Gender-affirming care is a need for transgender individuals at Northeastern

Rachel Umansky-Castro, news staff

Finn Seifert, a second-year human services major at Northeastern, started hormone replacement therapy at 16, a treatment some hope to render illegal as part of a national campaign to restrict minors’ access to gender-affirming care. 

But Seifert, who wanted to transition as early as middle school, argues that his exposure to the appropriate therapy was critical to his mental health and worries that waiting until he reached “adult status” would have put him at a disadvantage.  

“I needed access to hormones and surgery to feel like myself,” Seifert said. “If I had to wait until 18, I would have missed out on so much.” 

He believes that gender-affirming care, including for adolescents, is life-saving care for transgender individuals to exist as themselves.

A recent study in the Netherlands using data from the Amsterdam Cohort of Gender Dysphoria posited that continuing gender-affirming treatment as adolescents reach adulthood is typical and therefore affirms underage treatment is not detrimental to one’s mental growth. 

“People often don’t believe kids. But for trans kids, puberty is trauma,” Seifert said. “To avoid that would relieve so much trauma. Not taking treatment right away kept delaying who I actually wanted to be.” 

Parents are often skeptical of their children’s “premature” decision to transition; however, according to Planned Parenthood, middle school age is not too young to start questioning one’s gender since most are aware of their identity when they’re toddlers. 

“For most individuals, a stable sense of their gender identity appears at around three years old,” said Caitlyn Jarvis, a postdoctoral teaching associate of communication studies at Northeastern. “Once kids enter the school system, their perception of what it means to be a woman versus a man is confirmed.”

During children’s time in elementary school, the structure of the education system establishes what is societally appropriate for boys in comparison to girls, such as proper attire, extracurricular activities — baseball for boys, dance for girls — and other stereotypical gender-specific categories. Through these barriers, it is common for children to agree or disagree with their current gender identity. 

“Gender is a social construct. As Judith Butler (American philosopher and gender theorist) said, ‘gender is performative,’ therefore, children can play with the fluidity a bit more,” Jarvis said. 

Seifert felt the challenges and effects of his predetermined gender as a child. 

“I did not feel comfortable as a girl. I wasn’t me,” Seifert said. 

Seifert is very grateful for the positive changes he has seen in his body and mind post-treatment. He feels that gender-affirming care should be considered a need for all ages, not a want. And Seifert is not alone. 

“Transgender people are always the target as if we ask for so much. As a trans person, we already don’t have privilege,” said Grayson Peel, a fourth-year cultural anthropology major at Northeastern. “We are just asking for so little. Respect. Anytime a minority has a basic need, it’s a threat.” 

Peel notes that because transgender individuals are largely marginalized, it makes it difficult for them to transition smoothly. This is especially true for children, many of whom are not allowed to use a bathroom that best corresponds to their identity any time they need. 

“Occasionally, I get scared and really self-conscious to use the men’s bathroom,” Peel said. “It took time after I transitioned.” 

Peel came out as transgender at age 19. He did not have any gender-affirming care until he was 21. He then took hormones in September and had chest masculinization in October of this past year. 

“Some ways [gender-affirming care] has helped me — facial hair and lower voice. The voice was the most drastic change. But the gender dysphoria was worse for me,” Peel said.

Gender dysphoria is a term that represents the feeling an individual may have due to the mismatch of their gender identity and biological sex. 

“I was hyper-aware of what was changing,” Peel said. “And people kept misgendering me, which made me more frustrated because I am taking the hormones to be gendered correctly.” 

Many transgender individuals can relate to the frustration  Peel experienced, especially kids who have not been able to participate in gender-affirming care because of their age.  

At Northeastern, organizations like NUPride create a safe haven for members of the LGBTQ+ community to communicate the obstacles they face with identity. 

“Our organization is to support anyone through the transition process and provide them with the correct resources — many come asking about gender-affirming care,” said Ezra Statsky-Frank, a fourth-year computer science and finance combined major and president of NUPride. “I make sure to direct them to well-qualified doctors.”

Hailing from Florida, a state that recently banned transgender youths from receiving gender-affirming care, Statsky-Frank empathizes with the difficulties that minors looking to transition must handle. 

“I have friends from my high school asking for advice and I try my best to point them in directions that are more liberal and willing to help,” Statsky-Frank said. “They know what’s best for their own body. Why aren’t they allowed to make the decision?” 

Transgender people, especially youths, struggle to coexist in a society that prioritizes the needs of cisgender individuals instead. As a result, many push for the proper resources to be recognized as a human right.

“Gender-affirming care saved me. It was the only way to exist as myself,” Seifert said.