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Dr. Jack Turban's New Book Confronts Misinformation on Gender Identity and Young People

BY: Avery Kuiper

Dr. Jack Turban’s New Book Confronts Misinformation on Gender Identity and Young People

The Trevor Project spoke to Jack Turban, MD, MHS about his book, “Free to Be: Understanding Kids & Gender Identity.” Turban is a Harvard, Yale, and Stanford-trained child and adolescent psychiatrist and founding director of the Gender Psychiatry Program at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). He is an internationally recognized researcher and clinician whose expertise and research on the mental health of transgender youth have been cited in legislative debates and major federal court cases regarding the civil rights of transgender people in the United States. 

What do you hope readers will learn from your new book?

Misinformation about gender identity, and trans youth in particular, has been spreading like wildfire. People are understandably confused about what gender identity is, where it comes from, how gender-affirming care works, and what science and data are relevant to our political debates around trans kids (conversion therapy bans, bathroom bills, bans on gender-affirming medical care, sports bans, and more). I’ve poured everything I’ve learned over the past decade into this book and hope it will help people better understand these topics from an evidence-based perspective. I also hope the stories of real-life kids will open your eyes to the experiences of trans young people and why it’s so important to educate everyone about their lives.

What do you want parents and guardians to know about supporting transgender and nonbinary young people?

Research shows that the greatest predictor of good mental health outcomes for transgender children is having a loving, supportive, and accepting family. Parents almost universally want what is best for their kids, but gender identity can be an emotional and difficult topic. Having a private space to work through your thoughts as a parent is essential, so that you can feel ready to have complex conversations with your kids. I hope this book will help parents go into these conversations more prepared and more supported.

Why do you think transgender and nonbinary youth have become increasingly politicized?

Gender is really hard to talk about, and that has negatively impacted most of us in some way. Maybe you did something “gender nonconforming” as a child like playing with dolls and got bullied. Maybe as a woman you’ve experienced misogyny throughout your professional life. To make matters worse, politicians are throwing around scary phrases like “gender ideology” and “genital mutilation.” Free to Be is designed to bring down the emotionally charged rhetoric and let you gradually wade into the complexity of gender, as I support you through the journey.

Can you share a message to the transgender and nonbinary young people who might be reading this?

The media right now (especially social media!) is rife with anti-trans comments. As a trans person, it can sometimes feel like everyone is against you. But please know that there are tons of us out here who are on your team. This wave of anti-trans political rhetoric will eventually pass. In the meantime, remember that the negative things said about trans people aren’t true, and most of the people saying anti-trans things don’t actually know any trans people to have an informed understanding of what your life is like. Keep in mind the many amazing trans people who are making huge contributions to society: Chase Strangio (lawyer at the ACLU), Rachel Levine (physician at the Department of Health and Human Services), Angelica Ross (actress and tech entrepreneur), and Nicole Maines (the first literal trans superhero on television). The trans community is vibrant and something to be proud of.

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