Greater acceptance is the reason Emile Judson isn’t hesitant about sharing his transition story. In speaking up, Emile hopes to make things safer in a world that’s not yet as open and accepting as he’d like it to be.
“It makes it safer to show up and show people that trans people are all around and it’s not going to change,” he says.
It’s an active approach typical of this 17-year-old’s driven personality.
Pathway to today
It was three years ago that Emile, who was assigned female at birth, realized he’d reached a point where he needed to transition to be comfortable. It’s something he’d been considering – “sometimes denying” – since middle school.
Then a freshman in high school, he first talked with his close circle of friends. Their support boosted his courage to talk with his mom, Martha, and the conversation they had in their living room was the first step in a journey for both. “I knew she’d love me no matter what – she already knew I was queer [having a gender identity neither fully male or female] but trans was a new thing.”
Emile recalls that putting it into words was “really scary.” Martha admits hearing what Emile had to say that day was not easy. “At first, she didn’t understand, and was afraid of what I’d face,” Emile remembers.
A week or so later, they went to Side by Side, a Richmond-based nonprofit that provides support for LGBTQ+ middle and high schoolers. Side by Side has support groups for both kids and parents, including one focused on transgender youth and those questioning their gender identity. Meeting with the group, Emile says, helped him move forward, and it was here they learned about our program. “Several support-group members had come to CHoR and were very happy with the care they received,” Martha says.
Transgender care is a medical specialty we’ve offered since 2016 as a team program. Our team includes endocrinologists (specialists in the body’s hormone system) and a psychiatrist with expertise and years of experience in transgender health. We help secure treatments and care needed to transition and provide related hormone management, medication and mental health care, among other services and supports.
It was about two years ago that Emile came to us. “We were looking for someone to follow him with hormone therapy and transition,” Martha shares. The hormones he takes stop some of the body changes associated with female puberty and Emile comes about every three months for related testing, blood work and monitoring by the team’s endocrinologists.
Emile also sees Dr. Susan Jones, our program’s psychiatrist. She helps with letters of medical necessity for care and with social aspects of transitioning. This can include advice for handling things at school, help with legal documentation needed to transition, and monitoring a child’s solidifying gender identity, how it’s affecting their mental health and managing medication if needed.
Ensuring the kids we work with experience life in an accepting community is a priority and our team works to increase understanding to help families accept, and support, a child through a change like this. “Research demonstrates that family acceptance protects LGBTQ+ kids from depression, suicidal thoughts, substance abuse and other risky behavior and that family rejection is associated with all of these problems in transgender youth,” Dr. Jones explains.
In addition to addressing concerns, Dr. Jones educates families about medical aspects that are often news to many. The American Psychiatric Association does recognize gender dysphoria as a diagnosis. This term describes a mismatch between a person’s gender identity and their biological body that results in psychological problems and/or problems functioning in life.
There’s helpful research to learn about too: “Neuroscience supports that in transgender individuals their brains are more similar to their identified gender than their biological gender,” Dr. Jones points out.
Martha says working with Dr. Jones to develop a deeper understanding about the transition, and why it was needed, was extremely helpful. “She helped me help him,” she explains. “Once I understood more, I was able to support Emile like I wanted to. We are very fortunate we found this program.”
Emile found acceptance here right away. “From the beginning they used the right names and pronouns; I hadn’t experienced that before. And they’re nice in a way that you know they’re interested in you. Not just ‘Hi how are you physically’ but comfortable conversations deeper than ‘Hey! What’s up.’”
Happier and confident
Once Emile began hormone therapy and completed the first transition surgery, Martha says she saw a remarkable change. “A much happier child,” she emphasizes, “much more confident.”
Relief is how Emile describes being in a body he connects with: “I finally feel connected – my mind and body.”
Emile was a nickname his older sister had started using when he mistakenly spelled Emily, his birth name, as Emile on a school worksheet. “I went with it – it suited me,” he says.
The name means industrious and since a young age, Emile has been just that – “very focused and driven,” according to Martha. He graduated a year early from Midlothian High School and began community college this past September. His concentration is technical theater and he plans to pursue a master’s degree in this area.
In recent years, he’s held several jobs (he’s currently at Old Navy), ran sound for his college’s theater production and made time for his hobby of taking photos in urban settings. In high school, Emile built sets for plays – hands-on work involving wooden sets, projection screens and spinning platforms constructed from his handwritten designs. That his endocrinology and psychiatry appointments are scheduled together is something Emile notes as especially helpful about our program – a big timesaver in his busy life.
“A future of acceptance” is what Emile hopes to see and help bring in our world. Last year he took part in a diversity panel at his high school where students representing different types of diversity came together to share perspectives. “It was a call to action for accepting differences,” he says.
As a transitioning sophomore, he “wasn’t fully passing,” he says, and the school asked him to use the teachers’ bathrooms. His junior year, he began using the boys’ bathroom until a student complained and he was again asked to use teachers’ bathrooms. That year he joined a few others who spoke up to school administration about how helpful a gender-neutral bathroom would be for many. “I have friends who don’t identify as male or female,” he explains. “They didn’t have a place to go and would avoid going to the bathroom.”
Their efforts convinced the school to approve two, a significant step toward providing a comfortable space for all.
“In a world that often tells transgender people they should just conform to their gender assigned at birth, Emile had the courage and strength to socially and medically transition and become his true filled self,” Dr. Jones remarks. “It’s often difficult to speak up about your gender identity when you may be bullied or rejected for it. I really admire kids like Emile and their bravery.”
Getting to know Emile’s true self – his easy charm, kind heart and engaging, warm personality – has been a joy for us. That he’s happier and more confident now is just what we’d hoped for him. And knowing he’s sharing his experience to change the world shows his is an outcome that continues to resonate.
You can hear the pride in Martha’s voice when she talks about who Emile is. “Emile has a lot of integrity – he wants to do right in the world. He makes me a better person because of who he is.”
That’s exactly how we feel too.