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Texas parents of transgender kids discuss Gov. Abbott's gender-affirming care order

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

In Texas today, a judge halted investigations into families with transgender children statewide and ruled that none of those investigations may proceed pending a trial. This comes after a letter from Governor Greg Abbott directing the state's Department of Family and Child Services to investigate certain gender-affirming care as child abuse.

RACHEL: When the governor's letter came out, that's when parents really started to panic.

ANNALIESE: To me, the immediate instinct was just terror.

CHANG: Annaliese and Rachel both live in Texas. Each of their families has a transgender child. We're not going to use their last names or their children's names for their safety. They both say that they're just doing what they can to keep their children happy and healthy, and that includes gender-affirming care.

ANNALIESE: No legal scholar, every major medical association, over 600,000 physicians do not classify this care as abuse.

CHANG: In fact, both national and Texas-based health care organizations say that gender-affirming care is best for transgender children. I spoke with Anneliese and Rachel earlier this week, and I asked them, how do you even explain what's happening in Texas to your children? Like, where do you even start? Rachel says she remembers the moment when she first read the letter.

RACHEL: I'm going to start crying talking about it. We had to let our children know that there's a possibility that people might try to come and speak to them in their schools, might show up at our house. And all of our children, especially my middle daughter - I mean, she's been up all night crying, having nightmares that my husband and I disappear.

CHANG: Wow.

RACHEL: I mean, it's really hard to have those conversations over and over with our children.

CHANG: Absolutely. How about you, Annaliese? Your child - they're 9. Do you think they fully grasp what is happening right now in Texas?

ANNALIESE: Oh, I hope to God they don't because I'm terrified. I would never, ever, ever want my child to feel the feeling that I'm experiencing right now. You know, I told both of my kids, it doesn't change anything. This is not legal. We're still doing everything we can to keep you safe. And that means we have to talk to lawyers, understand our rights, understand your rights. That was a terrifying conversation to have that my child immediately started sobbing. And then for days after that, I was getting questions like, Mom, who's going to adopt me whenever people come to our house?

CHANG: Oh, my God.

ANNALIESE: Mom, the foster care family that I have to go to - what if they don't know the kind of foods that I like to eat (crying)? And those are the things that we're hearing from our kids - that they're just so scared. And at the same time, my God, how brave. You know, the real impact is on our kids - having to think through, like, how am I going to change my daily life whenever I'm ripped away from my parent? No child deserves that trauma.

CHANG: I want to step back for a moment and talk about when each of your children first started talking to you about their gender identity or when you first started realizing who they were. Can you talk about the moment when you began to understand the gender identity of your children?

ANNALIESE: I think it was around age 7, early age 7. We were driving to church, and my child just said, hey, everybody in the car. I'm going to start using they/them pronouns. That's who I am now.

CHANG: Wow.

ANNALIESE: This was so natural to them, even though as a parent, my immediate fear around that was, oh, my God, is my child going to be allowed to grow up safely? And I put it out of my mind. And that's unfortunately a conversation I now have to revisit daily. Is my child actually safe in Texas just being authentically who they are? And it's just these extremist leaders who now make me question my child's safety every single day.

CHANG: Yeah. Rachel, what about you? Do you remember when your daughter first came to understand, I am a girl?

RACHEL: So there was never a time that she didn't identify as a girl. By the time she was 3, she was emphatically wanting to choose girls' clothes. But my husband - he really tried to push her into sports and things that he identified with his own masculinity. So my husband and I were at odds about it. But at the time, you know, I didn't know if I just had an effeminate son or, you know, what we were looking at. But by the time she was 5, my other daughter had received a lot of Christmas presents that were, you know, very gender-stereotypical for a little girl. And then my older daughter had received very masculine, stereotypical little boy gifts. And it was just, like, the straw that broke the camel's back.

And when I sat down to talk to her about it, she just broke down and said that she needed Santa to turn her into a girl and that she could only have girl toys and girl clothes. And it was at that point that my husband really recognized what we needed to do to support her. And it's who she is and who she needs to be. And it was a matter of the rest of us transitioning to understand and support her. And to be very clear, that means I took her to the girls' department to shop for clothes. She was already growing her hair out, and she changed her name and pronouns. There is nothing medical that goes into a child transitioning at that age.

CHANG: You know, both Governor Abbott and the state attorney general, Ken Paxton - they not only support the idea that transition care like surgery is child abuse but also other treatments like, say, puberty blockers or hormone therapy are examples of child abuse. What do you think are the most common misconceptions when it comes to gender-affirming treatments?

ANNALIESE: Rachel and I have both talked about this. Transition for young kids is so low-stakes and simple. It's literally just wearing clothing that makes you feel good. It's using a name - maybe a different name, maybe the same name - that makes you feel good. It's wearing your hair a certain way. And I think the intention here from political extremists is to promulgate the most shocking rhetoric available to scare people into thinking that dangerous things are happening with transgender kids and transgender people. It's really not. All of this is considered safe, evidence-based, standard practice, medically necessary care. And it's highly personalized, and it should remain private. You know, at the end of the day, every child deserves the ability to have private medical care and to not have it publicized and politicized.

CHANG: I know that there are people out there who are saying things like, you know, the solution for people like the two of you - the solution is out there. Just leave Texas. Just get out of Texas. How does that make you feel when people say things like that to you?

RACHEL: It makes me big mad (laughter). It makes me - stop telling us to leave our homes. These are our homes, our community, our family, our friends. We do not want this. And if we leave, there are thousands and thousands of families who are stuck here without someone to advocate for them. We need help. We need help fighting this. We need the federal government to step in. We need our allies to stand up and say, this is not right.

CHANG: Rachel and Annaliese, thank you both so much for being willing to spend this time to share so much with us.

RACHEL: Thanks for having us.

ANNALIESE: Thank you so much. We really appreciate it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.