“We’ve always been open and open to truth, because that’s going to lead to more strength and understanding than fighting back, retaliating and being fearful,” Knight said.

There are likely thousands of transgender Mainers.

They’re your neighbors, co-workers, family.

Their reality is much more than the bathroom thing.

Today, they tell their stories.

No one knows how many transgender people there are in the world, but it’s been estimated to be somewhere under 1 percent of the population — millions, if not tens of millions, of people. In Maine, that means it’s likely that thousands of men, women and children identify as a gender different than their one at birth.

The experience almost always starts the same way: feeling desperately wrong in their own body.

After that, every transgender Mainer’s story is different.

For this story we spoke with many Maine residents who are transgender and their supporters — men, women, kids, spouses, parents, health-care providers, advocates.

Nearly everyone agreed to share their full name and picture — including one 13-year-old who got his mom’s OK. Two people asked to remain anonymous, concerned for their own safety or that of their family, a common fear for transgender Mainers who deal with bullying as children and threats or assaults as adults.

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They talk about “coming out” and “passing,” which can involve excruciating decisions and emotions many other people never face. And they talk about going to school. Going to work. Navigating social situations. Wanting a relationship.

Today — as the public debate continues over who can use which bathroom, how Maine public schools should handle transgender students and whether transgender people should remain protected from discrimination under state law — the Sun Journal tells nine stories of Mainers who are transgender or who work with those who are.

Holly

Sometimes at night, off duty and alone, Blaine dressed as a woman and went for a drive. Blaine never stopped, never got out of the car — just wanted a few minutes to be in the world as the person she was, rather than the man she always felt like she was pretending to be.

“It was just nice to be out. Out from my garage, not wandering around in the complete shadows, trying to experience what life as a woman is supposed to be,” she said. “I just wasn’t in a position where I could really embrace it. Kind of like desperate times.”

It would take decades, a career change and two divorces for Blaine to embrace being Holly. At 53, she began living as a woman full time last fall.

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The transition has gone smoothly, even at the Department of Health and Human Services, where she has worked for 22 years. But getting there was anything but smooth.

There was the night she sat by a fire pit, depressed and drinking sangria as she threw in her stashed women’s wardrobe piece by piece and watched it all burn — a favorite purple gown, wigs, make-up, dresses she never got to wear — because she knew she couldn’t both be herself and have her marriage too.

There was the day she ended her 11-year Marine Corps career, walking away because she was scared co-workers had noticed she’d taken to trimming her eyebrows and sometimes shaving her arms and legs.

There was the night her second wife all but begged her to be honest with herself.

“She says, ‘What do you want?’ And I said, ‘What do you mean?’ I knew exactly what she meant, but I was playing dumb. And she says, ‘What you want? Don’t tell me what you think I want. What do you want?’ And she wouldn’t let go of this,” Holly remembered. “She finally said, ‘Do you want me to set you free?’ And exhausted emotionally, I just put down my head and said, ‘Yes. I just want to be free to be me.'”

Holly has taken estrogen for the past year and has lived and worked as a woman since Oct. 10, 2015, the day after her second divorce was finalized. She now works nearly 70 hours a week at two jobs to save up enough money for surgery — a step not every transgender person takes, but one Holly desperately wants. 

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It’s significant surgery, but she’s not nervous. She envisions that day as another drive.

“There are many days just driving down the road to work that I picture myself driving down the road outside San Francisco on the way to the hospital . . . and imagine what that sight is going to look like outside the windshield as I’m driving, knowing that when I drive back I’m going to be different,” Holly said. “It brings me great peace.” 

Shane Piasio

At 22, Shane Piasio is torn. He likes being on his own, doing what he wants. But he’d also like a girlfriend.

Finding a good relationship can be hard for anyone. For a transgender man who has added complications, like body issues and other people’s preconceived notions, it can feel impossible.

“I’ve been single for a year,” Piasio said. “I’ve talked to a couple of girls here and there. I’ve met some girls who are very, very chill about it, but they have too many of their own problems. I don’t want that. I want the simple, normal relationship.”

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Raised a girl, Piasio came out as transgender at 13. He’s lived full time as a guy for years.

A young man who favors close-cropped hair, homemade tattoos, camouflage, fishing and camping, he tends to meet women on Facebook, at work or while out at a bar with his friends. He talks to prospective dates for a couple of days before mentioning that he’s transgender — using Caitlyn Jenner as the icebreaker.

“(I say) ‘What’s your point of view on that?'” Piasio said. “If they completely say, ‘I don’t like trans people,’ I’m like just walking away.”

Piasio’s two past serious relationships swirled with drama. Now he wants something calmer.

“I used to set the bar so low,” he said. “I want a girl that has a job . . . or goes to school or something. Has their life together.”

He’s not sure he’ll ever get that.

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“Until that girl, that right girl, comes along, I’m perfectly fine just being myself,” he said. “But I keep hoping.”

Jenna Ginsberg

Jenna Ginsberg was in her mid-30s when she transitioned from a man to a woman a decade ago. Although the decision was deeply personal, she knew she’d have to tell her co-workers what was going on.

Ginsberg, the longtime head of events and competitions for a Maine ski resort, sent an email to over 1,000 staff members letting them know she was transgender.

“It was terrifying,” she said. 

Despite her fear, the announcement didn’t change much at work. But, it turned out, being a woman did.

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“I was given a lot of independence and autonomy as a man. As a woman I would be told how to do things and micromanaged,” she said. “I had 12 years of unbelievable performance reviews. And all of the sudden I had a negative performance review for the same types of behaviors. I literally went from being (called) ambitious . . . to being told I was pushy.”

Ginsberg left her job about a year after she transitioned, having had a work experience few others could claim. 

“It is unbelievably remarkable when you have the privilege of a man and people start to treat you like a woman,” she said. “The same behaviors I exhibited . . . were treated totally different. When you see it on both sides, it’s unbelievable. It’s craziness.” 

Ginsberg now runs her own business providing management, timing and other services to sporting events and races across the country. She doesn’t know whether she’s ever lost contracts because she’s a woman, or because she’s transgender, but her business has thrived. 

It’s made Ginsberg appreciate her ability to make a living. According to a 2012 report by the National Center for Transgender Equality, transgender workers are unemployed at twice the rate of others.

“Gender, presentation, sexuality and biology are all very different things that impact how people treat you,” she said.

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Carol and her son

Carol never had a problem with her daughter’s attraction to the things boys stereotypically like. Superheroes? Sure. A Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle shirt? No problem. Shorter hair? OK. Though it turned out that Mom’s definition of short — shoulder-length — wasn’t short enough for her then-5-year-old.

“Two days later he cut it himself,” Carol said. “Very short.”

Her child had been clamoring to be a boy since toddlerhood, professing to be a boy since before starting school. At home and in day care, it didn’t matter that a girl had boy preferences.

That changed in kindergarten last year.

“Within two months, I said something’s going on. His behavior was very, very different than it ever had been. He’s not happy, he’s acting out in school, which was not like him. Not listening to the teachers. A lot of aggression, pushing other people, hitting them,” Carol said. “At home he was just very open and very happy. School just really seemed to bring him down.”

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The other kids didn’t like seeing a girl wearing a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle shirt and acting like a boy, and they said so. Carol’s child didn’t like being treated like a girl and said so.

“I had this meeting with the school and said, ‘He keeps telling me he wants to be a boy and he doesn’t want you guys to call him (girl’s name) anymore.’ I told them that I thought there was some sort of gender identity going on,” Carol said. “They told me that they were not going down that road. That was a direct quote. I looked at the psychologist and said, ‘You don’t have a choice.'”

The southern Maine school requested psychological testing, which the family did. Carol started taking her kindergartner to therapy.

“His therapist said, ‘You’re doing everything you can to support him in who he wants to be and the school should do the same,'” Carol said.

But nothing changed.

“The year was absolutely miserable and it was heartbreaking. It was really hard for both of us. . . . He cried a lot. It was really bad and it was only kindergarten. He was only 5,” Carol said. “It was like, this can’t keep continuing on.”

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While the Maine Supreme Court ruled in 2014 that a Maine public school could not force a transgender child to use the bathroom she didn’t feel comfortable with, and the Maine Human Rights Commission earlier this year issued guidelines for schools in dealing with transgender students, advocates say there’s still confusion about what schools can do, must do and shouldn’t do when it comes to transgender kids.

Gov. Paul LePage has stopped the Maine Department of Education from issuing rules protecting transgender students, saying the Legislature needs to do it and that new rules are not required.

Parents, kids and transgender advocates say many Maine school systems are sensitive to the needs of transgender students, but some are not.

Carol’s family moved to a nearby town and a new school system in search of one of the sensitive ones. The difference, she said, was stark and immediate.

“I contacted the elementary school, and it was literally two days before school started, and I told them, ‘He’s transgender. He fully identifies as a little boy. Where do we go from here?'” Carol said. “They were extremely, extremely good. They withdrew all of his classroom materials, his folders, his desk, his cubby, and changed all of his name tags from (girl’s name) to (boy’s name).”

First grade has gone well.

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“We haven’t had any behaviors close to what we had in kindergarten. He’s happy. He enjoys going to school. It’s been a complete, complete change,” Carol said.

Although there will be no permanent or legal changes until he’s much older, for now her son will continue to go to school as a boy, using the boy’s name he chose himself.

“I’ve had a few people that are like, ‘How can you let her do that? She’s so young,'” Carol said. “And I’m like, ‘Well, it’s his choice. As his mother, why do I get to tell him who he gets to be? It’s my job just to make sure he’s a good person. It’s not my job to choose his identity. That’s something he gets to figure out.'”

Sara Hayes, providing support at Maine Family Planning

As a nurse practitioner with Maine Family Planning, Sara Hayes sees adult transgender patients every week in Lewiston. Some are looking for basic health care. Some want to transition by taking hormones. Others need help finding a surgeon.

Hayes does it all.

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“It’s kind of like my dream to help make their dream come true in the safest, best possible way,” she said.

Hayes, who’s worked for the clinic for 31 years, became interested in transgender health care several years ago. Trainings through the Maine Transgender Network helped get her started.

A caseload of a few patients in 2012 has turned into 35 patients today, ranging from 18-year-olds to people in their 60s. Some travel to Lewiston from as far as Nova Scotia.

“There’s nobody closer that’s doing it. It’s hard for people to find places to go to,” Hayes said. “A lot of general practitioners aren’t comfortable providing the services. I think some don’t want to get involved with this. Maybe they’re just not comfortable with the idea of transgender people. That’s some. But I think a lot of them . . . if you’re busy anyway, it takes a little bit of practice and research and learning to get up a new skill. Sometimes it’s easier to not, and just say ‘I’ve got enough going on,’ and leave it to somebody else. I’m the somebody else, and I love doing it.”

Some health insurance insurance plans pay for transgender medical care. Others don’t. If Hayes’ patients don’t have coverage, they pay for health care themselves; the clinic doesn’t have the funding to offer a sliding scale. 

Patients typically find Hayes through word of mouth or social media. Her work is so popular that Maine Family Planning is bringing transgender health care to its Waterville clinic and is committed to greater expansion over the next few years. Hayes would like to see transgender care at all 18 Maine Family Planning sites.

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She likens her job to being a midwife.

“They work with (a pregnant woman) for months and months and there are all these changes they’re going through,” she said. “In the end, instead of having a baby, (my patients) have a new body. Not just body, it’s mind and body working together. It’s just wonderful. They’re so excited about it.”

Dr. Jerry Olshan, providing support at The Gender Clinic

As difficult as it can be for transgender adults to find health care, it can be even harder for transgender children. 

For the past seven years, pediatric endocrinologist Jerry Olshan has been seeing transgender kids in his Portland office. Olshan initially started doing hormone management for local kids whose main doctors were in Boston. Soon, he was taking transgender patients of his own.

Today, he’s medical director for The Gender Clinic at The Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital, a year-and-a-half-old Portland clinic that specializes in the care of gender nonconforming and transgender young people. It is the only clinic of its kind in northern New England. 

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Patients come from Maine and New Hampshire and range in age from 5 to early adulthood. They most often seek out the clinic when they’re 10 to 13.

Olshan started out seeing a handful of patients. The Gender Clinic now has more than 130, and it recently started running a waiting list for new patients seeking an appointment.

The clinic tries to keep that wait to less than two months. Urgent cases get priority.

“In some of these situations, it’s actually life threatening,” Olshan said. “Part of what sparked my interest in this field, unfortunately . . . the statistics (say) up to 40 to 50 percent of adolescents who are transgender will have suicidal ideations. Up to a quarter will actually make formal attempts at suicide. In those situations, it’s critical that they’re seen rapidly.”

Children first meet with one of the clinic’s mental health care providers. Some move on to an appointment with Olshan or another clinic endocrinologist who can provide medication to delay puberty in older children and prescribe hormones for teenagers who want to develop as the gender they identify as.

But Olshan’s work isn’t limited to prescriptions. He and the clinic also work with parents who may be struggling with the fact their child is transgender. Just as statistics show transgender kids are at great risk for suicide, studies show that risk falls dramatically when parents are supportive.

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Sometimes it can take parents a while to get there. The clinic helps kids understand that, too. 

“It’s often years for them to have come to the comfort level they are with being transgender. So I explain to them, ‘So now you’ve got your parents here and you want them to change in a week. You know, give ’em a break. . . . It took you four years,'” Olshan said.

“I think it’s very therapeutic for the parents to be able to take a breath and the kids to say, ‘Ah, OK, I’ll stop yelling at them every time they call me he when it should have been she.'” 

Danielle Twomey

For most of her 58 years, Danielle Twomey lived as a man.

Even as a child she knew she was different. Other boys didn’t want to wear their sister’s clothes. Other boys didn’t get beaten up by classmates for not being boy enough. 

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For years, Twomey thought she was gay. But that didn’t seem right, either. Nothing seemed right. 

In fact, everything felt wrong.

“I look in the mirror every morning of my life, my whole life, and I see something every morning that my mind doesn’t expect to see. It’s painful, it hurts,” Twomey said. “I see a male body with a female brain. I expect to see breasts. I expect to see a woman. And every morning I see something that is appalling and horrifying to me.” 

Drinking didn’t make the feeling go away, neither did drugs. Neither did praying. Twomey tried to kill herself, by her own hand and through fights with others.

“I did not start fights, but in truth I did,” Twomey said. “If I saw somebody picking on somebody, I went out of my way to push their buttons to get them to hit me. I wanted to die. I wanted to take them with me.”

Eventually, at age 41, she put a name to what she had been feeling since she was 6: transgender.

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“It was like somebody hit me with a sledgehammer,” she said. “That wall just crashed down. It was like an epiphany.”

She came out publicly a year ago. It hasn’t been an easy transition.

Some family members accept her. Others do not.

While some transgender people can easily “pass” — a term used in the transgender community to describe the ability to blend in as a specific gender — Twomey believes she’s one of those people who can’t. Her voice is too deep to sound like a woman’s, despite two years of voice lessons. After decades of bulking up to protect herself, her body is too muscled and powerful.

“I am inside a very effeminate girl,” she said. Outside, she recognizes, she’s not.

Her conclusion: “I stand out no matter what I do, so I’m not hiding it.”

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Transition has had its bright spots. Twomey’s enjoyed mentoring transgender young people. Although she’s had no problem maintaining her job as an environmental chemist, she knows other transgender people aren’t so lucky in their ability to earn a living, so she’s founding a nonprofit to help.

Life, she’s found, is worth it.

“I’ve never felt better about myself. This last year is the first time that I am living life, not just surviving and putting in time,” she said.

Marcus Mitchell, 13

Like many transgender people, Marcus Mitchell knew he was different as a child.

Unlike many, he came out and transitioned — as a child.

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“I don’t regret it for a second,” said Marcus, 13.

Growing up, transgender people weren’t talked about in Marcus’ Catholic family. He just knew he didn’t feel like the girl everyone said he was. 

“I lived in pain and I went through times where I just wasn’t able to go out of my room because I was so uncomfortable with my body,” Marcus said.

He tried, he said, to kill himself four times.

Marcus was 11, in elementary school, when he first heard the term “transgender.” Intrigued, he tapped the word into Google.

“I was like, this defines me!” he said.

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But Marcus didn’t immediately embrace the idea. It would take a year — and a “really, really girly stage trying to tell myself I wasn’t transgender” — before he told anyone. He was 12.

Marcus started with his best friend via Facebook message. I’ve finally come to the conclusion that I’m trans, he told her. I hope you support me, but if you don’t, that’s OK. I hope we can still be friends. 

“She was like, ‘Oh, yeah, I fully support you. Now what’s the math homework?'” Marcus remembered.

Stunned but buoyed by the easy acceptance, he created a group chat with more friends. If anything, they were more enthusiastic.

“They were extremely supportive. A bunch of them were saying, ‘Oh, I support you. I’m so glad you finally came out. We all knew this,'” Marcus remembered. “I was like, ‘How did you know before I knew?'”

He still needed to tell his family. Facebook had worked out so well that he decided to use it again. He copied the note he’d sent his best friend and posted it on Facebook.

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His mother, he said, wasn’t happy to learn the news over social media — “She was like, ‘What the heck? Why am I just finding out about this in a Facebook status?'” — but she wasn’t upset by the news itself.

“She was like, ‘I support you. You’re always going to be my kid,'” Marcus said.

His life, he said, quickly changed.

“My personality has just finally risen from, like, deep within. I’m finally happy and involved in my community now and out of the house. Before, I just locked myself in the house. I didn’t do anything. I watched TV, I watched Netflix, stuff like that,” he said. “And now, after I came out, I was just like, ‘Hey, look, there’s a world outside.'”

But being a transgender middle-schooler is difficult. While Marcus’ friends accept him, he said, some other kids do not. He’s been bullied, called names. It’s gotten physical a couple of times, but not in the past year.

Marcus said he’s already met with his high school guidance counselor and principal to talk about the 9th grade next fall.

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“It looks like everything is going to be under control, but I have this feeling that it’s not (going to be), because teachers always say that and staff always say that, and then things get out of hand,” he said.

Marcus has found support outside school with Outright/Lewiston-Auburn, an organization for young people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning. He recently started attending a new monthly Outright/L-A support group for transgender and gender nonconforming youth and their parents.

Marcus also offers support of his own. He regularly posts videos on YouTube of him talking about transgender issues and what it’s like being a transgender teenager. 

“I’m putting myself out there . . . just so I can be a voice for those of whom can’t have a voice or think they can’t have a voice,” he said. “I’m glad I came out.”

Casey Knight and Peter Floyd 

Peter Floyd was transitioning to a man several years ago when he joined a religious exploration group at his local Unitarian Universalist church.

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Casey Knight was married, though “unhappily existing,” when she took over as the group’s facilitator.

They became friends. In a couple of years, after her divorce, they became something more.

Today, they are a couple, living together and helping to raise Knight’s three children from her previous marriage.

“I didn’t expect to be in a relationship like this and feel all the love and the joy and be accepted for who I was,” Floyd said. “I didn’t expect it. It’s been a blessing.”

Both Knight and Floyd had complicated identities when younger. Knight thought of herself as bi-sexual at the time, but “I married a man because that was easier than coming out to my parents.” Floyd, raised a girl, always felt like he was “dressing in drag” when he put on girls’ clothes. He came out to friends and family as transgender almost eight years ago. 

Today, they’re more confident and comfortable with who they are, and who they are for each other. 

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“To the outside we look like a heterosexual couple,” Knight said. “But he considers himself straight. I don’t consider myself straight.”

Although they have their concerns — how will other parents respond when they find out their child’s friend has a transgender parent? — the family doesn’t face a lot of day-to-day problems because of the issue. So far, the kids, who range in age from 8 to 13, haven’t faced a lot of problems, either.

“Years ago, somebody said (to my oldest), ‘Hey, I hear your stepdad used to be a girl.’ And my son was amazing. His response was, ‘Yep.’ It wasn’t, ‘Yeah, so what?’ It wasn’t, ‘You want to make something of it?’ It was just, ‘Yeah, you asked a question, you made statement and I validated you,'” Knight said. “We’ve always been open and open to truth, because that’s going to lead to more strength and understanding than fighting back, retaliating and being fearful.”

[email protected]

* Editor’s note: This story was changed from its original version to correct an error regarding the percentage of transgender people in the wider population. 

Their stories:

Holly: Desperate to be in the world as the woman she is, rather than the man she always felt like she was pretending to be.

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Shane Piasio: It’s hard to find love as a transgender man.

Jenna Ginsberg: She never knew how the working world treated women until she became one.

Carol: She brought her baby girl home from the hospital 7 years ago, but now sends a little boy to school.

Sara Hayes: One of the few health care providers in Maine happy to see transgender patients. 

Dr. Jerry Olshan: At Maine’s only clinic for transgender kids, helping families means saving lives.

Danielle Twomey: A woman horrified by her man’s body.

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Marcus Mitchell: Transgender at 13 and not afraid to say it.

Casey Knight and Peter Floyd: First understanding themselves, then finding each other and raising a family.

“My personality has just finally risen from, like, deep within. I’m finally happy and involved in my community now and out of the house. Before, I just locked myself in the house. I didn’t do anything. I watched TV, I watched Netflix, stuff like that,” he said. “And now, after I came out, I was just like, ‘Hey, look, there’s a world outside.'”

“(I say) ‘What’s your point of view on that?'” Piasio said. “If they completely say, ‘I don’t like trans people,’ I’m like just walking away.”

“I just wasn’t in a position where I could really embrace it. Kind of like desperate times,” said the Marine Corps veteran.

“I was given a lot of independence and autonomy as a man. As a woman I would be told how to do things and micromanaged,” she said. “I had 12 years of unbelievable performance reviews. And all of the sudden I had a negative performance review for the same types of behaviors. I literally went from being (called) ambitious . . . to being told I was pushy.”

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“I stand out no matter what I do, so I’m not hiding it,” she said.

Say it right

Experts say there have always been transgender people in Maine, but very few came out publicly until recent years. As society changes, so do language and etiquette.

Experts recommend:

* Refer to “transgender people,” not the offensive “transgenders.” Transgender is a descriptive word, not a noun.

* Use the person’s preferred name. For example, don’t call your co-worker Sue if that person now goes by Bob.

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* Use the person’s preferred pronoun. For example, don’t say “he” if that person  identifies as a woman.

* Ask questions. If you don’t know, ask someone’s name, preferred pronoun and other necessary information. 

* Understand that some questions may be too personal, and each transgender person has a different threshold for what is too personal. For example, some people happily share their birth name while others find the request intrusive.

“In some of these situations, it’s actually life threatening,” Olshan said. “Part of what sparked my interest in this field, unfortunately . . . the statistics (say) up to 40 to 50 percent of adolescents who are transgender will have suicidal ideations. Up to a quarter will actually make formal attempts at suicide. In those situations, it’s critical that they’re seen rapidly.”


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