ABC’s Australian Story program will tonight spotlight paedetrician Associate Professor Michelle Telfer, the head of the Royal Childrens Hospital Melbourne’s Gender Service.
Dr Telfer (pictured) is a world leader in treating gender dysphoria in trans and gender diverse young people. She’s guided hundreds of transgender children through their first steps to transitioning over the last nine years. And her RCHM gender clinic’s waiting list is growing.
Dr Telfer explains that of the hundreds of young people that come to the clinic, “more than 20 per cent never go beyond that first assessment.”
However for other young people with gender dysphoria, Dr Telfer warns doing nothing is “not a neutral option.”
“The short-term risk of not providing care is severe depression and anxiety, self-harm and young people attempting suicide,” she tells the program.
“We can’t do nothing because doing nothing is not a neutral option for us. Doing nothing is actually exposing young people to the risk of harm.”
Dr Telfer’s work has drawn intense, personal criticism from conservative media and critics.
She describes getting used to waking up with chest pains and dread about what may be in that day’s media coverage.
“You don’t go into this area of medicine without being warned about becoming a target,” she explains.
“I’ve certainly made myself a very big target.”
Dr Michelle Telfer’s patients say treatment is ‘lifesaving’
The episode of Australian Story goes behind the scenes at the Associate Professor Dr Michelle Telfer’s clinic.
Three of her patients, Isabelle, Elliot and Oliver, appear and tell Australian Story the treatment they received saved their lives.
“When I came out, I didn’t know that I could live as a girl,” 17-year-old Isabelle says.
“I just told my mum, ‘I don’t want to be a boy anymore. I’m not a boy’. And I didn’t think there was anything I could do about it.”
She added, “It just makes very little sense to me that people would see this kind of treatment as a social experiment.
“It’s just medical treatment. It’s simply helping children feel more comfortable in their bodies and feel happier.
“The help I’ve gotten from Michelle and the team at the children’s hospital is a big reason why I’m so happy and healthy and alive today.”
Dr Telfer tells Australian Story society “has tried to ignore trans people for hundreds and hundreds of years.”
“But now that we’re affirming them, now that we’re giving them a voice, look what that can do,” she says.
Australian Story: A Balancing Act airs tonight (Monday, May 24) at 8pm on ABC and streaming on ABC iView.
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