This is also when Oliver found a furry friend, a dog named Cookie. “She’s really helped a lot with my mental health and my physical health,” he says. “She’s helped me get onto a good routine. I just don’t want to imagine what it would have been like without her. She’s my best friend.”
As Oliver continued looking into gender-affirming surgery, he was led to Identity Insights Counseling, a counseling service focused on LGBTQIA+ and transgender-affirming care. There, he met Devin Pinkston, owner and clinical director of Identity Insights, and his journey toward healing began. According to Oliver’s mom, Caryn, Devin is the first person Oliver was able to open up to about his desire to transition. Outside the support from his family, Oliver for the first time had someone else in his corner — someone else to talk to about the internalized pain of living in a body that you don’t feel is your own, and the anxiety, depression, and lack of identity that comes with it.
Devin focused her undergraduate studies on intimacy and couples counseling. While in graduate school, she took an internship with a group involved in a Pride initiative and found a community that called to her. After grad school, she moved to Grand Junction on a whim and immediately found an unmet need within the community.
“When we moved here, I really noticed there was just a lack of counseling resources for the LGBTQIA+ community and felt like … that’s where I need to hone in,” she says. The community was there, but it wasn’t visible, and community members weren’t getting the support they needed. The current focus of Identity Insights Counseling is trans-affirming care in the form of therapy, referrals for surgery and hormone therapy, and removing the barriers to care access that exist for the trans community.
LGBTQIA+ teens are six times more likely to experience depression than their peers, according to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America. This is a global problem that requires local solutions. That’s what Devin found, and that’s why Oliver and his mother were so grateful to her.
“The folks at Rocky and UnitedHealthcare reached out to me … they really wanted to better understand how they could continue helping us help our clients.”
Before the initial consultation with Devin, Oliver was scared. Scared of his reality being denied. Scared that his gender dysphoria experience wouldn’t be believed. But what he found was exactly the opposite in every way. Devin introduced Oliver to a new world of transgender care, full of support and guidance.
“We talked more about my life, depression, [and] gender dysphoria, and eventually she was ready to write the referral [for top surgery]. She pointed me to the direction [of a surgeon] that would help me and could help me with my top surgery. And so she got me a consult.”
Another one of Oliver’s fears was the cost. Often these procedures are seen as elective, making them expensive and sometimes difficult to secure coverage for. But Oliver knew it was necessary — and so did Devin. Through her partnership with Rocky Mountain Health Plans and UnitedHealthcare, she is able to get access to services, usually at no cost to her patients. Thanks to Devin and Identity Insights, Oliver’s surgery was covered by Medicaid.
As a mother, Caryn feels like she has her child back. After a rough start to high school, with failing grades and a poor social structure, Oliver blossomed after his surgery and transition. Caryn is immensely proud of her son. Supportive from the beginning, Caryn put up boundaries to protect Oliver when other family members struggled to support their decisions. She credits Identity Insights with helping her son find his own identity. His true identity.
“After coming out as transgender, I started feeling more like myself,” Oliver says. “Every time someone used he/him pronouns, it felt a little more uplifting, and I felt a lot more happy.”
While Oliver is well on his journey to healing, Devin’s work in the community is just getting started. She is seeing a dramatic increase in LGBTQIA+ needs, and Rocky Mountain Health Plans and community partners are stepping up to help. Diving in and ready to lift up a community in shadow, her outlook is optimistic. She says the best part of her job is “just seeing people’s faces when they learn, we can get you in and we can get you out, if that’s your ultimate goal, and moving forward in this next phase of things. So you can just continue moving in that direction of being you.”