Your Body, Our Choice: Bodily Autonomy and Transgender Youth

Chelsea Hill, Queens University.

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Bodily Autonomy is human right. From a young age we are taught that our body belongs to no one but ourselves. Our body, our choice.

However, not all people can take this supposed human right for granted. Amongst the most vulnerable to this intrusive kind of state intervention is the trans community, whose bodies have regularly been a site of political control and medicalization. This year, in the US, there has been a new threat to bodily autonomy. This time, lawmakers are targeting children.

As of late, there has been a dramatic increase in health care bills looking to control the provision of gender-affirming health care to transgender children. One such bills that gained attention was South Dakota’s HB 1057, that would have punished doctors who provided puberty blockers and hormones with a $2,000 fine and possible jail time. Another bill, proposed in New Hampshire, would make providing gender affirming care a form of children abuse.

There are many reasons that these bills are being justified. For instance, many conservatives are perpetuating of the false narrative that trans children are being given gender affirmation surgeries. Which is dangerously inaccurate, at this stage providers are only concerned with administering puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones.

Moreover, these bills rely on outdated beliefs, such as the claims that natal puberty is natural and, therefore, crucial for all children. However, these beliefs fail to account for the children who do not experience gender in the same way cisgender children do.

It is also important to address the long-held social norms which have contributed the policing of trans bodies for many years. For a long-time cultural practice has been concerned with simplifying concepts like gender and sex, however, transgender people are seen to complicate the desire for simplification. Due to this, gender non-conforming identities have long been dismissed as pathological. Moreover, the treatment of transgender people in health care has largely been concerned with reducing body diversity to appease the anxiety associated with trans bodies. Trying to prevent transgender children from getting the medical attention that they need is another way that the state is trying to gain control and, in the process, invalidate the identities of trans children.

These cissexist bills effectively take the decision away from children, their parents and the medical professionals who know them best. Instead these laws are perpetuating the idea that there is a one-size fits all solution to gender and sex.

The thing is, one-size fits all does not work for clothes and it can not be applied to gender identity. Gender non-conformity is not a problem. It is not a pathological problem that can be solved with love and support because for children who actually want these medical treatments this debate is a matter of life and death.

Early intervention can be necessary for youth how do not wish to develop secondary sexual characteristics congruent with their biological sex and these changes, once occurring, can be difficult or impossible to reverse. For transgender children who experience gender dysphoria, which can be made are at increased risk of mental health issues like anxiety, depression, suicide and substance youth. Gender-affirming health care can be essential to reducing social exclusion.

It is incredibly irresponsible of lawmakers to be proposing these types of bills out of prejudice, fear and misinformed ideas about the transgender community. But more so, when you are messing with matters of the lives of children, I take major issue with that.

Because the truth is, this isn’t about protecting the child. NBC has stated that over 200 doctors in the South oppose these laws. They claim that there is no evidence that gender affirming medical treatment negatively impacts mental health and ensure that these medications are medically safe. In addition, the provision of gender affirming care is taken seriously by health care providers. Children are not given puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones recklessly. Only those who persistently and consistently appear to hold a gender identity consistent with their sex are considered.

How can lawmakers claim that they are doing best for the children when they are taking the power away from the child, away from the people who are acting in their best interest? No one’s body should be submitted to political control. There are few things more dangerous then taking away self-determination.

So, what are parents meant to tell their children now? ‘You have a right to control your body, unless you don’t conform to other people’s ideas about what your body should look like. In take case, sorry kid. Your body actually is under the control of someone who you’ve never meet.’

Transgender children need access to the medical and mental health professionals in order to do what is in their best interest. Lawmakers taking these fundamental services away will do nothing but restrict self-determination and, in the process, kill trans youth.

Ultimately, everyone has the right to bodily integrity. This is matter of consent. Forcing gender non-conforming youth into natal puberty without their consent is simply wrong. If lawmakers were really concerned with protecting these children, they would ensure that all trans youth have access to the medical care that will assist them in making the best decisions for their them. But that’s not what their doing because as I have said, this is not what these laws are trying to do.

Put simply, lawmakers are being irresponsible. Holding onto outdated beliefs about a strict gender binary does not help anyone. Playing with the lives of children is not a joke. This is not a matter of opinion on how we view the connection between gender and sex. People should not make decisions about communities they know nothing about. If they can not see that, they should not be in office.

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References

Burns, Katelyn. “Why Republicans are suddenly in a rush to regulate every trans kid’s puberty.” Vox 29 January 2020.

Lang, Nico. “Over 200 medical professionals in the South oppose bills targeting trans youth.” NBC News 6 Feb 2020.

Olson-Kennedy J, Chan YM, Garofalo R, Spack N, Chen D, Clark L, Ehrensaft D, Hidalgo M, Tishelman A, Rosenthal S. “Impact of Early Medical Treatment for Transgender Youth: Protocol for the Longitudinal, Observational Trans Youth Care Study.” JMIR Reserach Protocols (2019): 8(7).

Suess, Amets, Karine Espineira and Pau Crego Walters. “Depathologization.” Transgender Studies Quarterly (2014): 73-77.

Turban, Jack. “Doctors Oppose Tennessee’s Trans Healthcare Bill.” Psychology Today 9 March 2020.