Six years ago, I had a puberty blocker implanted in my left arm to pause the release of testosterone. It saved my life. I’m here today to write this story as a transgender woman and to sing as a soprano pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in musical theater at Boston Conservatory. Without the medical care I received and the relentless support of my mother, I would likely not be here for either.
There are a bunch of bills being proposed across the country that, if passed, will make it a felony for medical professionals to provide gender-affirming care to transgender youth and will open parents to charges of child abuse. These bills are misguided at best. At worst, they’re an attack on transgender children and their families to fire up a base of hateful voters in advance of the 2022 elections.
It’s easy for some to see stories about transgender youth and come to conclusions about what is right and wrong for a child and what qualifies as good or bad parenting. Unless you are transgender or have walked beside someone who is transgender, you have no idea what’s required of your heart, your mind, your family and friends, or your livelihood to keep them alive, help them thrive and fight hate and discrimination every day. It is a complex, expensive web of choices and decisions. But the truth is, it’s hard to hate transgender youth or their parents when you look and listen closely with an open heart and mind.
Even from my early toddler days, I wanted the clothes and the toys that were traditionally thought of as being for girls. My trains didn’t crash. They had tea parties. I wore a towel over my head to create long hair. Mulan, a girl pretending to be a boy, was my favorite Disney character.
“Even from my early toddler days, I wanted the clothes and the toys that were traditionally thought of as being for girls. My trains didn’t crash. They had tea parties.”
My mom forced me to play on the boy’s T-ball and soccer teams. She made me wear boy’s clothes. She bought me animal Halloween costumes instead of letting me be a princess. I was just me trying to be me in a world that didn’t understand.
Little by little, my mom started to allow me to have the toys and clothes I wanted, but only inside our home. My favorite pair of pink flip-flops couldn’t be worn outside. My dolls stayed hidden in my bedroom closet. The sparkly top I got at a consignment shop never made it past the front door, no matter how hard I tried to make it to the car. We dressed for the red carpet at home to watch the Tonys, Grammys, Golden Globes and Oscars, but no one else could know.
Although my mom thought she was protecting me from a world that was cruel, she was teaching me to hide my true self from the world. But I didn’t hide. I soared. And so did my mom. She signed me up for a local theater program and that’s where I found my voice ― onstage and in the world. Year after year, I performed in musicals, concerts and cabarets. I took voice lessons. I traveled to New York City for auditions. My voice and the stage saved me and helped me escape the world that didn’t understand me.
Meanwhile, my mom was realizing she had no idea how to be the best parent for me. She pored over research and books. She reached out to my pediatrician to find answers. Then, she took me to a leading psychologist in Boston who conducted a neuropsychological and gender assessment, which revealed the truth I had known all along: I’m a girl.
I transitioned socially in seventh grade, changed my name to Nicole and began living in the world as a girl in how I dressed and wore my hair. I began auditioning for and landing female roles and making song choices that now reflected my true gender.
But my greatest fear was the voice change that would soon come with puberty. The closer it got, the more my fear and anxiety grew about the deepened voice and other physical changes on the horizon.
My mom sought out medical professionals at Boston Children’s Hospital Gender Multispecialty Service (GeMS), including Dr. Norman Spack, arguably the nation’s leading expert in gender-affirming care for transgender youth. It took over a year to get my first appointment at the GeMS clinic ― not because there was a long waiting list but because of the intense requirements that had to be met just to be seen. It was a relentless period of evaluations, blood tests, paperwork, insurance company waivers and approvals, phone calls and emails, all adding up to thousands of dollars. I went to the clinic every three months at first, and then appointments became monthly as puberty got closer.
At the onset of puberty, a small implant was surgically placed in my arm which blocked the release of testosterone, thereby pausing the physical effects of going through the wrong puberty. With this blocker, I did not have to suffer going through the mental, physical and emotional anguish of watching my body rapidly change in a way that did not match who I am and that would forever alter my soprano voice.
The puberty blocker is the same medication that has long been given to youth who suffer from precocious puberty (starting puberty at extremely young ages). It is fully reversible. When the implant is removed, hormones begin to release again and puberty starts. There is a huge misconception that transgender children are being given irreversible hormone treatments and undergoing surgery. This is false.
“My mom didn’t know what she didn’t know until she learned. And when she learned, then she understood. And once she understood, she became a passionate advocate for me and for transgender kids like me.”
What I want you to know is this:
Transgender youth deserve gender-affirming, science-based, data-driven medical care from their health care providers just like any other kid so they can live happy, healthy, vibrant lives. Parents of transgender youth deserve respect and admiration for the lengths they will go to support their children and protect them from those who threaten them harm. The medical care and parental support transgender children are receiving is saving lives.
The second thing you should know is that my story comes from a place of great privilege. I’m white and come from a middle-class home with a supportive powerhouse of a mother who has raised me on her own. I live in Massachusetts, where there are legal protections for transgender people and access to world-class gender-affirming medical care. I have health insurance that covers transgender care. I have family and friends who support me unconditionally. I am able to pursue my dream of becoming a performer, and because of early treatments, my physical appearance and my voice will always match my true gender identity.
My mom didn’t know what she didn’t know until she learned. And when she learned, then she understood. And once she understood, she became a passionate advocate for me and for transgender kids like me. Because of her, I am pursuing my dreams and I will always be a soprano.
Fight these bills. Stand up for transgender youth and their families. See and learn from a new lens, and most of all, let medical professionals and families save children’s lives with the same treatment that saved mine.
Nicole Talbot is a 19-year-old transgender woman and freshman at Boston Conservatory pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in musical theater. She is a Human Rights Campaign Youth Ambassador and a founding Champion of the GenderCool Project. She was an integral part of the 2015 and 2018 campaigns in Massachusetts to pass and defend legislation prohibiting discrimination against transgender people in public accommodations. In 2020, she was named the first recipient of the Trans Club of New England’s Trans Community Visionary Award. Assigned male at birth, Nicole transitioned to living authentically as female in 2015 with the support of her mother, other family members, friends and her communities. She shares her story and lends her voice, time and talent to support other transgender youth on their journey to living authentically. For more from Nicole, head to www.nicoletalbotofficial.com.