Texas Governor Greg Abbott has ordered that parents of trans children be prosecuted as child abusers. The Biden administration has mobilized against the order, and the ACLU is suing, but the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services has begun investigations of some parents. A district judge has now blocked these investigations pending a March 11 hearing, but a further 19 states are considering legislative bans on trans youth healthcare.
I’m a trans woman, and I can hardly tell you how much this news grieves me. I first sat on my mum’s knee and told her I wished I were a girl when I was six. But we were evangelical Christians and that was impossible, so I pushed that feeling down until I wasn’t even conscious of it anymore. It only resurfaced thirty years later in 2021.
People who oppose healthcare for trans children say they’re protecting them from doing something they’ll regret. But if you talk to trans adults, there’s only one regret you’ll hear over and over again:
I wish I’d transitioned sooner.
Even some people who support trans healthcare think transitioning should be a last resort. They think transitioning is a disease, when trans people know it’s the cure. In a world where lawmakers seek to exclude us from public life and our opponents write that we should be “morally mandated out of existence”, trans people still choose living as our true selves without hesitation. Allies point out that LGBT+ people are still visible in places where we are brutally repressed, like Russia and Saudi Arabia, and their takeaway is that being queer is not a choice. That’s true enough, but it smacks of “Poor wretches. Must be terrible to be them, but they just can’t help it.”
Here’s a better takeaway: even in a world that hates us, being trans is beautiful and wondrous.
If you’ve never had to fight to live as your authentic self, you might not notice what a gift it is. If you’ve escaped from a high-control religious group or a domestic abuser, though, or you’ve had hours of therapy to learn how to express your needs, you’ll know what trans people know: the giddy rush of being who you truly are is worth everything.
When people talk about transitioning children, it’s often about suicide rates. Let them transition so they don’t kill themselves, because being trans is (marginally) better than being dead. This is odd, because for trans people, transness is primarily about joy. My impression is that cis people don’t get a huge amount of joy from their gender. None of my cis friends has ever indicated that they wake up and think, “I’m a man—FANTASTIC!” before bouncing out of bed. Why would you? Your gender has always been there, so close you can’t even see it. Whereas trans people will just stop in our tracks and think “I’m a [GENDER]!” and start giggling to ourselves.
When I was 21, I was misdiagnosed with gluten intolerance and didn’t eat bread for a year—and in those days decent gluten-free options were nowhere. As a result, bread is now my favorite food. A fresh crusty white loaf will make me at least as happy as a Michelin-starred restaurant. Similarly, saying to a trans woman “clever girl” or “hey missy” or any other gendered greeting will give her the kind of euphoria more usually associated with successful skydives.
(In general, you should only say “clever girl” to female children under 12, dogs, and velociraptors, but trans women are an exception.)
I love being trans. It’s awesome. There are only two things about being trans that suck, and they suck a lot. They are (1) gender dysphoria, and (2) experiencing transphobia.
You can more or less entirely fix the former for your trans child by allowing them to transition medically at puberty, and you can vastly ameliorate the latter by affirming and embracing their trans identity.
I was walking my dog yesterday when a group (they were too cool to be a gaggle) of teenage girls walked past in the opposite direction, talking and laughing together. They had similar hair and outfits, and I was struck by what I’d lost. I got to go to a bachelorette party recently, and all the women accepted me and never made me feel different, which was awesome, but I’ll never get to be one of the girls as a teenager. Worse, when I tried to be one of the boys, I was terrible at that too. I barely even had female friends growing up because I was intimidated by girls for reasons I couldn’t understand. There were some enjoyable times I hung out with girls, but I never got to be one of them, and I’ll never get that back.
You might think, “But wouldn’t it be better if kids weren’t segregated so much by gender?” and I’d agree, but that wouldn’t change the fact that girls relate differently to people they perceive to be other girls. As do boys—often for the worse, admittedly. But as nasty as misogyny is, it’s different from feeling alienated from your own body and the sense that everyone’s way of interacting with you is somehow… off.
But the bigger reason I wish I’d transitioned at 12 is that’s when my body started betraying me. People talk in “won’t-somebody-think-of-the-children” tones about the irreversible effects of transition, but those effects are nothing, NOTHING compared to the irreversible effects of a tsunami of unwanted testosterone.
My voice broke, and I’m still trying to come to terms with it. With speech therapy, it is possible for a voice that’s been through a ‘male’ puberty to sound indistinguishable from a cis female voice. It’s a difficult and long process though, and good speech therapists are typically £70-100 ($92-132) an hour.
Singing is another matter. I’m a musician, a singer and guitarist. It is possible, with determination, to feminize a singing voice, but my range, particularly my chest voice, will never be what it should have been. I’ll never sing the songs my heart wants to sing because my larynx won’t let me. I don’t even know how to begin grieving that fact.
Some of the changes are reversible if you’ve got money. I’m currently having my beard and chest hair lasered off. I’ve so far spent over a grand on this, and that was with a Groupon for 90% off the first six beard treatments. It’s agony, it’s slow, and it’s not necessarily permanent. Effects of each treatment session take to 2-3 weeks to appear, so every day I’m staring at the mirror hoping to see a new patch of clear skin. Before I started treatment I was numb to the fact of my facial hair’s existence, but trying to remove it permanently has made the dysphoria temporarily worse because I’m constantly thinking about it.
My hairline changed shape, my nose got wider, my browbone got more prominent, and my jaw got thicker. Those are fixable with surgery if you have a ton of money and are up for a painful recovery process. The National Health Service (NHS) doesn’t cover facial surgery for transitioners as it’s deemed ‘cosmetic’, when really a closer analogy is reconstructive surgery—relevant authorities deem it medically necessary. I doubt I’ll have surgery because the cost is enormous and my features aren’t all that masculine. My hairline isn’t receded enough to justify a transplant, but every time I tie my hair back I’ll notice the difference.
Other changes I just have to live with. My hips are too narrow. I didn’t realize what a big deal that was until I started buying feminine clothes. Instead of making me look feminine, they just highlighted how I’m the wrong shape. Someone found me staring forlornly in the mirror. I said, “These clothes are wrong.” Without thinking, they replied, “Maybe YOU’RE wrong!” It was just a throwaway joke, but I spent the rest of the evening crying in a room with the lights off, because she’d unintentionally told the truth. My body is wrong, and it can’t entirely be made right.
I can say similar things about my shoulders, my feet (I will never find shoes in a high street shop), and my ribcage. But if I’d started hormone treatment at puberty, I would’ve developed like a normal girl. Your genetic code contains the instructions for building either a masculine or a feminine version of your body, depending on which hormones it’s exposed to. Genitals aside, trans girls who start hormones young have indistinguishable phenotypes from cis girls.
Society stops children from transitioning by saying they’re too young to know what they’re doing. Then they turn around and mock women like me for looking mannish, when if they hadn’t been so transphobic in the first place we could’ve transitioned as kids and looked like any other woman. Yes, society should get over its transphobia—and I should get over mine—and accept that unconventional bodies are beautiful in their own ways. But also, when I look in the mirror, I’d just really like to see the person I feel inside.
I’d be safer, too. In 2017, I did a road trip across the Southern US states. I’d think twice about doing that since I transitioned. Walking alone late at night in any city, I’m at risk of misogynistic violence if I pass as a woman and transphobic violence if I don’t.
Instinctively, everyone understands the horror of gender dysphoria. Just imagine if your body started growing the wrong parts (or was forcibly altered by surgery) and you had no way to stop it. Imagine everyone you met referred to you and treated you as the wrong gender, and acted like you’re crazy when you protested. People who want to stop children transitioning imagine that’s the fate they’re saving kids from, but they have it 180 degrees wrong. By stopping children from transitioning, that’s the fate you’re cursing them to.
Struggling to come to terms with my transition, my Mum asked me in a therapy session why I hadn’t come out sooner. I felt so sad I could hardly speak. Lying in bed that night, I had the sense that if I could make it possible for one trans girl to go straight from puberty blockers to affirming hormone therapy, it would somehow make up for what I had to go through.
Affirming medicine can give trans children the life I wish I’d had, and it is unspeakable that the state of Texas wants to take that away from them.