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Supporting transgender kids as they are

November 01, 2018 | UCI Health
brit cervantes and his mother, yvette
Brit Cervantes and his mother, Yvette.

Yvette Cervantes remembers Brit as a little rebel from age 3. Brit’s wardrobe consisted of T-shirts, jeans and purple-and-black suede boots. Changing into pajamas at bedtime caused such a ruckus that officers from the police station next door would do a welfare check.

“Brit would yell, scream and fight. After some time, it became accepted that it was just changing time at the Cervantes home,” Yvette recalls.

‘I felt there was something different about me’

Brit remembers childhood as a time of confusion and awkwardness. “Growing up I felt there was something different about me. Others seemed to feel there was something different about me, too. I was in a weird space of not knowing where I quite fit in.”

Today, as a transmasculine person and coordinator for the UCI Health Pediatric Gender Diversity Program, Brit Cervantes has a deep and compassionate understanding of the children, teens and young adults the program helps. It is the first program in Orange County dedicated to providing specialized and coordinated care for transgender youth and children who are gender-expansive, defined as those who don’t identify with traditional gender roles.

Offering acceptance and support

“We are open to anybody who feels that we might be able to help them, whether they are gender expansive or gender creative, or butting heads with what others expect of them,” he says of the program.

“We offer support and information — accurate and helpful information. People don’t need to move forward with medical intervention. We try to meet people where they’re at and encourage loved ones to support who they are. We encourage people to not focus on the end game — to just focus on where they are now.”

The Cervantes family didn’t have professional guidance on gender issues during Brit’s childhood.

“It didn’t go over well,” Brit says about coming out as gay as a teenager. “My parents thought I couldn’t possibly know who I was at that age.”

Asked to leave home

At 18 and in college, Brit broached the subject again. “I still wasn’t ready for this conversation, and we fought,” says Yvette, who was concerned that having a gay child might mean she had to give up her job working for a church elder. Brit was asked to leave the house.

“At the time, my mother was worried about what ‘being gay’ meant for my future and potential happiness,” says Brit, who moved in with a very supportive uncle before returning home at 19 as the family worked to reunite.

A year later, Brit had something new to share. Brit had met a woman who was majoring in behavioral sciences.

“I was telling her how I felt about my body and myself. She said, ‘I think you might be transgender.’ She gave me a bunch of books she had on gender studies. The more I read, the more I found out who I really was. My family is finally accepting of me as a transgender person. Now they say they wish they would have known how to support me from a younger age.”

The need for professional guidance

Professional guidance would have made the family’s journey somewhat easier, Yvette says. “I truly believe our lives would have been different had we had programs like the Gender Diversity Program — and more open conversations about our transgender community.”

The program began in January 2017 at UCI Medical Center in Orange. It is open to patients age 3 to 26 and it offers a range of services to support trans patients and their families. An estimated 0.6 percent of the adult population is transgender, according to a report by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law.

“Certainly not all young children with gender-expansive traits become transgender adolescents or adults,” says Dr. Lynn Hunt, the program’s director.

“Each child, each family is unique. The families need support, and the kids need to be affirmed. It’s important to have this behavioral health component. Families can sometimes be very hesitant and anxious. We can reduce that and normalize their experience.”

Medical and hormone therapy available

Through the program, young adolescents can be treated with fully reversible medical therapies to delay puberty, which gives them more time to mature and consider their gender identity. For teenagers and young adults who seek to transition, hormone therapy is available.

Referrals come from the LGBT Center OC, schools, pediatricians and mental health providers.

After counseling and other support, Brit began hormone therapy and has had surgical interventions. At 27, he is now affirmed in his gender.

He has been married for five years to Sheryl Tedrow-Cervantes, the behavioral studies major who introduced him to the transgender concept when he was 20. He is a communications and gender studies major at Saddleback College and plans to transfer to UCI to further his studies.

“Any parent or loved one of a transgender person needs to really acknowledge — or at least not underestimate — the impact they can have on their child’s transition,” Brit says.

“The eventual support of my family has meant everything to me. I no longer experience as much anxiety, depression or dysphoria. Having the support of loved ones makes the biggest difference.”

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