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Spotlight – Dr. Johanna Olson-Kennedy

Dr. Johanna Olson-Kennedy

The Gender Odyssey workshops of Johanna Olson-Kennedy, MD have been cornerstone programming for many years.  Dr. Olson-Kennedy specializes in the care of gender expansive children and transgender youth at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.  She has been providing medical intervention for transgender youth and young adults including puberty suppression and cross sex hormones for the past six years, and is considered a national expert in this area. 

What subjects are you presenting at Gender Odyssey Seattle this year? 
Overall, I’m speaking about trans youth care, what it looks like, how it’s changing. I’ll be speaking about gender dysphoria, and how it’s more than just the diagnosis – we have to think about the nuances, how it might look like at different developmental stages, and how parents and providers can take a more empathic look at what dysphoria is like for different kids.

At one panel, I’m talking about the use of medical interventions for trans youth – puberty blockers, hormones, etc. – and giving advice to those trying to move forward.

I’m also speaking on the use of chest surgery for transmasculine patients.  And I have a presentation about young people who don’t want to talk about being trans, and prefer to disclose as little as possible.  

I also have several open question sessions, as it’s important to have sessions where people can ask whatever they want, given that there often isn’t time at more traditionally structured panels.

One final part of what I like to talk about: Trans adults started as trans youth. How can we meet people where they are and help them along this complicated journey?

What main takeaway would you like attendees of your presentation come away with?

I hope that professionals come away thinking more about how they can apply the idea of individual care to their practice. Each young person has needs specific to them – there is no one size fits all solution.  I also want people to come away understanding how important chest surgery is for transmasculine people – it’s a very powerful intervention for young people.

In addition to individualized care plans, it’s  important not to see gender as a destination – there’s no set end point for most people. I find it’s much better to see our role as meeting people where they are, particularly when they have gender dysphoria.

What’s the most important issue facing trans kids today

Fear and hate. I really do believe that the political climate we’re in right now has made things far more dangerous and precarious for trans youth. Fear drives a lot of the other issues that trans youth have to face. That fear has always been there, but now things are much more overt – this makes things incredibly dangerous.

What’s the most powerful or important experience you’ve had with a trans child?

The most powerful experiences I’ve had are in watching them come into their own, by helping enable them to walk in the world and be who they are. When people are sitting in the office with me, it’s incredibly important to have an adult who can talk gender. I’ve worked with hundreds of people at all stages of their journeys; it’s such a gift to watch these young people blossom and grow when they can embrace themselves.

It’s amazing to see young people put words to what it means to have gender dysphoria. One said “I know I need to disclose to people eventually, but when I first meet them, I put that on hold so I can just have a few magical minutes of feeling what it must feel like to be cisgender.”

That was a powerful reminder of what it must be like to live with gender dysphoria every single day. These young people are robbed of many of the most important experiences that cis people take for granted. And there’s no handbook – these experiences are all individual.

In a climate of unprecedented visibility and new challenges confronting our community, what makes your topic particularly relevant?

For the past seven months, we’ve been in a strange place. The trans narrative has been broadened. More and more stories about trans youth have made the headlines, a departure from a grimmer, but far too common narrative.

In LA County alone, there are potentially 23,000  trans/GNC youth, going by statistics. I have the largest gender clinic in the world, and yet we only have room for 900 kids, a tiny fraction of that number. There has to be more supply, and there has to be more capacity We have to teach more professionals to do this work well, and with great consciousness, thoughtfulness, and compassion.

What do you personally hope to take away from Gender Odyssey this year?

At any conference, I hope to get a better understanding of what the lay of the provider land looks like. I’m presenting a lot, meaning that I can’t attend that many other panels, but even getting nuanced audience questions is important – every panel, I have 5 new ones to think about.

I always look forward to coming away with stories from young people, which always helps me recognize that we don’t know many of the answers, and have to find them.

There’s just so much to think about and write about – I love to walk away with stories of successes, challenges, transitions, finding providers, and more.


Bio from Children’s Hospital LA:  “Johanna Olson, MD is an Adolescent Medicine physician specializing in the care of gender non-conforming children and transgender youth. Board certified in Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, Dr. Olson has been an Assistant Professor at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles for the past nine years. Dr. Olson has been providing medical intervention for transgender youth and young adults including puberty suppression and cross sex hormones for the past six years, and is considered a national expert in this area. Dr. Olson is the Medical Director of The Center for Transyouth Health and Development at Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles, the largest transgender youth clinic in the United States. Dr. Olson has appeared frequently on national television, and spoken all over the country to educate providers, parents, and other communities about the needs of transgender youth.”

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