OPINION: New Texas Law to Criminalize Gender Dysphoria

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CONTENT WARNING: This article discusses issues of suicide and child abuse. Reader discretion is advised.

On Feb. 22, 2022, Texas Governor Greg Abbot informed the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) that they must begin investigating the parents of transgender children. Abbot’s cabinet has consulted with the Office of the Attorney General of Texas and, “Has now confirmed in the enclosed opinion that a number of so-called ‘sex-change’ procedures constitute child abuse under existing Texas law,” in a statement signed by Abbot himself. This order essentially makes it eminently difficult for minors in Texas to receive gender-affirming care without putting themselves at risk of being taken away from their parents by the DFPS. Additionally, parents cannot seek resources for their transgender children without putting themselves at risk of investigation by the DFPS.

What exactly is gender-affirming care? Gender-affirming care is a wide range of therapies designed to help combat gender dysphoria. Gender dysphoria is the medical term that is used to describe the extreme feelings of discomfort trans people experience in relation to their physical body versus what their actual body should be. To combat this, we use gender-affirming medical care. Some of the primary forms of gender-affirming care include Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT), where the patient is prescribed testosterone or estrogen to put their body through the puberty that is congruent with their biological gender. Alongside HRT, puberty or hormone blockers are often used, where their body’s natural hormones are blocked to stop further development of the incorrect sexual and physical characteristics. Finally, mastectomies, hysterectomies, orchiectomies, and other forms of surgery to remove the incorrect sexual characteristics of a transgender person’s body are sometimes used. 

The consequences of not receiving gender-affirming care are disastrous. 

Jordan Priest, a transmasculine nonbinary university student, said that “Gender-affirming care is not dangerous. In fact, in many cases it can be life-saving. For young trans people in particular, access to high-quality social, emotional and medical support is crucial to their wellbeing.” 

And he’s correct. According to The Trevor Project, an American nonprofit organization focused on suicide prevention efforts for LGBTQIA+ youth, “42 percent of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in [2021], including more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth.” As a transgender person myself, I am among those youth and have considered and attempted suicide because of my dysphoria and other struggles with my gender, several times. Because of my struggles, I also happen to be currently seeking gender-affirming care to combat my chronic depression caused by my dysphoria.

Abbot’s administration claims that these forms of gender-affirming care constitute abuse based on the existing definitions in Tex. Fam. Code § 261.001(A)-(D), which defines what practices constitute child abuse. However, it is just the opposite. Once you understand how important gender-affirming care is, it’s hard to read § 261.001 without seeing how removing access to care is abuse. Gender-affirming care can only be abusive under this code if you are incredibly transphobic and don’t understand what gender-affirming care actually does for children.

I want to start by focusing on Section A of the code. It states that abuse includes, “Mental or emotional injury to a child that results in an observable and material impairment in the child’s growth, development or psychological functioning.” Gender Dysphoria Disorder, or GDD, significantly impairs a child’s psychological functioning, at the very least. First off, a 2020 study by Salem Harry-Hernandez proved significantly higher issues with sleep health in transgender and nonbinary individuals. Sleep is incredibly important to both physical and mental health, and dysphoria does not help at all. I find it incredibly difficult to relax in a body that is not my own. Additionally, the ability to feel safe socially with others can be significantly impaired due to an individuals’ discomfort in their own body. GDD can lead to other mental health effects, including but not limited to, anxiety, depression, self-harm, suicidal ideation and action, anorexia, and other eating disorders, etc. All of which results in an observable and material impairment on a child’s growth, development, and psychological functioning

Texas’ administration also assumes that gender-affirming care is traumatic and harms the patients in some way, which is why they point to Section C in the law to claim that gender-affirming care is abusive. Section C states, “[Abuse includes] physical injury that results in substantial harm to the child, or the genuine threat of substantial harm from physical injury to the child, including an injury that is at variance with the history or explanation given and excluding an accident or reasonable discipline by a parent, guardian or managing or possessory conservator that does not expose the child to a substantial risk of harm.” This claim could not be farther from reality. According to a 2018 study in the Turkish Journal of Psychiatry, “[Sex Reassignment Surgery] causes improvements in the quality of life, family support, interpersonal relationships and reduces the concerns about the gender related discrimination and victimization.” Gender-affirming care is also not something that is doled out lightly. I fear that some individuals believe that doctors will just “lop a penis off” if a parent or minor asks nicely enough. However, the actual process is highly complex and already highly difficult to receive care. For minors, most doctors won’t even let them receive a surgical procedure unless it would be life-saving. 

HRT is much more commonly used for minors, and it is highly regulated and safe. Adding more restrictions and calling gender-affirming care “abuse” is not dissimilar to saying that receiving chemotherapy as a child with leukemia is abuse because of the serious toll that chemotherapy will take on a child’s body. However, HRT doesn’t take a toll on the body to begin with. It’s completely harmless.

As put by Priest, “Like any other medical care, gender-affirming care should be regulated on a person-to-person basis. For adults, gender-affirming care should be provided with informed consent. That means that if a transgender person requests care after having done research and making that discussion for themself, they should be given that care…I believe that informed consent should also apply to minors, with the addition of a guardian’s [informed] consent.” 

Gender-affirming care is medical care, and it saves lives.

I do not believe that the Texas legislature wants to hurt children. Though this decision will undoubtedly harm them, I do believe that it was made with the intent to protect children from care that the legislators incorrectly thought to be abusive. However, in Priest’s view, “This action does not protect children. Taking a transgender child away from their supportive parents is a truly horrible thing to do…In a world where it is already frightening and often dangerous for a transgender child to openly be themself, this bill further criminalizes queer children.” In an attempt to keep children safe, Texas has only further endangered them. The fog of transphobia is difficult to see past, but once the Texas governor and his cabinet can begin to see trans children as no different from other children, I think they will be able to see what really needs to happen to protect these individuals. 

The best thing anyone can do for a transgender individual is to just allow them to be themselves. Let them use the correct bathroom, use the pronouns they request, use their preferred name and provide them with support when others don’t respect them. Secondly, revoke this order to the Texas DFPS and make access to gender-affirming care easier to access for both adults and minors. Gender-affirming care is very often life-saving and safe and should be treated no differently from other forms of necessary care. People won’t stop being trans, no matter how hard you try to brush them under the rug and get them out of sight. The bottom line is this: transgender people are humans. Therefore, transgender rights are human rights. Protect transgender children. If we do not, we will see only increases in transgender suicide and an increased decline in mental health. Being trans is a very real struggle that is only made more difficult by the lack of support and resistance from others born of their denial and fear of the transgender and greater LGBTQIA+ community. We cannot allow children to be killed by this kind of misinformed and transphobic order.

If you are a queer person living in Texas or elsewhere in the United States and need help and support, you are not alone. Please see the list below for free support resources that are open and available for YOU.

Bellevue College is also here for you. Please see Bellevue College’s counseling center and LGBTQ resource center. To share a concern or report an incident about a student, faculty, or staff member at Bellevue College go here.