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More and more children are openly identifying as a gender that’s different or more complex than the sex they were born into. About 9,000 Wisconsin middle school- to high school-aged kids self-identify as transgender, nonbinary and gender expansive/nonconforming, or TNG. Some families of TNG kids — ages 4 to 15 across Dane, Jefferson and Rock counties — talk about who they are, what they need and why it matters.
As soon as Trish could talk, she told her parents she was a girl.
Her father, Mike Winter, is a burly, gregarious stay-at-home dad in Lake Mills, a community of 5,898 people that’s about a 20-minute drive from Madison. Winter is known as the friendliest guy in town, inviting everyone within shouting distance to his frequent cookouts and garage parties. His wife, Jen, is a pediatrician, their daughter Katie is in sixth grade, and Trish — born a boy named Patrick — is now a fifth-grader.
“Do you remember telling me you thought the nurses gave you the wrong body when you were born?” Jen asks Trish, who doesn’t — she was too young. But it was Trish, not her older sister, who first brought Barbie dolls into the household. Trish — still Patrick, then — was too anxious to use the boys’ bathroom. Wanted to be the flower girl in a family wedding. Wanted to be called beautiful instead of handsome.
“When we were playing the Meet the Parents [board game] when she was still a boy, she always wanted to be the girl,” Katie remembers. “Yeah, and Katie was so nice to let me,” Trish adds, sending a sweet smile her sister’s way. There’s a lot of love in this family.
Still, they struggled. “I wasn’t as open as I thought I was,” admits Jen, who wasn’t taught anything about transgender health in medical school. She started researching issues affecting the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer/questioning community, and when Trish was 8 years old, Jen asked her if she felt like a boy or a girl.
“I thought my mom would be angry and confused, so I didn’t tell her the truth,” says Trish. But when Jen introduced the word transgender and shared what she was learning, things shifted into place. On the last day of second grade, Mike showed up at school with a bag of dresses. He told Trish she never had to wear boy clothes again, if she didn’t want to. “Now I realize I have very accepting parents,” Trish says, grinning.
Trish is part of a growing segment of the population that openly identifies as transgender, nonbinary and gender expansive/nonconforming, or TNG. Studies have shown that TNG youth have unique needs and can face certain challenges. As the TNG community becomes more visible, so do the stories of children, like Trish, who feel that traditional one-size-fits-all gender definitions don’t match who they are inside.
While Mike and Jen admit they haven’t always known what to do, loving their kids is the easy part. “My thing is like, my garage door is open, come have a beer with me and we’ll talk it out. Because I was confused, too,” says Mike. “But the sad thing is, suicide is a big thing with transgender kids, and the last thing I want is for Trish to commit suicide. I thought, this is how you love your kid. You protect them. You do anything for them. What is it hurting? Nothing. And if a year from now, two years, she decides to transition back, who cares? You know? All I know is that I loved her during this time.”
Mike and Jen say they’ve found tremendous support in Lake Mills, their large Irish Catholic family, the school district, doctors, counselors and the Pediatric and Adolescent Transgender Health Clinic, or PATH, at American Family Children’s Hospital in Madison. (But like many TNG families, they pay out of pocket — a cost of $7,000 for the hormone blockers that stop Trish’s body from entering puberty as a boy.) They sent a Facebook message and private messages to local families who knew Trish as Patrick, and Trish began third grade as the girl she’s always been. Katie says her sister is “way much more outgoing” now. “When she was a boy, she was shy like my mom. But inside she actually had someone like Dad.” The family couldn’t have asked for a more supportive response, but Trish then faced a different kind of struggle.
“Well, the first week of fifth grade was amazing,” Trish says. “But then, like, after a little bit, there’s been some more suicidal thoughts in my head. And some more thinking that I’m not normal, and would it be better if I wouldn’t be here? I kept the secret for a long time. I finally told my parents after, like, the fifth or sixth week feeling it. And they’ve been helping me and doing a lot of supporting, which I like.”
As supported as she is, Trish can’t help it — she still feels alone, and different. It’s why she wants to speak out today, even though it’s hard. When her parents ask whether she wants to conceal her identity for this article, she refuses.
“I have a message for other kids,” she says. “My name is Trish Winter, I’m transgender and you aren’t alone.”
An estimated 60,000 transgender people live in Wisconsin. About 2 percent of middle and high school students — 9,000 Wisconsin kids — now self-identify as TNG. Public health data indicate that TNG youth are at significantly higher risk for suicide, depression and lack of access to overall health care. LGBTQ teens are four times more likely to attempt suicide than their peers.
“Our [queer] youth are begging us to catch up,” says Sherié Hohs, LGBTQ+ lead for the Madison Metropolitan School District. According to the Centers for Disease Control and the national Youth Risk Behavior Survey, LGBTQ teens are more than four times more likely to attempt suicide than their peers. The Wisconsin Department of Public Health’s biennial Youth Risk Behavior Study found LGBTQ youth are statistically more likely to try and to regularly use tobacco; try cocaine, inhalants and heroin; report feeling depressed; consider, plan and attempt suicide; and feel unsafe at school. The 2011 National Center for Transgender Equality and National Gay and Lesbian Task Force report surveyed 6,450 TNG participants across 50 states. It revealed that those who identified as TNG while in grades K-12 have experienced alarming rates of harassment (78 percent), physical assault (35 percent) and sexual violence (12 percent), causing 15 percent to leave school.
“I try not to dwell on the negative stuff, because that holds us back, but the statistics are real,” says Hohs. “I’ve lost four kids since I’ve done this job. I don’t want to lose any more kids to suicide. So we need to do this work.”
Terms to Know
A collection of identities including lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual, aromantic, pansexual and polysexual. Alternate abbreviations include LGBT, LGBTQ, LGBTQ+, LGBTQIA and LGBTQQIAPP+. transstudent.org/definitions
One’s innermost concept of self as male, female, a blend of both or neither — how individuals perceive themselves and what they call themselves. hrc.org
A person whose gender identity matches the sex they were assigned at birth (for example, woman and female). Often abbreviated to “cis.” uwhealth.org
Transgender is a term that describes gender identity, gender expression and behavior that does not conform with ascribed gender norms for one’s sex at birth. dhs.wisconsin.gov/lgbthealth/resources.htm
Nonbinary is one term people use to describe gender identities that don’t fall exclusively into one of two categories: male or female. transequality.org
An umbrella term that expands notions of gender expression and identity beyond what is perceived as the expected gender norms for one’s society or context. pflag.org/glossary
A term used to describe some people whose gender expression is different from conventional expectations of masculinity and femininity. The term is not a synonym for transgender or transsexual. glaad.org
Self-harm or self-injury means hurting yourself on purpose. Self-harm isn’t the same as attempting suicide. However, it is a symptom of emotional pain that should be taken seriously. If someone is hurting themselves, they may be at an increased risk of feeling suicidal. nami.org
Hormone blockers work by blocking the hormones — testosterone and estrogen — that lead to puberty-related changes in young transgender peoples’ bodies. This stops phenomena like periods and breast growth, or voice-deepening and facial hair growth. Plannedparenthood.org
Hohs says she’s lucky to be in a district that cares about this work, but “even here in Madison where we call ourselves a progressive community, there are children deeply hurting because they don’t have the support or understanding of their peers, families or school communities,” Hohs says. “Some have been in so much pain that they chose to end their lives. We need to build informed, inclusive communities that take care of our young people so that all youth are supported and celebrated for their unique identities.”
According to the latest Dane County high school youth assessment, more than 20 percent of youth reported being LGBTQ. Yet staff roles such as Hohs’ are not commonplace. “Madison has been pretty revolutionary,” she says. “We have had this position since 2001.”
At MMSD, Hohs’ job is to assist teachers, administrators and students in actively supporting the rights and needs of LGBTQ kids. She works directly with families, facilitates trainings with staff, students and their families and creates and implements policy. She partners with organizations such as the Human Rights Campaign, which started the Welcoming Schools Program that is now operational in 16 MMSD elementary schools, and GSAFE, the 20-year-old nonprofit committed to creating just schools for LGBTQ K-12 youth across the state, co-directed by Ali Muldrow and Brian Juchems.
GSAFE is a combination of the word “safe” and GSA, which stands for either Gay-Straight Alliance or Gender and Sexuality Alliances. GSAs have existed in high schools for years, but they’re “popping up like wildflowers” in high schools, middle schools and even elementary schools, numbering more than 200 statewide, says Sawyer Johnson, GSAFE’s Youth Justice Program coordinator. Specific to MMSD, GSAFE has developed a unique, first-of-its-kind advanced learner’s program called Foundations of Leadership to support and develop LGBTQ student leaders of color, because intersecting identities such as race put them at even greater risk, says Johnson. GSAFE is hosting a statewide conference for LGBTQ youth on March 8 in Janesville.
“If you are a young trans person in your school and not allowed to use the bathroom that aligns with your gender, not allowed to use the locker room, maybe teachers are all calling you the wrong name or the wrong pronouns, that has such a detrimental impact,” says Johnson. “We see students shrink, we see really intense rates of depression and anxiety among those students. And it’s something that you can structurally fix.”
Johnson says most districts don’t have a resource like Hohs at MMSD, so policies and overall conditions vary from town to town. Hohs see this firsthand because she facilitates a hugely popular Trans-Parent Family Support Group that meets monthly in Madison and attracts families from all over south-central Wisconsin. TNG kids gather in one room while their parents meet in another. More than 200 families are currently on the group Listserv, with new members being added every month.
“When a child finally comes out, or finally is able to articulate or show who they are, and it’s not what you expected, it can be really challenging, and it can rock even the biggest ally of a parent,” says Hohs. “My advice would be to reach out for support from other families who’ve been through the journey. Family acceptance is the No. 1 indicator of positive health outcomes for LGBTQ youth.”
Bathrooms and Pronouns
Back when 15-year-old Ryan was still Regan, he was proud to be the only girl on the youth football team. He lives in a small Dane County town, and being on the team allowed him to buck the gender stereotypes that had bothered him all his life.
“I just thought she was going to be gay,” says his mom, Tracey — then quickly apologizes for calling Ryan “she.”
“It’s all good,” Ryan responds to his mother with a smile. It was a shock when Ryan came out as transgender at the age of 12, but he knows his mom loves and supports him. This two-year learning curve has been long, but steady. They’ve declined to use their last name for this article, but felt compelled to speak out after President Donald Trump announced his intentions to roll back Title IX protections for transgender individuals just two days before this interview.
“I don’t know if we would have done this six months ago,” says Tracey. “But now that there’s such a political climate, it’s like we have to tell our story. And then maybe the next person down the line can have a positive experience.”
Tracey still calls Ryan “Regan,” the name she gave him at birth when she thought he was the third of three daughters. She admits that’s been a big part of her own identity — wife, nurse and mother of three girls. Every time she does it, his friends cough and correct her. The same friends helped ease his transition when he started eighth grade with a new name and pronouns. That was the toughest year of all. Word spread quickly.
“For about a year, I just didn’t look at people. I kept my head down when we went places, because I just didn’t know,” says Tracey. “And I wasn’t always that strong. I wasn’t ready for your response, or your opinion or your look. And we lost people — people we thought were friends.”
Finding a safe bathroom can still be terrifying. Ryan doesn’t like to go anywhere alone, not since some older kids yelled slurs at him as he walked to Kwik Trip. One of his most pressing concerns — and a huge source of anxiety particularly for female-to-male transgender kids — was impending puberty. That’s what prompted Ryan to come out when he did; he knew he might get his first period any day. “I had nightmares about it for a couple months,” he admits. Luckily, Tracey is a pediatric rehab nurse. She assessed, triaged and made calls. Ryan got a therapist he loves, found the Trans-Parent Support Network and the Teens Like Us group at Briarpatch Youth Services and got into the busy PATH clinic within two months. There, he received the hormone blockers that bought time for him and his family, and the hormone treatments he began last year.
The PATH clinic has been great, but general health care can be challenging. “Bathrooms and pronouns!” Ryan shouts, and they laugh, but it’s a big deal. Because of the way medical records are designed and accessed, the family spends a lot of energy correcting caregivers. When Ryan needed surgery for a torn ACL, he was sent to the women’s locker room. It was awkward not only for him, but for the other patients as well.
Especially in vulnerable situations, names and pronouns are important to Ryan in a way that is sometimes difficult to articulate, often misunderstood and sometimes ridiculed. “It means you’re respecting me, that you acknowledge that I exist as a different person than I was,” he says. “It helps me understand that you’re going to be open.”
All the challenges are worth it to Ryan if it means he can be himself. Tracey has learned she must parent through her fear and uncertainty, because the alternative is unthinkable. Briarpatch is a private nonprofit that supports at-risk youth and families, many of whom are experiencing homelessness, and its Teens Like Us weekly support group served 143 LGBTQ youth in 2017. By Ryan’s third visit there, one of the attendees had committed suicide. Many of those kids lack the family support Ryan has. Bottom line, Tracey’s family is intact.
“I think there’s a happiness that we’ve found, and I feel that we’ve done well,” says Tracey.
“I’m much happier than I was back then,” Ryan says. “And I feel like I know myself better.”
For those lucky enough to access it, PATH, housed at UW Health’s American Family Children’s Hospital, provides full-spectrum care for all ages and stages of gender-questioning kids — which is a normal part of development, according to pediatric endocrinologist Dr. Jen Rehm, co-medical director of PATH. There is no medical treatment to start before puberty blockers, but an important part of what they do at PATH is talk with families about their options.
“I think trans youth experience harm and discrimination in health care,” says Rehm. “We all need to improve our competence in the care of trans youth, and that’s vital, because they avoid medical care. They’ve had negative experiences with the medical system because of their gender identity, and this can lead to all sorts of negative health outcomes.”
When PATH opened in 2012, it was the first in Wisconsin to treat transgender youth. Now Milwaukee’s Froedert & Medical College of Wisconsin has Inclusion Health Clinics, and both Madison and Milwaukee have waiting lists.
“It’s amazing to watch people become the person that they were meant to be,” says Rehm. “When we talk about increased anxiety and depression, it’s not being transgender that causes you depression. It’s all the experiences that these individuals have. So many of these kids are amazing advocates for themselves, but that’s a lot of work. Even when we’re trying our best in our health care system, it’s just very, very difficult for these kids.”
Harm and Discrimination in Health Care
In 2017, the Transgender Youth Resource Network of Wisconsin, or TYRN, and Wisconsin Transgender Health Coalition, or WTHC, released the Wisconsin Transgender Youth Community Needs Assessment. Researchers in the Department of Pediatrics at the UW–Madison School of Medicine and Public Health surveyed 311 TNG Wisconsin youth ages 12-18 and found that 80 percent do not have a medical provider of any kind that is competent in their health needs; nearly 28 percent avoided or were unable to access necessary health care within the last year; and only 2 percent — seven individuals — have insurance that includes coverage for mental health care, puberty blockers, gender-affirming hormones and gender confirmation surgeries. Most at risk are those who live outside the care area of large health systems or cannot afford the cost and rely on free and low-cost clinics, such as Planned Parenthood and federally qualified health centers.
“More than a quarter had, in the last year, avoided medical care that was needed,” says Jay Botsford, program coordinator of TYRN and WTHC, and primary author of the survey. That includes everything from basic health care to mental health to emergency, Botsford says, because of past experiences of medical trauma, fear of discrimination and because they couldn’t pay. Botsford says if they’re lucky, patients will encounter an individual care provider who is self-educated on LGBTQ health because they are likely not receiving that training in medical, nursing or pharmacy school.
“We can and do work on providing resources and training to providers, many of whom are hungry for this information and want to do better,” says Botsford. “Very few people have gone into medicine or mental health for the money. Folks go into it because they care, they want to help people, they feel called to it and they feel like this is a place where they can make a difference.”
Things are slowly changing at the institutional level, says Mel Freitag, diversity officer and associate clinical professor at the UW–Madison School of Nursing. Today’s incoming students have been raised with more evidence-based and anecdotal education about gender identity, and they’re pointing out the gaps in class, a phenomenon known as “upteaching.” The students are asking more complex questions — how to handle catheter insertion on a trans patient, for example, or how to code for insurance on a patient who needs both a mammogram and a prostate screening — and the curriculum is evolving in response to demand.
Last year for the first time, UW–Madison nursing, medical and pharmacy students could take a three-credit LGBTQ health class taught by Molly Hermann of the Wisconsin Department of Health Services and Cabell Gathman of UW–Madison’s Department of Gender and Women’s Studies. It was capped at 50 students and filled immediately. Students are exposed to panels and trainings from local organizations such as Wisconsin PATCH (which stands for Providers and Teens Communicating for Health), PATH, the UW–Madison Gender and Sexuality Campus Center and student organization PRIDE in Healthcare. Freitag also directs people to the Center for Community Healing, the only therapy center for LGBTQ youth in Wisconsin, created by Chelsea O’Neil Karcher and Owen Karcher (who also co-founded WTHC). Many of these groups will be participating in the first-ever LGBTQ Health Summit this April, co-facilitated by the UW–Madison School of Nursing, the UW System and Public Health Madison and Dane County.
“As we widen what gender identity means and understand that it’s not just binary, there’s going to be more and more people who identify outside the norm of straight or cisgender,” says Freitag. “So even if they think they’re not going to come across a patient like this, they’re going to, eventually.”
Four years ago, Epic Systems Corp., the largest provider of electronic medical records in the world, started allowing providers to collect more nuanced data, such as chosen name, sex assigned at birth and preferred pronouns. UW Health was the only Dane County provider implementing Epic’s SmartForm technology before June 2018, when Group Health Cooperative of south-central Wisconsin started using it, too. Patients may still be experiencing inconsistencies in care because while SmartForm allows providers to collect the data, it’s still complicated to access in practice. Epic’s vice president of R&D relations Janet Campbell, says they have released an upgrade to the core system, including the SmartForm technology, that will make it easier for providers to use the system in a meaningful way when addressing patients.
“Every organization that I’ve talked to wants to do the right thing for the patient. They see why this is important. The unfortunate challenge is that the health care delivery system is surprisingly complex,” says Campbell. “The next biggest hurdle that we as an industry need to overcome is getting integrated systems on the same track.”
Can’t Afford It
“Let’s just say I hate periods,” says James Malphy, a 14-year-old trans-male in Janesville. James’ insurance doesn’t cover blockers or hormones, and his divorced parents can’t afford the thousands of dollars out of pocket. So he puts up with his body’s monthly reminder that he was born a girl, which is more than just a hassle. He’s scared every time he has to quietly tear open a tampon in the stall of the boys’ bathroom at school. What if the wrong person hears and he gets beat up?
“If people tell you there’s no bullying in school about this, they are so wrong,” says James’ mother, Michelle Ponder. “There’s still so much bullying. Kids can be very mean. Calling him by his old name. Calling him she, her.”
“It,” James adds, quietly. “Tranny. Homo.”
James first found language for his identity in his middle school GSA, but it took about a year to work up the courage to come out as transgender halfway through seventh grade. He paid a high price. He said some family members didn’t accept him, including his dad (who has since become hugely supportive). And although James says he has the unwavering loyalty of several close friends, some kids treated him terribly. He was teased, and shoved into his locker. The worst incident happened at recess, when a large group of girls surrounded him and began shoving and calling him names he won’t repeat.
“That was kind of a rough time, because I was really scared to go to class with these girls. They were scary to me because they were a lot bigger than me,” he says. “But one of them became my best friend.”
That silver lining is typical of James’ story, which contains brutal highs and lows. The School District of Janesville has been wonderfully responsive, says Ponder, acting immediately on the aforementioned incident in a way that not only held the bullying students responsible but also allowed them the opportunity to learn. It also paved the way for some of James’ closeted friends to come out. “They saw how well the school took care of people that bullied and harassed me,” he says, “and they felt a bit more safe knowing the school was there for them.”
Being a positive example for other kids means a lot to James. In eighth grade he created a slideshow presentation to help other students and teachers better understand LGBTQ kids. He has found new friends at support groups like Trans-Parents and Teens Like Us, and he has support at home. He’s so much happier in his own skin, but he’s honest about his ongoing struggles.
In eighth grade, he began self-harming, and in his freshman year he was hospitalized at Meriter Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Facility in Madison after he finally broke down and revealed to a trusted teacher that he had a suicide plan. As rough as that experience was, James says it helped. He says he’s OK, despite the ongoing stress of knowing he may never be able to afford the medical treatments that could make a huge difference in his health.
After the seventh grade bullying incident, the school sent a letter to parents providing graphic details. James keeps that letter on his bedroom wall. “Like a reminder, ‘Hey, I got through this hard time, I know I can get through this next one,’” he says. That’s what helps the most. “Knowing that I’m changing things. That I’m helping and making a difference out there.”
Normal People With Normal Kids
Families with TNG kids are facing serious challenges, but there’s a certain strength, resilience and peace that comes from living with authenticity. It’s a constant struggle for parents, teachers and health care providers to toe the line between bringing attention to the risks and celebrating the rewards. But it’s clear that when kids are allowed to be who they are — particularly the younger they are — everybody wins.
“I’ve heard this over and over, that kids totally transform when they’re allowed to transition,” says JJ, who lives in Madison and whose 6-year-old transgender daughter still goes by the name Ian. (JJ and her family declined to reveal their last name in print.) “She has become much more outgoing, confident, very happy. I used to dread getting up in the morning and getting Ian dressed; it was a fight every morning.” When they finally bought her “girl’s clothes,” the fight ended.
When Ian was a barely verbal toddler, whenever JJ and her husband called Ian a big boy, she would always correct them. By kindergarten, she was wearing dresses and letting her hair grow long. JJ worried she was pushing Ian in one direction or another — a common fear and misconception among parents of TNG kids. But as she started to learn more about the trans community, and how difficult it was for those who transitioned as older teens or even adults, she set aside her fears. “There is no cost — other than buying new clothes — in letting my daughter manifest this desire to be a girl. And if at some point she wants to transition back to being a boy? That is fine. But if she only has to transition once, which we have all the evidence to suggest this, let’s do it before she goes to school.”
JJ is a geneticist, so she soothed her initial confusion with science.
“It’s been much easier for me to think about it as, people are just wired this way, and their body might not jibe with what they feel in their brain,” she says. “But their brain is ultimately what’s going to win out.”
That has been Lexy Spry’s experience, too, with her daughter, Poppy, who will be 5 in February. They were driving home from preschool in Madison one day when Poppy, still a boy named Emrys then, piped up from the backseat.
“Mom, did you know I really am a girl?” Spry brushed it off, explaining that girls have vaginas and boys have penises, and the subject was dropped. But a week later, Emrys said it again, and Lexy replied with the same explanation. “Well, then I’m a special girl with a penis,” said Emrys. That’s when Lexy knew that whatever this was, it probably wasn’t going away.
So they learned, and they adapted, and Emrys chose the name Poppy in January 2018. Poppy loves makeup and Barbie, which has made the whole family think harder about how they define gender for themselves. When Poppy’s older sister decided they now wanted to be addressed as they/them/theirs, it was Poppy who was initially skeptical, insisting her sibling could only be a boy or a girl. In a way, Lexy says, she’s grateful Poppy is so clear; kids who don’t fall neatly into gender roles are at even greater risk than her daughter.
There have been some snags — Lexy’s in-laws are conservative Lutherans who accused them of inappropriate parenting akin to child abuse when they shared the news. But Poppy is thriving, and the other kids are so naturally accepting that Lexy can’t imagine how any of this could be wrong. But she gets it, and that’s her advice to other parents.
“Play the part of the supportive parent until you can be that supportive parent,” she says. “Don’t stress your kid out with how stressful it might be for you. I did a lot of late-night Googling, a lot of texting with friends, but when I saw Poppy? I was going to say ‘she.’ And I was going to make a big deal out of saying ‘she.’ ”
Additional families spoke with us on condition of anonymity, such as Christina, who works for a small Dane County school district with a transgender supportive policy. She says her trans-daughter who will be 11 in February, was sad and withdrawn in kindergarten until her family helped her transition. Although one family wrote an angry letter to the school principal, Christina says her daughter would be “very miserable” right now if she hadn’t had the courage to transition, and that they saw “big gains” in her academics.
“I know from the parent group I go to that there are transgender kids in every school district in Dane County,” says Christina. “Whether they feel safe being who they are or not, they’re there. They’re listening to what people are saying, and it’s not making them feel very safe or very good.”
Mary, who also requested her real name not be used, is proud of her trans-son who will be 11 in February, but she wants to protect his identity and respect his current and future privacy.
“The reality is, we worry about his safety,” says Mary. “Right now he’s comfortable being out, but there might come a time in his life where he has to be stealth. That’s the reality of the marginalization of this population of people, and that’s the reality of the federal administration that’s trying to make them obsolete.”
Mary has been astonished to learn firsthand how difficult and complex it is to change a person’s gender identity on important paperwork. Minors must publicly announce a name change three times in a court approved newspaper (in Dane County that is the Wisconsin State Journal). Those old enough for a driver’s license need a letter from a doctor, and changing gender on a birth certificate requires proof of surgery in the state of Wisconsin. Mary feels lucky she has the resources to afford the fees and time associated with the process, the lack of which can deny access to insurance, travel, housing, voting, health care, mental health and basic safety to others. She’s also grateful her son was able to access the blockers and hormones that will allow him to enter puberty as a boy, which she hopes will spare him from the need for surgery down the road.
But not every transgender person wants or needs surgical transition. Every aspect of TNG health is highly personal, complex and private, and every family is walking a different road. What they all have in common, however, is the desire to be seen and treated as human.
“We’re just normal people, with normal kids,” says Mary. “They just happen to be in a different place on the gender spectrum than the way they were assigned at birth. There’s nothing abnormal about it.”
Maggie Ginsberg (she/her/hers) is a senior contributing writer for Madison Magazine. This article was made possible in part by a grant from the American Society of Journalists and Authors.
Resources and groups for Local TNG Youth and Families
Trans-Parent Family Support Group
Trans-Parent Family Support Group is for families from all over Wisconsin who have transgender, nonbinary or gender-expansive youth. The group meets from 6-8 p.m. on the second Monday of the month throughout the school year in Madison. This is a safe, affirming space to process all the things you are going through. Email Sherié Hohs for information: firstname.lastname@example.org
Teens Like Us at Briarpatch Youth Services
Teens Like Us, or TLU, provides support and education for LGBTQ youth ages 13-18. Briarpatch provides a safe space for youth to meet with peers. youthsos.org/programs/youth-development/teens-like-us
PATH Clinic at UW Health’s American Family Children’s Hospital
Pediatric and Adolescent Transgender Health, or PATH, team strives to provide transgender children and their families with education and resources about medically supporting gender affirmation or transition.
PFLAG – Madison
Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, or PFLAG, has a three-part mission that includes support, advocacy and education. It hopes to support families and parents of LGBTQ people, educate others and be visible advocates for issues surrounding the LGBTQ community. PFLAG Madison holds regular monthly meetings. pflag-madison.org
PFLAG – Mount Horeb
Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, or PFLAG, of Mount Horeb provides support, education and advocacy for members of the LGBTQ community and their friends, families and allies. It offers monthly meetings and created a “we don’t discriminate” window decal for businesses and people to display. pflagmoho.org
The GSAFE organization creates just schools for LGBTQ youth in Wisconsin. It supports gay-straight alliances, trains educators and develops the leadership of LGBTQ youth. This organization has roots dating back to 1991. In 2004, GSAFE helped successfully add “gender identity/expression” to the school districts of Madison’s and Middleton Cross-Plains’ respective student nondiscrimination policies. gsafewi.org
MMSD Guidance and Policies to Support Transgender, Nonbinary and Gender-Expansive Students
A guide provided by Madison Metropolitan School District to help students, families and staff ensure that transgender, nonbinary and gender-expansive students thrive academically, socially and emotionally. Includes inclusive classroom practices, a names and pronoun guide and information on protective state, federal and district laws. studentservices.madison.k12.wi.us/guidance-policies-support-transgender-non-binary-and-gender-expansive-students
Freedom Inc. engages low- to no-income communities of color in Dane County. It works to promote healthy communities and end violence against people of color, women, youth, elders and those with nontraditional gender identities. freedom-inc.org
OutReach LGBT Community Center
The goal of OutReach LGBT Community Center is to promote equality and quality of life for LGBT people through community building and human services. It organizes the annual pride parade in Madison. outreachmadisonlgbt.org
The Center for Community Healing
The Center for Community Healing provides therapy for people with marginalized or misunderstood identities. It specializes in working with LGBTQ clients. arttherapymadison.com
University Health Services at UW–Madison
University Health Services, or UHS, is the University of Wisconsin–Madison health clinic. It offers an online guide outlining services for transgender and gender nonconforming students. uhs.wisc.edu/medical/trans-health
UW–Madison Gender and Sexuality Campus Center
The Gender and Sexuality Campus Center provides education, outreach, advocacy and resources for UW–Madison students and their allies. The center wants to improve campus climate and students’ daily intersectional experiences. lgbt.wisc.edu
SAFE at Edgewood College
SAFE is an organization at Edgewood College made up of students, faculty and staff who advocate for the well-being of Edgewood College’s LGBTQ community and allies. SAFE also partners with Personal Counseling Services to create a Peer Queer Mentor Program. edgewood.edu/student-life/lgbtqia
GSA at Madison College
The Gender & Sexuality Alliance — a group that promotes education of the LGBTQ community throughout campus — created a Gender & Sexuality Guide, which is a collection of diverse resources pertaining to the LGBTQ community. This includes books, DVDs, magazines, documentaries, gender identity resources and community and wellness resources. These resources are available for Madison College students and the public. libguides.madisoncollege.edu/LGBTQ
GLSEN (pronounced “glisten”) was founded in 1990, with the goal to ensure schools are safe and affirming places for LGBTQ students. The organization, founded by a group of teachers, develops resources for educators, partners with national education organizations and works with lawmakers to ensure safe school legislation is passed. The policy team worked with legislatures for safe schools legislation such as the Safe Schools Improvement Act and the Student Non-Discrimination Act. glsen.org
Family Acceptance Project
The Family Acceptance Project develops research-based, culturally grounded approaches to help ethnically, socially and religiously diverse families support their LGBT children. It developed an evidence-based family model of wellness, prevention and care to strengthen families and promote positive development and healthy futures for LGBTQ children and youth. Familyproject.sfsu.edu
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