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Speaking truth to hysteria 

Socially ostracizing trans kids for their identity is what causes the real harm to trans kids

The world is unsafe for transgender kids all over the United States. Even in California, which has set itself up as a sanctuary state for trans families escaping violence in other states, there is considerable anti-trans sentiment and legislative efforts, particularly targeting our trans youth.

San Luis Obispo prides itself on its progressive reputation, but the reality of our local LGBTQ-plus community does not always align with these assumptions.

The conversation has shifted over the years and progress has been made, but statistics from The California Department of Education's California Healthy Kids Survey consistently show that transgender youth in SLO County schools are more at risk of experiencing violence and suicidality here in SLO than they are in the state of California overall. In 2019, 60.5 percent of trans students in SLO County reported having seriously considered suicide in the past 12 months compared to 17.9 percent of their cisgender peers and compared to 52.7 percent of trans teens in California overall. The survey's answers about why are devastating: Their rejection comes from everywhere—peers, family members, even teachers.

The sensationalized pearl clutching that goes on in most visible discussions of transgender youth simultaneously over-exaggerate the issue (California Healthy Kids Survey data tells us that only 1.3 percent of SLO County youth identify as transgender) and use transness as a reason to dismiss the humanity of the young person. LGBTQ-plus children and teens need what all people do—to be believed, to be respected, to be safe. But time and time again every action is taken except the most obvious and crucial: Take them seriously.

The recent violent death of Nex Benedict threw this conversation further into chaos. Investigation into Benedict's death revealed a long history of verbal and physical abuse by peers at school with no intervention from school security or administration. This ultimately led to an altercation where Benedict was beaten so severely by other students that they were hospitalized for head trauma, then experienced a seizure after being released home, where they later died. In spite of this experience, their death was ruled as a suicide by prescribed antidepressant and antihistamine.

But there's a bigger story beyond the specific details of their death. Even if Nex Benedict's death was a suicide, the fact remains that more than a year of bullying was ignored, even excused. Using this to fuel the narrative that transitioning has deadly consequences for children is victim blaming. It is the responsibility of adults to ensure the safety of children, not the responsibility of children to suppress themselves out of fear of deadly violence.

This is often where the conversation turns to gender-affirming medical care for youth. While the standard narrative is that this care "permanently warps" children's bodies, the reality is far more rational.

Here's the long and short of it: Gender-affirming surgery and hormone replacement therapy are not available to youth under 18 except in very rare, extreme circumstances. Youth may take hormone blockers that delay the onset of puberty under recommendation of therapists and doctors working with parents, and these medications have no long-term impacts on a person's body.

Additionally, we know from adult transgender surveys that only 0.3 percent of people who get gender-affirming surgery experience any regret, compared to 6 to 30 percent of knee replacement surgery recipients. We also know from the American Medical Association that access to gender-affirming care reduced rates of depression by 60 percent and rates of suicidality by 73 percent in trans youth. Other research tells us that only 13 percent of people who pursue any form of transitioning (social, medical, or legal) end up going back to their gender assigned at birth, and of that group, 82.5 percent of them report detransitioning due to external pressures. Rather than unhappiness with their own decision, it is societal pressures and the threat of intense rejection from family or community that causes them to abandon their choice.

There is no longer anything to "discuss" or "debate." Gender affirmation is a life-saving practice. Believing people about their experiences is a life-saving practice. Excusing bigotry is a life-threatening practice and further normalizes the dangerous ways in which trans students are treated by peers, teachers, and family. Transness has been around since the dawn of history. It is not a fad, and we know that the more it's supported, the happier and safer the lives of those who experience it.

Aside from anything else, the fact remains that socially ostracizing trans kids for their identity is the real killer of trans children. The Trevor Project reports that one affirming adult in a trans child's life reduces suicidality by 40 percent. It is up to us to decide which adult we want to be. Δ

Lola White-Sanborn has been the Gala Pride & Diversity Center's content curator since 2022. Send a response for publication to [email protected].

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