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Why Prosecuting Parents of Trans Kids Harms Trans Folks

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Texas Governor Greg Abbott considers me an abusive parent.

I raised a sweet, brilliant human being who cares deeply about other people, consumes information voraciously, and who her synagogue leaders describe as “a firecracker” and “destined to change the world.” She dotes on her pit bull mix, Cap, and loves playing League of Legends with her dad. She sings to herself while folding laundry, filling the house with “Jack’s Lament” from “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” and needs to learn to leave the door to my office closed.

She’s my only child, my lucky break, and the light of my life, but Gov. Abbott thinks I abused her. On February 22, Gov. Abbott issued a letter stating that licensed professionals and members of the public should report parents of transgender youth for child abuse if it appears that minors are receiving gender-affirming care.

I believed my daughter when she told us at 15 that the midwife got it wrong and she’s really a girl. We trusted our kid to know herself better than any outside source and followed the advice of her doctors in caring for her. Were this declaration around then, we could have been investigated for child abuse and subject to criminal penalties–just for believing our daughter and doing what doctors, and not politicians, recommended.

I believed my daughter when she told us at 15 that the midwife got it wrong and she’s really a girl. We trusted our kid to know herself better than any outside source and followed the advice of her doctors in caring for her.

When puberty began to change to her body during middle school, our cheerful, high-achieving kid suddenly didn’t want to participate in choir anymore. Her grades crashed. She hid behind her hair and her sudden recalcitrance far exceeded stereotypical teenage silence. Later, she told me she seriously considered suicide, but realizing “Cap wouldn’t know where [she] had gone” stayed her hand.

I cannot overstate the relief we felt as parents the day she came out to us at 15—finally, an answer! Her team included her family doctor who’d cared for her since age 6, a psychiatrist, an endocrinologist, her school counselors, her rabbi, synagogue youth leaders, and her family. We began social transition and an endocrinologist-managed program of pubertal blockers, followed at 16 with hormone replacement therapy very similar to that offered to cisgender teens with endocrine disorders, utilizing the same hormones found in birth control pills commonly prescribed to her cisgender girl peers.

Catherine—she chose her name in honor of a family member—represents a very typical transfeminine narrative for teenage transition and an extremely well-studied one. This transfeminine path, pioneered by Magnus Hirschfeld at his Institute for Sexual Science in Berlin a century ago, has received intense study which overwhelmingly points to its efficacy and safety. Despite the narrative pushed by people like Gov. Abbott and Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, who loudly touts the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, LGBTQ+ people like Cat are neither new nor suddenly made cisgender or heterosexual by lack of resources or medical care.

They’re simply made miserable, suicidal, and sick.

The misquoted statistic that “41% of transgender people attempt suicide” is often used to assert that trans-affirming health care damages kids by making them trans. This false interpretation of the 2015 US Transgender Survey (USTS) fails to mention a crucial part: when transgender people receive appropriate transition support assistance, that percentage drops significantly. Likewise, since studies consistently show an average detransition rate of less than 1%, blocking age-appropriate transition for trans children doesn’t make them stop being trans; it just makes it less likely they’ll make it to adulthood.

The Florida “Don’t Say Gay” bill and Gov. Abbott’s letter serve only to exacerbate situations in which LGBTQ+ youth face higher rates of harassment and violence.

The Florida “Don’t Say Gay” bill and Gov. Abbott’s letter serve only to exacerbate situations in which LGBTQ+ youth face higher rates of harassment and violence. Growing up queer in a rural community in the 90s, I faced a complete dearth of factual education and carried many harmful myths and blank spots in my education into adulthood, including misinformation about HIV/AIDs, the “bisexual bridge” myth which stigmatizes bisexual men as carriers of sexually transmitted diseases, the idea that lesbians don’t have “real sex,” and a lack of education on LGBTQ+ intimate partner violence. I lived that, and I don’t want it for my daughter, her peers, or future generations. Not having words for who and what I am didn’t change who I became; it just meant I didn’t come out as trans until after my kid, and spent decades confused and miserable.

Likewise, forced outing—in which teachers and other authority figures must report suspected queerness or transness to parents or social services—causes documentable harm. The National LGBTQ Task Force explains, “The act of outing someone is detrimental because it is a violation of their privacy. Often people who are outed feel blindsided and forced to reveal a deeply personal part of their identity without their consent… People must choose for themselves how and when to come out.”

I have a picture from the day I braided Cat’s hair and did her makeup for the first time; wearing her favorite Doctor Who hoodie, her eyes lit up as she looked right into the camera and grinned. Her obvious delight pours through the camera lens, and I treasure that photograph of her beyond any other. Govs. Greg Abbott and Ron DeSantis can think that I hurt my kid all they want. I’ve seen my now-adult daughter become her own person on her own terms, which is all any parent can hope for, and exactly what I want for every trans kid in Texas.

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