Alexander Gallagher is 16 years old, and transgender. He was born Corrina Gallagher, but for the last three years has been living as a boy.
"When I was growing up, like, I really didn't know what being transgender was,” Gallagher said. “But I always sort of felt like I was a really masculine little girl."
After telling his family that he felt like he didn't belong in his own body, Alex started seeing a therapist, and then was pointed in Doctor Elyse Pine's direction.
Dr. Pine specializes in transgender care at Chase Brexton Health Care. She prescribed Gallagher 'hormone blockers' to prevent him from going into puberty. Now he does injections of testosterone once a week.
Gallagher has got the support of his family, and it's been a pretty smooth transition.
"Being with a doctor, it's a really vulnerable experience to be in, so it's definitely helpful for people, especially young people, to be comfortable talking about who they are and how they feel and being honest with it,” he said.
Sadly, most of the time, that's not the case for transgender patients, especially kids, teens and young adults. For them, navigating the health care system can be complicated.
Many struggle with how to tell a doctor they're not living the gender they were born with, some even avoid getting check-ups and making appointments out of fear they will be judged or treated badly.
"A lot of people feel that when they disclose to their doctor that they're transgender they'll be treated differently,” Pine said. “Some people feel that their doctor won't understand what their healthcare needs are, or that they might be discriminated against."
Maryland law bans trans discrimination. Still, nearly 75 percent of transgender patients worry medical staff and doctors will treat them differently based on their gender status. It is part of the reason Chase Brexton Health Care launched Gender Journeys of Youth, or Gender JOY, to offer medical, mental and social services to the younger transgender community.
"One of the things that we do differently here is we ask everybody what their preferred name is because sometimes that's different then their legal name, and we ask everybody what pronouns they use because sometimes people use he, she or they," Pine said.
Right now, about 400 trans patients between the ages of 6 and 26 are being treated through Gender JOY. A specially trained team of providers made up of physicians, therapists and case managers help with concerns about gender and identity, can recommend medications and hormones, and offer family and individual counseling.
It's the only program of its kind in Charm City.
"Our whole goal is really to have adolescents have a healthy and happy adolescence to adulthoods,” Pine said. “And studies have continuously shown that getting affirming care can lead to well-adjusted young adults."
They're intervening early, and giving transgender youth a better shot to overcome depression, anxiety and other conditions.
"I'm glad I’ve been so lucky, and I want other people to be able to find places where they can be comfortable and get the right healthcare for them," he said.
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