PBS documentary ‘Growing Up Trans’ explores possibilities, unknowns facing transgender youth

This image released by PBS shows, transgender 18 year-old Lia Hodson, in a scene from
This image released by PBS shows, transgender 18 year-old Lia Hodson, in a scene from “Growing Up Trans,” from the “Frontline” series airing on PBS on Tuesday. Frontline/PBS via AP

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“It also becomes about parenting,” says O’Connor. “What do we do when faced with our child’s pain and anguish, in whatever form, and when faced with so many choices and medical unknowns?”

Alex’s parents feel burdened as they weigh the unknown consequences of puberty blockers meant to halt his menstruation. At 13, Alex dreams of a flat chest, a deep voice and an Adam’s apple. He loves to skateboard with a couple of guys who, in a boys-will-be-boys display of male bonding, share how they “show him the ropes” of being a dude – like directing him to belch out loud (“don’t try to hold it in”).

When his parents meet with Alex’s doctor to sign consent forms for his testosterone regimen, they are braced for the necessary leap of faith.

“When you see a child suffer and struggle the way we have seen Alex struggle,” his mother sums up, “we don’t have a choice.”

Not every case is so communal. John’s father refuses to accept his son’s chosen gender identity, explaining he feels “robbed – my daughter’s gone” and voicing disbelief that life as a male is “the path that God has planned for her.”

Then we meet 18-year-old Lia Hodson, who has run the gantlet of puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones and now is ready for the final step. But her so-called bottom surgery is much ado about next-to-nothing, she says cheerfully: “I’m just a girl. I’m just myself. I don’t really like making it a big deal.”

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For her and the others the film profiles, it’s too soon to declare any happily-ever-after outcomes, and “Growing Up Trans” doesn’t. But its storytelling speaks of hope for what emerges as a breakthrough quest for being true to oneself.

“We aren’t minimizing stories of real anguish out there,” says O’Connor. “But wherever we went, we realized we’re on the verge of a generational shift.” Their film sheds light on why.

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