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'I have seen amazing things,' says a Texas pediatrician about gender-affirming care

a rainbow flag also with the triangle of blue, pink, white for transgender pride, and black and brown for LGBTQ people of color, waving behind a person wearing a light rainbow face mask with shoulder length brown hair and sunglasses
Gabriel C. Pérez
A Progress Pride flag at a recent rally for transgender rights at the Texas Capitol on March 1.

It can be a lifeline for transgender youth, especially those struggling with their mental health and thoughts of suicide.

From Texas Standard:

Recent investigations by Texas Child Protective Services of families with transgender children have sparked outcry from transgender rights advocates and allies. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued the directive in late February, based on a non-binding legal opinion from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton that described gender-affirming care as “child abuse.”

On Friday, a state judge temporarily blocked the investigations.

But the battle over minors' access to gender-affirming care will continue in Texas, in the courts and in the court of public opinion. That could be, in part, because of common misunderstandings about gender-affirming care. Dr. Jane Wray, a pediatrician and endocrinologist, spoke to Texas Standard about how gender-affirming care works and her advice for families of transgender youth right now.

RELATED: Legal expert hopes court ‘comes to their rescue’ for families caught in Texas transgender investigations

Listen to the interview in the audio player above or read the highlights below:

– Wray says transgender people feel they are not the sex they were assigned at birth. With so-called gender affirming care, she prescribes hormones "to bring their body into sync with their mind." Hormone treatment often continues even after a person has developed secondary sex characteristics like breasts or facial hair. That's because "they feel less themselves if the hormones are stopped," Wray said.

– Surgical treatment for transgender men can include mastectomies, or the removal of breasts, and some transgender women may have genital surgery. But Wray says the procedure is less common for transgender men "because of the difficulty in having success with that." Only mastectomies can be performed on patients under the age of 18; a patient has to wait until they are 18 or older before having genital-altering surgery.

– Gender-affirming care can transform a transgender person's life, especially when they're suffering from the mental health effects of living in a body with which they feel out of sync. Wray says the rate suicide attempts is much higher among transgender youth.

"I have seen amazing things. People who were on five medications for depression come back and they're on one. People that have frequent admissions to the psychiatric hospital no longer have admissions to that. They become happy. This is with gender-affirming care," Wray said. "And so, this is essential, and without it, the statistics show that many of these children may die."

– Wray says she would advise families seeking gender-affirming care for their children to wait until the legal issues related to that care in Texas are resolved.

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Kristen Cabrera is a graduate of the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies in Portland, Maine, where she saw snow for the first time and walked a mile through a blizzard. A native of the Rio Grande Valley, she graduated from the University of Texas-Pan American (now UTRGV) and is a former KUT News intern. She has been working as a freelance audio producer, writer and podcaster. Email her:
Caroline Covington is Texas Standard's digital producer/reporter. She joined the team full time after finishing her master's in journalism at the UT J-School. She specializes in mental health reporting, and has a growing interest in data visualization. Before Texas Standard, Caroline was a freelancer for public radio, digital news outlets and podcasts, and produced a podcast pilot for Audible. Prior to journalism, she wrote and edited for marketing teams in the pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries. She has a bachelor's in biology from UC Santa Barbara and a master's in French Studies from NYU.
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