If you’ve never had a lawmaker attempt to label you as a child abuser for providing gender-affirming care, threaten to incarcerate you and send your kids to one of Texas’ notoriously dangerous foster homes, that makes one of us.
And that’s why one humid June morning, after having squeezed the last of our things into our car — a stack of comic books, a dog who hates road trips and a Nintendo Switch — we fled our Houston home seeking safety for our transgender son, Noah, in the mountains of Colorado.
As time ticked down, we lived in fear of knocks on the door and calls from unknown numbers that could have been CPS investigators.
Our story will be told in a new NBC Out short-form doc, “Dear Noah: Pages from a Family Diary,” premiering at the Meet the Press Film Festival at DOC NYC on Tuesday.
Audiences will see how the battle in the Texas Legislature over gender-affirming care for trans children is far from a mere partisan philosophical argument or campaign talking point for me. We are a family with a trans kid, and this heated public debate about the very existence of my innocent child has wreaked a level of fear and uncertainty in our lives that we could never have imagined.
For many, the political and media attention on the transgender community might feel new and perhaps surprising, almost as if the existence of trans people and the best-practice medical care that supports them has come from nowhere. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.
My family’s connection to the trans community has been anything but out of nowhere, as our 16-year-old son (15 at the time of filming) has spent the past 11 years of his young life actively coming to terms with his true gender identity. From kindergarten, our sweet Noah felt out of place in his own body, confused by how starkly different the world viewed and treated him compared to who he knew himself to be. At this young age, he battled bouts of seemingly inexplicable depression and anxiety as he privately grappled with these pressing questions of his identity while trying to navigate elementary school life.
Watch “Dear Noah: Pages from a Family Diary” Friday at 10:30 p.m. ET on NBC News NOW and Peacock.
At the age of 12, Noah finally found the language to articulate his gender dysphoria and discovered incredible examples of healthy and happy trans people modeling the fully realized and genuine life he craved. When Noah finally came out to us as transgender, our lives changed in marvelous ways; he simply glowed. He spoke more hopefully of the future than ever before. The puzzle pieces began to click satisfyingly into place for us.
It was incredibly important that we as parents moved ahead thoughtfully and deliberately. We leaped into research papers, books, online communities and articles, trying to educate ourselves to support him to the fullest. Over the next couple of years, we assembled a trusted team of medical professionals to support Noah’s mental and physical wellness. We watched in awe as he continued to blossom.
And then 2021 happened.
That’s the year a flood of anti-LGBTQ bills were introduced in the Texas Legislature — the majority of which directly targeted trans kids and their families. These bills were as varied as prohibiting trans kids from playing interscholastic sports with their friends (one of which, unfortunately, was passed) to criminalizing the evidence-based, age-appropriate medical care that literally saved my son’s life.
During that session and the three brutal special sessions that followed, Noah and I made numerous trips to the Texas State Capitol to protest these transphobic bills and to walk the halls to meet with legislators. For the first time in my life, I testified in front of a state House committee in October 2021.
Sitting in my car afterward, I felt beaten down by the inattention of the Republican members in attendance — and bewildered by the transphobia of the small group of supporters of these harmful bills who did seem to capture their interest. It was clear to me then that our family needed a Plan B to get out of the state to ensure our son’s safety. A just-in-case place to run to, a soft place to land. The far-right rhetoric was already so skewed and vicious, and the potential for violence felt too close to a child who had already survived so much. Little did I know that less than a year later that car would be packed and headed to the mountains.
This year dealt Texas trans families a double blow when state Attorney General Ken Paxton delivered a nonbinding legal opinion that gender-affirming care for children was child abuse — followed by a directive from Gov. Greg Abbott that families just like ours should be investigated by Child Protective Services for supporting our kids. Loving families of trans kids we knew were under investigation for simply supporting their children, even though no law required the state’s Department of Family and Protective Services to conduct such investigations.
There’s a tremendous amount of guilt in leaving a community you love in turmoil; many families are at this very moment grappling with this decision of a potential move, while others simply can’t or won’t pick up their lives and leave.
These threats affected Noah’s grades and wholly altered his relationships with teachers and school counselors. He began to fear that these mandatory reporters would feel compelled to report our family to CPS despite their previous close relationships. The bouts of depression and self-harm intensified, and his glow darkened and was replaced by those old feelings of hopelessness and loneliness.
When Texas Children’s Hospital announced that it was pausing gender-affirming care indefinitely for fear of losing state contracts and funding, our family felt the floor fall from underneath us. Even though every major medical association in America supports gender-affirming care, the trusted medical professionals whose decadeslong careers we relied on to keep Noah healthy and safe were unable to fulfill their Hippocratic Oath and their commitment to my son. Plan B was now turning into Plan A. With even our medical institutions failing us in Houston, it was time to move our son to a safer place where he could simply be himself — to go to school to learn without fear and to have consistent access to best-practice, lifesaving medical care.
We acted quickly as a family, breaking the news of our pending out-of-state move to Noah over an unforgettably sad dinner. “I kind of figured, Mom. I hate it, but it’s for the best,” was his response. And that was that.
Over the following weeks, we researched safe states, schools and gender clinics. I called local LGBTQ organizations, tried to negotiate with doctors about their 18-month-plus waitlists for new patients and looked up museums, parks, bookstores and taco stands (we’re Texan; it’s a major food group). And we found that soft place to land in Colorado — an inclusive, affirming place with a far more visible trans population, incredible nature and seemingly never-ending sunshine.
That 1,028-mile drive to Colorado uprooted our family from all that we knew and every support system that we had ever had.
We took a gamble by staying in Texas until the summer so Noah could finish up the school year and have a couple of more months with friends and family. As time ticked down, we lived in fear of knocks on the door and calls from unknown numbers that could have been CPS investigators. The threat of a potential investigation of our family loomed over us as we packed our lives away in cardboard boxes and large plastic storage containers. When our June move date arrived, we were heartbroken but ready for peace.
That 1,028-mile drive to Colorado uprooted our family from all that we knew and every support system that we had ever had. It was the outcome of an impossibly unfair decision forced upon a loving family who refused to lose their child for political gains. Noah’s right to exist as himself — a transgender young man — shouldn’t be up for debate, nor should a politician be allowed to dictate how our family partners with our medical team to care for him and prepare for his bright future ahead.
There’s a tremendous amount of guilt in leaving a community you love in turmoil; many families are at this very moment grappling with this decision of a potential move, while others simply can’t or won’t pick up their lives and leave, refusing to allow Gov. Abbott and his cronies to push them away. There are remarkable organizations leading this fight against the assault on trans children and their families, and we will continue to support them and fight for the basic human rights of Texans for the rest of our lives.
Despite it all, Texas is where our hearts reside, no matter how many miles might separate us and how directly damaging Republican rhetoric has been. In years to come, we hope to pack up that car again (car-sick dog included) and view the mountains from the rearview mirror this time — on our way home.