How Transgender Young Adults Find Their Identity

Transgender youth in Indiana often do not want to identify with their gender because of a fear of discrimination.

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    Photo: Bill Shaw

    Kayleigh Renner takes medication to boost her estrogen levels and help her transition from male to female.

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    Photo: Simon Thompson

    Freshman Drake Eilert lives in a private dorm room on Indiana University's campus.

This is the first in a two-part series on Indiana Newsdesk.

Every day, Kayleigh Renner has to take a handful of medications.

Renner is male-to-female transgender, so she takes Biotin for healthy hair and nail growth, an anti-androgen Spironolactone, and estrogen.

It’s a lot of work, but she says she would rather take all these pills than the medication she used to take to treat her depression.

Before she realized she was transgender, things were so bad for Renner that she nearly lost everything.

“And it quickly became obvious – life just spiraling out of control, about to get expelled from school, losing jobs, just horrible depression. I don’t wanna do anything, but I have to because there’s just nowhere else to go,”  Renner says recalling her experience.

Transgender People Ten Times More Likely To Attempt Suicide

A study published in January at the UCLA School of Law found the percentage of transgender people who attempt suicide is 41 percent, which is nearly ten times greater than the general population.

As a social worker, Becky Bickel works with transgender people of all ages.  She says suicidal ideations among transgender people can be triggered by dysphoria, the feeling of not being comfortable in your own skin.

“Dysphoria is the extreme discomfort or anxiety that someone gets in relation to being misgendered, or being called the gender they do not feel they identify with,” Bickel says. “Very similar to anxiety or panic for some people. In the moment, and then after a long term expression of that, some depressive symptoms often come, lack of motivation, often suicidal ideations would come from just constant dysphoria.”

Renner has experienced these kinds of feelings before.

“You’re this entity that is kind of outside your body, and that’s just not you,” Renner says. “ So having things like your picture taken or, like being the center of attention, or up on stage doing something just putting yourself or your body on display, feels extremely uncomfortable and you’re not really sure why.”

IU freshman Drake Eilert is transitioning from female to male.

“It was very frustrating. Very lonely as well,” Eilert says. “I didn’t know anything about the LGBT community. Coming from a small town, very conservative. Especially because I was raised in a conservative Christian church. It was very difficult trying to figure out what was going on and why I felt different from everybody else. Trying to figure out why my body didn’t seem to connect with my mind in this way.”

His mother, Sheila York, says she recognized that her son was looking for help.

“I knew that something was eating at him. I felt like he was being consumed from the inside out, and I just waited for him to be ready to talk to with me,” York says.

York calls it a huge relief when Drake came out to her as transgender.

“To know at least what steps to give him completeness,” York says. “I was so thankful really for that day.”

So what, exactly, does it mean to be transgender? Myranda Warden works with transgender teens at the Indiana Youth Group in Indianapolis.

“[It] identifies people who, their natal sex, or their biological sex, do not match the sex that they identify with,” Warden says. “So their gender is separate than they were given at birth.”

Warden says more young people question their gender than many realize.

“I think more and more youth are starting to question their gender and identifying outside of this strict binary that society has set up for us,” Warden says.

The gender binary Warden refers to is the idea that everyone is either strictly male or strictly female.

The relatively new term “genderqueer” refers to someone who doesn’t identify completely with either gender, but somewhere in the middle.

“You know it’s like, people ask am I a girl or a boy, and I just say yes, or I say no, and it’s like whatever,” Renner says.

Transitioning Can Include Hormone Therapy, Surgeries

The process by which transgender people become physically closer to their identity is called “transitioning.”

Transitioning takes a lot of time and money and the path can be long and difficult, both emotionally and physically.

But Eilert and Renner say transitioning is essential to being who they are, and being truly happy.

“I see what it does when I’m not transitioning and when I don’t have the resources.  Because when you’re transitioning, sometimes you wonder if this is what you want to do.  It seems difficult, but difficult is okay because it’s not impossible,” Renner says.

For those who identify as transgender, coming out is just the first step in becoming who they truly are.

Part two of this report discusses the psychological and biological process of transitioning, how much it costs, and the risks transgender people take to become who they want to be.

Taylor Killough

Taylor Killough is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and has studied anthropology and digital journalism. She has professional experience in education and communications and is excited to be a part of the award-winning team at WFIU/WTIU.

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