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Could Recent Laws Be Causing Anxiety for Transgender Teens?

June 09, 2023

The weight keeps piling on transgender teens – just as they start to form an identity, laws nationwide work to squash it.

At least 18 states passed laws restricting gender-affirming care for minors, something Derek Fenwick, PsyD, assistant director of Hartford HealthCare’s Center for Gender Health, says can be emotionally damaging.

“Adolescence is a time for exploration and to figure out who you are,” he begins. “LGBTQ+ adolescents and teens face added struggles stemming from their marginalized identity.”

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This theory can explain victimization.

According to the Minority Stress Theory, anyone in a sexual minority experiences distinct, chronic stressors due to stigma, Dr. Fenwick explains.

This can include:

  • Victimization
  • Prejudice
  • Discrimination

“People often feel they must hide aspects of their true selves because they are afraid of what disclosing those aspects might lead to,” Dr. Fenwick says.

Trans teens feel added anxiety in today’s political climate.

Daily news reports of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation and national debates remind youth that not everyone supports their identity choice, which can cause added stress, he says.

“It can take a toll to constantly hear about and feel invalidation around your identity. Their sense of understanding who they are is invalidated consistently and more frequently in the past few years,” he notes.

> Related: New Center for Gender Health Offers Services Vital to Transgender Patients

Acceptance lowers stress levels in trans youth.

Stigma, Dr. Fenwick says, is a constant source of anxiety for LGBTQ+ teens, especially those who are transgender.

“If society were to be more open and accepting of all experiences and allow people to identify authentically, I believe we would see a decrease in the distress these marginalized youth experience,” he says.

Some LGBTQ+ youth also experience gender dysphoria, which is when one’s psychological understanding of their gender identity differs from their sex assigned at birth.

“Every person’s journey is unique. Not every LGBTQ+ person experiences this, but it is common among transgender and gender non-conforming people,” he says.

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The best way to help transgender teens is to accept and support them.

“Fortunately, we have not had to deal with these laws in Connecticut, but we have heard stories from families that left states where anti-laws are being introduced and moved to more affirming states like ours,” Dr. Fenwick says.

The most important way for parents, friends, family and allies to ease the struggles for LGBTQ+ youth is to show support, he continues. Specifically, he suggests:

  • Accepting kids for who they are
  • Allowing them to know you are there for them
  • Voicing concern around anti-LGBTQ laws so kids know you are an ally for them
  • Creating a validating, loving environment

“We know from research that when LGBTQ+ children are in supporting, validating homes, their rates of mental health issues is no more than cisgender youth,” Dr. Fenwick says.

Learn more about the Center for Gender Health

Because each person’s experience is unique, we bring together experts in endocrinology, gynecology, plastic surgery, primary care and behavioral health to tailor care to each individual’s needs in a supportive, private environment.

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