BILOXI, Miss. (WLOX) - Traditionally, Mississippi is known for being among the most socially conservative states in the country, and that theory was intensified after Gov. Tate Reeves signed Senate Bill 2536 limiting transgenders from participating in sports. As of March 2021, Mississippi is the first state to sign this bill.
With the governor’s recent action, many transgender people and medical professionals are working to debunk common misconceptions about what exactly it means to be trans and what the transitioning process looks like.
As of 2020, there are an estimated 99,000 Mississippians who are part of the LGBTQ community, with thousands of them being transgender.
Stacie Pace, nurse practitioner and owner of the Spectrum: The Other Clinic, thinks the recent bill is due in part to the media’s portrayal of trans women and the misconceptions about transitioning.
“Probably 90 percent of what you see in the media is a trans woman that’s portrayed as a very large man or an obviously ‘manly man’ in a dress that’s struggling to wear heels or lipstick,’ said Pace. “They treat them as a joke but the reality is that when they undergo estrogen therapy, their muscle mass will drop by about 25-30 percent in the course of three to five years. So now, they’ll have a larger body with less muscle mass.”
Pace said the hemoglobin levels for people transitioning will also drop from what’s considered a male range to a female range. As that happens, the body has less muscle mass and hemoglobin to carry oxygen around, which results in decreased endurance. The physical effects could be considered a handicap when it comes to athletics, said Pace.
During hormone therapy, the medication blocks the body’s response to producing testosterone in the male body. Instead, testosterone production is decreased as it’s replaced with estrogen, which creates feminine characteristics. By undergoing this process, Pace said a trans woman would actually have to work harder to keep up on a sports team because they lose endurance rather than obtaining it.
Other misconceptions surround children who choose to transition, said Pace. The hormone therapy process is a bit different for someone younger. It’s not until the age of 16 that trans individuals can start undergoing hormone or puberty blockers.
“With adolescence, it’s a little different. As soon as they start hitting the stages of puberty, that’s when we can potentially help them medically and that doesn’t mean hormones,” said Pace. “But when you have someone that’s 12 and they hit the first stage of puberty where, in the girl body, that would be the breast staging. So you would have breast budding, which is a very minimum development on the chest where you can feel. And then those who are man bodies, it’s based on the size of the testicular development. So, when they hit these stages, they can present for medical assistance and, at that point, that’s where we’ll point them up on puberty blockers.”
Puberty blockers work with the hypothalamus and pituitary gland in the brain. The blockers shut down the system that sends signals to the gonads, which include testicles and ovaries. The blockers stop the signal that causes the production of those hormones that cause biological puberty.
The governor’s transgender athlete ban came weeks after President Biden signed an executive order in his first week as president mandating that transgender women should be able to compete on female teams in school.
“It’s not like how the media is portraying, that it’s just some man that hops on a team and starts beating women in everything,” said Pace. “Someone that was physically man-appearing, and then you change that with estrogen therapy, you’re of course going to see some major differences internally, as well as externally. But the internal changes are going to affect them in their athletic ability and, to me, become a handicap rather than an advantage because they’re having to struggle to keep up.”
Many were outraged, including the governor, who took to Twitter to voice his thoughts on the executive order and accuse President Biden of ‘”pushing transgenderism.”
He also tweeted that his heart breaks for the women across America who will lose in this “radical social experiment.”
Someone that strongly disagrees with the governor’s comments is Bay St. Louis native Renee Lyons. Lyons started her transition when she was a senior in high school. Now that she’s an adult, she said that the governor’s recent bill and ensuing tweets are a sign of ignorance.
“Shame on him, first of all,” said Lyons. “Nowadays in 2021, you should want to be who you want to be. Nothing should hold you back. If I could go back and become a child and become a trans earlier, I would do it. Nowadays, people are more understanding. Just because you’re a trans woman or a trans man, that doesn’t mean you’re stronger than anybody else.”
Lyons said she used hormone therapy during the beginning of her transition and, as she took the medication, it made her body weaker.
“Because you are on hormones, you actually lose your masculine strength,” she explained. “But if you’re a full trans woman, then you are now a full female. I felt the same, but my body didn’t feel the same. I had to work harder to get the job done, whether it was cheerleading or dancing. There were different days where my body was weak.”
Lyons also noted that while taking hormones, everything changes, including emotions, skin and body. Ultimately, she said it feels like you’re a “pregnant woman.”
“People don’t understand that transitioning is really hard,” said Lyons. “Once you start, it’s kind of hard to stop. Your voice will change, your insides will change. The best way I can explain it is that you’ll feel like a pregnant woman. It’s like having your first term, your second term, and the third term. Your body changes. It goes from being soft to gentle, and then it’ll form a shape. People that know you will start to see the change within your face and chest area within six months.”
As a transgender woman, Lyons some words of encouragement for anyone who is trans.
“Never ever let someone put you in a box,” said Lyons. “By letting someone put you in the box, you’re letting someone stop being your ‘new you.’ You are you no matter who you choose to be. Break down barriers. At the end of the day, just because (Reeves) said you can’t play sports, show them that you’re better than the ones before you, and just love yourself.”
Mississippi’s Senate Bill 2536 is set to become law July 1.
On Wednesday, the Pentagon announced that it will sweep away Trump-era policies that largely banned transgender people from serving in the military, issuing new rules that offer them wider access to medical care and assistance with gender transition