I'm a trans Tennessean. This new law will hurt so many of us
Editor’s Note: Henry Seaton is the trans justice advocate at the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee, where he oversees its trans justice campaign, TRANScend Tennessee. The views expressed in this commentary belong to the author. View more opinion at CNN.
As long ago as my 8th birthday, I’ve wanted to do everything in my power to be perceived as a boy. I was upset at not being able to play on the boys’ baseball team and having to be on the girls’ softball team. I never felt comfortable at girls-only events or in girls-only clubs. I always subconsciously joined the boys in every activity and had to be reminded that that space wasn’t meant for me. I’d even pretend to be my secret twin brother switching places with my feminine self many times.
Lacking an understanding of what it meant to be transgender, I couldn’t share my feeling with others. But the suffering at the beginning of female puberty was palpable to those around me. I wanted nothing more than to disappear, feeling unexplained anger and sorrow all the time. There was no teacher I could trust, no therapist who would help and no primary care provider who would treat me with the same level of care expected for cisgender children.
I worked hard to be a girl, trying to deny my own feelings. Growing up as a Christian, I tried to follow the advice of my youth pastor, deleting secular music off my iPod, refusing to read secular books in my free time, having prayer groups give me support, constantly learning more about femininity, regularly reading the Bible and begging God to free me from my pain.
Eventually, I realized that continuing to pretend to be someone that I wasn’t would kill me. Lying to my family and friends produced guilt and shame, and I couldn’t truly connect with other people because of it.
Deciding to transition socially in high school posed extreme difficulties, where I faced massive amounts of bullying and was not allowed to use the restroom I belonged in. But it was all worth it to be recognized finally as me. But even though I was fully living as a man, most people still saw me as a girl no matter how hard I tried. It led to excruciating pain and strife. To feel fully at peace, medical transition in my teen years was imperative.
It was only after long discussions with my loved ones that I started testosterone at 17. (I’m now 25.) The process for receiving hormone therapy was not easy, hastily done or uninformed. I met with multiple therapists and psychiatrists along the way and socially transitioned for almost a full year before receiving medical treatment. When I finally did begin testosterone, my mother and I were taken through an exhaustive and robust list of permanent changes associated with hormone therapy. This was the medical standard in the state of Tennessee — an individualized, responsible approach to beginning medical care.
Recently, however, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee signed a law that prohibits gender-affirming care for minors — a cruel move that would be harmful to so many people like me. To enact a sweeping ban on this age-appropriate, medically necessary care is akin to telling kids like me that their lives aren’t worth living if they decide to be true to themselves. It tells them that their lives are worthless if they don’t conform to a certain standard. It’s devastating, harmful and cruel.
Medical transition as a minor saved my life. It built the firm foundation needed for treatments for depression and anxiety to begin to work. It was the missing puzzle piece in addressing my mental health conditions effectively. It was testosterone that allowed me to build the self-confidence I needed to see a future for myself and begin to have dreams and aspirations for my life.
I don’t want to disappear anymore. Because of testosterone, I look in the mirror and finally feel that the people in my life can love the true me and not an archetype I built to appease those around me.
The walls I built around myself out of fear crumbled down. I introduced my loved ones to a joyous, confident teenager with a strong sense of self and identity — someone they hadn’t seen since I was a young child.
I could throw an infinite amount of statistics your way — such as the high rates of violence and harassment many trans youth face, the many barriers that keep trans people from accessing this care and how all three put us at an inordinate risk for suicide.
I could cite the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics on their support for gender-affirming care for young people. Instead, I want to share a conversation with my grandmother.
She is the most conservative woman I know, and when we discussed state-level bans on gender-affirming care for children, she disagreed with me. She said that these health care practices should be withheld from children because they can’t make a fateful decision such as that until they’re adults.
But I told her this basic fact: Letting trans children have access to essential health care like this is necessary to let them live a truth instead of a lie, reduce their risks for suicide and improve their sense of self-worth, their relationships with their families and their ability to see a future with themselves in it. She saw the necessity and agreed with me.
This brings the conversation back to where it should be: helping children be who they are and find a happy life. For me, and thousands of others, hormone therapy and medical treatment as a minor were absolutely crucial to developing a life worth living.
Ensuring personal freedom and individual liberty require the right to make personal and private decisions on health care with our medical professionals — without government overreach. Trans health care is necessary, lifesaving and safe — regardless of what state governments say.