An Open Letter to Gov. Greg Abbott

A Plea on Behalf of Transgender People in the Lone Star State

Governor Greg Abbott (R-Texas)

Dear Mr. Governor,

I write to you today regarding your intention of signing a future anti-transgender “Bathroom Bill” in the nation’s second most populous state. I admit that it’s unlikely that this letter will ever come even close to your radar, but I wouldn’t be doing my duty as a concerned citizen if I let this pass without speaking up. Writing political letters is a tradition in our country going back to our founding fathers, and I intend to follow their examples here today with you. Reality is, I shouldn’t even be writing this letter to right now as I have two deadlines to meet next week as I try to make a living to provide for my family, but this issue is important enough for me personally that it demands my immediate attention.

You see Mr. Governor, I am a transgender woman, but I’ve also never even so much as stepped foot in your state. I’m fascinated, though, with the history and culture of Texas. The story of the Alamo inspired me as a child and has taught me to never give up even when the odds are impossible. That’s a Texas value. I know what my odds are here, I’m choosing to fight anyway. I’m writing to you today because a new potential “bathroom law” will effectively end the public life of my dear, dear friend Norah. Norah is a non-binary woman from near Austin, who a doctor declared male at birth. She is an amazingly talented young woman and a brilliant writer. Her family never had much and yet she is gainfully employed at one of your fine grocery stores in the Austin area. Her employer has no problem with Norah using the ladies’ room, because she is a woman. That is her employer’s right to decide. There are no gender neutral restrooms at her place of employment. She doesn’t get paid much, but she works hard, she’s pulling herself up by her bootstraps just like you tell her to. Because of her appearance, using the men’s room would out her as transgender to anybody that shares it with her in your open carry state. That is a physical danger.

Norah once told me that she’s only ever left your fine state of Texas once in her life. It’s a fair assumption that every dollar that Norah has ever earned has been poured back into your economy. At your gas stations, at your restaurants. Norah isn’t the only trans person in your state, Mr. Governor, and they spend money that’s just as green as everyone else’s.

I’ve read your political party’s official line on these “bathroom bills”, “No Men in Women’s Bathrooms”. It makes a great bumper sticker. You should pay extra to the advertising agency who came up with that line a bonus. You’ll be surprised when you hear that I absolutely agree with you that men should not be allowed in women’s restrooms? It’s true. Men have no place in women’s bathrooms.

That’s why it’s curious to me the details of these “bathroom bills”. You see, I attend a transgender support group in my liberal New England state and most of the group are transgender men (that would be trans people whose doctors declared them female at birth). Under all of these conservative bathroom laws, those trans men in my support group would be forced to use the ladies room or face jail time or a fine. So it confuses me how you can say that your bill keeps “men out of women’s restrooms” when your bill actually mandates that some men actually do their private business there? This is a very strange tactic that your fellow conservatives have concocted as it seems incompatible with your stated goals.

Let me take a step back for a second and tell you about me for a second, to give you an idea of where I come from. I am painfully aware of my gender every second of every day of my whole life. My beard is so torturous that I’ve decided to shoot very strong lasers at the hair follicles until they are all dead. Imagine sticking your cheek into a light socket over and over again for a half an hour. And I’ve chosen the LEAST painful method of hair removal. I tell you this because I haven’t started living my life full time yet as a woman. I still make most of my trips out into the real world in “boy mode”, looking like your average boy whose doctor declared them male. When I do this, I use the men’s room. It’s common sense. No trans woman walks into a ladies’ room in boymode and declares themselves transgender. These people are usually still closeted or very early in transition, and, in case you didn’t know, in your state they could be fired from their jobs and evicted from their homes for coming out as transgender. No pee in any bathroom is worth risking that for the most underemployed demographic in America. We need to pee, but we’re also pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps, the Texas way.

In your state, Mr. Governor, you require Genital Realignment Surgery (GRS) in order to change the assigned gender on our birth certificates. The problem with this is that many trans people that want the surgery can never afford to have it done. It is $20,000 minimum for trans women and upwards of $40,000 for transgender men. Even if a trans person can afford it, there is a long physical recovery period afterwards, something which Texas employers are not legally required to give. Besides that, many people are just afraid of having any surgery, that is a normal human feeling to have. Many trans people are okay with the functionality of their genitals, while many others value the right to procreate and raise a family. Valuing your family, I’ve learned, is another Texas value. It’s something that you’re very proud of as it’s mentioned all over your website, the front page of which features your own lovely family. Families have a central role in everyone’s lives, we have an obligation to family. That’s a Texas value.

A common dilemma for many of my friends

What would happen to my friend Norah when you get your way and pass the next “bathroom bill” that comes across your desk? Well she will no longer legally use the ladies’ room at her job. She could risk using the men’s room, but what happens when she comes across someone who just plain hates trans people? I’m sure you’ve heard from a few in regards to this issue. Some people have been publicly declaring it open season on trans people, posting pictures on Facebook with their Glocks. A man was just sentenced to jail time in New York City for beating a trans woman to death just walking down the street when he realized her trans status. That’s the risk that you, Mr. Governor, are putting my dear friend Norah in by requiring that she use the men’s room. You might as well paint a literal target on her back by doing so, it’s all the same. Reality is, Norah will leave your state, and take her life’s earnings with her. I have trans friends in North Carolina that are doing the same. Trans people have jobs and families and roots in your beloved Texas, but you, sir, would be shutting the door of opportunity right in their faces. How is that a Texas value, Mr. Governor?

I’ve heard the opposing argument here. You’re worried that any old predator could walk in a women’s room and do harm. I get that, I have two young daughters myself that I worry about constantly. It’s a parent’s natural instinct to want to protect their children, I get that, I really do. But think about this for a second, what difference does it make if a predator walks in and declares themselves trans or not? If a man seeking to do harm walks into an empty bathroom after a young girl with the intent to do harm, there won’t be any other people in there for him to declare himself trans to. If a voyeur sets up shop to film women doing their business, that’s illegal behavior already, isn’t it? It is illegal in your state, right? That wouldn’t change by allowing trans people to use a restroom in accordance with their gender identity. Anyone has the legal right to intervene when witnessing an illegal act. What if the big, strong, scary looking man that followed the little girl into the bathroom just did his business and left? Is that worthy of throwing him out? What if the men’s room was out of order? What if his own daughter needed help? That’s happened with my oldest before; can you believe she enjoyed Star Wars: The Force Awakens so much that she held her pee in too long and pee’d all over the ladies’ room floor? I was in boymode at the time and I was mortified to enter the women’s room looking like a dude, even though in my heart of hearts I believe myself to be a woman who should be using that bathroom anyway.

Mr. Governor, I have a family that I love and loves me back. Norah has a family that loves her and supports her the best they know how and puts a roof over her head right there in your great state of Texas. So do many other trans people who call Texas home. They are doctors, lawyers, oilmen and women; they are writers, grocery store clerks, and everything in between. Your website’s slogan is “Building a better Texas for future generations”, does that future include trans people? It certainly doesn’t seem like it. Maybe that’s okay with you, but not with me and when you see something wrong happening in America, you speak up or step aside.

I ask you to reconsider this path that you are on with this so called “bathroom bill” business. I also urge you to make it easy for the trans people that you claim to not be discriminating against to change the legal gender on their birth certificates. In Texas, and in America at large, we tell our kids that they have the right to determine who they are as people. Please consider extending this right to all of your trans people in the great state of Texas. But I’m honestly not sure how you can reconcile these “bathroom bills” with your idea of small, limited government. Banning all trans people from bathrooms corresponding with their gender identity is, in effect, the ultimate government regulation. Mandating who goes pee where inside private business property from a small government conservative? Where I’m from we have a phrase for that, maybe you’ve heard it before. We say “That dog just don’t hunt”.

Best Regards,

Katelyn Burns

Proud Transgender Woman