What Is Gender Affirming Care and Why Is It So Important?
Updated: Aug 17
How Transgender Care Plays a Vital Role In Overall Wellbeing
Did you know? Around 80% of transgender individuals have contemplated suicide in their lifetime. Out of that 80%, nearly 40% of them make an attempt to end their own life.
Transgender individuals are at a much higher risk for mental health problems varying from anxiety and depression, to trauma and PTSD.
Transgender-specific issues have been controversial in society for years now. However, we’re not here to discuss this. Let’s take out the politics and opinions for a second and focus back on the hard data.
The idea that 82% of any specific group, is contemplating suicide is not only horrifying but shocking and appalling.
So, what can be done about this? What is being done about this?
Gender-affirming care is one step toward alleviating the mental burden from transgender individuals. Not only is gender-affirming care a more inclusive form of healthcare, it runs its roots much deeper than the physical surface, hence its level of success in supporting transgender youth and adults.
What Does It Mean To Be Transgender?
With any controversial subject comes a lot of misinformation. With misinformation comes stigma, prejudice, and stereotypes.
In order to understand how effective gender-affirming care is we must first discuss what it means to be transgender.
Transgender is a term used to define someone whose gender identity (their internal sense of being a man or woman) is different from the gender they were assigned at birth. While most people have a gender identity that aligns with their assigned sex (cisgender), transgender individuals have a gender identity that differs from their assigned sex. It's important to recognize that gender identity is separate from assigned sex at birth. (For more information, Understanding Transgender People: The Basics).
Self-identification is a fundamental aspect of being transgender. Individuals may come to understand and express their gender identity in different ways and at different times in their lives. It is up to each individual to determine their own gender identity and how they choose to express it. Some transgender individuals report having felt different than their peers from a young age. Children are incredibly intuitive and can often sense early on when their sex assigned at birth doesn’t match their identity.
Trying to Change a Transgender Person Doesn’t Work:
The entire topic of transgender related issues has come to light in more recent years, however decades of research on “curing” people who do not identify as heterosexual should tell us all we need to know.
Conversion therapy - sometimes referred to as reparative therapy or sexual change efforts - are a range of harmful, dangerous, and discredited practices aimed at changing a person’s sexual identity, gender identity, or gender expression. This form of “therapy” was based on false ideas that anything other than identifying as heterosexual is a mental illness that needs to be treated and “cured.” There was no attempt at understanding the other person, but rather “curing” them from their ‘sickness’.
Now, decades later, many survivors of conversion therapy have come out to speak on the trauma they endured at the hands of those who were supposed to love and care for them.
In fact, San Francisco State University found that LGBTQ members that were rejected and subject to conversion therapy were 8.4x more likely to attempt suicide. To this day, there is no solid evidence to prove that conversion therapy is successful.
The American Psychological Association, “advises parents, guardians, young people, and their families to avoid sexual orientation change efforts that portray homosexuality as a mental illness or developmental disorder and to seek psychotherapy, social support and educational services that provide accurate information on sexual orientation and sexuality, increase family and school support, and reduce rejection of sexual minority youth”
While many organizations have denounced conversion therapy and some states have laws that prevent licensed therapists from engaging in conversion therapy, there are still states that do not have laws or policies banning conversion therapy. There are states that have laws that make attaining gender affirming care even more difficult and there some religious groups that are still promoting this form of “treatment.”
Any form of conversion therapy does not work.
This is where gender-affirming care comes in.
Let’s talk a bit about what gender-affirming care is, and how incredibly important it is for transgender people.
What Is Gender-Affirming Care?
Gender-affirming care is a research based form of healthcare that plays a supportive and positive role in individuals’ lives. Gender-affirming healthcare is for individuals whose gender identity differs from their sex assigned at birth. This type of care includes physical, emotional, social, psychological, behavioral, and interpersonal interventions meant to help guide and affirm individuals in their gender identity journey. WPATH states, “Being Transsexual, Transgender, or Gender Nonconforming Is a Matter of Diversity, Not Pathology”. WPATH’s Standards of Care for the Health of Transgender, and Gender Diverse People document aims to “provide clinical guidance to health care professionals to assist transgender and gender diverse (TGD) people in accessing safe and effective pathways to achieving lasting personal comfort with their gendered selves with the aim of optimizing their overall physical health, psychological well-being, and self-fulfillment”
Gender-affirming care interventions range from hormone therapy, counseling services, voice and communication therapy, reproductive and sexual health, primary care, and support with transitions. People may choose to engage in a wide variety of transitions, both social - such as coming out about trans identity, changing pronouns, changing name, choosing affirming clothing, or changing gender expression - and medical - such as hormone therapy or gender-affirming surgeries, to align their physical appearance with their gender identity. However, not all transgender individuals pursue medical interventions, and any form of transitioning is a personal choice.
It’s important to note that gender-affirming care isn’t strictly about medical and mental health services. There is the legal aspect as well. The legal process of changing one’s name is complicated, confusing, time consuming, and expensive. Changing one’s name is only the tip of the iceberg in having accurate and consistent IDs that are needed in daily life - such as for work, travel, and banking.
The main goal of gender affirming care is to connect with each individual and support them by providing services, treatments, and care that is “designed to support and affirm an individual’s gender identity” and to help people live full, safe, and healthy lives. Get the Facts on Gender-Affirming Care.
In recap - each individual’s experience is unique and evolves over time. Not every individual is going to change their name, pronouns, engage in hormone therapy, surgeries, or even change the clothes they wear. Every healthcare system and provider should be providing and adapting care to promote the health and well being of transgender and gender diverse people.
Why Is Gender-Affirming Care So Important?
Improves Mental Health
Individuals who come into gender-affirming clinics may experience gender dysphoria. This term comes from the American Psychological Association and outlines the extreme psychological distress endured by individuals with identities that are different from their sex assigned at birth.
Gender dysphoria is a clinical condition, and along with it comes higher rates of depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders that can make life incredibly difficult for children and adolescents.
In one particular study aimed at addressing the effectiveness of gender-affirming care, 60% of transgender individuals reported decreased rates of depression and nearly 75% of individuals reported fewer suicidal thoughts.
Under the model of gender-affirming care, patients are cared for in ways that affirm their gender identity. This method of healthcare has been proven to decrease symptoms of depression and anxiety as well as create a more positive overall outcome.
Improves Social Emotional Wellness
Social-emotional health is a person’s ability to identify and regulate their emotions, make healthy decisions, and form relationships in the world around them.
Children that have grown up feeling different from their peers - especially where there is no support and acceptance. They may struggle to make friends, connect with others, or may isolate themselves. This in and of itself can contribute to chronic loneliness, depression, suicidal ideation, and anxiety.
In addition, transgender youth may fall behind academically as they feel pressured to look and act in contrast to what they feel internally. This may be done to fit in with their peers, to avoid bullying, or conform to their family expectations or pressures. Whatever the cause may be, it can become a festering problem that contributes to a lack of concentration or difficulty retaining information.
Gender-affirming care allows transgender individuals the freedom to be who they truly are, without judgment or criticism. They’re supported in their journey, empowering them to feel truly confident in their own skin. This not only boosts their self-esteem but enables them to feel more secure in making friends, trying new things, and forming connections.
Gender-Affirming Care Saves Lives
Safe and affirming healthcare, mental health care, and social environments are critical for transgender and gender expansive children, adolescents, and adults.
Gender-affirming care provides support and interventions tailored to the individual's gender identity, which can alleviate gender dysphoria and improve mental well-being. By addressing the underlying factors contributing to suicidal ideation and providing appropriate care, gender-affirming approaches can help prevent self-harm and suicide. This means that access to affirming mental health services, counseling, and support groups can help reduce mental health struggles and prevent suicide attempts.
Gender-affirming care fosters an inclusive and supportive environment where individuals are validated in their gender identity. This support can lead to improved self-esteem, greater self-acceptance, and stronger social connections, thereby reducing feelings of loneliness and improving overall emotional well-being.
Gender-affirming care ensures that transgender individuals have access to comprehensive healthcare services that are sensitive to their unique needs. This includes hormone therapy, reproductive and sexual health services, voice and communication therapy, and primary care. Access to gender-affirming healthcare helps individuals maintain their physical health, reduces the risk of complications from unsupervised interventions, and improves overall quality of life.
Gender-affirming care is individualized to provide the support and interventions when an individual needs them - from mental health to financial resources to physical healthcare. Providing individuals with a safe and supportive healthcare system is only one critical component in ensuring individuals are set up for success.
The benefits of gender-affirming care touch all aspects of a person’s life.
Gender-affirming care recognizes and validates the individual's gender identity, which is essential for their overall well-being. It acknowledges that being transgender is not a pathology but a natural aspect of human diversity. By providing inclusive and affirming care, healthcare providers and systems can contribute to a positive and supportive environment that promotes the health, happiness, and self-fulfillment of transgender individuals.
If you are someone you know needs help, the Trans Lifeline is a trans-led organization that connects trans people to the community, support, and resources they need to survive and thrive. (877) 565-8860
Article References and Resources
Non Exhaustive List of Illinois Based Resources
Howard Brown Health - Gender Affirming Services: Howard Brown Health is a leading LGBTQ+ healthcare organization in Illinois. They offer a range of gender-affirming services, including hormone therapy, primary care, surgical consultations, and mental health support. Website: https://howardbrown.org/service/trans-nonbinary-health/
Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago - Gender and Sex Development Program: Lurie Children's Hospital has a specialized program for gender-diverse children and adolescents. They provide comprehensive care, including medical evaluations, hormone therapy, mental health services, and support for families. Website: https://www.luriechildrens.org/en/specialties-conditions/gender-development-program/
Chicago Women's Health Center - Trans Health Program: Chicago Women's Health Center offers a Trans Health Program that provides gender-affirming services, including hormone therapy, primary care, sexual health services, and counseling. They prioritize an inclusive and affirming approach to care. Website: https://www.chicagowomenshealthcenter.org/trans-health
Transformative Justice Law Project of Illinois: This organization provides legal services and support to transgender and gender nonconforming individuals in Illinois. They assist with legal name and gender marker changes, healthcare access, discrimination issues, and other legal needs. Website: http://www.tjlp.org/
Illinois Safe Schools Alliance: The Illinois Safe Schools Alliance is an advocacy organization focused on creating safe and inclusive school environments for LGBTQ+ youth. They provide resources and support to promote gender-affirming practices in schools. Website: https://www.illinoissafeschools.org/
Youth Outlook is a non-profit organization based in Illinois that focuses on supporting and empowering LGBTQ+ youth. The organization provides a variety of services and programs aimed at creating safe spaces, promoting mental health, and offering educational resources for LGBTQ+ youth and their families. https://youth-outlook.org/
The Center on Halsted is committed to fostering a safe and affirming environment for all LGBTQ+ individuals and allies. It aims to enhance the quality of life and overall health of the LGBTQ+ community in Chicago and beyond. https://www.centeronhalsted.org/
Non Exhaustive List of Texas Based Resources
Kind Clinic: Kind Clinic is a nonprofit organization that specializes in sexual health and wellness, including gender-affirming care. They offer hormone therapy, primary care, PrEP/PEP services, STI testing, and counseling. Website: https://kindclinic.org/
Transgender Education Network of Texas (TENT): TENT is a statewide organization that advocates for transgender rights and provides resources for transgender individuals and their families. They offer support groups, educational workshops, and assistance with legal and healthcare issues. Website: https://www.transtexas.org/
OutYouth: OutYouth is an organization that supports LGBTQ+ youth in the Austin area. They provide a safe and affirming space, counseling services, support groups, and educational programs. OutYouth also has a Gender Affirming Care program specifically for transgender and nonbinary youth. Website: https://www.outyouth.org/
The Hogg Foundation for Mental Health at the University of Texas at Austin has a webpage dedicated to LGBTQ+ mental health resources throughout Texas. https://hogg.utexas.edu/news-resources/lgbtq-mental-health-resources
Abounding Prosperity, Inc.: Abounding Prosperity is a nonprofit organization in Dallas that focuses on the health and well-being of Black LGBTQ+ individuals. They offer support services, including counseling, HIV/STI testing, case management, and referrals to gender-affirming healthcare providers. Website: https://aboundingprosperity.org/
Resource Center: The Resource Center in Dallas offers comprehensive support and resources for LGBTQ+ individuals, including gender-affirming care. They provide access to healthcare services, mental health counseling, support groups, and educational programs. The Gender-Affirming Hormone Services program specifically focuses on hormone therapy for transgender individuals. Website: https://www.myresourcecenter.org/
Equality Texas is a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization, serving as the largest nonpartisan statewide political advocacy organization working for the elimination of discrimination targeting the LGTBQ+ community. Website: https://www.equalitytexas.org/
Non Exhaustive List of National Resources
Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund (TLDEF): TLDEF is a national organization that provides legal assistance and advocacy for transgender individuals. They offer resources and support for legal name changes, gender marker changes, discrimination issues, and other legal needs. Website: https://www.transgenderlegal.org/
National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE): NCTE is a leading advocacy organization dedicated to advancing transgender equality. They work on policy advocacy, provide resources on legal rights and healthcare access, and offer support for transgender individuals and their families. Website: https://transequality.org/
GLAAD Transgender Resources: GLAAD is a media advocacy organization that provides resources and education on transgender issues. They offer information on transgender terminology, media representation, and resources for transgender individuals and allies. Website: https://www.glaad.org/transgender/resources
Trans Lifeline: Trans Lifeline is a helpline for transgender people in crisis. They provide emotional support, resources, and a safe space to talk for transgender individuals in need. The helpline is staffed by transgender volunteers who understand the unique challenges faced by the community. Website: https://www.translifeline.org/
Gender Diversity: Gender Diversity is an organization that supports transgender and gender-diverse youth and their families. They provide resources, education, and support groups for transgender children and adolescents, as well as training for professionals and educators. Website: https://www.genderdiversity.org/
Gender Spectrum: Gender Spectrum is an organization that focuses on creating gender-inclusive environments and support for transgender and nonbinary youth. They provide resources, educational materials, and support networks for families, schools, and professionals working with transgender youth. Website: https://www.genderspectrum.org/
The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) is a prominent LGBTQ advocacy organization in the United States. The HRC transgender resources page aims to promote understanding, acceptance, and equality for transgender individuals and offers resources to help navigate challenges and access necessary support and services. Website: https://www.hrc.org/resources/transgender
Resources for LGBTQ Youth By State: https://legacy.lambdalegal.org/sites/default/files/publications/downloads/fs_resources-for-lgbtq-youth-by-state_1.pdf
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