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How Texas' war on trans youth feels when you have a trans child

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s order frames supportive parents such as myself as child abusers. And it puts up further barriers for a process that is already fraught, painful and slow.
Image: Texas Governor Greg Abbott Holds Get Out The Vote Event
Governor Greg Abbott speaks during a Get Out the Vote campaign event in Beaumont, Texas, on Feb. 17, 2022.Mark Felix / Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Republican Party has been waging a war on trans children. The latest escalation occurred in Texas last week, where Gov. Greg Abbott issued a letter confirming his attorney general’s opinion that gender-affirming care, including puberty blockers, hormone treatments and surgical interventions, should be treated as child abuse. The governor also claimed medical professionals, educators, and members of the public are required to report what Abbott sneeringly refers to as “so-called ‘sex change’ procedures” to state authorities. Those authorities could potentially prosecute parents, or even remove children from their parents' care, although any such prosecution would face immediate challenges in court.

I can imagine how much more difficult, and even life-threatening, it would be for our daughter to face transition in such a climate of fear, paranoia and state-enabled terror.

As the parent of a teenage trans daughter, I find Abbott’s comments frightening and enraging. We don’t live in Texas — and we’re unlikely to visit a state that has targeted our child. But I can imagine how much more difficult, and even life-threatening, it would be for our daughter to face transition in such a climate of fear, paranoia and state-enabled terror. Abbott’s order frames supportive parents such as myself as reckless child abusers. And it puts up further barriers to receiving care for a process that I can personally confirm is already fraught, difficult and slow — even with parental support.

Abbott’s directive is built on a belief that trans identity is false or fake. And anti-trans activists have claimed over the past few years that young people and irresponsible parents are rushing recklessly to unnecessary medical interventions because of peer pressure or “social contagion.”

But the truth is that there is a widespread medical consensus that gender-affirming care has enormous mental health benefits for trans youth. And the social contagion argument has been extensively debunked.

My wife and I were both strongly supportive of trans people before my daughter came out. My wife is bisexual herself, and we’d talked to our daughter extensively about queer and trans issues. We had made it clear that if my daughter was trans, we would support her. She had several trans friends and had experimented with feminine gender expression. In seventh grade, a bunch of her female friends spent the afternoon giving her a makeup makeover. She came home glowing and almost breathless with happiness.

Yet, despite an affirming environment, our daughter took years to come out as trans to us, or to anyone. She first realized she was a girl as a freshman in high school and briefly changed her pronouns at school. But a peer was unsupportive, and she went back into the closet for three years of increasing discomfort and escalating mental distress. She finally came out to us in her junior year, basically because she just couldn’t bear to be treated as a boy anymore.

We moved as quickly as we could to try to get care for her. But even though we live in a blue state in a major city and have decent health insurance, “as quickly as we could” turned out to mean“not quickly at all.” Some mental health professionals were openly and insultingly transphobic. Others were more subtly so. Getting an appointment to talk about hormone treatments was difficult, especially during Covid.

Medical barriers weren’t the only issue. Despite our support, our daughter was, very reasonably, anxious and uncertain about which steps to take to transition and how quickly to do so.

Because we still live in a transphobic society, social stigma against transitioning is huge. Trans children are very aware that transitioning makes them a target and can close doors. My daughter is a talented actor; she had wanted a career playing the leading male Shakespeare protagonists on the stage; she hoped to perhaps get roles in film. Those ambitions are potentially complicated by being trans. Taking steps that could change her body permanently also seemed like a big step. After the first appointment to get hormone therapy, she decided she needed to wait. It wasn’t until a year later that she started on estrogen.

But when she did, her doubts vanished almost immediately. Suddenly we had our curious, enthusiastic, creative child back. There were still moments of depression and anxiety, but there was no question that transitioning was the right choice. And she’s performing as Macbeth in a wonderful youth production of Shakespeare this weekend.

We’re all happy my daughter has gotten the medical care she needs. But if Abbott and his Republican peers had their way, she never would have.

The exact application of the directive is contested; several local district attorneys say they will not be prosecuting parents or children. But the point of the order is to increase uncertainty. A trans child like my daughter in Texas may now think twice about being honest with medical professionals about their identity.

For that matter, if the directive stands, trans girls would have to think twice about wearing makeup or a dress to school, lest overzealous teachers report their parents. Seeking hormones in Texas will become more difficult and provoke more anxiety. And there is the real fear that maybe Abbott and his goons will succeed in actually taking children away from their supportive parents, and putting them in Texas’ notoriously abusive foster care system.

Abbott claims to be, and maybe has even convinced himself that he is, trying to prevent child abuse. But trans adolescents already have terrifying rates of attempted suicide. In forcing them further into the closet, and denying them access to medical interventions, Abbott’s letter will only increase despair and suicidal ideation for children like my daughter.

Trans children have plenty of barriers to overcome already. Treating them as scapegoats for political gain is indescribably cruel. But indescribable cruelty is, apparently, the modern GOP’s brand.