Lots of hoops and checks: A Tennessee transgender man speaks on the furor over health care

John Partipilo / Tennessee Lookout / Henry Seaton, a Nashville transgender man, said his experience at Vanderbilt University Medical Center showed him the care and seriousness with which the clinic treats transgender minors.
John Partipilo / Tennessee Lookout / Henry Seaton, a Nashville transgender man, said his experience at Vanderbilt University Medical Center showed him the care and seriousness with which the clinic treats transgender minors.

Henry Seaton was 17 years old in 2015 when he first inquired about gender-affirming surgery at Vanderbilt University Medical Center but was turned away due to his age.

So when right-wing political commentator Matt Walsh posted videos on social media attacking Vanderbilt's reputation as a leader in transgender health care and Republican lawmakers followed suit, Democratic leaders and the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee pushed back on allegations that were "vastly false," said Seaton, an ACLU trans-justice activist.

The result of the recent furor is that medical center announced Friday it is halting gender affirming surgeries on minors -- none of which have been genital surgeries, the hospital says.

(READ MORE: Tennessee attorney general demands Justice Department honor free speech rights in adolescent transgender surgery debate)

As a transgender man, Seaton began receiving care at Vanderbilt shortly after he turned 18, because even with the support of his mother, Seaton was told minors couldn't receive gender-affirming surgery.

After turning 18, Seaton again asked about receiving surgery from Vanderbilt. This time, he was told that the hospital required letters of recommendation from therapists and primary-care providers. Seaton also had to live as a man for six months prior to receiving hormones.

"There are a lot of hoops and checks along the way," he said.

After six months, Seaton and his mother returned to Vanderbilt and spent two hours listening to their doctor discuss testosterone, what would or would not change permanently and what was and wasn't guaranteed to happen.

"We had to sit and go through this long list, and my mom and I had to sign documents together, and before I could even get my first injection, we had to meet all of those requirements," Seaton said. "So we were able to make that safe and informed medical decision together from a wealth of knowledge from our doctor and our therapists."

Vanderbilt required Seaton to live as a man for another year, as well as being on a monthslong wait list, before he was able to get a double mastectomy -- what is known as "top surgery" -- at 19.

"From what I've lived through, it's safe to say that the standards of care were and remain very strict and very thorough," he said.

Along with the need to meet Vanderbilt's requirements, patients also face several other obstacles. For Seaton, his insurance also required extensive documentation, and even then, his medical expenses were only partially covered.

"I don't know a single person who was able to get gender-affirming surgery fully covered," Seaton said of insurance. He raised money to cover his procedures, a process that added delays.

The videos Walsh posted on social media featured Vanderbilt physician Dr. Shayne Taylor calling gender transition surgery a "big money maker," comments Seaton believes were taken out of context.

"I would say the money conversation only comes up to make sure that hospitals can sustain and take proper care of those patients," he said.

As lawmakers seek to restrict transgender health care, Seaton fears the consequences could be deadly. Apart from a 2021 law that already restricts transgender drug therapy and surgery for prepubescent children, studies have shown that transgender people who are unable to access gender-affirming care are at risk for depression and suicidal ideation.

"We are robbing children of the opportunity to grow into who they are and be able to function in society and get those social building blocks to thrive in the world around them," Seaton said.

The ACLU of Tennessee, which in March launched a transgender education initiative called Transcend Tennessee, has condemned calls for an investigation into Vanderbilt University Medical Center and attempts to limit transgender health care.

Read more at TennesseeLookout.com.