Op-Ed: Trans Teenagers In Texas Deserve So Much Better

by | Jun 2, 2023 | LGBTQ Rights, Opinion

I’m a therapist with almost a decade of experience working with transgender youth. Texas recently joined more than 15 other states that are restricting the rights of transgender youth to access medically necessary care. These laws unequivocally cause harm, as well as insult the judgment of practitioners such as myself, who have watched trans teens flourish when they have the care and support they need. With Pride month upon us, Texans need to know that clinicians will fight against these bad laws and there are things everyone in our community can do to make change.

This pride month, we will continue to seek freedom and liberty for transgender youth.

When I entered graduate school to become a therapist, I never imagined that I’d face a culture war. Therapy seemed to me to be one of those uncontroversial positives in society, like brushing your teeth or wearing clean underwear. Yet here I am, over a decade later, forced into a battle against the governor of Texas over the signing of SB 14.

This new law, like many that have passed across the country, strips medically necessary care away from transgender young people. Trans adolescents who previously were able to get necessary medical care, such as puberty blockers and gender-affirming hormones, will no longer have access to these treatments. And yet, these treatments aren’t so dangerous as to be banned for cisgender minors.

The evidence-based model of gender-affirming care for minors requires them to first undergo thorough evaluations by therapists specializing in gender, such as myself. It’s only after these evaluations that young people can access medical care if that is something they need to reduce severe gender dysphoria. I’ve seen again and again, for more than a decade, that this model works. I partner with teens and their families to discuss their current experience of gender, how social and medical changes might affect them, and work with them for months, if not years, to help them flourish.

Every legitimate medical association supports and affirms that transgender people exist and need access to necessary medical care. Restricting this care is doing real and measured harm to transgender minors, their families, and providers like myself.

Advocates of SB 14 say that teenagers are too young to make these medical decisions. On the surface, this argument makes sense. Teenagers are prone to trends and phases, so why not have them wait? But this argument for waiting is built on the assumption that no one is transgender. If transgender people really and truly exist (as every legitimate medical association will affirm), then naturally some of those transgender people will exist as minors. And if transgender minors exist (which they do), delaying care to them on the basis of age is doing real and measured harm.

SB 14 directly insults my work. Before, I was part of a care team, helping evaluate minors and determining who were candidates for medical intervention. But SB 14 tells me that I’m wrong, the graduate education I received in Texas was wrong, and none of the flourishing transgender adolescents I witnessed post-treatment actually happened.

The research bears out what I’ve found in my clinical experience. Study after study has shown that medical interventions are a protective factor for transgender youth. Treatment leads to increased self-esteem, improved body image, and lower anxiety and depression. One Dutch study even found that trans youth receiving care functioned at levels at or above that of their peers. Affirmed trans youth were making strides in managing the stresses of adolescence: handling homework, chores, and social pressures. Trans youth who are affirmed don’t just have brighter smiles―their growth is measurable.

I refuse to be gaslit by a bill created by ideologues with zero clinical experience. I have seen teenagers thrive when they are believed. I have seen families grow stronger when their teens feel supported. I am going to take my experience and fight for the youth I currently work with and those I have yet to meet.

This Pride month, we need everyone to stand up for trans teenagers across our state. Now is not the time to be silent. Join organizations like Equality Texas, the Campaign for Southern Equality or your nearest large city’s trans youth advocacy group. Donate to life-saving hotlines like the Trevor Project or Trans Lifeline. Refuse to be complacent.

Texas prides itself on being a beacon of liberty and freedom, and I will not stop fighting until there is freedom for all.

Kimberly Vered Shashoua, LCSW, is a therapist who specializes in working with transgender teenagers and their families

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