Not a week after Texas Governor Greg Abbott announced that he ordered the state’s Department of Family and Protective Services to begin investigating medical treatments of trans youth as child abuse, Texas’ attack on trans children has already begun. Abbott’s order followed a legal opinion by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton that medical treatments for trans teenagers, including puberty-suppressing drugs, could be investigated as child abuse, despite the fact that these treatments are medically accepted and which doctors refer to as gender-affirming care.
The first shot in this war was fired at the back of one of its own: a caseworker of the state child protective services agency, parent to a 16-year-old transgender child, now on administrative leave. The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas and Lambda Legal immediately went on the offensive with a lawsuit in state court in Austin to block the investigation. And, a stay has been ordered in this case until the judge can consider the matter. However, this does not stop future investigations from beginning or more trans kids and youth and their families from being targeted.
And, while these opinions and orders were targeted immediately before the state’s primary to gin up support for their campaigns in hopes of surviving challenges from the right, the damage done to trans children and their families will long outlast the cynical political benefit they hoped to accrue by this order. By weaponizing child abuse investigations and misusing the limited investigative resources that might otherwise help children who truly need them this would turn a child protection system designed to aid vulnerable children into one charged with attacking them. Now, this malignant phenomenon is threatening to spread to other states considering similar measures or opinions.
While concerns about the order’s impact on children is paramount, this situation also attempts to make child protection caseworkers, the entire child abuse investigatory response, and all those professionals mandated to report suspected abuse complicit in this attack on trans children and their families. This too is wrong.
Governor Abbott and AG Paxton are relying on misinformation and the lack of knowledge that many persons might have about gender-affirming medical care to fuel support for their measures. One important thing that all child-serving agencies can do — no matter where located — is counter this misinformation, fear-mongering, and “othering” of trans children and families with the facts.
In that spirit, here’s what we really know about trans children, child abuse, and gender-affirming treatments.
Denying trans children the right to determine their own identity kills them
It’s alarming: more than half of all trans and nonbinary children contemplated suicide in 2020, with one in five actually attempting it. Why? Often, it’s because of discrimination. Trans youth reporting that those in their home respected their pronouns, that they were able to change their legal name or gender marker on official documents, and had access to affirming spaces like clubs and groups reported lower rates of attempting suicide.
Having one’s loving family harassed and discriminated against by the government charged with protecting them? It’s discriminatory, and it may prove lethal.
Trans children rarely regret gender-affirming care
Some may worry that children simply aren’t far along enough to make such a serious decision for themselves, that they might regret their choices later, or that children are pushed to transition by parents, social media, or peers. In fact, the most common form of gender-affirming care is the use of medications called puberty blockers, intended to delay hormonal changes that cause children to develop adult physiological changes associated with a sex that does not match their gender identity. The facts, from Gender GP, a medical advocacy group for trans youth in the UK:
· Puberty blockers are reversible, often “buying time” for children exploring their gender identity.
· Gender transition regret or detransitioning is exceedingly rare, and does not invalidate the overwhelming majority of trans people who are happy with their decision to transition.
· The main reason (90%) people detransition is due to social pressure from family, school, work, or society in general.
Trans children are routinely victimized — but not by families seeking appropriate care
Trans children are disproportionately represented among runaways, commercial sexual exploitation victims, and sexual abuse in the home. So often, trans children end up in the child protection system care after experiencing abuse — or tragically never do.
What so often sets trans kids who end up in these traumatizing situations apart from happy, healthy trans kids? Family support. The kind of support that includes listening to children, respecting the development of their identity, loving them no matter who they turn out to be, and seeking appropriate, medically necessary care for them to affirm their gender.
Trans children who run away from home often do so because they are kicked out or abused by a family who refuses to accept them, or sometimes threatened with abusive so-called “conversion therapy.” Children whose caregivers are working with a doctor to ensure they’re receiving the gender-affirming treatment they need and deserve are the last families that need to be investigated for the abuse of a trans child.
This action won’t stop trans children from existing — it just attacks their families
That’s perhaps the most tragic and wrongheaded aspect of these attacks on Texas trans children and their families: it targets families who are seeking appropriate medical care for their children, families supportive enough of their children’s gender expression to find them the help they need to become the people they really are.
Make no mistake: no mean-spirited measure like this will prevent trans children from existing. Nor should it, as their contribution to the world is unique and valuable. So, even when they are forced by family, society, or fear of a CPS investigation to conform to a gender presentation that feels deeply alienating and even dysphoric, they will still be trans. Before trans issues became mainstream, these children simply suffered in silence, so often without the words to explain what was different about them, and what made it so hard to be who everyone expected them to be. You can’t unring that bell.
Now it’s up to the child abuse professionals to stand up for trans children, youth, and their families. If we truly care about all children and their well-being, then we owe it to these children to be a voice for them right now and always.