As a 7-year-old struggling with gender dysphoria, hearing a school counselor say, "There's other people like you in the world and you are not alone" was life-changing for Nathan Jones, who is now 17, and was the subject of a recent profile on ABC's Nightline.
That profile follows Jones's transition from age 13 to the the present -- including personal milestones that include his legal name change, first testosterone shot, chest reconstruction surgery, and high school graduation.
By doing so, Nightline sheds a humanizing light on trans teens, whose medical and social transitions remain "controversial" across the U.S., according to reporter Juju Chang. Recent research has shown, however, that trans kids are secure in their gender identities and that early medical transition can often be beneficial to trans youth.
Supporting their son's transition was the clear choice for Jones's parents, who tell Chang that they knew they couldn't deny his gender identity after witnessing his depression at being misgendered, and learning he'd been beaten in the genitals by a group of boys trying to determine his birth gender. Nathan himself admits that the loneliness and distress he felt may have led him to be among the striking 41 percent of trans youth who have attempted suicide -- a rate that stands at nearly 10 times that of the cisgender (nontrans) population.
Support and acceptance of trans youth is one of the keys to overcoming this epidemic, according to Greta Gustava Martela, cofounder of the U.S.'s first national transgender suicide hotline staffed entirely by trans and gender-nonconforming volunteers, TransLifeline.
Luckily for Jones, he found supportive adults early in life -- beginning with a few simple words from elementary school counselor Amy Spletter. Jones was sent to see Spletter after telling teachers, "I'm a boy" -- and the teen said her acceptance changed his life.
"I always thought that [Amy's words] were the most profound piece of advice ever," Jones tells Chang. "It kept me going from second grade on."
And thanks to Nightline, Jones got to thank Spletter for her support in-person. Ringing her doorbell with camera crew in tow, Jones finds himself wrapped up in a tearful hug and kiss from his long-lost mentor. Spletter told Nightline that she kept only one file as a meaningful memento of her 20 years as a school counselor: Jones's.
"You can't believe how I've waited for this day," Spletter emotes. "It's like a dream that I've wished for."
Watch more of their emotional reunion in the Nightline video below.