Oliver Sutherland wants to help gender-diverse kids feel more comfortable in and out of the classroom. As a staff member on the Massachusetts GSA Leadership Council, he works with students and schools to help make schools safer and more inclusive for LGBTQ+ students.
For Oliver, it’s a role born of both passion and personal experience: “During high school, I was the only transgender kid in my grade,” he remembers. “I had some really good teachers, but kids can be ignorant. I was bullied and missed a lot of school.”
Lessons learned: Life as a trans teen
When Oliver came out as trans at age 15, his family was confused at first. “They didn’t really understand what it means to be transgender, but eventually they came around,” he says. Today, his family is very supportive, with his grandmother shuttling him to medical appointments at Boston Children’s Gender Multispecialty Service (GeMS) and his mother on hand for his recent chest reconstruction surgery in the hospital’s Center for Gender Surgery.
When he isn’t spending time on the GSA Leadership Council, Oliver can be found hanging out with friends, working as a host at the Flatbread Company, and painting. Here, he shares some lessons learned from his own experience as a gender-diverse teen.
Get the right care. Oliver learned about GeMS from some of his gender-diverse friends who also attend the clinic. There, he sees social worker Ariel Botta and Dr. Jeremi Carswell, who he says, “want to make sure I have the best care possible. They’re kind and courteous and always use my preferred pronouns.”
Be patient. Oliver waited three years to begin his medical transition, starting hormones halfway through his senior year when he was 18. Chest surgery with Dr. Oren Ganor followed last October. Oliver urges other teens to thoroughly research the effects of the hormones and surgeries they’re considering. “Regardless of your age, I think it’s important to live in the gender you identify with before jumping into medical treatments so you can be sure of what you want,” he explains.
Strike a balance. Oliver says he’s learned that he can be polite without tolerating harassment. “Unless you’re living this experience, you’re not going to fully understand,” he says. “A lot of times, comments and questions come from a place of ignorance, not intentional rudeness.” When it comes to addressing his friends’ and family’s questions, he’s found it’s easier to come from a place of patience than one of defensiveness. “Make some space to set boundaries and take care of yourself,” he recommends. “Try to find a balance between answering questions and practicing self-care.”
Find your hive. Look for local support groups and organizations for gender-diverse folks and their families. “It helps to have people you can relate to, especially when you’re feeling uncomfortable,” says Oliver. “You want to be able to talk to someone else who gets it.”
Following his transition, Oliver says he’s found a new sense of calm. “I am at complete peace now and am happy, truly happy,” he says. “I have no more dysphoria and now I just have ‘regular people’ problems.”
Learn about the Gender Multispecialty Service.
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