As a teenager, Lilith Le’fay Belladonna remembers being confused about the relationship between her gender and masculine body and trying to suppress any uncomfortable feelings. She hated the look on her face and felt strange in her body, as if she was born with “wrong parts.”
“I didn’t know, more or less, that trans people existed that way,” said Belladonna, who is now 35 years old. “I didn’t know there were people out there … that I felt.”
Since the social transition 18 months ago, or living as his true self in public, he has had transphobic arguments and banned people from the gas station where he worked in customer service after they made a violent threats.
“I’m tired of trying to live this fake life. Seems like an act… Since that day, things have gotten better and better in my mind. For the longest time… (I didn’t) care. I was sad all the time, ”said Belladonna, of Marion County. “But there’s no point in trying to live my life for other people.”
According to the Pew Research Center, 56% of American adults believe gender is determined by sex given at birth, while 41% believe the opposite. Still the center says more and more people say they know someone who is transgender, or 42% of adults in 2021 compared to 37% of adults in 2017.
Some have called the rise in acceptance and openness to gender diversity an epidemic, pushing for laws that discriminate against transgender youth and adults with little scientific evidence.
Richard Brandon-Friedman, an assistant professor of social work and pediatrics at the Indiana University School of Social Work at IUPUI, advises young people considering moving to Riley Hospital’s Gender Health Clinic for Children, did not accept that account.
“I think there has been a huge improvement in understanding gender diversity that has led young people to have a better sense of their experiences and a way to name their experiences compared to young people. with experiences and never said anything about it, ”Brandon-Friedman said.
“If you have politicians come in, it will only lead to the political association of transgender youth, and their experiences will be a demon if they try to live real lives.”
Lack of social, mental health support
As part of the team that developed the initial protocols for the Gender Health Clinic in 2016, Brandon-Friedman continues to participate as a social worker and works to help youth and parents understand the process. in transition.
She said the two biggest needs she sees are support, whether from family or society, and resolving bodily dysphoria, or the feeling that one’s body doesn’t match another’s sex.
Riley’s clinic helps with social transitions – such as changing names, appearances and pronouns – by prescribing puberty blockers and gender -confirming hormones. Puberty blockers are often used to delay puberty in children with early menstruation, help some children with growth disorders and even to treat endometriosis.
Brandon-Friedman said the clinic does not perform gender-affirming surgeries but can refer patients to Eskenazi Health’s Gender Health Program, even if most surgeons do not operate on minors.
“I think most young people are just looking for a way to feel comfortable with themselves,” Brandon-Friedman said. “I think part of it comes down to this question of whether young people know and understand their bodies and I think those proposing some (of the anti-trans bans) don’t really understand if what happened. “
In Indiana, Gov. vetoed. Eric Holcomb introduced a bill that would ban transgender female athletes from participating in school sports. The General Assembly, which meets later this month, has vowed to override its veto with a majority vote.
Brandon-Friedman said the Indiana High School Athletic Association, which regulates school sports, has their own rules on participation that are made by professionals, not politicians.
With increasing bans on transgender athletes and their gender-affirming care, advocates are concerned about the impact on mental health. Already rejected by much of society and internally contradicted, young transgender people report attempting suicide at a higher rate than their peers.
The Trevor Project, a nonprofit that supports LGBTQ youth, reports that respecting pronouns, allowing transgender youth to change their names/gender markers and giving young people- on access to gender-affirming spaces lowered the rate of suicide attempts.
“If you’re constantly bombarded with questions about whether there is gender diversity and whether transgender -certified care should be banned or whether transgender athletes should be banned – that’s always a negative message,” he said. Brandon-Friedman. “It’s a constant suggestion that you – that your experience – are wrong. That’s your problem.”
For Belladonna, a divorce and struggle with addiction derailed her transition, and only after she attended a methadone clinic and cleared could she focus on her relationship with her body. Now, to a close group of friends online and a colleague who plans to move to Indiana in a few months, he says he doesn’t want any special attention – just respect.
“There’s a lot of trans hatred in the country right now,” Belladonna said. “I don’t understand why people have this hatred in their heart. It hurts; it can be sad. What we want to do is live our lives like everyone else. ”