Trans kids were seeking treatment decades before today’s political battles over health care
'Boy Wearing a Wig,' Wilhelm von Gloeden (1900) Wikimedia Commons

In 1942, a 17-year-old transgender girl named Lane visited a doctor in her Missouri hometown with her parents. Lane had known that she was a girl from a very young age, but fights with her parents over her transness had made it difficult for her to live comfortably and openly during her childhood. She had dropped out of high school and she was determined to get out of Missouri as soon as she was old enough to pursue a career as a dancer.

The doctor reportedly found "a large portion of circulating female hormone" in her body during his examination and suggested to Lane's parents that he undertake an exploratory laparotomy – a surgery in which he would probe her internal organs in order to find out more about her endocrine system. But the appointment ended abruptly after her father refused the surgery, feeling "the doctor did not know what he was talking about."

I first encountered Lane's story buried among the papers of an endocrinologist, but her brief encounter with a doctor during her teenage years was typical of many transgender children like her in the early to mid-20th century. These stories form a key thread of the first several chapters of my book, "Histories of the Transgender Child," and they point to the tremendous obstacles these kids faced in a world where the word "transgender" didn't even exist.


The living laboratories of gender

In the first half of the 20th century there was nothing like today's gender-affirming pediatric care model, which involves building a social support network and can include treatments like hormone blockers. Doctors simply did not allow trans patients to transition.

That doesn't mean doctors and researchers weren't interested in seeing children like Lane as patients. But instead of supporting their wishes and hopes, doctors tended to see them as canvases for experimentation – to see how their growing bodies responded to various surgeries or hormonal cocktails. In my research I tracked several decades of this kind of medical research, beginning in the early 20th century at research hospitals like the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.

In fact, medical researchers were particularly interested in treating still-developing LGBTQ youths as a way to refine their techniques for forcing a binary sex on intersex children or carrying out conversion therapy – which aims to coerce a heterosexual or gender-confirming behavioral outcome – on gay children.

In this climate, Lane's father may have unwittingly saved her from a harmful attempt at "corrective" surgery or hormones to try to prevent her from being trans. Even though Lane left home at age 18 to live as a woman, she would have to wait over a decade before finally obtaining access to hormones and surgery in the mid-1950s.

Trans childhoods before trans medicine

The struggles of trans children in the era before modern transgender medicine show not just how trans youths are far from a new phenomenon, but also how tenacious and forward-thinking they were compared with their parents and doctors.

Two stories of other trans people like Lane show how clinicians' refusal to let them transition never stopped them from being trans. Both of them found their way to the Johns Hopkins Hospital, which, during the first seven decades of the 20th century, was widely regarded as the one institution in the U.S. for people with questions about their sex and gender.

When psychologists at Johns Hopkins interviewed a retired trans woman from the Midwest in 1954, she told them about her childhood in the 1890s. Even then, without any concept or term for being trans, this woman – by then in her 60s – told them it was obvious to her that she was a girl.

"I wanted a doll and buggy very much," she reminisced of her intense attachment to the toys given only to girls. While her wish to be a girl never waned, her life had never afforded her the opportunity to transition to living full time as a woman until she retired.

Five years later, the clinicians at Johns Hopkins met a trans man who was then in his 30s. He had come to them seeking top and bottom surgery. Growing up in rural upstate New York in the 1930s, he had been forced to drop out of school "because of the excruciating sense of embarrassment at being obliged to wear girls' clothes."

Unlike the trans woman from the Midwest, this trans man, as a teenager, found a path to living openly as a boy: manual labor at a lumber mill. By working in a men's profession and proving his masculinity through showcasing his strength, his presentation as a boy was embraced by his community. Decades later, he sought out the doctors at Hopkins only to confirm what had long been true in his life: that he was a man.

Growing up despite every obstacle

Each of these three children – like the countless more from this early 20th-century era – had to wait until adulthood to finally transition.

Yet the failure of doctors and other gatekeepers to stop them from transitioning as children, and their inability to access any form of gender-affirming medical treatment, hardly prevented them from being trans or growing up to be trans adults.

This is all the more remarkable given that before the 1950s, very few Americans had access to any concept or information about trans life. While small communities of adult trans people are evident as far back as the turn of the 20th century, most children would not have had access to these discreet social worlds, which tended to exist in major cities like New York and San Francisco. Without any media to supposedly influence them and without role models, these remarkable young people were able to stay true their inner feelings en route to living trans lives.

They're a reminder that conversion therapy, attempts to suppress or limit transness and gatekeeping through legislation don't work.

They didn't work a century ago and they won't work today.


Jules Gill-Peterson is an Associate Professor of English and Gender, Sexuality, and Women's Studies at University of Pittsburgh.

This article first appeared on The Conversation. You can read it here.



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When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

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Over the past six years, it feels like race relations have been on the decline in the U.S. We've lived through Donald Trump's appeals to America's racist underbelly. The nation has endured countless murders of unarmed Black people by police. We've also been bombarded with viral videos of people calling the police on people of color for simply going about their daily lives.

Earlier this year there was a series of incidents in which Asian-Americans were the targets of racist attacks inspired by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Given all that we've seen in the past half-decade, it makes sense for many to believe that race relations in the U.S. are on the decline.

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Photo courtesy of Macy's
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Did you know that girls who are encouraged to discover and develop their strengths tend to be more likely to achieve their goals? It's true. The question, however, is how to encourage girls to develop self-confidence and grow up healthy, educated, and independent.

The answer lies in Girls Inc., a national nonprofit serving girls ages 5-18 in more than 350 cities across North America. Since first forming in 1864 to serve girls and young women who were experiencing upheaval in the aftermath of the Civil War, they've been on a mission to inspire girls to kick butt and step into leadership roles — today and in the future.

This is why Macy's has committed to partnering with Girls Inc. and making it easy to support their mission. In a national campaign running throughout September 2021, customers can round up their in-store purchases to the nearest dollar or donate online to support Girls Inc. and empower girls throughout the country.


Kaylin St. Victor, a senior at Brentwood High School in New York, is one of those girls. She became involved in the Long Island affiliate of Girls Inc. when she was in 9th grade, quickly becoming a role model for her peers.

Photo courtesy of Macy's

Within her first year in the organization, she bravely took on speaking opportunities and participated in several summer programs focused on advocacy, leadership, and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). "The women that I met each have a story that inspires me to become a better person than I was yesterday," said St. Victor. She credits her time at Girls Inc. with making her stronger and more comfortable in her own skin — confidence that directly translates to high achievement in education and the workforce.

In 2020, Macy's helped raise $1.3 million in support of their STEM and college and career readiness programming for more than 26,000 girls. In fact, according to a recent study, Girls Inc. girls are significantly more likely than their peers to enjoy math and science, to be interested in STEM careers, and to perform better on standardized math tests.

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