Help me help my transgendered cousin in need
March 3, 2012 7:26 AM   Subscribe

Please help me find resources and support for my transgendered, eating-disordered, underage cousin, whose family is somewhat unsupportive and doesn't know how to help.

My little cousin has had a rough few years, to put it mildly. He's been in inpatient and outpatient treatment for anorexia, seeing psychiatrists about transgender and depression issues (I don't know if it's been the same doctor or therapist the whole time) and dealing with a pretty unsupportive immediate family.

His family is not very open to discussing any of these things within or outside the family, and I think is reluctant to seek treatment- they'd rather cover up or hide his issues. I'm sure this is not helping him.

He was doing okay for a while, in school, eating enough- now, he's back to not eating, refusing to attend school, et cetera. He's very involved in a few online communities (Second Life, I think, is the main one) and is not openly social otherwise.

I don't know what the law allows for in terms of school- the family is looking for boarding school type options. I don't know if this is the answer. I know they can force him to attend school with a police escort but I'm not about to suggest that, as I think it would do more harm than good. I believe he was rejected from outpatient ED treatment, but I'm not entirely sure why. I apologize for the fuzzy details.

I suppose what I'm asking for are options. I'm looking for transgendered teen support groups, information on what kind of schools might be an option, how I can support him directly, what can be done legally to help him survive and succeed, with emphasis on convincing the parents that whatever it is, is a good option.

I think deep down they want to help, rather than run away from the problem, but they don't know how, and have had trouble accepting his transgenderedness and personality in general.

I'm scared that without the right support, my cousin may leave home or try to harm himself, but I don't know what the right approach is. I hope the hive mind can point me to some options and information. This is in NJ, by the way.
posted by rachaelfaith to Human Relations (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Since he's going to be skipping out and going into NYC anyway on nights and weekends soon enough, if not already, where both good and bad things can happen for him, there's Hetrick-Martin, Hetrick-Martin Newark, and Harvey Milk High School. Give them a call; have him give them a call; or just go on a field trip.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 7:40 AM on March 3, 2012 [4 favorites]

Not immediately in your area, but the GeMs clinic at Boston Children's would probably be happy to take a phone call and would possibly be knowledgeable of professionals in your area who would be able to help you with this.

If nothing else, I'm sure they'd be aware of great resources on the web and in book form for both your nephew and his family.....

Also, you can help by referring to your nephew as he wishes to be referred in name, pronoun, etc.
posted by zizzle at 7:45 AM on March 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Or, cousin, rather.
posted by zizzle at 7:47 AM on March 3, 2012

The LGBT Center in Manhattan has an outstanding program called Youth Enrichmenr Services (YES) for teens that is incredibly supportive.

They are also affiliated with the Youth Pride Chorus, which performs all over.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:54 AM on March 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

I hope this isn't a non-answer, but here's what I would do: I'd call his (current) school's social worker, and ask what local resources s/he refers students and their families to. You don't need to (and possibly shouldn't) talk about your cousin by name. If that school social worker isn't responsive, or doesn't know of anything, call other schools in the area. Someone, somewhere in that school district, has cared about a teen dealing with issues of identity, sexuality, and eating disorders--and can comment on the effectiveness, helpfulness, and quirks of local organizations.
posted by Meg_Murry at 8:10 AM on March 3, 2012

Response by poster: I'm being as supportive as I can by referring to him by his preferred name and pronoun and reaching out, but my efforts have gone largely ignored. I would like to offer to bring him to any support groups or things like that if he was up for it.

I suppose the a good approach might also be turning him on to specific books (avid reader) and resources while I or his family research options.
posted by rachaelfaith at 8:16 AM on March 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: In case he's in the part of NJ closer to Philadelphia than Manhattan, check out the Attic Youth Center. And Philly hosts an annual Trans Health Conference, which is free, very well attended by all age groups, and really an incredible resource if he can get there (or if you could get there for him?). It's coming up at the end of May. The Mazzoni Center is another good resource.
posted by southern_sky at 8:43 AM on March 3, 2012

Eating disorders are really, really tough. The thing is that they work really well as a coping strategy, so while he is miserable and dealing with a lot of shit, his eating disorder is sort of helping him cope with it (albeit in a very unhealthy way). That makes it extra-hard to recover and extra-likely to go back to ED behaviors.

If he's interested in talking to someone about depression / ED stuff, I'm a queer (cisgendered though) woman who is recovering from an ED myself, I've done inpatient and outpatient treatment and I've been doing really well for a couple years now.
posted by insectosaurus at 10:10 AM on March 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: It is generally pretty hard for teen boys to get help with anorexia, and I imagine even harder for trans* teen boys than for cis teen boys. It almost seems like his best plan is to work first to find support for his gender identity, and then through that to find trans* friendly support for his disordered eating, because Big ED (by which I mean, "most large ED treatment centers") is so girl-focused that I worry he won't find it a supportive environment.

Hetrick-Martin is a fabulous resource. If he's in the Princeton area, HiTOPS has some great programs, and certainly talks an LGBTQIA-inclusive game.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:18 AM on March 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: FWIW, I'm not sure it matters, my cousin is transitioning from female to male. I'm not sure much has taken place other than he keeps his hair cropped short, asks that people refer to him by his chosen name, and dresses androgynously.

Thanks everyone, so far. Oh, and he'll be 16 in May.
posted by rachaelfaith at 2:27 PM on March 3, 2012

Don't know about anything in New Jersey, but Callen-Lorde are likely the people to talk to for youth support groups and services if he's near NYC and the Mazzoni Center if he's closer to Philadelphia.

PFLAG generally have a good reputation when it comes to trans stuff and may be helpful to his family if they're unsupportive because they don't know what to do rather than openly hostile (if that makes sense).

I'll keep thinking.
posted by hoyland at 3:06 PM on March 3, 2012

FWIW, I'm not sure it matters, my cousin is transitioning from female to male.

This is what concerns me about his finding a good eating disorders program, especially if his parents are not fierce advocates for his gender identity and gender expression. Because he was assigned a female identity at birth I think it could be very risky for him to just jump into any random ED program; because they are so girl-focused I think the danger of him being misgendered by them just out of habit is awfully high. Hence my suggestion that he find a counselor supportive of his transition and familiar with issues facing trans* teens first, and then get a recommendation about trans*friendly ED programs from them.

I also wonder if a counselor might not recommend that he start testosterone therapy on the off-chance that part of the ED is because of his (understandable) feeling of body dysmorphia. But that is my total armchair speculation based on exactly nothing except one trans man with whom I was in ED treatment (he was the only young man in an all-female program, because his parents and thus the program refused to accept his gender identity and expression, which just must have made everything infinitely worse for him...He will be in my intentions tonight, as will your cousin).
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:40 PM on March 3, 2012

Is part of the issue maybe that he's not transitioning fast enough? One of the things about anorexia is it pretty quickly suppresses secondary sexual attributes like breasts, pearshapedness, menstruation and so on, so trying to get him to start eating while his hormonal balance is still typically female may be made that much harder and more distressing for him. Moreover, eating disorders are often a response to perceived lack of control of ones environment and ones body; it may be that actively taking control of the transitioning process is going to be a key part of his recovery. My best wishes for you both.
posted by Acheman at 12:00 AM on March 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

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