Tel Aviv Clinic Helps Transgender Youth

The clinic for transgender youth at Tel Aviv Medical Center  seeks to provide treatment for those 18 or younger.

The Channel 2 network recently received an unusual complaint: A viewer of the reality show “Big Brother” claimed that her feelings were hurt when a participant was shown putting on tefillin, small boxes containing Torah verses worn by observant Jews during weekday prayer. For the viewer, the problem was that this participant, Michael Elroy, is transgender — a man who was born a woman and changed his gender.

The station’s franchisee, Keshet, which broadcasts the program, fully backed Elroy. “He was born female but in the course of his life made a sex change and today he’s a man,” the company stated to the network in response to the complaint. “Therefore, how he relates to himself is how we relate to him, and how we expect society to relate to him.”

Openness and liberalism allowed the media to cast a transgender person on one of the most watched television shows in Israel and to bravely stand behind the decision (even if it might also involve a measure of commercial cynicism). On the other hand, for some viewers, a line was crossed.

An incident like this naturally sparks public debate. More importantly, it exposes the phenomenon of sex change to those who may be going through the same thing but remain closeted out of fear or shame, especially young people.

“Public awareness of the topic is growing thanks to celebrities like Caitlyn Jenner or prime-time shows like ‘Orange is the New Black’ or ‘Transparent,'” said Dr. Asaf Oren, a pediatric endocrinologist and the director of the clinic for transgender youth at Tel Aviv Medical Center — a facility that is unusual in Israel and rather unique worldwide.

“There was a clinic here for adults,” Oren told Al-Monitor, “and youth started to come, to ask questions and request treatment. We know from the literature that the moment such a clinic exists, more and more people seek it out. The numbers attest to its necessity. It started in dribs and drabs of one or two patients every six months. In the last year, about 10 patients arrive every six months. It’s not that there are more youth like this, it’s that they’re less afraid of coming out of the closet.”

On paper, the treatment of transgendered people in Israel is progressive: The state pays for sex-change operations and hormone treatments. Dr. Ilana Berger, a psychologist and the director of the Israeli Center for Human Sexuality and Sexual Identity, told Al-Monitor, “Schools know how to handle the issue and accept transgender youth. The Israel Defense Forces also accepts transgendered people for service, and there’s even a transgendered officer.”

Elisha Alexander, the director of Ma’avarim, which advocates for the transgender community, is less enthusiastic. According to him, the organization hears from 60 people a month, “and it’s true that there are some positive trends, and the state does a lot, and there’s no violence on the scale that exists in other places. But there is a lot more work to be done.”

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