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.



Images courtesy of Letters of Love
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When Grace Berbig was 7 years old, her mom was diagnosed with leukemia, a cancer of the body’s blood-forming tissues. Being so young, Grace didn’t know what cancer was or why her mother was suddenly living in the hospital. But she did know this: that while her mom was in the hospital, she would always be assured that her family was thinking of her, supporting her and loving her every step of her journey.

Nearly every day, Grace and her two younger sisters would hand-make cards and fill them with drawings and messages of love, which their mother would hang all over the walls of her hospital room. These cherished letters brought immeasurable peace and joy to their mom during her sickness. Sadly, when Grace was just 10 years old, her mother lost her battle with cancer.“

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Losing my mom put the world in a completely different perspective for me,” Grace says. “I realized that you never know when someone could leave you, so you have to love the people you love with your whole heart, every day.”

Grace’s father was instrumental in helping in the healing process of his daughters. “I distinctly remember my dad constantly reminding my two little sisters, Bella and Sophie, and I that happiness is a choice, and it was now our job to turn this heartbreaking event in our life into something positive.”

When she got to high school, Grace became involved in the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and a handful of other organizations. But she never felt like she was doing enough.

“I wanted to create an opportunity for people to help beyond donating money, and one that anyone could be a part of, no matter their financial status.”

In October 2018, Grace started Letters of Love, a club at her high school in Long Lake, Minnesota, to emotionally support children battling cancer and other serious illnesses through letter-writing and craft-making.


Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Much to her surprise, more than 100 students showed up for the first club meeting. From then on, Letters of Love grew so fast that during her senior year in high school, Grace had to start a GoFundMe to help cover the cost of card-making materials.

Speaking about her nonprofit today, Grace says, “I can’t find enough words to explain how blessed I feel to have this organization. Beyond the amount of kids and families we are able to support, it allows me to feel so much closer and more connected to my mom.”

Since its inception, Letters of Love has grown to more than 25 clubs with more than 1,000 members providing emotional support to more than 60,000 patients in children’s hospitals around the world. And in the process it has become a full-time job for Grace.

“I do everything from training volunteers and club ambassadors, paying bills, designing merchandise, preparing financial predictions and overviews, applying for grants, to going through each and every card ensuring they are appropriate to send out to hospitals.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

In addition to running Letters of Love, Grace and her small team must also contend with the emotions inherent in their line of work.

“There have been many, many tears cried,” she says. “Working to support children who are battling cancer and other serious and sometimes chronic illnesses can absolutely be extremely difficult mentally. I feel so blessed to be an organization that focuses solely on bringing joy to these children, though. We do everything we can to simply put a smile on their face, and ensure they know that they are so loved, so strong, and so supported by people all around the world.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Letters of Love has been particularly instrumental in offering emotional support to children who have been unable to see friends and family due to COVID-19. A video campaign in the summer of 2021 even saw members of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings and the NHL’s Minnesota Wild offer short videos of hope and encouragement to affected children.

Grace is currently taking a gap year before she starts college so she can focus on growing Letters of Love as well as to work on various related projects, including the publication of a children’s book.

“The goal of the book is to teach children the immense impact that small acts of kindness can have, how to treat their peers who may be diagnosed with disabilities or illness, and how they are never too young to change the world,” she says.

Since she was 10, Grace has kept memories of her mother close to her, as a source of love and inspiration in her life and in the work she does with Letters of Love.

Image courtesy of Grace Berbig

“When I lost my mom, I felt like a section of my heart went with her, so ever since, I have been filling that piece with love and compassion towards others. Her smile and joy were infectious, and I try to mirror that in myself and touch people’s hearts as she did.”

For more information visit Letters of Love.

Please donate to Grace’s GoFundMe and help Letters of Love to expand, publish a children’s book and continue to reach more children in hospitals around the world.

What you look like in a selfie camera isn't really what you look like in real life.

We've all done it: You snap a selfie, look at it, say, "OMG is my nose swollen?" then try again from a different angle. "Wait, now my forehead looks weird. And what's up with my chin?" You keep trying various angles and distances, trying to get a picture that looks like how you remember yourself looking. Whether you finally land on one or not, you walk away from the experience wondering which photo actually looks like the "real" you.

I do this, even as a 40-something-year-old who is quite comfortable with the face I see in the mirror. So, it makes me cringe imagining a tween or teen, who likely take a lot more selfies than I do, questioning their facial features based on those snapshots. When I'm wondering why my facial features look weird in selfies it's because I know my face well enough to know that's not what it looks like. However, when a young person whose face is changing rapidly sees their facial features distorted in a photo, they may come to all kinds of wrong conclusions about what they actually look like.

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Images courtesy of AFutureSuperhero and Friends and Balance Dance Project
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The day was scorching hot, but the weather wasn’t going to stop a Star Wars Stormtrooper from handing out school supplies to a long line of eager children. “You guys don’t have anything illegal back there - any droids or anything?” the Stormtrooper asks, making sure he was safe from enemies before handing over a colorful backpack to a smiling boy.

The man inside the costume is Yuri Williams, founder of AFutureSuperhero And Friends, a Los Angeles nonprofit that uplifts and inspires marginalized people with small acts of kindness.

Yuri’s organization is one of four inaugural grant winners from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, a joint initiative between Upworthy and GoFundMe that celebrates kindness and everyday actions inspired by the best of humanity. This year, the Upworthy Kindness Fund is giving $100,000 to grassroots changemakers across the world.

To apply, campaign organizers simply tell Upworthy how their kindness project is making a difference. Between now and the end of 2021, each accepted individual or organization will receive $500 towards an existing GoFundMe and a shout-out on Upworthy.

Meet the first four winners:

1: Balance Dance Project: This studio aims to bring accessible dance to all in the Sacramento, CA area. Lead fundraiser Miranda Macias says many dancers spend hours a day at Balance practicing contemporary, lyrical, hip-hop, and ballet. Balance started a GoFundMe to raise money to cover tuition for dancers from low-income communities, buy dance team uniforms, and update its facility. The $500 contribution from the Kindness Fund nudged Balance closer to its $5,000 goal.

2: Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team: In Los Angeles, middle school teacher James Pike is introducing his students to the field of robotics via a Lego-building team dedicated to solving real-world problems.

James started a GoFundMe to crowdfund supplies for his students’ team ahead of the First Lego League, a school-against-school matchup that includes robotics competitions. The team, James explained, needed help to cover half the cost of the pricey $4,000 robotics kit. Thanks to help from the Upworthy Kindness Fund and the generosity of the Citizens of the World Middle School community, the team exceeded its initial fundraising goal.

Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team video update youtu.be

3: Black Fluidity Tattoo Club: Kiara Mills and Tann Parker want to fix a big problem in the tattoo industry: there are too few Black tattoo artists. To tackle the issue, the duo founded the Black Fluidity Tattoo Club to inspire and support Black tattooers. While the Brooklyn organization is open to any Black person, Kiara and Tann specifically want to encourage dark-skinned artists to train in an affirming space among people with similar identities.

To make room for newcomers, the club recently moved into a larger studio with a third station for apprentices or guest artists. Unlike a traditional fundraiser that supports the organization exclusively, Black Fluidity Tattoo Club will distribute proceeds from GoFundMe directly to emerging Black tattoo artists who are starting their own businesses. The small grants, supported in part with a $500 contribution from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, will go towards artists’ equipment, supplies, furnishings, and other start-up costs.

4: AFutureSuperhero And Friends’ “Hope For The Holidays”: Founder Yuri Williams is fundraising for a holiday trip to spread cheer to people in need across all fifty states.

Along with collaborator Rodney Smith Jr., Yuri will be handing out gifts to children, adults, and animals dressed as a Star Wars’ Stormtrooper, Spiderman, Deadpool, and other movie or comic book characters. Starting this month, the crew will be visiting children with disabilities or serious illnesses, bringing leashes and toys to animal shelters for people taking home a new pet, and spreading blessings to unhoused people—all while in superhero costume. This will be the third time Yuri and his nonprofit have taken this journey.

AFutureSuperhero started a GoFundMe in July to cover the cost of gifts as well as travel expenses like hotels and rental cars. To help the nonprofit reach its $15,000 goal, the Upworthy Kindness Fund contributed $500 towards this good cause.

Think you qualify for the fund? Tell us how you’re bringing kindness to your community. Grants will be awarded on a rolling basis from now through the end of 2021. For questions and more information, please check out our FAQ's and the Kindness Toolkit for resources on how to start your own kindness fundraiser.

Here at Upworthy, we cherish our loved ones and although Valentine's is not all about gifts, if you are looking to buy a special gift for a special someone, then you came to the right place! We have curated a list of our personal favorites from our store, Upworthy Market, where you can feel good about your shopping because every dollar you spend directly supports local artisans who craft their own products. In this gift guide, you'll find all products have special thought, hand-made with love and they are all under $30 to help you stay within a budget.

1. Heart-Shaped Sterling Silver Stud Earrings

Crafted of sterling silver with a high-polish finish, two simple hearts adorn the ears with beauty. Wadarat Supasirisuk presents this pair of stud earrings, crafted by local artisans from Thailand.

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2. Romantic Wood Sculpture

Voluptuous curves circle and meld in a fervent kiss that forms a single heart. In this elegant abstract sculpture, the harmony between lovers is manifest as their figures curl together in utter bliss. This exquisite statuette from Made Wirata is a celebration of couples.

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3. Blue-Green Calcite and Brass Double Stand Beaded Bracelet

This double strand bracelet features cylindrical blue-green beads accented with brass. Handcrafted by Tiraphan Hasub of Thailand, this bracelet is a lovely pop of color accessory.

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4. Silver Heart Pendant Necklace

A length of elegant black cord is centered by a pendant of silver by Karen hill tribe silversmiths, crafted in the shape of a heart with a small hole in it. Thai artisan Srimuang designs and crafts this striking necklace.

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5. Green and Black Onyx Hand-braided Shambhala-style Bracelet

Rituu honors Buddhist meditation practices with the design of this Shambhala-style bracelet. Meaning 'bliss' in Sanskrit, the Shambhala-style bracelet symbolizes tranquility, peace and happiness – the oneness of all. Rituu expertly knots the cotton bracelet by hand with macramé techniques and crowns it with black and enhanced onyx, believed to protect against negativity.

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6. Sterling Silver Dreamcatcher Earrings

Two circular dream catchers are crafted of sterling silver, with elegant wire work and feathers with a combination finish hanging just below. Featuring petite blue stones of resin within their webs, these dangle earrings from Thailand are presented by Pichaya.

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7. Sterling Silver and Turquoise Cocktail Ring

A single stone of blue composite turquoise rests atop this cocktail ring, presented by India's Aparna. The stone is surrounded by rope and swirl motifs on a sterling silver band for a look that attunes its wearer with the wisdom of the universe.

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8. Artisan Crafted Sterling Silver Heart Anklet

Crafted by hand, this anklet features a single heart charm with brushed satin textures. Jantana in Thailand works in sterling silver to handcraft a design for the modern romantic.

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9. Handcrafted Sterling Silver Love Stud Earrings

Handcrafted from sterling silver, these delightful stud earrings are designed by artisan Lalana of Thailand. Each earring is fashioned into the word 'love' for a modern and charming design.

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10. Heart Motif Sterling Silver Link Bracelet

Crafted of sterling silver, petite heart-shaped links circle the wrist with lots of love. Working with local artisans, Thailand's Aoy presents this dainty bracelet.

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11. Men's Howlite and Leather Pendant Necklace

Oceanic charm defines this men's pendant necklace from Thai artisan Chaloemphon. The pendant is crafted from rich blue leather and howlite, suspended from an adjustable cord of faux suede. Beads of raintree wood complement the design.

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12. Brushed Silver Heart Earrings

Crafted by hand of sterling silver, these delightful button earrings depict a heart. Jantana depicts the heart as both an individual stud as well as a cutout motif within a circle that evokes the moon.

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13. Artisan Crafted Woven Black Alpaca Blend Scarf

Celinda Jaco selects a cozy blend of Andean alpaca for this handsome men's scarf. Classic in style, it features fine stripes of white and gunmetal grey woven through the midnight-black textile. Hand-tied fringe completes a distinguished design.

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14. Sterling Silver Heart Elephant Earrings

Elephants are caught within hearts shaped by their own trunks in the modern design of these earrings. Resplendent with a brushed satin finish, these sterling silver earrings are crafted by Jantana in Thailand.

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More

The airplane graveyard that 3 families call home is the subject of a stunning photo series.

From the skies to the ground, these airplanes continue to serve a purpose.

This article originally appeared on 09.18.15


What happens to airplanes after they're no longer fit to roam the skies?


An abandoned 747 rests in a Bangkok lot. Photo by Taylor Weidman/Getty Images.

Decommissioned planes are often stripped and sold for parts, with the remains finding a new home in what is sometimes referred to as an "airplane boneyard" or "graveyard." Around the world, these graveyards exist; they're made up of large, empty lots and tons of scrap metal.

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