My son, Jeremy, is transgender. He is also an uncle, a barista, a babysitter, a friend and a neighbor.
What my son is not is “Satan's spawn” or "evidence of Satan's plan," as Texas Assistant Attorney General Jeff Mateer, the assistant attorney general in my home state, has described transgender children.
To be transgender means that someone knows that the gender they are on the inside differs from the sex assigned to them by a doctor or nurse at birth either visibly or by DNA. Sex assignment is based on a visual inspection of genitalia; the inner awareness of gender is far more personal. It can be difficult for people whose understanding of their gender does not match their sex assignment, but their situations are made inestimably harder by bullies at school, discrimination in the workplace, mean ignorant people like Mateer, and politicians like those in my state who try to write his bigotry into law.
It seems that whenever the Texas Legislature meets — which it does every other spring — some of our politicians actively try to make life harder for transgender people. In 2017, some Texas politicians tried (and failed) to deny my son and other people like him the use of the correct bathrooms for their genders. In 2019, they tried (and failed) to pass legislation that would have allowed every professional in the state to hide behind a phony religious freedom to discriminate against my son.
Now it looks like, in 2021, they are planning to attack parents who are taking medically advised steps to affirm their children’s gender.
In a recent custody case in Texas, after hearing testimony from medical experts and counselors, a jury voted 11 to 1 to award the mother sole custody of her 7-year-old transgender daughter. The jury saw the father’s refusal to accept the girl’s gender identity, his use of her old name and his insistence on forcing her to wear boys' clothing while in his home as damaging to the child.
That should have been the end of the story. But the judge overruled the jury and awarded joint custody to both parents, setting the stage for a potential battle years from now, when the child approaches puberty. At that point, the child's physician may advise that the child go on puberty blockers to delay the onset of secondary sex characteristics, such as having her voice drop and developing facial hair. A recommendation — to which the father has already objected — will be made based on a thorough evaluation by one or more doctors, including extensive interviews of the child. Should the child go on puberty blockers, it will provide her with additional time to figure things out. If she later decides that she wants to go through male puberty, all she'll have to do is stop taking the blockers.
Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, has taken his personal objections to the child's gender-affirming care from her mother even further than the courts, tweeting that the Texas Attorney General’s Office and the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services are looking into the situation. In response, Texas state Rep. Steve Toth vowed that the first bill introduced at the next Texas legislative session would define gender-affirming parents as child abusers, and state Rep. Matt Krause tweeted that he will introduce legislation to prohibit the use of puberty blockers in anyone under 18, by which point using them would be too late.
The anti-transgender leadership of Texas has cruelly seen this custody case as an opportunity to promote their discriminatory agenda against transgender people. And they're doing so just as the increased visibility of transgender individuals is giving parents the opportunity to better support their transgender children, who desperately need that support. Over 41 percent of transgender and gender nonconforming people have attempted suicide — not just thought about it, but actually tried. That’s a frightening statistic, but one that can be reduced significantly when parents are accepting of their children's genders.
Gender-affirming parenting can save a child’s life.
Today, my son is almost 30. When we welcomed him into the world nearly three decades ago, we thought he was our daughter, but we were wrong. While still in pre-school, he preferred the toys and games that our society traditionally thinks of as masculine. He wore his hair short and preferred his big brother’s hand-me-downs to those of his big sister. No princesses or ballerinas for him at Halloween; he wanted to be Aladdin or Frankenstein.
Later, reaching puberty made Jeremy miserable, because it worsened his gender dysphoria. He knew inside that he was a boy, even though his reproductive anatomy didn’t match. He was a normal kid: He had friends. He played sports — football, baseball, and basketball. He marched in the school band and was president of his middle school art club.
When he was 24, Jeremy acknowledged to both himself and the world that he is transgender. He told everyone to use his new name and male pronouns. He began taking the hormones that would lower his voice and allow him to grow a beard. He had what is called "top surgery," to remove his breasts and create the masculine chest he’d always wanted. A year after that, he changed his name legally. Today, he is happier than he’s ever been.
Each of these steps was part of Jeremy’s journey of transition. Some of it was social: He presented himself as male through his clothing, hairstyle and name. Some of it was medical: He had surgery and began taking hormones. Some of it was legal: He changed his name and gender on his driver’s license, social security card and passport. Other transgender people experience a different journey, sometimes following the same steps, but not necessarily in the same order. Some may take fewer or additional steps. Each journey is unique. There is no one correct way to transition.
The social aspects of gender transition are the ones available to children as young as pre-school. When Jeremy was 4-years-old, he would have loved it if we had let him change his name, wear boys' clothing all the time and be accepted as one of the boys at school and in the neighborhood. He could have been one of the guys, instead of a tomboy in their midst.
But I had no idea 25 years ago what it meant to be transgender and I didn’t know how to be a gender-affirming parent. I couldn’t help Jeremy be a boy as a child, I couldn't protect him from the loss of his social circle when, in middle school, the boys stopped accepting him as part of the gang, and I couldn't stop Jeremy from eventually feeling the need to undergo surgery.
If we had known then what we know now, my husband and I would have put him on puberty blockers when he reached the right age, medication that is both safe and reversible. That would have stopped his breasts from developing and he would not have needed top surgery years later.
And yet when other Texas parents today try to be gender-affirming, they face the terrifying possibility of losing custody of the children they love.
Please take a stand. Let your elected officials know that you support laws that make it illegal to discriminate against transgender people or their loving parents. Let your school administrators know that you expect them to respect and protect transgender students. And if somebody says that being transgender isn’t a real thing, tell them: “I know of a mom with a transgender son. And he is very real. He is brave. He is a person.”