Gender-affirming care has a long history in the US – and not just for transgender people

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01/01/2024

Enforcement of binary gender norms has led to unwanted medical interventions on intersex and cisgender children. In 1976, a woman from Roanoke, Virginia, named Rhoda received a prescription for two drugs: estrogen and progestin. Twelve months later, a local reporter noted Rhoda’s surprisingly soft skin and visible breasts. He wrote that the drugs had made her “so completely female.” Indeed, that was the point. The University of Virginia Medical Center in nearby Charlottesville had a clinic specifically for women like Rhoda. In fact, doctors there had been prescribing hormones and performing surgeries – what today we would call gender-affirming care – for years. The founder of that clinic, Dr. Milton Edgerton, had cut his teeth caring for transgender people at Johns Hopkins University in the 1960s. There, he was part of a team that established the nation’s first university-based Gender Identity Clinic in 1966. When politicians today refer to gender-affirming care as new, “untested” or “experimental,” they ignore the long history of transgender medicine in the United States.

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