This is the teenage face of transgender health

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New Australian guidelines for treating transgender children, published in the Medical Journal of Australia, are likely to pave the way for more children like Oliver, who seek medical treatment early.

Insight asks: How do you navigate your teens when you’re trans? Transgender Teens, Tuesday May 28 at 8:30pm on SBS and SBS On Demand.

Sixteen-year-old Oliver remembers standing in Israeli dance class in Year 3 when the teacher asked whether any girls could perform the boys’ role.

“Little old me thought, ‘Yeah! I’ll do it. It’ll be great!’ recalls Oliver, but the teacher replied, “‘Molly, no, you play the boy part too much, I'm going to choose someone else.’”

Oliver, then 10 years old, had voiced feeling like a boy as early as he could talk, but realised in that moment that dressing like one wasn’t enough.

“On one hand I'm in this supportive community that's says you can be who you want to be, but on the other hand they're like okay, but now you need to stop and be a girl,” says Oliver.

Oliver is one of the estimated 1.2 per cent of highschool students who identify as transgender.

At 10, Oliver and his mum, Sarah, decided he would transition to living as a boy. Along with taking a cake into primary school with Oliver’s new name on it, Sarah sought medical advice and decided to take the step of blocking Oliver’s puberty.

Oliver
Insight

Puberty blockers are the first stage of medical treatment for transgender children and work to suppress the hormones that create bodily changes, such as hair growth, voice deepening, menstruation and breast development.

Counsellor and gender specialist, Elizabeth Riley, explains how the blocking effect is reversible if the medication is stopped.

“When the puberty blockers are ceased then the young person's puberty would develop as normal,” she says.

“It actually gives them time without being distressed about their body developing in a direction that doesn't match their gender identity.”

The second stage of medical treatment, which is irreversible without surgery, involves taking eostrogen or testosterone to feminise or masculinise one’s appearance.

In 2013, a landmark legal case removed the need for Family Court approval to access puberty blockers in Australia, but it also found the courts should decide when children to start hormones.

That process stood until 2017, when a successful legal challenge meant families are no longer required to go through the courts.

If someone woke up one day with the opposite genitalia than what they were born with, most of them would go and take steps to correct it and that's the same with me…I'm trying to get what I'm supposed to have.

For Oliver, the legal changes meant he was able to readily access hormone blockers at 10 years old and start on testosterone at the age of 15.

“I couldn't have done that for myself because I didn't understand,” says Oliver.

“So I'm just incredibly lucky that mum was willing to like say, ‘Okay, let's go down this route.’”

New Australian guidelines for treating transgender children, published in the Medical Journal of Australia , are likely to pave the way for more children like Oliver, who seek medical treatment early.

The guidelines recommend hormones be accessible to young people depending on their stage of development, rather than the age of medical consent which is typically 16 years old.

Oliver hopes to have surgery to remove breast tissue this year and explains why such medical interventions are important to him.

“I have had people questioning, you know, why would you do that? Why do you want to change your genitalia?” says Oliver, “But I think people think about it the wrong way.”

“If someone woke up one day with the opposite genitalia than what they were born with, most of them would go and take steps to correct it and that's the same with me…I'm trying to get what I'm supposed to have.”

Source SBS Insight