Content Warning: Talk of anti-trans sentiment.
Don’t want to read? Go to bit.ly/TRANSTEXAS to support trans youth in Texas.
Around a week ago, I woke up as normal. I turned off my three alarms as they rang, and sat in bed, scrolling through Twitter for the ten minutes I’d allowed myself before I had to get up and start the day. What I found, instead of a respite from having to wake up and start the day, was a vehemently hateful attack on trans rights. It’s not to say I haven’t seen it before — there have been over 25 pieces of legislation put forward in state legislatures targeting trans people this year, and over 73 in 2021 — but Texas Governor Greg Abbot’s letter felt especially painful. It wasn't a legal barring of trans people from sports or life-saving medical treatment. It wasn’t even legal at all. For those who don’t know, Governor Greg Abbott’s letter was a public calling on “licensed professionals” and “members of the general public” to report parents of transgender minors to state authorities “if it appears the minors are recieving gender-affirming medical care.” It was merely a suggestion, in reality. It would be so easy to just brush it off. So why isn’t it?
In my mind, and I think this is less of an opinion and more of a truth, it’s because this letter has much more sinister and serious ramifications for not only Texas, but all of America (and maybe the world at large, as well). This letter isn’t just a letter to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS), telling them to “conduct a prompt and thorough investigation of any reported instances of these abusive procedures,” it acts as an open invitation to all transphobic people (and people who are on the fence about trans identities/rights) to actively harm trans youth or put them in danger — an already incredibly at-risk group. By calling it “abuse,” Governor Abbott calls into question the ethics of transgender identity, and that in itself is so dangerous for trans people, especially trans youth. Gender-affirming care has been scientifically proven to decrease suicide and depression statistics in trans youth. But Governor Abbot calls it abuse? Governor Abbott is actively denying not only science but lived experiences of trans people. In truth, this letter is a dog whistle, an open invitation for transphobic people to ally themselves, to feel a sense of camaraderie, with the governor (and therefore government) of Texas.
Almost 100 pieces of legislation. One hundred. This has more than just a negative impact on the mental health of trans people. It also has an effect on the public’s perception of trans people. If there are that many anti-trans bills (of which more come out every day/week/month) coming out of the government, what does that say about trans people? If the public is supposed to be able to trust the government, by extension, the public may be influenced to think that trans people need to be barred from sports/healthcare/society at large/etc., despite the fact that this has dangerous implications and is explicitly transphobic.
I’m from Brooklyn, NY. I went to a liberal private K-12 school for most of my life. In reality, I personally have nothing to worry about. My parents are accepting enough — I am on hormone replacement therapy, and will be getting top surgery later this year. I technically have nothing to worry about. But, at the same time, I think about the effect this letter — and anti-trans legislation at large — will have on young trans people. People like my sixth grade self, who was the only “openly” trans person in my entire school until I was in ninth grade — “openly” is in quotes because though I was trans, I wasn’t out; everyone assumed I was both trans and out as trans anyway, and treated me as such. Even then, I was the only trans person to be stigmatized and ostracized in the way I was — this was due to my open and staunch support of trans rights and LGBTQ+ rights in general. It Othered me. A letter like this would have ruined me. Letters like Governor Abbott’s not only empower transphobic people, but disempower and further Other trans youth all over the country. How would I ever have felt comfortable coming out knowing that the literal elected officials of this country think I’m being abused for simply trying to do what I need to survive?
That doesn’t even take into account the fact that the number of trans minors who medically transition is astronomically low — most trans youth who transition socially transition, and begin their medical transition (if that is part of their transition in the first place) at 18. In fact, “transgender children are not offered puberty blockers or hormone treatments until they reach puberty,” and even then, most trans youth are offered puberty blockers, rather than hormone replacement therapy (HRT), as a start, and if they end up going on HRT, do so once they are determined by their doctors to be able to give informed consent, most often at age 16-18. But Governor Abbott’s letter never takes that into account. Though the letter is technically aimed at medically transitioning minors, its reach doesn’t stop there. It serves as an open letter to all trans youth in Texas (and in the rest of the USA) that they aren’t safe in Texas, and will have their lives and families actively uprooted and ruined if they were to even attempt to transition, let alone go through medical treatment. Further, the letter mentions that “all licensed professionals who have direct contact with children who may be subject to such abuse, including doctors, nurses, and teachers, and provides criminal penalties for failure to report such child abuse.” That is, all licensed professionals have a responsibility to report trans youth to DFPS, or face criminal penalties. It creates an obligation for licensed professionals to put trans youth in active danger. The legality of the letter isn’t important — it’s not a law, but who cares? The impact is still there. The ramifications of the letter are so much bigger than just Texas, and so much bigger than just the licensed professionals. The responsibility, consciously or not, has been placed on everyday citizens to report licensed professionals and parents to DFPS. That’s so, so dangerous.
So, after all of this, you’re probably wondering why this article is titled the way it is. How do you do more for Texas than just hating Greg Abbott? In the last week, I have seen so many Instagram stories that sum up to “WE HATE GREG ABBOTT!” My question is, how do posts like that help trans Texan youth who are now in danger? It makes you feel better, makes you feel like you’re doing something to help, but are you? I saw maybe two (at most five) people post links to organizations that support trans Texan youth, and the rest were blanket “SUPPORT TRANS YOUTH” and “WE HATE GREG ABBOTT” posts. In reality, those posts are nice — and make me feel like my community supports trans people — but do nothing to materially help trans Texans.
I feel like everyone probably knows this phrase but it’s still worth mentioning: You have to love the oppressed more than you hate the oppressor. You have to. Otherwise, you’re just patting yourself on the back and not doing actual work. Instead of posting that you support trans youth, why not do something to show it?
I’m willing to bet that many people on this campus have disposable income, even if it’s just an extra dollar or two. So why not donate that? If not directly to a trans Texan youth, to an organization that supports them? There’s so much that can be done to support trans Texan youth. At the end of this essay, I’ll have linked a document with links to organizations and gofundmes made to support trans Texan youth (bit.ly/TRANSTEXAS if you don’t want to read that far). But supporting trans Texan youth can be done in so many ways — protests, monetary support, any other non-social media action comes to mind. And even social media/vocal support helps! But that support needs to be more than just blanket statements. It needs to have a tangible impact on people. More than just a comforting phrase. Just hating Greg Abbott doesn’t help. It shows that you care, but do you care about trans people? Or do you only care about hating the Bad Guy? This letter is an example of the fact that the anti-trans movement isn’t just legislation that (hopefully) gets shut down before becoming law. And, at the same time, this letter is an example of the fact that the anti-trans movement is deeper than interpersonal reactions. It’s omnipresent — it seeps into every crack of society. Governor Abbott found a loophole between anti-trans legislation and anti-trans interpersonal actions. This letter is that loophole.
I’ve included it a couple of times throughout this article, but, as promised, here is the link to the document with resources to support trans Texan youth: bit.ly/TRANSTEXAS — please note the different sheets with different types of resources (places to donate, relocation funds, and other resources).
Addendum: It’s been two days since I wrote this. Since then, the ACLU has filed a lawsuit against Governor Abbott and those involved in his letter (specifically the Comissioner of DFPS) for acting beyond his/their authority (in the words of the ACLU, “ultra vires”), specifically in the case of a mother who was placed on leave from her job at DFPS because she has a transgender child. Everything I said in this article is no longer a hypothetical. Families are actively being harmed. Lives and livelihoods are at risk. This is not a time for platitudes — there never was one, but if there was a time for it to stop, it is now.