Stanford Children’s gender clinic helps young people affirm their identities

Gender illustration

When Noah Wilson realized he was transgender, he was afraid to tell his parents.

Then a sophomore in high school, Noah (a pseudonym) had already come out as gay, and his mom and dad had been completely supportive. But, as my new Stanford Medicine magazine feature story on transgender youth explains, he worried his parents might think being transgender was a lot less acceptable:

“I was imagining scenarios where you guys kicked me out,” Noah tells his mom and dad as they sit together on their living room sofas. “It has happened to other trans kids with worse parents.”

Fortunately for Noah, his parents very much wanted to be supportive. Yet they were worried, too: What did it mean to help the person they’d always thought of as their daughter begin living as a male? At first, his parents wondered if he could live as a masculine girl. The problem was that didn’t match Noah’s true sense of himself:

“Girls can be butch, but it’s not just that I don’t want to be feminine,” Noah says. “It’s that I feel more comfortable when people refer to me as a guy.”

The family sought help from the Pediatric and Adolescent Gender Clinic at Stanford Children’s Health. Founded in mid-2015, the clinic is one of about 30 pediatric gender clinics across the country. Its existence is one of many signs of a growing societal recognition of the needs of transgender kids.

At the gender clinic, Noah’s family began consulting with pediatric endocrinologist Tandy Aye, MD, and her team. The team connected the family to community resources to make the social aspects of Noah’s gender transition easier. They supported Noah’s desire to use the male name he had chosen. They helped Noah start taking testosterone, a sex hormone that is causing him to develop a deeper voice and other masculine characteristics.

My story explains what Aye finds rewarding about this work:

Help­ing transgender adolescents go through the medical aspects of transition carries a different meaning for Aye than treat­ing kids with medical illnesses. “As you treat transgender teens with hormones, you’re affirming who they are,” she says. “Each time they come to the clinic, you get to see a re-blossoming of this individual.”

In addition to working with individual patients, Stanford experts are also raising awareness about how to help transgender children and teens. For instance, a free online Stanford course, “Health Across the Gender Spectrum,” was introduced in March to help educate physicians, teachers and others who work with transgender young people.

Today, Noah is doing well. He’s graduating from high school with an excellent academic record and is excited about heading off to college in the fall.

More importantly, he feels loved and accepted by his family and confident in his masculine identity. “I defi­nitely felt relief once everyone started calling me Noah,” he told me. “It was a lot better.”

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