By LAURA BARGFELD
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — A Florida teenager has documented how it feels to be young and transgender for a film set to debut at a festival as transgender people around the world celebrate visibility and lawmakers across the country look to restrict their rights and care.
Carys Mullins, 19, who is gender non-conforming and uses she and they pronouns, said their experience inspired conversations with community members for a documentary, “You’re Loved.” The film directed and produced by Mullins is set to premiere Friday at the Tampa Bay Transgender Film Festival on International Transgender Day of Visibility.
“That’s a big part of what the festival is,” Mullins said. “A big part of the Tampa Bay Transgender Film Festival is: Look at us.”
“You’re Loved” debuts at a time where access to gender-affirming care for transgender and nonbinary young people is under assault across the United States. Florida, Missouri and Texas have regulations banning puberty-blocking hormones and gender-affirming surgeries for minors. At least 11 other states ban gender-affirming care for minors by law: Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee, Utah, South Dakota and West Virginia.
Federal judges have blocked enforcement of laws in Alabama and Arkansas, and nearly two dozen states are considering bills this year to restrict or ban care.
When describing how it feels to be a gender-nonconforming person in their home state, Mullins draws many comparisons.
“It feels like you’re under a microscope.”
“It feels like we’re all in a circus.”
“It almost feels like you’re a guinea pig of sorts for people who have no idea what it’s like to be trans, to be nonbinary, to be gender-nonconforming. They don’t see us as people.”
Mullins interwove perspectives from three young transgender people in Florida, Texas and Illinois, along with mental health providers, advocates and allies. They sent participants a set list of questions, depending on their role in the documentary, and edited together their recorded answers.
Topher Malone, a Black transgender high school student in Round Rock, Texas, said participating in the documentary gave her space to be herself.
“I could share my story,” Malone said. “And, you know, those opportunities don’t come often, especially for Black trans youth.”
Malone spoke at a Texas House committee hearing on Monday about a measure seeking to restrict care. The hearing started around 8 a.m. Malone said she wasn’t able to speak until after 11 p.m.
“I’m a youth. I go to public school. I’m supposed to be supported by my government,” Malone said, “And so, that not being true is just so difficult.”
The bills have a measurable impact on the well-being of transgender youth. Half of transgender adults ages 18 through 34 say they have had suicidal thoughts in the past year, and about a quarter said that they have engaged in self-harm, they had an eating disorder and they misused alcohol or drugs, according to a Washington Post-KFF poll of transgender adults in the U.S.
The poll shows nearly 8 in 10 transgender adults overall say living as a gender that is different from the gender they were assigned at birth has made their lives more satisfying.
But the poll also shows transgender adults say they are satisfied with their lives at a lower rate than the U.S. adult population as a whole.
Transgender adults are especially likely to report feeling anxious, depressed or lonely in the past year. About two-thirds say they have faced discrimination because of their gender identity or expression. And 78% say that growing up, they experienced serious mental health problems such as depression or anxiety.
“The landscape right now is urgent,” said Jonah DeChants, senior research scientist at The Trevor Project.
However, while the numbers are grim, DeChants does not want them to be the sole focus in conversations about transgender youth. He said polls and surveys have also shown that access to adult role models and communities that affirm their identity can play a significant role in lowering suicide risk.
“For me especially as a scientist and a former youth worker, it’s really exciting to see data that firmly shows that being an ally to young people matters,” DeChants said.
Florida-based psychologist Dani Rosenkrantz, who also participated in the documentary, sees herself as part of this larger support system for the young transgender and nonbinary people she works with. Despite the challenges she faces operating as an LGBTQ+ therapist in Florida, Rosenkrantz wants to give space for her clients to not only process their grief, but also to find joy in their identities.
“Our life isn’t just these awful, sad, real statistics that are really important to know about and resist, but it’s also these beautiful, thriving people.” Rosenkrantz said.
Mullins hopes their documentary resonates with transgender people and with the community at large. They see the message of love as universal.
“At the end of the day, if you take away these labels and these identities, the whole point of this film is you are loved and you are seen, no matter what experiences you go through,” Mullins said.
In Texas, Malone finds her joy in many places: at underground ballroom events, in online communities, and even Monday after the hearing. Malone said there was a rally as they were leaving the state Capitol after midnight, with people shouting, laughing, and dancing.
“There was a sense of community,” Malone said. “There was a sense of trans joy in that moment.”