Emma Curtis: State legislature’s cruel war on gender-affirming care only serves to hurt more Kyians Skip to content

Emma Curtis: State legislature’s cruel war on gender-affirming care only serves to hurt more Kyians

Hear the real-life experience of a trans Kentuckian.

4 min read
Emma Curtis

I am a 26-year-old woman and a lifelong resident of the Commonwealth of Kentucky. I have attended private, religious, and public schools here, and I’ve worked, worshiped, and volunteered here.

But most importantly, I am a transgender person who has received gender-affirming care here.

I am living proof that gender-affirming care is genuinely lifesaving. I would not be here today to tell my story without it. The anti-trans laws currently making their way through the Kentucky legislature are not rooted in science or the lived experiences of the people they would impact. If gender-affirming care is outlawed in Kentucky, it would have a truly devastating effect on children, adolescents, and families across Kentucky.

I remember telling my mother when I was four years old that I wanted to dress up as Jessie from Toy Story 2 for Halloween, and I remember how dejected I felt when she told me that I couldn’t go as Jessie because Jessie was a girl and I was a boy.

I remember praying every Sunday in church for God to allow me to be seen as the girl He and I both knew I was, only to be devastated every Monday when I woke up and my prayers had not been answered.

I remember the intense, all-encompassing depression I experienced during puberty, and the fear I felt when I looked in the mirror and saw my changing body. Even now, it’s difficult for me to think or speak about how traumatizing it was to watch my body develop male secondary sex characteristics like body hair, broad shoulders, and masculine facial features. I wanted to literally crawl out of my skin.

I know now that I was experiencing gender dysphoria, a deep sense of distress at the incongruence between my gender identity and the gender I was assigned at birth.

Some of the changes my body went through during puberty are permanent; others I have spent many years and thousands of dollars trying to reverse. It is heartbreaking to know that this damage to my body could have been prevented had my mother, doctors, and mental healthcare providers been aware of gender-affirming care.

When I first heard the word “transgender” as a teenager, I felt two things: relief that there was a word for the type of person I am, and dread knowing what would happen when I told my friends and family that I am transgender.

It took me three years to build up the courage to transition. While many of those closest to me were supportive, I also experienced negativity and harassment as a visible trans woman in public and at my school, which led me to do something that lawmakers are currently hyper-focused on: I de-transitioned.

I didn’t de-transition because I felt over-medicalized or was coerced into transitioning, as many lawmakers would have you believe. I de-transitioned because I wasn’t ready for the vulnerability, harassment, and hate I faced as a visible trans woman in the world.

That experience isn’t unique to me. Studies like the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey show that a very small minority of people who receive gender-affirming care choose to de-transition — around 8 percent — and that most people who do say it was external factors — like poor social supports and negative reactions from others — that led them to de-transition, not their own discomfort. Of that 8 percent, 62 percent re-transition.

Those numbers certainly reflect my experience. A year or so after de-transitioning and living as male again, I did something over 80 percent of trans people consider: I attempted suicide. By the grace of God, I did not succeed.

Let me make this very clear: it was not gender-affirming care that led me to attempt suicide, but the fear that there would never be a world where I am accepted, loved, and valued as a member of my community.

After my suicide attempt, I transitioned again, and never looked back. Six years later, I can firmly say that gender-affirming care literally saved my life.

I have heard many people in the public and political spheres speak as if estrogen and testosterone are being handed out to children like Halloween candy. They also say genital surgeries are being performed on children, that gender-affirming care is experimental, and the majority of those who receive it end up regretting it.

All of these claims are false.

Accessing gender-affirming care, even as an adult, is extremely difficult in Kentucky. I was met with bureaucratic obstacles, years-long waitlists, extensive mental health screenings, and a shortage of providers who are trained and authorized to provide this care.

That’s partly because there are already extremely strict standards of gender-affirming care from a non-partisan medical organization called the World Professional Association for Transgender Health. WPATH’s standards of care have been adopted by nearly every single major medical organization in the world, including the American Medical Association and the Kentucky Medical Association.

WPATH differentiates between children and adolescents. They recommend social support and mental healthcare for children, recommend against genital surgeries of any kind for minors, and recommend reversible medical interventions, like puberty blockers and hormone therapy, for older adolescents only.

I have no doubt that legislation codifying WPATH guidelines would be met with support from the trans community. None of the anti-trans bills currently moving through the Kentucky legislature are reflective of the reality of how gender-affirming care is administered and are explicitly against what research has shown to be the most effective ways of treating gender dysphoria.

Lawmakers are weaponizing transgender kids to further deepen partisan differences. Many people in this country see people like me as boogeymen attempting to invade their homes, communities, and schools to force genital surgeries and so-called “gender ideology” on children. The reality is that we are people who just want to survive. We deserve the same access to happiness and self-determination as anyone else.

If Kentucky’s current anti-trans bills become law, the message to every transgender child and adolescent in Kentucky is: “You do not belong here. We refuse to see you, accept you, or value you. You are an error that must be corrected.”

Despite evidence to the contrary, I continue to hold on to hope that Kentucky lawmakers will not be that cruel.


Written by Emma Curtis, who is a filmmaker, activist, and transgender Kentuckian. She grew up on her family’s farm in Woodford County before graduating from Centre College in 2018. She currently works as an independent filmmaker and resides in Lexington with her girlfriend and her dog. Cross-posted from the Northern Kentucky Tribune.

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