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‘I’m so scared for my friends’: trans kids on Ohio’s ban on gender-affirming care

Families who fought for children’s healthcare rights say they are considering leaving the state



Last week, the Ohio legislature voted to override the Republican governor Mike DeWine’s veto of HB68, a bill that would ban gender-affirming care for trans youth. The veto marks the end of a yearlong effort by LGBTQ+ activists to block HB68’s passage. Starting this April, Ohio doctors are prohibited from prescribing puberty blockers or hormone therapy to any trans patient under 18.

Ohio is now the 23rd state to pass restrictions on trans healthcare for minors (though courts have blocked a handful of those measures). It could also become the second state to restrict care for adults, through draft rules are currently open to comments from the public.


Families in Ohio are now planning for a future without the healthcare that medical professionals say is necessary for lowering the concerning rate of suicide attempts among LGBTQ+ youth.


Below is a collection of accounts from children and their parents, all of whom spent the past year meeting with and writing to state lawmakers, begging Ohio Republicans to reconsider their support of the bill. They are all considering leaving the state to preserve their families’ ability to receive care.


‘When it gets overwhelming, I remind myself that I’m a different kind of person’ - Parker Elswick, 16, he/they

Before I started on hormones last year, everything felt distorted, like I was seeing myself through an awful funhouse mirror. There was just a mismatch between my body and my brain, and now the two parts of me feel reconciled.


I have this memory of opening TikTok one day during the pandemic. There was a video of a 50-year-old trans man smiling and dancing. He was celebrating the anniversary of his transition, and all I could think was: “Oh wow, we get to live that long?”


Testosterone made all that mental health stuff so much easier. It can get hard sometimes, feeling like the entire world resents your existence.


When it all becomes overwhelming, when the noise is just a little too loud, I try to remind myself that I’m not some monster, I’m just a different kind of person. After I came out as trans at 13, my mom and I started reading about “two-spirit” people. In a lot of Indigenous cultures, people who lived outside the gender binary were cherished, they were sacred, they could become healers and shamans.


Learning about that history made me feel a lot better.


My family and I are going to leave Ohio sometime in the next few months. There’s technically a “grandfather clause” in HB68, where kids who are already on hormones should be able to continue getting medication. But we learned last month that the grandfather clause does not guarantee that I’ll be able to stay on testosterone. If even one person on my care team at the clinic leaves, I might not be able to get my prescription filled any more.

I’ve learned a lot about politics and law this year.


I was there in the statehouse when the house voted to override the governor’s veto of HB68. I wanted to be physically present to show support for my friends. It felt important to be there, to force the Republicans to see and acknowledge me, even if my presence there didn’t change any votes. I listened and sat there with the other trans kids and our families.


It was such a strange thing to watch. Have you ever had a little kid come up to you after they had a dream? They just breathlessly recount everything: “I was a superhero, I was being chased by all these killer robots, they almost caught me!” And of course, you nod and listen and take everything the kid says very seriously.


That’s what it felt like, listening to Republicans debate whether or not trans kids should be allowed to get healthcare. The politicians all talk so much, and they expect their words to be taken very seriously.

I don’t know what’s going to happen to the other trans kids who have to stay here in Ohio. I’m so scared for my friends.

‘Loving Parker is the easiest part of being his mom’ -Betty Elswick, she/her

I don’t want to leave this state. I wanted so badly for Ohio to be our family’s long-term home. I thought I would raise my kids here. But we cannot spend the next decade locked in this traumatic chess match against the state’s politicians.


We will not pay taxes in a state that does not want us. I will not stay in a place where my child is unsafe.


Watching testosterone transform Parker’s life and emotional wellbeing has been a wonderful thing to witness. Even before he came out, Parker was always self-conscious of his voice. The sound of it made him uncomfortable.


In the months since he started testosterone, his voice started to deepen. I can see Parker’s face light up every time he hears his own voice. Seeing your child be proud of his own voice is a type of joy that I cannot really articulate.


People keep telling me, “Don’t panic, everything will work itself out – the new laws aren’t such a big deal.” That kind of apathy is maddening in its own way, because I know how dire this current moment is for both trans kids and adults. These new laws are going to make it so much harder for trans people to survive.


There were trans adults in my life, friends who I loved so much, that are no longer alive. Losing those friends to suicide is a kind of pain that is impossible to ever metabolize. The grief I hold for them never left, but it lives a little closer to the surface now, with the end of the battle against HB68.


I am aware that moving to a different state will not shield Parker against transphobia. But at least we won’t be in this constant legal fight to protect Parker’s basic needs.


Supporting Parker has been easy. Loving him, getting him what he needs, that’s the easiest part of being his mom. It’s everything else that’s so hard.


‘I built a community here. It takes a long time to find people who are kind and don’t suck’Amity Scaglione, 14, she/her

Whenever I get anxious about the future, I try to remember the day of my homecoming dance. I was wearing this cute black dress that my mom and I had found at Kohl’s a few days earlier. My mom helped me pick out a lipstick color that matched my corsage.


Since coming out, I’ve realized that clothing and makeup is such an easy way to tell the world, “I’m a girl, see?”


I think a lot of cisgender people take that kind of stuff for granted. Getting dressed up in a nice outfit, going to a big school event with my friends, that was a kind of happiness I had never experienced before coming out of the closet. Dancing around in high heels all night, getting blisters, promising myself that next school dance, I’m going to wear Converse – that’s all something that is so important and precious to me.


Being trans doesn’t have to be so complicated or sad. It’s really simple, actually. Politicians just make it complicated.

I try to remember my homecoming dance whenever all the political stuff starts to feel overwhelming. The past year has been tough, but I make it work – most of the time. Last month, I wanted to go help all the activists at the statehouse who were fighting to block HB68. My mom and I woke up at 4.30 in the morning to drive to the statehouse, and we spent the whole day meeting with senators, asking them to vote no, explaining why the law would hurt trans kids. I told them how badly I wanted to get on estrogen, and what it meant for my life. I told them how scared I am to go through male puberty, how traumatic that all feels. I ended the night testifying in front of the whole senate.

We drove back home right after that, because I had my Spanish midterm the next morning.

Last week, my mom started calling around, looking for clinics in other states that would be able to get me started on estrogen. The closest clinic is three hours away from our house. We might be forced to move out of Ohio, but it’s not like Ohio is the only state that wants to take my rights away. What if we move to a new state, then next year, that new place passes something just like HB68? Last year it was Missouri, this year it’s Ohio. Which state is next?


I built a community here. I have a partner, I have friends, I have people in my life who don’t suck. It takes a really long time to find people who are kind, people who I can trust. A lot of people can be cruel. So if we move to a place where the laws are better, that’s obviously great, but I am nervous about the idea of starting from square one in a new school.


‘Elected officials are a bigger threat to my daughter than school bullies’Alicia Burkle, mom of Astrid (age 10), she/her

When Astrid first came out as trans, my husband and I wanted to be prepared. It was summer vacation, right before she started third grade, so we went to the kids’ school and made a plan in case she encountered any bullying. Ultimately, one or two kids were mean to Astrid, but the school nipped that right in the bud.


I don’t worry about school bullies any more. I’ve realized now that our elected officials are a much bigger threat to my daughter’s safety.


I have been to the statehouse over and over again in the year since HB68 was first introduced. Myself and the other parents of trans kids tried everything to convince Ohio legislators that this bill is a bad idea. We brought heartwarming stories about trans adults, scientific research on gender-affirming healthcare, empirical data on trans children’s mental health, and religious leaders who support trans kids. None of it worked. The people who pushed for this bill did not budge, because it was never really about the kids.


Astrid does not want to go through male puberty, and she should not have to. We have the best endocrinologists in the world here in Cleveland, doctors who can help us safely start puberty blockers when Astrid gets a little bit older. But now, if we stay in Ohio, she might have to face a very avoidable trauma.

We’ve been talking to Astrid’s endocrinologist to try and plan out the next 90 days, before the law officially takes effect. Astrid is almost at the age where she would be eligible to start puberty blockers, so there’s a small chance we could get her started on medication before that 90 day window closes.


But if we wait too long to find an endocrinologist outside of Ohio, I worry there won’t be any appointment slots left. There are doctors in Detroit, Pittsburgh, maybe even Buffalo that we could go to, but those clinics are about to be bombarded by calls from families that are leaving Ohio. The next few weeks are going to be chaotic, all because of this ban.


When I ignore all the outside pressures, though, it’s been an incredible thing to watch Astrid as she socially transitions. Astrid was such a goofy, giggly toddler; she always had a big smile on her face. At some point, maybe in first grade, she stopped smiling as much. She started having panic attacks. She started pulling her own eyelashes out as a way to self-soothe.


Today, we watch her flit around the house in sparkly dresses, dancing around with her teddy bear. She’s happy again. Coming out as trans, living life as a girl – that process has revived a light in her that was missing, or at least dimming, for years.


‘Dysphoria is a terrible feeling that I would not wish on anyone’Ava Rose, 18, she/her

I have a love-hate relationship with mirrors. There’s this big, floor length mirror in my bedroom; it was left behind by the last people to live in my family’s house. It was here when we moved in.

When I do my pacing – I pace back and forth when I’m thinking or anxious – I always catch little glimpses of my reflection in that big, stupid mirror.


Adults always ask me to explain how and when I realized that I am a girl. There’s not one particular moment that I can reference – I just know that at some point, I started to avoid mirrors, photos, anything that would force me to really study my own face. It might sound ridiculous to people who have never experienced gender dysphoria, but my reflection just looked so foreign to me. It felt so uncomfortable. I did not see myself in the mirror, I saw an entity that seemed very suspicious, like it was plotting something. My reflection became this house guest who had overstayed their welcome.


Dysphoria is a terrible feeling that I would not wish upon anyone.


A few months after I started on hormones, there was this day when my friends and I were hanging out at our town’s arcade. I was playing Guitar Hero when a mom approached one of my friends, pointed to me and said: “Once she’s done with the game, can my daughter play?”

The woman called me “she”. It was this beautiful, soul-affirming feeling that I had never really experienced before. I know that I am and always have been a girl, but that was the first concrete confirmation that the rest of the world saw me as a girl, too.


Pretty soon after that, I started to tolerate, then like, then sometimes love the mirror in my bedroom. When it enters my peripheral vision, I remain calm. I still don’t always love my reflection, but it is now a person who I recognize.


I’m a legal adult, so hopefully the new laws about hormone therapy will not change my access to medication. I am so worried about my trans friends, and all the younger trans kids who won’t be able to experience that thing I felt in the arcade. I feel so guilty sometimes, about my age.


I want to enjoy my senior year of high school. I want to get ready for prom with my friends, and I want to plan for my life after graduation. I had always thought I would stay in Ohio long term, but that doesn’t feel like a smart decision any more.


 

The Guardian, 2024

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