Jul 172013

Gender Spectrum

Gender Spectrum has a yearly Family Conference and Professionals Workshop in Berkeley, California. This year was the 7th conference, and my 3rd time attending (2nd year as a volunteer). Gender Spectrum is an organization supporting, educating and advocating for transgender and gender non-conforming youth and their families.

I’ll start by talking about the Professional’s Workshop, which was Friday. It was roughly split into four tracks: medical, mental health, legal, and educational. There was a lot of overlap. One panel I particularly enjoyed was the “Working With Caregivers” panel. It was a series of cases and discussion of those cases between a family practice physician and a social worker. The varying concerns in each case , the individuality, and the back-and-forth between professional fields really helped bring the case reports to life. For someone like me with limited clinical experience it was a real treat. Another panel I really appreciated was on research relevant for trans youth. The summary? As usual, not much… but I do have a few more citations to track down and read.

I also want to give a shout out to Jeanne Nollman (and, by extension, the AIS-DSD Support Group) for coming and giving an Intersex 101 talk and sharing her story. This was the first year Gender Spectrum addressed intersex/DSD issues and it’s sorely needed. As much as trans issues are hidden from the public eye, intersex issues are even more hidden… often by medical professionals and families themselves. Thank you Jeanne for stepping into the light and talking with us. Let’s create some change there too!

The last panel I attended in the professionals workshop was on fertility. It was repeated for the family conference. Many many families are concerned that, by allowing their children to start hormone therapy or have surgery, that they will forever lose their ability to have biological children. I see two aspects to this: the (often complex) biology of fertility and fertility preservation, and the emotional aspects of family and family building. Before the conference began, I coordinated with several of the presenters to help make a flow chart to simplify explaining the fertility biology.

The family question is, in a way, a lot harder. What is family? Who is family? For many, biological grandparentage is important. For others, they simply don’t want to sterilize their child. I was more emotionally involved in the conversation than I expected to be. I believe very strongly that family is chosen, not just biological. I have more than two parents. I accept them all whole heartedly, and I don’t make a distinction based on genes. But I admit that the dominant culture I see in California doesn’t accept that… and we lack language that truly supports that. Worse, much of my family is not legally recognized. So it’s a bit of a tangle of an issue. As far as I know this was the first year fertility was addressed in a panel. It went very well, and I hope to see it repeated and expanded next year.

As for the family conference? I heard rumor that some 150-200 youths were there. It was huge this year! My volunteering this year was primarily focused on the medical consult sessions. Every year the conference offers one-on-one sessions with various professionals. This year it included medical, mental health, spiritual, and legal professionals. It was pretty busy. I didn’t get to as many panels as I might have liked, but that’s nothing strange. As always at a conference, one wants to be in five different places all at the same time. So unlike previous years, I didn’t come home with a folder full of notes and citations to look up. Instead, I sat and talked with people.

It was a surprisingly intense and emotional conference for me. I really came out of the world of statistics and risk factors and into the world of emotions and realities. It was… well, I’m still looking for the right words. I appreciate all the people who sat and talked with me. I hope you’re all well. Know that someone in the world is thinking of you and hoping everything’s going to come out OK in the end. Another shout-out, this time to Micah of Neutrois Nonsense. Good to see you again!

One theme stands out for me this year particularly strongly: self-determination. The goal of Gender Spectrum, and of the parents there raising trans and gender non-conforming youth, is to let their children be themselves. Whatever that is at that particular moment. Let them explore and play and decide what’s right for themselves in the end. It’s like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: provide the safety, security and love and let the child self-actualize and be happy.

At the closing plenary for the conference, we were asked “What’s the one thing you’ll do with this experience when you leave here?” For me? I need to revise my Gender and Sexual Minorities 101 lecture. I may accept the gender binary for myself (I identify as a woman), but that doesn’t mean I should assume others do. I think I emphasized the binary too much in my previous lectures. So when I record those lectures, it’ll be a revised version that’s more open to gender fluidity, and that provides more information on trans and gender non-conforming youth.

…also, I so need to bring business cards next year! Augh! Oh well. Hope everyone I gave contact info to is able to find me. 🙂

In summary? Great experience, as it is every year. If you are a family with a trans/gender non-conforming youth, or work with those youths, or do trans care of any flavor, or are just curious…. please try to come for next year! I hope to see you all there again soon.

Sep 212012

Because hormone therapy is known to slow and eventually stop sperm production, trans women who wish to have biological children must store their sperm before starting hormones. It is not known whether sperm production will resume if hormones are discontinued. Both the WPATH and Endocrine Society guidelines recommend considering sperm storage before starting hormone therapy.

Those recommendations aren’t without conflict. Some in the medical field have expressed concerns about the welfare of children born to trans parents. There are no empirical data available on those kids, but the authors of this study comment that “the lack of reassuring evidence cannot be used as a barrier against reproduction after gender transition.” I think they’re absolutely right. Further, the data on same-sex parenting help reinforce that it’s not the gender of the parent(s) that’s important for a child’s well-being. Factors like cooperation and stability are far more influential.

The authors note that there is little research surrounding reproduction in trans women, and that the research world has little understanding of the motivations and concerns affecting trans women’s reproductive decisions. Several issues they mention seeing in their clinic include cost, desire to transition quickly, and difficulty producing sperm for freezing. They also call for more research, so that clinicians better understand what trans women are facing and can improve health care.

I was really glad to see this article published. There was a lot of discussion of reproductive options for young trans people at the latest Gender Spectrum conference. It’s good to see it being discussed respectfully in the literature.

Link (Archives of Sexual Behavior)

EDIT: Yes, that title does look weird, doesn’t it? It really is the title of the article that was published.