Being a teenager is hard on all of us, with raging hormones and emotions all over the place.
But imagine being a teenager suffering from gender dysphoria, a feeling that your body doesn’t match your gender identity.
It’s a scary and stressful thing to think about, but something that an estimated 44,000 school-aged children are dealing with. That’s a lot of kids who, when they hit puberty, are going to have to make some serious decisions about their futures, decisions that will require medical intervention. It seems common sense that the children, along with their parents and their doctors, are the ones to make this decision.
But would you be surprised to learn that the law actually prevents that?
A recent case of a 16-year-old has brought this odd law to attention once again. It involves Martin, who was physically born a girl but knew that in his mind he was a boy. He had experienced these feelings since he was very young, but when he entered puberty at 12 and his body became more and more feminine, he fell into a deep depression. Although he was able to cut his hair and wear boy’s clothes, he couldn’t stop the development of his body. Martin bound his breasts so tight he was in constant pain and couldn’t breathe, and he was cutting himself to relieve the incredible pain that he felt inside. His mother even discovered that he was actively researching suicide:
“[He] has the feeling of disgust at the sight of his female anatomy when showering. Getting his period was the final straw on the path to contemplating suicide.”
Martin’s doctors understood that if he started a hormonal treatment to introduce more testosterone into his system, thereby making him more masculine, his mental health would improve. However, although his parents fully supported Martin undergoing what is called ‘cross-sex hormone therapy’, they weren’t able to start the process.
Instead, Martin’s parents and doctors had to have the Family Court authorise the testosterone treatment. Despite knowing their son, and what he needed to be happy, they had to appeal to the courts in order for Martin to start the therapy.
In the world we live in, and with more transgendered children feeling safe enough to accept their true identities, this cannot continue anymore. Forcing young trans people and their families to apply with family court isn’t just expensive, it’s also incredibly stressful. The Medical Journal of Australia uncovered evidence that in some cases, families simply couldn’t afford the appeal costs, leaving their children with no option but to forgo treatment.
The law has been in place in Australia since 1992, when the courts recognised that a particular category of medical procedures, that have serious consequences, need special rules applied to them. This means that the parents of the child patient cannot independently authorise the procedure for their own child. Cross-sex hormone therapy is included in this category of particular medical procedures, but we hope it won’t be that way forever.
In Martin’s case, the court was on his side. Justice Victoria Bennett wholeheartedly approved the procedure, while simultaneously criticising the law that unintentionally complicates life further for transgendered children and their families. She argued that hormone therapy for gender dysphoria should have never been included in this category in the first place, and encouraged the full family court (a higher court) to change the law on appeal.
There is clearly a need for this to happen now, before those estimated 44,000 children have to deal with the emotional heartache and pain of having a stranger in a courtroom decide their future. Australia remains the only country that requires a court authorisation for hormone therapy, and it’s just not good enough.
Without this useless law, the decision would be left to the people who deserve it the most: the child. If doctors assessed that the child or teenager was not competent to decide whether they should have the procedure, the decision would fall to the people who are next appropriate: their parents.