I saw an article the other day on CBC News about the government of Arkansas putting the kibosh on gender-affirming treatment for anyone under the age of 18. This is a major problem for transgender people and justice in general, so let’s talk about why.
After Arkansas’ governor vetoed a a bill that would make it illegal to provide gender affirming care to anyone under the age of 18, the Republican-controlled Senate and House teamed up to push the bill through anyway. This came much to the dismay of the pediatricians, social workers, and parents of trans youth who had raised concerns about the harm that the bill would cause.
So, let’s be clear exactly what we’re talking about here. This law bans hormones, puberty blockers, and any kind of gender-affirming surgery, which includes things like mastectomy, breast implants, pectoral implants, and facial or vocal cord surgery.
Is there an argument to be made that genital surgery shouldn’t happen before age 18? Sure, but shouldn’t those decisions be based on what people in the know (aka trans people, their families, and the health care providers that support them) have to say, not on what some conservative lawmaker thinks based on what the Vatican tells him about transgender identities simply not being a thing? But let’s set that aside, since Arkansas already doesn’t allow that anyway, and focus on the hormones.
Hormones are used in two ways to support support trans people (this info comes from the National LGBT Health Education Center). Males make mostly testosterone, and females make mostly estrogen (and progesterone). These are released primarily from the testes and ovaries, respectively. To make up for having the wrong hormone-pumping parts, trans males may be given testosterone, while trans females may be given estrogen and an androgen blocker (to counteract the testosterone they’re making).
Those are the hormones going on in the genital area, but the brain (specifically the pituitary gland) is also involved. It releases a hormone called GnRH (gonadotropin releasing hormone) that tells the ovaries/tests to do their think and pump out more estrogen/testosterone. Pulses of GnRH release trigger the onset of puberty. Puberty triggers the development of secondary (non-genital) sex characteristics, and that is really not good for someone who’s trans. It’s very hard to try to counteract those effects after puberty, and can mean quite masculine-looking adult trans women or feminine-looking trans men. If you can get puberty blockers into someone before those secondary sex characteristics develop, it’s going to be much easier for them to have the face/voice/body that they want.
While puberty blockers is the commonly used term, what these medications actually are synthetic versions of the natural GnRH hormone, but delivered continuously rather than in pulses. The same kind of medication may be used in hormone-sensitive breast and prostate cancers, or in certain female disorders like endometriosis.
Long story short? By preventing trans youth from accessing hormone treatments, the government is screwing them over for the rest of their lives, not just in terms of their present-day wellbeing. Research has even shown that denying this treatment to trans youth increases their risk of suicidality.
The bill is set to go into effect in July. The American Civil Liberties Union is planning a court challenge.
There also happens to be a bill that’s been put forward by a House committee that would mean teachers couldn’t be required to use students’ preferred pronouns or titles. Really, while we’re at it, why expect teachers to use students’ actual names? “Hey asshat” should suffice, right? And if traumatizing kids by rejecting their gender identity is fine, why not bring back the strap while they’re at it? If pronouns and titles are fair game, maybe boys sports coaches should be calling students girls when they’re not performing up to masculine expectations. Perhaps “you run like a girl” is underused.
Governments should not pass laws that restrict people’s ability to get health care. Governments also shouldn’t pass laws that restrict people’s right to vote, but that’s a whole other rant-worthy issue. Canada’s not perfect, but I’m very glad I don’t live in Arkansas (or Georgia, for that matter).