I immediately recognized Nikkie De Jager’s expertly made-up face when it popped up in my newsfeed a couple of days ago. She’s my sister’s — and like 12 million other people’s — favorite beauty YouTuber NikkieTutorials, so I’d been sent quite a few of her videos. The headline said she had posted a video of herself coming out as transgender. My first reaction was protectiveness — I clicked through to the comment section to make sure everyone was being nice so I didn’t have to burn some shit down.
Comments were overwhelmingly supportive, thank goodness, so I put away my matches (for now). De Jager’s millions of fans clearly adore her, and that’s not changing just because she was assigned male at birth.
Unfortunately though, De Jager’s coming out wasn’t entirely on her own terms. She’d been blackmailed. This is abhorrent. De Jager didn’t owe anyone her story. Representation is wonderful, and De Jager is an absolute badass for yanking back her narrative from those piece-of-shit blackmailers, but she shouldn’t have had to do it this way. No transgender person owes anyone their story. They should never feel pressured to out themselves, nor should they be pressured into being a representative or spokesperson or activist. Their stories and lives are theirs and theirs alone, to share or not share.
But De Jager did share her story, and millions of us tuned in, our hearts exploding with love and admiration and support. As I watched her video, I couldn’t stop thinking about how solid and well-adjusted and confident she is. I couldn’t help but notice that, compared to the usual stories so often told by transgender people, De Jager’s had a glaring difference: She was allowed to transition early and was almost universally supported in her community. She mentioned in her video that a few kids teased her, but that her mom, teachers, and most kids fully supported her. She was allowed to simply be herself.
De Jager is a shining example of why it’s critical for parents to allow their transgender kids to be who they say they are. Her mom believed her from very early on when De Jager insisted she was a girl. Because of that, De Jager received the medical treatments she needed in a timely manner so she could live as her true self.
She teared up as she acknowledged her mom’s role in her life. “Growing up,” she said, “I think the number one thing I’m the most thankful for is my mom… Because she has been there for me since day one, she has always supported me, always accepted me, and that is everything you need as a kid.”
De Jager’s mom is our hero, and also, she did the right thing. A rapidly growing body of medical research is confirming that gender affirmation is the best treatment for transgender children. The latest studies, which were finally able to access groups of transgender teens and young adults who were allowed to socially transition early, reveal no difference between transgender kids and their cisgender peers with regards to depression levels, and only a slightly elevated tendency toward anxiety.
These studies weren’t possible before because we didn’t have a large enough pool of study participants to collect data from. It was too rare for transgender kids to receive this kind of affirming support. But as more and more parents accept and affirm their transgender kids, it is becoming clear that affirming transgender children is truly the most loving thing we can do for them.
And yet, far too much misinformation, fear, and outright bigotry continues to surround this issue. In recent months, lawmakers in South Dakota, Alaska, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, and South Carolina, and Florida have introduced bills meant to block medical treatment for trans youth.
It is a sick irony that these bills are all titled some variation of “Vulnerable Child Protection Act,” as if their creation was ever intended to consider what is in the best interest of transgender children, truly one of our most vulnerable populations. Transgender youth who aren’t supported and affirmed by caregivers, loved ones, and their communities are far more prone to anxiety and depression. They attempt suicide at twice the rate of their LGB (lesbian, gay, bisexual) peers.
Opponents of healthcare for transgender children will argue that kids shouldn’t be having surgeries. Except… kids aren’t having surgeries. The standard affirming treatment for transgender children, as De Jager described in her video, is first to allow a child, at whatever age, to present as the gender they identify with — these are superficial changes like clothing, hair, and name, all of which are easily reversible. Later, puberty blockers can be used to “pause” puberty to prevent further dysphoria and irreversible changes. According to the Mayo Clinic, “it pauses puberty, providing time to determine if a child’s gender identity is long lasting.”
If treatment is stopped, puberty resumes. It isn’t until a child is well into their teen years and has been living as their preferred gender for 12, 13, 14 years that medical professionals would even begin to discuss permanent surgical interventions. It is simply fear mongering for anyone to claim that doctors are wantonly performing surgeries on confused kids.
The same people who think surgery is being performed on kids will tell you that depression and suicide happen after transition, implying that it’s the transition itself, whether social or surgical, that leads to mental health crises. But, again, that’s not what studies are showing. It’s the rejection and bigotry these beautiful people face every day that is damaging their mental health.
We still have a long way to go, but parents of transgender kids are starting to stand in loud, ferocious support of their transgender kids, fighting for their children’s right to lifesaving healthcare and to live as their authentic selves. Thanks to highly visible transgender advocates like Jazz Jennings; to indominable mama bears like Vanessa Lee Nic fighting for her transgender son’s rights in Florida; and to Jamie Bruesehoff and her transgender daughter Rebekkah who was featured on the Disney Channel’s Marvel’s Hero Project, people are slowly coming around to understanding how important it is to simply believe transgender people when they tell us who they are.
And now the talented Nikkie De Jager has added her powerful voice to the mix. It’s time the rest of us raise our voices too, and protect these children. Every one of them deserves to grow up with the same support, affirmation, and unconditional love as De Jager, so they have the opportunity to radiate the same confidence and self-love as she does.
Please make sure you are voting for people who support trans rights. And if you think your child may be transgender, click here for advice and resources.