What I Saw and Heard at a Meeting about Care for Transgender Youth in Texas
Yesterday I went to a public meeting of the advisory council for the Texas Department of Family Protective Services. I’d never been to a DFPS meeting before, but I’m pretty sure they are not usually well attended. This time every seat in the large room was occupied, and clusters of people stood in the back of the room. Most people, like me, had responded to a request from Equality Texas to read an anonymous statement by a trans person or family member during the public comment portion of the meeting. It was my day off, and I don’t mind speaking in public, so this seemed like an easy way to help. I felt honored to lend my voice to someone directly impacted by the governor’s order directing DFPS to investigate gender-affirming care as child abuse. I also went because I wanted to be a witness.
There were lawyers in suits, advocates in “Don’t Mess with Trans Kids” shirts designed to look like the old “Don’t Mess with Texas” license plates, and a lot of women who looked like me, i.e., middle-aged moms. Most people who got up to speak said a little bit about themselves. I was impressed at the diversity of professions. We heard from a teacher, a firefighter, a school counselor, a doctor, and three ministers. Basically, all of Mr. Roger’s helpers came out to protect trans kids.
The firefighter talked about being a first responder when a transgender youth attempts suicide. According to a recent study by the Trevor Project, transgender youth are more than four times as likely to attempt suicide than their peers — a statistic that was repeated over and over again throughout the day. The firefighter was one of the more fiery speakers. He was angry at the thought of the scenes he would have to respond to. He was also angry because of the ripple effect on the mental health of his colleagues and other first responders.
The doctor, who was hugely pregnant, tried to dispel some of the myths being spread as a result of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s opinion and Governor Abbott’s order. No one is giving ‘sex-change’ operations to kids, she said. For minors with gender dysphoria, gender-affirming care is largely social: name changes, pronouns, clothing. Puberty blockers are reversible and do not cause infertility. All the major medical organizations have endorsed gender-affirming care for transgender youth, including the Texas Medical Association. This was another fact that came up time and time again.
One counselor who came to speak works with groups of transgender youth through a local organization. She described how hard she works to create a safe space for kids who are used to hiding their identity or being bullied. On the day that the governor’s order came out, she said it only took two minutes before they started asking her if they were going to be okay. They had confided in her, in a group therapy setting. They asked if she was going to have to turn their families in for child abuse. She told them no. “I would rather lose my license.”
The representatives from Equality Texas and the ACLU were among the most passionate speakers. They are sick of getting phone calls from families who are terrified of having their children taken away from them. These advocates were probably checking their phones for updates on the hearing that was taking place yesterday; I doubt that they were surprised to hear that a judge issued an order temporarily blocking the state from investigating families who seek gender-affirming care. And yet. Even if the court orders the investigations to stop, the advocates asked the council to consider the harm that has already been done — the impact on transgender youth of knowing that their state’s most powerful leaders do not want them to exist.
Not everyone at the meeting was reading someone else’s anonymous statement. Some statements were more personal, like the transgender woman who said, “I don’t like to admit my age, but I’m 50. I transitioned three years ago, when I was 47.” She described how she’d suffered from gender dysphoria since she was 13, and how it hurt as much as any other condition that you might seek treatment for. As she walked back to her seat, I noticed how she kept her head down and shoulders curved inward. It was like she’d been trying to shrink for years.
Some statements were hard to hear. One woman read the statement of a mother whose child attempted suicide before the family had learned to help her express her gender identity. She found a note next to her child’s unconscious body, written in blue glitter pen: “I’m sorry. Now you can get a normal kid.” At the time, she was 12. Now she’s in high school and thriving. The mom wrote, “My child would not be alive without gender-affirming care.”
A couple of rows in front of me, there was a young woman with curly black hair who recorded the entire meeting on her phone, including the call to quorum. She had on a pink shirt with “Jesus Over Everything” and “Bless This Mess” printed all over it. I noticed her shaking her head at the council and assumed she was an activist. When her name was called and she stood up, I saw a stripe of flesh between her top and gray sweatpants. I saw her shuffling to the microphone in athletic socks and slides. I wondered why she hadn’t bothered to put on a real pair of shoes. Then she started to speak. She was not another activist, as I’d thought. She was a mother who had lost parental rights to her two children, ages four and one. She had come to voice a complaint about how her case was handled, how many caseworkers she’d had at DFPS, how she wasn’t allowed to take pictures of her child with her phone during visitations. She talked about her own case, and then she said these words, which I am paraphrasing:
“Now I come here and hear all these stories. What is all of this even about? You are attacking these people when they are confused. This state has an 11-year-old lawsuit about the foster care system. This sounds to me like a cover-up. You have no business being in their lives.”
That was the first time the room broke out into applause.
The second time was after a young trans man spoke about his experience transitioning while he was in the foster care system. He’d had to advocate for himself. His guardian ad litem said he needed a court order. He’d done the research to get the healthcare that he needed. He described how good it felt once his voice started getting lower: “I know, it’s weird, but it just feels good.” After his three minutes were up, he sat down to applause. The chairperson of the council, a retired judge with the kind of merengue-like white hairdo that I think of as “Texas hair,” said: “Thank you, sir.” The room applauded again.
I heard a lot of memorable quotes.
“Try telling your Christian friends that your child is transgender.”
“I can’t imagine that any parent expects to be on this journey when they first see their child.”
“Listening is not abuse.”
Almost everyone who spoke mentioned Governor Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton. No one mentioned Matt Krause, the Texas State Representative who requested the attorney general’s opinion. Krause is also the lawmaker who recently asked the Texas Education Agency to investigate a long list of books that he doesn’t want to be in any Texas public school, including many books with LGBTQ themes.
I waited three hours for my turn to speak and stayed another three hours because it was too fascinating to leave. By the time I left, it was 2:30 p.m. I felt hungry and depleted, and I only had an hour before I needed to be a mom to my two kids. I went home and made myself a grilled cheese and tomato sandwich, which I ate on the couch with my dog and a crime novel set during WWII.
As I reflected on the day, it stood out to me how many people had talked about being Texans. I heard: “I’m a third/sixth/seventh generation Texan.” “A proud Christian Republican Texan.” “I pay taxes here, vote, send my kids to public schools. I never thought my state would sink so low.”
Not wanting to leave Texas was a common theme. “This is not an easy state to live in, but it is home.”
I do not really understand patriotism in any form — state, national, or otherwise. But there are times when I feel like a Texan, and standing in that room with a lot of other people talking about how they feel unsafe in their home was one of those times.
When I received my printed-out anonymous statement, I was grateful that I wouldn’t have to talk about suicide. Then I felt guilty for feeling grateful.
I put my heart into the reading. I imagined that the author might watch a recording of me reading her words some day, and I wanted her to hear how people laughed at the bright moments. I could only focus on two of the faces on the council in front of me, but both the chairperson and commissioner seemed engaged in every word that this irrepressible little girl wrote. For the life of me, I just can’t imagine why anyone wouldn’t want her to grow up in this state as her authentic self.
These are her words:
“Hi, I’m an 8 year old trans girl trying to survive in Texas. Before the Texas Leg in 2021 I never really spent much time thinking about how different I am than other kids. My friends who know I’m trans don’t care, love me just the same. I have a ton of friends, and even lots of grown-ups who think I’m great. I’m really good at school and I love to run really fast and climb trees. It wasn’t until last year that I worried about not being treated the same as others. And just last week I found out what a lawyer is, and who cps is. My mom had to explain that some people might come talk to me and ask me a bunch of questions that might hurt to hear. My parents are so worried, my mom cries a lot and my dad is really angry at Texas. I don’t want to move because my grandma is here and my brother and I get to help her with her chickens and play in her creek. Plus she makes the best waffles on Saturday mornings. I also don’t want to leave my school and my friends. Please stop coming after families like mine. I love my mom and dad more than anyone, except my brother, and they’re doing everything they can to keep me safe.”