C.P. Hoffman, a senior policy lawyer at the National Center for Transgender Equality, tells SELF that policies denying trans people gender-affirming care are especially dangerous for teenagers already going through the tumult of puberty. “If you think of the general trauma of being a teenager, there’s so much body horror associated with it,” they say. “You’re watching your body develop, [thinking], Okay, this is great. Okay, this is weird.” For trans teenagers, being denied gender-affirming care really doubles down on that feeling. “There’s something that could help you, [but] you’re being told by people in power, ‘Oh, you are mentally disturbed for wanting this,’” Hoffman explains.
It’s worth noting, they add, that hormonal therapies are nothing new and are sometimes recommended for cisgender kids. For instance, hormonal interventions may be recommended if a cisgender child starts puberty too soon. “[Hormonal therapies have] been used for cisgender kids for decades. Now that it’s being publicized that trans kids are doing this also, there’s moral panic,” Hoffman says.
If lawmakers were actually concerned about children’s health—and not simply trying to exacerbate prejudice and to oppress transgender youth—they’d likely try to ban hormonal therapies for everyone, which they aren’t. For instance, a bill introduced by Tennessee lawmakers in November proposes a ban on hormonal therapies (and other forms of gender-affirming care) when given to transgender youth—claiming that the “state has a legitimate, substantial, and compelling interest in encouraging minors to appreciate their sex, particularly as they undergo puberty”—but makes exemptions for the very treatments they’re trying to outlaw in other circumstances (such as for the treatment of a “congenital defect, disease, or physical injury.”) The bill also echoes lies often used by GOP lawmakers, stating that gender-affirming care is “harmful” even though, as Hoffman notes, “every major medical association in the United States that has looked at the issue has endorsed gender-affirming care as appropriate care for adults and minors.”
Though anti-trans legislation skyrocketed last year, mainstream media outlets have focused less on the question of safe medical care being taken away from thousands and more on a flawed moral argument. The New York Times, for instance, recently published a piece called “When Students Change Gender Identity, and Parents Don’t Know,” which raised the question of whether parents should know if their child has socially transitioned, but barely touched on the possibility that some children’s safety may be jeopardized if their family members, or other people in their community, knew they’d done so. The Atlantic also recently published an article called “Take Detransitioners Seriously,” which, as writer Evan Urquhart points out, centers on the story of a former Navy Seal with ties to the Christian nationalist movement who has expressed anti-trans sentiments.
What fearmongering lawmakers drafting legislation banning gender-affirming care fail to acknowledge is that outlawing this medical care will be dangerous. “Gender affirming-care essentially means that you are providing an environment that is validating and affirming, which each and every person deserves,” Dr. Matouk says. “[It] is a necessary protective factor against the higher rates of anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, and self-harm that [trans and gender nonbinary] folks experience, compared to cisgender peers.”
The obsessive anti-trans coverage does more than damage teenagers’ mental health, Dr. Matouk says: The rhetoric spread by opponents of gender-affirming care—including lawmakers and those who vocalize support for their agendas—will have a ripple effect, especially if bans are established. “Denying or even criminalizing gender-affirming care has a significant negative impact,” she says. “Not only does restricting care directly threaten the mental and physical health of [trans and nonbinary] folks, it also exacerbates prejudice, discrimination, and violence against the community.”
In the hate-filled political and cultural climate we’re currently living in, research like the new NEJM study adds sound science to the conversation, Dr. Matouk says: “It helps challenge laws that are contesting and denying basic human rights with scientific evidence and informed practice.”