An Intimate Look at the Lives of Transgender Youth and Their Families in ‘Growing Up Trans’

Puberty is an awkward brick road for everyone, but for young people who don’t identify with the gender they were assigned at birth, that road can be especially bumpy. For those who don’t feel that their bodies reflect who they really are, physical and hormonal changes are even more daunting. The Frontline documentary “Growing up Trans” looks at the medical and social questions raised by transgender adolescence.

One of the spotlight characters, Lia, is a charismatic high school graduate (and prom queen) with a retro record player, blonde hair and pink highlights. Lia had been able to take hormone blockers to prevent her body from going through the process of male puberty, and later decided to utilize female hormones and have surgery. Transgender folks may or may not choose this medical route, but new guidelines and technological advances are changing when those transition choices take place.

In “Growing Up Trans,” parents worry about possible side effects or unintended consequences of hormone blockers and hormone replacement therapy. Due to the recency of new options as well as the stigma around transgender experiences, these medical options are under-researched. But parents must weigh these concerns about future possibilities against children’s current states of health and happiness, or, in some cases, anger and despair over feeling trapped.

Too often, television programs about gender identity have a misplaced focus–lingering over children’s birth names and the way they looked as toddlers, back when their adults chose their outfits. This Frontline piece goes far deeper, focusing on who the kids are, right here, right now: the joys and struggles they’re dealing with and their relationships with their parents. Parents display a range of attitudes, from resistance to support, as they reconcile their dreams of who they thought their child would become with the love they have for the child as they really are.

As these stories unfold, American ideologies about gender and identity are being challenged and reshaped, and that comes with growing pains. One of the best remedies is education, empathy and understanding. I prescribe a dose of high-quality storytelling via “Growing Up Trans.”

Watch “Growing Up Trans” online at PBS.org.