Transgender is a term that encompasses the many ways that people’s gender identities can be different from the sex they were assigned at birth. Gender incongruity and/or realization of identity as transgender can occur at any age.
The number of young people who identify as transgender has nearly doubled in recent years, according to a new report that documents a dramatic generational shift and emerging societal adoption of a diversity of gender identities. This has not always been the case for other generations.
The struggles facing young people are entirely different from those of those transitioning later in life. Claire and Theo, patients of UConn Health’s Transgender Medical Services, realized their gender dysphoria in their late 20s and early 30s.
Claire was assigned a boy at birth and her earliest memories are around 5 years old when she was playing house and wanted to play ‘Mom’. At the time, she thought nothing of it.
“I was a kid just playing with my friends,” she says.
It wasn’t until I was 8 years old that things started to change. She was the quiet kid at school, not very athletic, who ran around the country and played video games, but started getting bullied.
When she realized some shortcomings in the things the boys were doing, she stopped playing dress up and started doing things to fit in with her male friends.
She didn’t really like who she was and on a birthday her mother gave her a book titled “I hate everythingwhich characterizes his personality.
In her early teens she started dressing in feminine clothes when her parents were sleeping, she was happiest when she presented herself more feminine but didn’t really understand. At that time, she didn’t have the vocabulary or the awareness that trans people existed. The cross-dressing continued in secret at the university.
“I often sat up at night wishing I could wake up as a woman,” she recalls.
She would want these things, but also fight them, suppressing her thoughts or outright denying her feelings.
His first job was in Kansas, in the middle of the Bible Belt.
“I felt isolated, away from my family and the friends I made in college,” Claire says.
Working in computers, she found a social virtual reality game online and decided to try it. The game allows players to virtually talk to each other in different rooms called “worlds”. The worlds range from cozy, dimmed bars and cafes to mountain peaks. Players could choose and even create their own avatar to represent themselves in the virtual world.
“It was a place that accepted people for who they were,” she says. “People would talk to you like you were a person and wouldn’t care how you looked.”
She immediately created a female avatar and tried out different looks.
“I was on cloud nine, it was so real and I was so much happier to present as a woman,” Claire explains.
Over time she decided that maybe it was something to think about and not a fetish or something to hide.
During a routine checkup with her doctor, she decided to come out and ask about her various options. Her primary care physician was extremely helpful and referred her to UConn Department of Health Endocrinology.
“It was nerve-wracking going on the first date,” Claire said. “I thought I was going to have to prove to the doctor that I was trans enough to move on, but that ultimately didn’t happen.”
The first meeting took place with Britta Shute, and her anxiety and fears dissipated as she began to tell her story. They discussed his possibilities and various medications.
Claire decided to take hormone replacement therapy (HRT). Feminizing hormone therapy helps male-to-female transgender people (trans women) look more feminine. It uses anti-androgens to block male hormones. Taking estrogen and progestins helps you grow bigger breasts, softer skin, rounder hips and more.
“Britta was so open and honest,” Claire says. “Every visit is something I look forward to at UConn Health. If I had a bad month, knowing I have an appointment coming up keeps me going.
The doctors involved in her care became a central part of her transition process, they were the people she spoke to beyond the prescribed medications. “Britta is always willing to help and it’s been insurmountable help, she’s been just amazing,” Claire says.
“With a year or two of hindsight, I struggled with depression that kept me from getting out of bed, I had no confidence or self-worth in general,” Claire recalls.
She had to find out who she is and live her life authentically. Claire is entering her second year on HRT, has her dream job and a boyfriend.
‘I’m much more confident and I feel like I have a future – the book’I hate everything’ is now in the trash,” Claire explains.
Claire is very grateful to her family and her doctors who have supported her so well.
Theo was born Grace to two amazing parents who he describes as not concerned with traditional gender roles, so he never had to worry about gender or gender expression.
Now married, with two foster children and a job as a social worker, he knows it’s normal for children to wonder who they are, but not everyone has the support of their family.
He didn’t grow up struggling with who he was mainly because his parents let him be who he was. He realizes that his background is not typical and that he realized this late, but he is convinced that we must normalize exploration.
Now 32, Theo began the transition in 2021. “I had grown up as a tomboy,‘came out as a lesbian, then briefly explored a more non-binary identity before acknowledging that coming out as trans male felt more authentic.
“I thought it might be one thing, I could accept being a man,” says Theo.
He explored his thoughts with a therapist and his wife. His wife blessed his decision and was so supportive. That’s when he started seeing Shute at UConn Health.
“Britta explained the process to me, asked me how I made the decision and what my goals were,” says Theo.
Theo also chose HRT and has been using hormones for a year. Female-to-male testosterone therapy (FTM), or T-therapy, is a treatment some people may receive to induce “masculine” physical traits and suppress “feminine” ones. Those who choose to undergo T-therapy will receive the hormone testosterone to reduce estrogen production
He elected to have a subcutaneous mastectomy, a procedure to remove breast or chest tissue,
True to his roots, he chose the name Theodore “Theo” because his birth name of Grace of Latin origin means “gift of God” and Theodore of Greek origin also means “gift of God” or “divine gift”. .
“This name was important to my mother and it is a paternal surname, to honor my parents’ respect for coming out, I chose to keep it for her,” says Theo. “I’m still Grace, I was a daughter, a sister, a mom, now I’m a son, a brother, a father.”
He made his decision late in life, but likes that teenagers and children realize their identity now and there’s a vocabulary and conversation that didn’t exist when he was growing up.
“I am very grateful to UConn Health and all the support,” says Theo. “It’s a nice climate and a good experience here.”