Boston College’s “Park Street Corporation Speaker Series” hosted a presentation on April 7, 2022, featuring one of Boston’s most prominent medical professionals, Dr. Norman Spack. The speaker series focuses on medical ethics, and this two-year-in-the-making discussion featured Spack’s work with transgender early adolescents to prevent self-harm. As one of the first pediatricians in America to assess this issue, Spack’s work and insight are none other than revolutionary.
In the 1970s, Spack first learned of the rise in young transgender people on the streets of Boston. Witnessing their struggles first-hand, Spack remarked, “these kids would never go home because they would never be accepted.” This disregard and ignorance of these children seeking an acceptable identity left them hopeless and homeless and many unfortunately turn to self-harm.
“About 45% of unsupported [transgender] 16-25 year-olds end up attempting suicide,” Spack presented to the audience. This shocking statistic clearly demonstrates the severity of the matter. If these children are not treated properly either medically or emotionally, they could end up dead. Spack’s research and treatment of his young transgender patients discovered crucial ways to prevent these horrific outcomes.
“You can get ahead of the game if you can shut puberty down altogether,” Spack claimed, “if you stop puberty you don’t have to go through all of the external [challenges].” Halting puberty and its effects make it much easier for a child to transition into the gender that they identify as. No longer would they have to endure physical alterations that are more costly and possibly more traumatic. Puberty is a time in which sex-defining features begin to fully form, but if puberty is stopped, the patient can transition into a body defined by their gender, not their sex.
Because of this ground-breaking discovery, Spack and his team quickly became leaders in the transgender health community. With the opening of Boston Children’s Hospital’s Gender Multispeciality Service (GeMS) in 2007, Spack became the first American doctor to do so. Patients from around the world flocked to Spack’s clinic, knowing of his medical prowess and ability to satisfy the needs of anyone’s gender identity.
Jackie Green, for one, traveled from England to Boston in search of Spack’s helpful team. Years of bullying in school and the lack of transgender medical care from England’s National Health Service sent her into multiple depressive episodes, resulting in attempted suicide. Finding Dr. Spack and receiving his revolutionary treatment saved Jackie, allowing her to become the woman she always wanted to be. Now, she works as a model, forever thankful for Spack’s clinic.
Since 2007, GeMS has treated thousands of patients, a number that increases every year. While Spack no longer works in the clinic, his legacy is ever-present and will always remain in the minds and hearts of the many doctors and patients to come.
Closing with a sing-along of one of Spack’s favorite songs, “A Bridge Over Troubled Water,” by Simon & Garfunkel, the mood in the room transitioned towards hope. There is still so much more to do in regards to treating transgender early adolescents, and unfortunately, mental health diagnoses are on the rise. Also, non-binary patients have become the newest challenge within the clinic, making doctors question the most effective treatments. Despite these obstacles, Dr. Norman Spack has changed transgender medical care for the better, working to make these patients feel more accepted within society and their own bodies.
Closing the discussion, Spack put it simply, saying, “it doesn’t take a lot for a kid to feel unwanted and it does not take a lot for a kid to feel wanted.”