PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – There are several clinics in Pittsburgh where transgender men and women can seek help, but only one that caters specifically to transgender youth.
It’s a unique space that patients call both a life-saver and a beacon of hope.
Cameron Brode likes doing what any other 18-year-old does – hanging out at home playing video games, playing with the family dog and holding down a part-time job.
It just so happens that Cameron is transgender.
Cameron was born a boy, but never felt right in a masculine body.
Growing up, she played sports, but never enjoyed them and was bullied by other boys for it.
After a lot of soul searching, she came to a realization.
“I thought of myself as woman. That genuinely made me happy,” she said.
After countless sessions with her therapist, Cameron finally decided to tell her mom what she’d been feeling for years.
“We had a normal scheduled therapy appointment and that morning, Cameron said, ‘I might bring you back.’ And my thought was, ‘Oh no, what happened now?’” Laura Saville said. “Whenever she told me, it took me back a little bit, but right away it was, ‘Okay, what do we do now? It wasn’t shock or horror.”
“It didn’t matter what gender my child was before it was born. It doesn’t matter to me now. What matters to me now is Cameron happy.”
That’s when the journey began and Cameron found a home at the Gender and Sexual Development Program at UPMC Children’s Hospital.
The center serves children and young adults up to the age of 26 and currently has more than 150 active patients.
Services range from therapy, support groups and medical care throughout the entire transition process as well as therapy and support services for patients’ parents.
“The second you walk through the door they’re like, welcome! Come in, you’re wonderful! Their self-esteem just grows so much being there,” Saville said.
Cameron has been on hormones for about four months now and eventually plans on having reconstructive surgery.
“Some people feel like unless someone has had genital reconstruction, they’re not really trans and that’s not the case at all,” Joanne Goodall, of the Center for Adolescent & Young Adult Health, said.
While the center doesn’t perform reconstructive surgeries, they do administer hormone blockers.
It’s a rod that’s inserted under the skin and is ideally used when a child begins puberty.
“It pauses those changes so kids aren’t growing breasts, they aren’t growing facial hair and have thickening vocal cords,” Goodall said.
In addition to helping with the physical transformation, the center also focuses heavily on the mental part of transitioning.
“This is something I do that I feel is saving a life because the suicide rate in young people is as high as 40 percent,” Dr. Cheri Priya Dhar, of UPMC Children’s Hospital, said.
Dr. Dhar says emotional support is key.
“They have really linked a lot of the suicidal thoughts and suicidal attempts to the stigma and being discriminated against,” Dr. Dhar said.
Ty Ringgold, 17, said she started thinking about suicide in middle school before finding the center.
“I feel like if I would’ve waited longer, I would have been more unhappy and maybe not even here,” Ty said.
Ty has been on hormones for the past seven months and is scheduled for her reconstructive surgery this summer.
She says she’s always been confident, but admits going back to school last fall as a girl wasn’t easy at first.
However, she’s doing what makes her happy regardless of what others think.
“I have known this forever. My dreams even when I was younger had seen myself as a girl. I didn’t see myself as a little boy when I looked in the mirror,” Ty said.
As for Cameron, she says she’s ready for the next chapter as a woman.
“Emotionally, I’m already there. I want to be further in and that helps so I can feel more complete with who I feel I’m meant to be,” Cameron said.