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Let trans kids thrive

Ben with familyWhen I came out as transgender early into high school, I did not know  a single trans person — let alone an older queer mentor who could guide me through the perilous waters of being the first openly trans person in my Iowa public school. When I came out as gay in late elementary school, my parents were extremely supportive, even sharing the news in our annual family newsletter to save me from having to repeatedly come out. However, by late middle school, I was feeling alone, confused and deeply sad. Not only had I lost my childhood spark, I was losing my will to live. I did not yet have the language to articulate my feelings, and I had never even heard of the existence of any identity outside of a strict gender binary. This made it virtually impossible for me to envision a future for myself.

During the early 2010s, trans representation was limited to a handful of movies, YouTube videos and blogs that my freshman self eagerly devoured online. In retrospect, those first-person narratives were crucial to my understanding that I was not alone… not broken. When I first shared with my family that I was trans, I was met with confusion, fear and even a bit of anger. It was devastating for me that the people closest to me in the world did not react with joy and warmth when I shared what I found deeply exciting. Looking back, I now recognize that their response was rooted not in a lack of love or acceptance but in a lack of education and awareness.

Throughout the course of the following months, I shared with my parents many videos and blog posts that told the stories, struggles, excitement, hopes and dreams of transgender youth across the country. Through those individual narratives of trans joy and love, it was as though a switch went off in my parents’ brains — they quickly went from humble learners to fierce advocates and educators for LGBTQ+ issues. Now, as leaders of a local LGBTQ+ health clinic, my parents use our story as a key driver for their LGBTQ+ health advocacy work. They show up every day with incredible empathy and a willingness to lead with love and hope instead of fear and hate. That kind of personal storytelling was not only foundational for me as I navigated coming out as trans to my family, friends, school and larger community but also foundational to my parents’ journey of coming to understand and accept who I am. 

The world has changed in many ways since I came out in the mid-2010s. In recent years, state legislators across the country have been attacking transgender safeguards and making it increasingly harder for transgender youth to move through the world, let alone thrive. Some of the most harmful bills, specifically about gender-affirming health care, have been introduced and/or passed in my home state of Iowa. In the wake of the most recent series of attacks on transgender youth in Iowa, my family and I worked with American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Iowa to create a series of videos sharing snapshots of our story.

I believe our story’s strength lies with the arc of learning and understanding. My parents often refer to “getting their child back” after years of depression and suicidal ideation that came from feeling alone and broken. After I came out and especially after I began hormone replacement therapy at age 17, they say the spark was back in my eyes and that my laughter rang throughout our home again. Our aim in creating these videos is to help people understand the truly life-saving impacts of gender-affirming care.

Within social change work, the language we use and the stories we tell not only help shift harmful and false narratives but also help people envision a new future. When thinking about the future, I want to see where trans joy is prioritized and used to break down binaries and barriers. I came up with the headline, “Let Trans Kids Thrive,” because that is exactly what gender-affirming care did. It let me thrive.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, June 7, 2023 at 16:33 pm and is filed under Spitfire culture. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.