For Trans Youths, a Tough Path to Gender Harmony
For Michelle Fleisher, the confusion started in sixth or seventh grade.
“I wasn’t really sure what I was,” Fleisher says. “I knew I wasn’t a boy ... I felt really off-put by my own being. I knew trans people existed, but I knew almost nothing about them. I felt more like a monster than that.”
Now 17, Fleisher appears more feminine, though prefers to be referred to by the pronouns “they” and “them” that don’t denote a gender. They’ve taken hormones for about 2 years, and have reached a more comfortable place. Fleisher dreams of going to Yale University, near their Glastonbury, CT, home, and someday becoming a lawyer fighting for the rights of other trans people.
But it isn’t easy being a transgender teenager -- even for someone living in a state generally seen as progressive, at a time when the trans and gender-nonconforming population seems to be exploding.
Fleisher’s pediatrician told the teenager to find a new doctor. Before Fleisher started hormone therapy, family walks through their Glastonbury neighborhood were often disrupted by homophobic slurs. And even with super-understanding parents, Fleisher, 17, still had to educate them about what it means to be trans.
It also isn’t easy being the parent of a child or adolescent who decides that the gender they were assigned maybe even months before birth doesn’t match how they feel. Being identified by the wrong gender -- or even any gender at all -- can be upsetting for these young people, interpreted as being unseen or disrespected, and driving some to self-harm or worse.
Just over half the trans population has considered suicide, compared to 18% of female teens who didn’t question their gender and 10% of non-questioning males, according to the American Association of Pediatrics.