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3 generations of trans Americans reflect on what has (and hasn't) changed

Debra Hopkins says she found people to help her when she was younger, even if there was little official support.
Debra Hopkins
Debra Hopkins says she found people to help her when she was younger, even if there was little official support.

The Rev. Debra Hopkins began her transition pretty late in life.

It was 1995, she was in her 30s and married with three children, teaching and pastoring at her local church in Dacula, Ga.

It was a difficult time, even with support from her wife and the church. Hopkins said trans people weren't at the center of the conversation within the LGBTQ community and it was hard to find reliable information on transitioning.

"I started out taking illegal hormones out of Canada. We didn't know what kind of medication we were getting out of Canada, but we were so desperate to begin that transition," Hopkins said. "We didn't have access to the information that we're able to get today."

Trans people in the U.S. have gained more rights in recent years, yet in many states those same rights are under attack. Trans Americans across generations are now having to grapple with their newfound visibility – and vulnerability.

Facing a flurry of bills

Hopkins' education began decades earlier, when her sister took her to the Stonewall riots in New York City in 1969 just a few days after it began. While she said her mind wasn't necessarily on LGBTQ issues, it was at the riots that she began to find more of the trans community and activists like Miss Major Griffin-Gracy.

"She was that resource that was able to help steer me in the right direction, provide the necessary information, and render support when necessary," Hopkins said.

It makes her angry to think about young trans people in America being vilified now, because she sees them facing the same issues she did growing up.

"And that's frightening," she said.

Still, access to gender-affirming care has come a long way since Hopkins first sought treatment, as Florida native Kaleb Hobson-Garcia can attest.

Hobson-Garcia began using puberty blockers at age 12. And now, at 21, said he is relieved there are more options available.

"We live in a world that I can go to a doctor who prescribes me safe hormones, I can go to a CVS or a Walgreens and I'll pick up safe hormones," he said.

At the same time, Hobson-Garcia shares a fear Hopkins and many other trans people have about progress coming undone.

"Is this going to be a reality eventually in the south that we'll need to go back to the way it was? To the black market in order to get hormones if they're being blocked by legislation?" Hobson-Garcia said.

That could become a pressing reality after states such as Oklahoma and Kentucky passed bans on gender-affirming care, specifically for minors.

If Hobson-Garcia was trying to transition today as a 12-year-old in the state of Florida, he wouldn't be able to do it legally.

The state's Board of Medicine and Board of Osteopathic Medicine both recently passed rules to ban gender-affirming care for new patients under the age of 18.

Florida has also put forward a bill requiring trans people to use the bathroom that corresponds to the sex they were assigned at birth; as well as a bill that bans minors from "adult live performances" – such as drag shows. Both bills are currently awaiting signature from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

In March, during a hearing on Florida's bathroom bill, Hobson-Garcia testified against it, noting what it would look like for trans men like himself to follow it.

"It looks like me in the stall next to the females with my low voice and my facial hair. It looks like me, with characteristics that terrify people when they're seen on trans women. It looks like me bringing discomfort and potentially traumatic experiences to women," Hobson-Garcia testified before the Florida legislature.

"If I follow the law when this bathroom ban passes, it also puts my safety at risk. What happens when husbands see me following their wives into restrooms?"

Hobson-Garcia said he knows bills like this will most likely pass, "but there needs to be a record of people who fought against it, whether that be for litigation purposes or just to give hope to the people who can't afford to leave the state."

Teens chart an uncertain course

Parker Andrews, 16, has also been vocal about anti-trans bills in Missouri, where he lives.

The high school sophomore came out as trans at 11 to a close friend, and then later to his parents. By the time Andrews was ready to begin his physical transition, the COVID-19 pandemic put a halt to that.

Parker Andrews questions the wording of bills that are often presented as protecting kids.
/ Parker Andrews
Parker Andrews
Parker Andrews questions the wording of bills that are often presented as protecting kids.

Andrews said that period of his life was a "dark time" with many "negative emotional experiences." He said his life began to improve once he was able to start hormone replacement therapy in 2021.

"It's been crazy to live a reality I thought I would never see," he said. "Looking in the mirror and seeing myself as a boy, it's an awestruck feeling."

While this time of Andrew's life is celebratory for him, he's also scared. In Missouri, a judge has agreed to put a temporary hold on the state's new emergency order restricting transgender health care.

Missouri is just one of at least a dozen states that have enacted laws or policies to restrict gender-affirming care.

The Missouri emergency order would affect not just trans youth, but trans adults as well.

Many of the anti-trans bills proposed in several states are primarily focused on trans kids and teens.

Andrews questions the wording of the bills that are often presented as protecting kids. "I often feel quite the opposite is true, especially when it comes to kids who are in the midst of transitioning, such as myself," he said.

Opponents of gender-affirming care say these bans are necessary to protect children from "harm" such as bone loss with puberty blockers or risks of permanent infertility with hormone replacement therapy.

Many medical groups, including the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics, support gender-affirming care for minors.

Andrews said he doesn't have any concerns about his current treatment.

"The biggest concern is balding!" he jokes.

He said that his care is very regulated and includes getting routine blood work, monitoring his dose of testerone, and taking supplements so that his bones stay strong. He also said that his doctors constantly remind him that taking testerone is not a contraceptive. Perhaps most importantly, Andrews said transitioning has improved his life and his mental health.

"Press forward, persevere, remain strong," is the advice that the Rev. Hopkins gives to the generations of trans people coming after her like Hobson-Garcia and Andrews.

It's a call that Hobson-Garcia takes to heart.

"There are incredible people every day that believe in me and believe in our community. The people who are against us are a very loud but a very small minority," he said.

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Brianna Scott is currently a producer at the Consider This podcast.
As special correspondent and guest host of NPR's news programs, Melissa Block brings her signature combination of warmth and incisive reporting. Her work over the decades has earned her journalism's highest honors, and has made her one of NPR's most familiar and beloved voices.