Experts Gather for Panel on Gender Affirming Healthcare

Joseph Abrams ‘23

Chief News Editor

The topic of gender affirming care is likely one near the top of most people’s minds, especially considering how seemingly important it was to the recent midterm elections. Some state legislatures are currently debating the topic as it pertains to transgender youth, and for a lot of states the accessibility of such treatment for younger populations is undefined or unavailable. Therefore, it could not be a more relevant time for experts to come together, discuss their experiences administering or interacting with gender affirming care, and provide an educated foundation from which to interpret the controversial topic. Thankfully, on Tuesday, Holy Cross invited Dr. Izzy Lowell, Max McLune, Dr. Nicolas Meade, and stef shuster to Seelos Theater for a conversation about gender affirming care and how it manifests in reality, away from the hypotheticals of politicians. 

The session started with each panelist introducing themselves: Dr. Izzy Lowell is the founder of QMed, a resource that provides trans youth in the American South with access to gender affirming care. For Dr. Lowell, this mission is incredibly important considering the current climate towards gender affirming care for minors. She argued that very few states provide good access for gender affirming care, and the resources that some cities boast, like Boston, often trail out and dissipate as one moves further away from the metropolitan area. This is especially true in the south, where Dr. Lowell has had patients drive up to six hours for treatment. So, for a licensed medical professional that actually administers it: what specifically entails gender affirming care? Well, for Dr. Lowell, much of it can simply be deduced to being an accessible and accommodating care provider. For a lot of trans youth, traditional care providers can be unmotivated to make changes and unfamiliar with transgender care. However, Dr. Lowell finds that doing “anything that makes trans and non-binary youth comfortable” can fall under this umbrella. While hormone therapy and physical surgery often describe the more technical aspects of gender affirming care, Dr. Lowell’s QMed specifically only offers hormone therapy. And, as states’ legal standards are changing, Dr. Lowell is having to rush patients in before new laws and bans take place. 

Dr. Nicholas Meade, a gender affirming clinical psychologist, then introduced themselves. Dr. Meade works with health care professionals, social workers, and counselors to help trans youth “explore who they are in a safe space”, particularly youth that are pre-pubescent. This helps trans youth prepare for physical treatment once they reach the age of puberty. Dr. Meade highlighted some very interesting new developments in their field as well, particularly in the form of virtual reality therapy. With VR headsets, groups of trans youth can design all aspects of their avatars and interact with each other in a safe space. 

Max McLune, a recent graduate of Hampshire University and a trans-identified youth activist in Boston, took the stage alongside Dr. Meade and spoke about their experience working with trans youth. McLune works as the BIPOC Meeting facilitator at BAGLY, the Boston Alliance of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer youth. Here, McClune not only organizes meetings for LGBTQIA+ youth in the Boston-Massachusetts area but travels to schools (like Holy Cross) and businesses to share experiences and create conversations. Max also has a hand in Boston’s Trans-Youth Summit and Massachusetts Youth Pride– certainly a hefty resumé working with youth of all identity groups. 

stef shuster, the final panelist, works in academia and brings a social science background to the conversation. stef works as an associate professor at Michigan State University and recently released Trans Medicine: The Emergence and Practice of Treating Gender, the product of years of research into gender affirming care. For five years, stef traveled the country attending conferences and speaking with health care professionals for the book. Yet, for stef, current concerns around gender affirming care have been around for decades. The same themes that underlined problematic and oppressive treatment of young people in the 1950’s, stef argues, continue to persist today, creating a “70-year legacy of inequalities.” At this point, stef’s biggest worry is the way that “legislators are using trans kids as political points”.

Once questions started coming in, some of the most compelling points arose when the differences between medical accessibility between different identity groups was discussed. As all four of the panelists concurred, because healthcare providers and physicians are more likely to provide gender affirming care to those who are dedicated to a “full” transition (hormone therapy and physical surgery), it can be hard for non-binary patients to receive the same options. Non-binary youth often don’t want to fully transition to one defined gender stereotype, which can impede their access to treatment. This highlights the disconnect between a new generation where being somewhere in between or outside the gender binary is simply fine, yet misunderstood by those who still prioritize a gender binary.

Image courtesy of the Society of Clinical Psychology (Division 12)

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