in the US since more than 10 years and they are approved by groups like the American Medical Association.

Recently, many parents are worried about how to make sure their kids get the care they need. This is especially concerning now that their kids are becoming teenagers and their bodies change in ways that cannot be undone.

Asher Wilcox-Broekemeier, who’s 13 years old, said “I feel like my body is a ticking time bomb, just waiting until it explodes.”

Elle remembers the day she first went to school after transferring. She put on a pair of cowboy boots her mother worried could be used to make fun of her. Other kids at Elle’s previous school were mean and she got so upset that had suicidal thoughts.

On Elle’s first day of school, a boy offered her a compliment about her boots. Sadly, some kids were unkind to her but luckily, most students and teachers were very supportive. Elle began developing interests in Hip Hop and Drama class, allowing her to adjust as she began to realize that she did not fit easily into the gender norms expected of her. To better understand this uncertainty, she started seeing a therapist regularly.

Elle told people she is a transgender girl when she was in fifth grade. Now, she is in seventh grade and planned to start taking special medicine this summer. This was so that any negative impacts or side effects from the medicine wouldn’t affect her life during the school year – especially her math competition team.

In January, the governor of Utah made it so that kids could no longer get treatments related to gender. But if a kid was already taking medication when the rule was put in place, they got to keep getting it.

So Elle’s mom acted quickly and got her treatment quicker than what was planned for her before. Lots of other parents did the same thing and caused the waitlist at one Utah clinic to grow very long – six months! This created hard decisions for doctors regarding who should get appointments first.

Before a new law was put into place in Utah, Elle’s medication arrived. It was a tiny stick which was implanted in her arm and it will stop the symptoms of male puberty from happening. Eventually, she might have to take other medicines as well and her parents will help her decide what to do next.

For now though, they can be relieved that they are safe.

Elle’s mum said: “It’s like we can finally breathe again.”

Asher Wilcox-Broekemeier’s family is still waiting for better times.

When Asher started having his period, he was freaked out to see that his body was changing on the outside, but not how he felt in himself.

Elizabeth was finding out information online while Asher’s dad leaned on doctors for help. The pediatrician gave referrals to some people and because of that, Asher saw therapists and more docs who looked into his history, personality, and feelings.

2 years ago, the doctor prescribed meds like puberty blockers and birth control to manage Asher’s breast development, stop him from getting periods and make it easier for him to accept himself.

He’s 13 and often deals with bullying and people using the wrong pronouns when referring to him. He loves to make music and he plays guitar, trumpet in the school band and is rehearsing for a Cinderella musical. Other than that, he also thinks about taking testosterone so he can lower his voice in addition to getting top surgery someday. He looks forward to being part of the high school marching band next year.

Asher still has a hard time coping with being transgender. His friends stopped hanging out with him after he came out. Some parents are scared and won’t let Asher into their homes. But, his Mom noticed that treatments helped make him feel better inside.

His Mom said it’s great seeing him happy and true to himself. Now, both Asher and his family worry that everything will have start all over again.

At the start of February, Kristi Noem who is a Republican governor from South Dakota made a law that makes it against the law for doctors to give transgender teenagers medicines or surgeries.

Asher’s existing doctors won’t be able to give him medicine, so the family is searching for a new doctor in nearby Minnesota. The governor of Minnesota has made it legal to care for minors like Asher and the family wants to find a clinic they can drive to that won’t cost extra money to stay overnight at a hotel.

Figuring this all out has taken a lot of time. We asked the doctors in South Dakota for help, but they didn’t answer us. We want to be ready for any extra patients from states that have also banned certain treatments, and still maintain Asher’s sense of calm.

Asher is wondering why his healthcare needs to involve politicians at all.

“Trans people still count, even if they are not a huge number,” Asher said.

We don’t yet know what will happen if doctors can’t help young trans people with their medical needs.

Doctors like Dr. Nikki Mihalopoulos work in clinics helping the transgender youth and think that families might be too scared to ask for help, while doctors could be scared of facing legal trouble by providing care.

Elle and Asher are included in this group who could be affected by these laws.

Scientists have found that when transgender kids get the care they need, they are less likely to think or do anything that would hurt themselves.

Parents of transgender children are worried. They don’t want their kids to experience any additional stress and worry because of recent changes to laws that affect them.

Also, parents fear what will happen if they can’t find the medicines their children need. This causes even more tension after years of being concerned for their safety and mental health.

Cat Palmer is worried that her kid, Elle, might become a suicide statistic one day. She also made sure to clarify the person in the photo – which is Elle Palmer. Finally, Josh Biraben reported this story from Pierre, South Dakota.

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