In 1942, a 17-year-old transgender girl named Lane accompanied her parents to a doctor in her hometown of Missouri. Lane knew she was a girl from a very young age, but quarrels with her parents over her transparency made it difficult for her to live comfortably and openly throughout her childhood. She had dropped out of high school and decided to drop out of Missouri as soon as she was old enough to pursue a career as a dancer.
The doctor reportedly found “a large proportion of female hormones” in her body during their examination and suggested to Lane’s parents that she do so. an exploratory laparotomy – A surgery in which he will examine his internal organs to learn more about his endocrine system. But the appointment ended abruptly when her father refused the surgery, feeling that “the doctor didn’t know what he was talking about.”
I found Lane’s story buried among endocrinologist papers at first, but her brief meeting with a doctor during adolescence was typical of many transgender children like her in the early 20th century. These stories are the main thread of the first several chapters of my book, “history of transgender child,” and they point to the tremendous obstacles these children faced in a world where the term “transgender” didn’t even exist.
Ling’s Living Laboratories
Nothing like it today in the first half of the 20th century gender-affirming pediatric care model, which involves building a social support network and may include treatments such as hormone blockers. Doctors simply did not allow trans patients to transfect.
That doesn’t mean doctors and researchers weren’t interested in seeing children like Lane as patients. But instead of supporting her wishes and hopes, doctors saw her as a canvas for experimentation – to see how her growing body responded to various surgeries or hormonal cocktails. In my research I tracked several decades of this type of medical research, beginning in the early 20th century at research hospitals such as the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.
In fact, medical researchers were particularly interested in treating still-evolving LGBTQ youth in order to refine their techniques for forcing a binary sex. on intersex kids Or performing conversion therapy – which aims to force heterosexual or gender-affirming behavioral outcomes on gay children.
In this environment, Lane’s father may have inadvertently saved her from a damaging attempt at “corrective” surgery or hormones to prevent her from being trans. Even though Lane left home to live as a woman at age 18, she would have to wait a decade before finally gaining access to hormones and surgery in the mid-1950s.
Trans Childhood Before Trans Medicine
The struggle of trans children in earlier times modern transgender medicine Show not only how far trans youth are from a new phenomenon, but also show how firm and forward-thinking their comparisons were with their parents and doctors.
Two stories from other trans people like Lane show how physicians refusing to transition them never stopped them from being trans. They both found their way into the Johns Hopkins Hospital which, during the first seven decades of the 20th century, was widely regarded in America as an institution for people who had questions about their gender and gender. .
When Johns Hopkins psychologists interviewed a retired trans woman from the Midwest in 1954, she told them about her childhood in the 1890s. Yet, without any concept or term for being trans, this woman – by then in her 60s – told him it was obvious to him that she was a girl.
“I really wanted a doll and a buggy,” she reminded of her intense fondness for toys only given to girls. While her desire to be a girl never waned, her life did not give her the opportunity to transition to living a full-time life. A woman until she retires.
Five years later, a Johns Hopkins physician met a trans man who was in his 30s at the time. He came to her for top and bottom surgery. Growing up in the New York countryside in the 1930s, she was forced to drop out of school “because of a sense of embarrassment at being forced to wear girl’s clothes”.
Unlike the trans woman of the Midwest, this trans man, as a teenager, found a way to live openly as a boy: manual labor at a lumber mill. His presentation as a boy was embraced by his community, proving his manhood by working in the men’s profession and showcasing his strength. Decades later, he asked Hopkins doctors only to confirm what had been true for a long time in his life: that he was a man.
Growing up against every obstacle
Each of these three children – like countless children from the early 20th century – had to wait until the eventual transition to adulthood.
Yet the failure of doctors and other gatekeepers to prevent them from transitioning as children, and their inability to access any form of gender-affirming medical treatment, hardly prevented them from becoming a trans adult or growing up.
This is even more remarkable because prior to the 1950s, very few Americans had access to any concepts or information about trans life. While small communities of adult trans people are evident as far back as the turn of the 20th centuryMost children do not have access to these rational social worlds that existed in major cities such as New York and San Francisco. Without any media to influence them and role models, these remarkable young people were able to make their inner feelings come true on the way to living a trans life.
They are a reminder that conversion therapy, an attempt to suppress or limit transparency and gatekeeping through legislation does not work.
They didn’t work a century ago and they won’t work today.
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