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A journey of identity: Stanford Children’s gender clinic helps families navigate

Several months ago, when 16-year-old Dani showed signs of depression, Dani's mom and dad found a therapist to help. A bit later, when the therapist said they should all sit down for an important conversation, Dani’s parents thought they were prepared to be completely supportive.

But when the therapist explained that Dani, whom they had always perceived as their daughter, was transgender and felt internally like a boy, his parents were bewildered. In the video above, Dani’s dad describes his first response:

'I’m like, ‘OK, gay?’ [And the therapist] said ‘No, it’s trans. It’s totally different. There’s a difference between a gender and sexual orientation. And this is where we looked at each other and we said ‘We have some homework to do.’'

Although his parents' first reaction was confusion, Dani is fortunate: His mom and dad never wavered in their desire to support him. They educated themselves about what it means to be transgender and soon found ways to help Dani start navigating his gender transition, which included visits to the Pediatric and Adolescent Gender Clinic at Stanford Children's Health.

The video above, made by my colleague Mark Hanlon, accompanies a feature story on the gender clinic that I wrote for the latest issue of Stanford Medicine magazine. Amid growing societal recognition of their needs, today's transgender youth face a very different landscape than they would have encountered even a few years ago; there is now a substantial movement to support their well-being, evidenced by the fact that Stanford's clinic is one of about 30 pediatric gender clinics around the country.

Because gender identity gets right to the heart of who we are, the clinic's caregivers face challenges they wouldn't see in other kinds of medical work, social worker Amy Valentine explains in the story:

'Kids really want to be understood by their parents,' [Valentine] says. 'They want to feel loved and accepted for who they are and they need help from their parents to move forward. And parents come in a lot of times in disbelief, saying, ‘How did this happen all of a sudden?’'

The clinic's team helps with medical aspects of transition, such as giving cross-sex hormones that promote development of physical characteristics of a patient's identified gender. The clinicians also connect families to broad resources that help parents support their children's identities.

The team members feel lucky to be able to accompany young people and their families on such an emotionally significant journey, they told me. Pediatric endocrinologist Tandy Aye, MD, often sees families start out under a cloud of tension that lifts as parents and kids come together over weeks or months to find the best way forward for their child.

"I’ve seen so many people with tears of joy," Aye told me.

Previously: Stanford Medicine magazine reports on sex, gender and medicineStanford launches short online course to boost understanding of transgender kids, Film honors transgender pioneers and Study finds ER avoidance in transgender individuals needing care
Art in thumbnail by Gérard DuBois

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