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.



via Sasssy Gran / TikTok

A 95-year-old-grandmother has become a sensation on TikTok, a platform that's most popular among the Gen Z set. Doris, also known as Sassy Gran, has become popular for her incredibly bold and refreshingly honest personality.

She's had a tough life which has given her a special edge that you don't find with most nonagenarians. There's also her elegant couture to show the young kids what real class looks like.

Doris was made famous by her grandson Gio who clearly loves going out to dinner with his grandmother and hearing her stories and advice.

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via Sasssy Gran / TikTok

A 95-year-old-grandmother has become a sensation on TikTok, a platform that's most popular among the Gen Z set. Doris, also known as Sassy Gran, has become popular for her incredibly bold and refreshingly honest personality.

She's had a tough life which has given her a special edge that you don't find with most nonagenarians. There's also her elegant couture to show the young kids what real class looks like.

Doris was made famous by her grandson Gio who clearly loves going out to dinner with his grandmother and hearing her stories and advice.

Keep Reading Show less
True

Each year, an estimated 1.8 million people in the United States are affected by cancer — most commonly cancers of the breast, lung, prostate, and blood cancers such as leukemia. While not everyone overcomes the disease, thanks to science, more people are surviving — and for longer — than ever before in history.

We asked three people whose lives have been impacted by cancer to share their stories – how their lives were changed by the disease, and how they're using that experience to change the future of cancer treatments with the hope that ultimately, in the fight against cancer, science will win. Here's what they had to say.

Celine Ryan, 55, engineer database programmer and mother of five from Detroit, MI

Photo courtesy of Celine Ryan

In September 2013, Celine Ryan woke up from a colonoscopy to some traumatic news. Her gastroenterologist showed her a picture of the cancerous mass they found during the procedure.

Ryan and her husband, Patrick, had scheduled a colonoscopy after discovering some unusual bleeding, so the suspicion she could have cancer was already there. Neither of them, however, were quite prepared for the results to be positive -- or for the treatment to begin so soon. Just two days after learning the news, Ryan had surgery to remove the tumor, part of her bladder, and 17 cancerous lymph nodes. Chemotherapy and radiation soon followed.

Ryan's treatment was rigorous – but in December 2014, she got the devastating news that the cancer, once confined to her colon, had spread to her lungs. Her prognosis, they said, was likely terminal.

But rather than give up hope, Ryan sought support from online research, fellow cancer patients and survivors, and her medical team. When she brought up immunotherapy to her oncologist, he quickly agreed it was the best course of action. Ryan's cancer, like a majority of colon and pancreatic cancers, had been caused by a defect on the gene KRAS, which can result in a very aggressive cancer that is virtually "undruggable." According to the medical literature, the relatively smooth protein structure of the KRAS gene meant that designing inhibitors to bind to surface grooves and treat the cancer has been historically difficult. Through her support systems, Ryan discovered an experimental immunotherapy trial at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, MD., and called them immediately to see if she was eligible. After months of trying to determine whether she was a suitable candidate for the experimental treatment, Ryan was finally accepted.

The treatment, known as tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte therapy, or TIL, is a testament to how far modern science has evolved. With this therapy, doctors remove a tumor and harvest special immune cells that are found naturally in the tumor. Doctors then grow the cells in a lab over the next several weeks with a protein that promotes rapid TIL growth – and once the cells number into the billions, they are infused back into the patient's body to fight the cancer. On April 1, 2015, Ryan had her tumor removed at the NIH. Two months later, she went inpatient for four weeks to have the team "wash out" her immune system with chemotherapy and infuse the cells – all 148 billion of them – back into her body.

Six weeks after the infusion, Ryan and Patrick went back for a follow-up appointment – and the news they got was stunning: Not only had no new tumors developed, but the six existing tumors in her lungs had shrunk significantly. Less than a year after her cell infusion, in April 2016, the doctors told Ryan news that would have been impossible just a decade earlier: Thanks to the cell infusion, Ryan was now considered NED – no evaluable disease. Her body was cancer-free.

Ryan is still NED today and continuing annual follow-up appointments at the NIH, experiencing things she never dreamed she'd be able to live to see, such as her children's high school and college graduations. She's also donating her blood and cells to the NIH to help them research other potential cancer treatments. "It was an honor to do so," Ryan said of her experience. "I'm just thrilled, and I hope my experience can help a lot more people."

Patrice Lee, PhD, VP of Pharmacology, Toxicology and Exploratory Development at Pfizer

Photo courtesy of Patrice Lee

Patrice Lee got into scientific research in an unconventional way – through the late ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau.

Lee never met Cousteau but her dreams of working with him one day led her to pursue a career in science. Initially, Lee completed an undergraduate degree in marine biology; eventually, her interests changed and she decided to get a dual doctoral degree in physiology and toxicology at Duke University. She now works at Pfizer's R&D site in Boulder, CO (formerly Array BioPharma), leading a group of scientists who determine the safety and efficacy of new oncology drugs.

"Scientists focused on drug discovery and development in the pharmaceutical industry are deeply committed to inventing new therapies to meet unmet needs," Lee says, describing her field of work. "We're driven to achieve new medicines and vaccines as quickly as possible without sacrificing safety."

Among the drugs Lee has helped develop during her career, including cancer therapies, she says around a dozen are currently in development, while nine have received FDA approval — an incredible accomplishment as many scientists spend their careers without seeing their drug make it to market. Lee's team is particularly interested in therapies for brain metastases — something that Lee says is a largely unmet need in cancer research, and something her team is working on from a variety of angles. "Now that we've had rapid success with mRNA vaccine technology, we hope to explore what the future holds when applying this technology to cancers," Lee says.

But while evaluating potential cancer therapies is a professional passion of Lee's, it's also a mission that's deeply personal. "I'm also a breast cancer survivor," she says. "So I've been on the other side of things and have participated in a clinical trial."

However, seeing how melanoma therapies that she helped develop have affected other real-life cancer patients, she says, has been a highlight of her career. "We had one therapy that was approved for patients with BRAF-mutant metastatic melanoma," Lee recalls. "Our team in Boulder was graced by a visit from a patient that had benefited from these drugs that we developed. It was a very special moment for the entire team."

None of these therapies would be available, Lee says without rigorous science behind it: "Facts come from good science. Facts will drive the development of new drugs, and that's what will help patients."

Chiuying "Cynthia" Kuk (they/them) MS, 34, third-year medical student at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine

Photo courtesy of Cynthia Kuk

Cynthia Kuk was just 10 years old when they had a conversation that would change their life forever.

"My mother, who worked as a translator for the government at the time, had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and after her chemotherapy treatments she would get really sick," Kuk, who uses they/them pronouns, recalls. "When I asked my dad why mom was puking so much, he said it was because of the medicine she was taking that would help her get better."

Kuk's response was immediate: "That's so stupid! Why would a medicine make you feel worse instead of better? When I'm older, I want to create medicine that won't make people sick like that."

Nine years later, Kuk traveled from their native Hong Kong to the United States to do exactly that. Kuk enrolled in a small, liberal arts college for their Bachelor's degree, and then four years later started a PhD program in cancer research. Although Kuk's mother was in remission from her cancer at the time, Kuk's goal was the same as it had been as a 10-year-old watching her suffer through chemotherapy: to design a better cancer treatment, and change the landscape of cancer research forever.

Since then, Kuk's mission has changed slightly.

"My mom's cancer relapsed in 2008, and she ended up passing away about five years after that," Kuk says. "After my mom died, I started having this sense of urgency. Cancer research is such that you work for twenty years, and at the end of it you might have a fancy medication that could help people, but I wanted to help people now." With their mother still at the forefront of their mind, Kuk decided to quit their PhD program and enter medical school.

Now, Kuk plans to pursue a career in emergency medicine – not only because they are drawn to the excitement of the emergency room, but because the ER is a place where the most marginalized people tend to seek care.

"I have a special interest in the LGBTQ+ population, as I identify as queer and nonbinary," says Kuk. "A lot of people in this community and other marginalized communities access care through the ER and also tend to avoid medical care since there is a history of mistreatment and judgement from healthcare workers. How you carry yourself as a doctor, your compassion, that can make a huge difference in someone's care."

In addition to making a difference in the lives of LGBTQ+ patients, Kuk wants to make a difference in the lives of patients with cancer as well, like their mother had.

"We've diagnosed patients in the Emergency Department with cancer before," Kuk says. "I can't make cancer good news but how you deliver bad news and the compassion you show could make a world of difference to that patient and their family."

During their training, Kuk advocates for patients by delivering compassionate and inclusive care, whether they happen to have cancer or not. In addition to emphasizing their patient's pronouns and chosen names, they ask for inclusive social and sexual histories as well as using gender neutral language. In doing this, they hope to make medicine as a whole more accessible for people who have been historically pushed aside.

"I'm just one person, and I can't force everyone to respect you, if you're marginalized," Kuk says. "But I do want to push for a culture where people appreciate others who are different from them."