ATLANTA — An estimated 1.4 million Americans identify as transgender. Many adults navigate the transition from their born sexual identity to their desired sex without major support or resources.
A local doctor said in some cases, this may cause people, especially young adults, to develop gender dysphoria, formerly known as gender disorder.
Dr. Erin Swenson is a licensed marriage and family therapist who specializes in gender issues. She explained, “Gender dysphoria is the discomfort that one feels related to one’s gender expression.” Oftentimes, that discomfort can lead to depression, anxiety, drug abuse or suicide.
It’s an issue she sees with younger patients as family members also have to learn how to deal with the transition.
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In fact, LGBTQ+ rights advocacy group Georgia Equality estimates one in 100 children who are living with gender dysphoria have considered or are considering suicide.
Channel 2 Action News spoke with a mother and child who know firsthand the challenges of transitioning.
Adam Miller, of Alpharetta, told us he knew he was uncomfortable in his body at an early age. “I know I said the line, ‘I want to be a boy’ when I was five,” he said.
His mother, Ann, also told us she noticed her child was different. “I first suspected Adam may be transgender when he was eight or nine. I didn’t talk to my child about this existing because, quite frankly, I didn’t want a transgender child. It looked very difficult I was worried about discrimination, I was worried about bullying, I was worried about a harder life for my kiddo.”
Adam lived his life as a young woman until he was 17 and his then-girlfriend told him she and their friends believed he was transgender. At that point, he said he felt as though he had “permission” to explore that option.
Exploring the option meant dressing in a more masculine way, taking hormones, and presenting as a male while debating whether to have surgery.
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Ann wants parents to know becoming transgender is not a process that happens overnight: “It’s not like a kid says they’re trans and they’re whisked away. It just doesn’t happen that way. It’s a long, slow, deliberate process with the parent, the therapist and the doctor all working together.”
Channel 2′s Jorge Estevez asked Adam about his mental health before transitioning and the impact of his family’s support. “I think I would have killed myself if it were any worse or harder at the time. Just because there was a time where I was very close to that.”
Adam and his mother have channeled their experience into activism within the LGBTQ+ community and provide insight for other families.
Ann said her best advice for parents is “take a deep breath and don’t say anything you’ll regret later. Tell your child you love them. Don’t say you love them ‘anyway’ because that implies there’s something wrong with being trans.”
Adam told us he realizes not everyone has the family support or resources he did, but not to focus on “who has it better and who has it worse. Look at how you can make your life better.”
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Major local health systems have been serving the trans community across metro Atlanta.
Emory Healthcare is working on a multi-specialty clinic and a spokesperson says its doctors already assist transgender patients with a variety of needs. Grady Memorial Hospital has the Gender Center, which provides hormone treatment, exams, and emotional support for adults within Grady’s healthcare system.
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