Social Issues

It’s a Bad Time to Be Transgender in Arkansas

transgender pride flag

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 in Arkansas specifically, as well as justice in general, so let’s talk about why.

The new law in Arkansas

After Arkansas’ governor vetoed 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.

Gender-affirming care

Hormones are used in two ways to 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 there’s more to it than that; the brain (specifically the hypothalamus and pituitary gland) is also involved. The brain tells the ovaries/tests to do their thing and pump out more estrogen/testosterone. Puberty triggers the development of secondary (non-genital) sex characteristics, and that’s really not good for someone who’s trans. It’s very hard to try to counteract those effects after puberty, which 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.

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 consequences

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 it’s a very bad time to be transgender in Arkansas (or Georgia, for that matter).

Social justice and equality

The Social Justice & Equality page has info and resources on a wide variety of social issues.

43 thoughts on “It’s a Bad Time to Be Transgender in Arkansas”

  1. It’s a bad time to be anyone but a straight, white, evangelical anywhere Republicans are in charge in the US. The irony is they don’t know they’re exactly like hated Iran. Talibangelicals. It is horrifying to watch. I cannot believe the inertia that allows these measures without mass protests. 😢

  2. So many trans youth will die from suicide due to this.

    Here in my country, both parents must consent to puberty blockers abd/or HRT or else no blockers or HRT until legal adult age of 21. Even if one or both parents are horrifically abusive.

      1. Yeah. Recently more onerous requirements were put in for changing legal gender marker. It was already difficult and already required “full” surgical transition and sterilisation. We hate our county’s government.

  3. I enjoyed your article. It is informative. I know very little about this issue. Transgender folks should be naturally transgender. They are that way because their biology has created a chemical matrix that predisposes them to the opposite sex from what they would appear to be. Puberty is sort of the test bed for a person’s chemical matrix. Once a person is an adult, they should be able to make personal decisions based on what tools nature has given them.

    Children receiving these cosmetic surgeries and radical hormonal treatments only complicates the person’s biological matrix. It is similar to radical psychotropic medications being prescribed for children. By the time you figure out what is working the child’s developing body, the child’s chemistry moves on. You would never administer a frontal lobotomy or shock therapy for a child. Transgender children need support and knowledgeable pediatric healthcare.

    Once a child emerges into adulthood, the law should support their right to determine their own healthcare. My question is, “What do insurance companies cover and when do they cover it?

    1. While the matrix concept you describe may be a useful analogy, it’s still just an analogy. Transgender children do need knowledgeable pediatric healthcare, and what those knowledgeable pediatric care providers don’t support this law.

      As for insurance, I have no idea what individual insurance companies do and do not cover.

  4. It’s a tricky one. There’s a lot of rumblings in the UK about whether gender re-assignment or gender confirming hormones & surgeries should be allowed under the age of 16 or 18.

    “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.” < That is a really, really good point.

    I see it both ways. I've read stories from young adults who've had, for instance hormones or a change to their bodies surgically, who've regretted it a few years later. Some people seem to be very, very certain they're in the wrong body and that must be incredibly difficult to live with day in, day out. Others seem sure but maybe not 100%, or maybe confuse how their bodies feel versus their social and sexual identities. If there wasn't so much shit from society about how 'males' and 'females' should look, behave and dress, then maybe people could feel more comfortable and confident in knowing who they are.

    It's a hard one because the majority of my gut says other people shouldn't be making these decisions to ban such treatment, but the other part of me doesn't want young adults to feel all the more confused or unhappy (understatement) afterwards if they can't undo certain changes. xx

    1. I think a real positive with the puberty blockers is that it makes it much easier to postpone surgery. In terms of reversibility with hormone treatment, from what I’ve read, there can be a lasting impact on fertility, but aside from that, reversibility isn’t much of a problem. I think there’s also the very real mental health risk to consider. There are already elevated rates of suicide in trans populations, and forcing people to hang out in the wrong bodies would most likely increase that risk. But yeah, I totally degree that if society didn’t have such messed-up notions around gender, things would be very different.

  5. I don’t understand why people feel the need to control other people’s lives and bodies. It really is none of their concern and isn’t hurting them in any way.

  6. Okay that’s weird, that’s the second time now that WP has randomly unfollowed me from your blog. It’s done that to me with other people before, but I haven’t noticed or had it pointed out until well after the fact.

    1. WordPress is bizarre. It’s happened for other people too, and it’s hard to say how often it’s happened to me because I’m just not on the ball enough to notice. Anyway, reading your ARFID post right now.

  7. This is disheartening, discriminatory and conservative! I don’t believe the act is backed by any rationality. Solidarity with the community. What in the world is happening!?!?

  8. Here is how I feel about what is happening. It is the “us” vs “them” situation again. If they don’t understand or just don’t like it, they legislate to stop them.
    It is born straight out of ignorance and they just refuse to seek out information or at best talk to some trans people.

  9. OMG – I was going to write about this today. This kept my brain in overdrive last night, I even dreamt about it! You should be glad you don’t live in the United States period. I wish the hell I didn’t live here, and boy howdy, if I could afford it I’d be outta here so fast you wouldn’t even see my dust! (Or in the proverbial New York minute, either way – Gone.)

  10. It truly is another level in traumatization and discrimination – by those ejected to serve every citizen. I agree, It is all very harmful on both the individual and societal level.

  11. This is awful! I proudly just wrote a letter supporting a trans client in getting the final surgery of their journey.

  12. Of course, there will always be inertia from those who think ignorance is bliss. I agree with EM’s comment “I cannot believe the inertia that allows these measures without mass protests.”

    — “First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not a socialist…………….
    Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.” comes to mind.

    1. For sure. I just looked at the demographic info on Wikipedia for Arkansas, and it’s 80% white and the vast majority is Southern Baptist and other Evangelical denominations. I pity anyone who deviates from the norm there.

      1. Oh crikey! And I’m off to see my male to female transgender hairdresser tomorrow. I knew her as Dennis for some years before transitioning to Denise, and I adore her. What would they make of that 😉

  13. I think the medical opinion on puberty blockers in children under 18 may be more nuanced. I do not think the medical community is entirely aligned that puberty blockers can be used on youth with gender dysphoria without significant side effects. There have been many adverse events associated with Lupron, a common puberty-blocker drug.
    That said, I don’t think a legislative blanket ban is the best way to protect youth. A better way to do this would to leave the decision with the doctors/children/parents on an individual basis.

      1. I would even go as far as to say that banning gender-affirming surgery on minors without health care professional and parental consent (with exemptions for emancipated minors / abusive or potentially abusive situations, etc.) might be reasonable, as opposed to a total ban. But I can also see where a legislative ban generally has more potential for unintended consequences. I’m not sure that legislation in this instance addresses the need for better research and better health care decision making for youth, which should be the ultimate.

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