I am trans. This year, I’ll be 30, and my teenage self would be beyond amazed — not just the joys that fill my life, but the fact that I’m alive.
I’m part of the last generation that didn’t quite have the language for the feelings that flooded us when we were kids. I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t take off my shirt while stomping through puddles with my friends, why I never got invited to sleepovers I really wanted to go to, or why I seemed to be the only one power’ I don’t quite envision my future self as a devoted wife and mother.
The church, ridicule from my peers (and their parents), and decades of seeing only heterosexual relationships or heterosexual actors perform caricatures of queer romance in the media didn’t change who I was. My family has always supported me. But at that time, there was so little knowledge and access to care that I badly needed that they couldn’t help me like they would if I were a child today.
When puberty hit at age 11, I fell into a deep depression. I was too young to know the word “suicide” when I decided it was my only option.
Let’s be clear: being transgender and queer didn’t make me suicidal and depressed, it does exist in a transphobic and homophobic world.
Children who deviate from the strict binary of gender and sex have existed around the world for centuries. We weren’t suddenly born out of sea foam after seeing our first trans TV character. We are finally at a point where we have the language for who we are and the ability to create community.
Anti-transgender legislation, requiring the word “gay” not be whispered in classrooms and punishing parents who dare to totally love their children – none of this will change who those children are on the inside. The only thing these sectarian “solutions” do is make more children depressed, tear families apart, and kill children.
It shouldn’t be radical to say I don’t want kids to kill themselves, but apparently that’s where we are.
Young trans people are already suffering without being a right-wing punching bag and boogeyman. 2021 has been the worst year on record for anti-transgender legislation, with many laws targeting our young people.
Families in Texas make contingency plans – gather documents and money, find friends and families across borders and prepare to flee, fight or be arrested. Anti-transgender legislation is creating a new wave of refugees.
After the “transgender threat” was brought into the Texas House last year, LGBTQ hotline The Trevor Project received a 150% increase in calls from young people in Texas compared to the previous year, with many citing anti-trans legislation as the cause of their distress.
The law failed, but it could return as the same handful of hate organizations continue to push their agendas into state homes and tie their vicious discrimination to “conservative” identity during campaign seasons. Meanwhile, Texas Governor Greg Abbot has ordered the state to investigate families who provide gender-responsive care for their children at the end of February, just before his primary, of course.
In 2018, the University of Texas at Austin led one of most ambitious studies on young transgender people aged 15 to 21 to assess the state of their mental health. Previous studies have previously shown that 82% of transgender people have suicidal ideation and 40% attempt to do so in their lifetime – rates are higher among trans teens.
Those of us who live at the intersection of multiple oppressed identities, especially Black transgender youthexperience higher rates of suicidal ideation and attempts than our black cisgender peers and with far fewer culturally competent resources available than our white trans siblings.
The UT Austin study found a very clear way to knock down these alarming statistics. Trans youth who were able to simply use their name and chosen or assertive pronouns experienced: 71% fewer symptoms of severe depression, a 34% decrease in suicidal ideation, and a 65% decrease in suicide attempts.
Even these seemingly simple and benign solutions were enough to land a parent in Texas. The idea of gender-affirming healthcare also seems out of the question, and Texas Children’s HospitalI quickly stopped providing this often life-saving care. From the hospital’s statement: “After evaluating the actions of the Attorney General and the Governor, Texas Children’s Hospital has suspended prescription hormone therapies for gender affirmation services. This action has been taken to protect our healthcare professionals and affected families from possible criminal ramifications.
With this, children who finally found a way to feel a little more comfortable in their own skin with drugs that had been used for decades on cis and trans children were now forced to transition or move somewhere where they can receive treatment.
A study published earlier this year found that gender-affirming care for young people was linked to 60% lower odds of moderate or severe depression and 73% lower odds of suicidality.
We don’t have the data on what happens when this care is suddenly ripped from you, but we will soon.
A judge blocked Abbot’s order on Friday, on March 11, but that’s not all. The Texas AG filed a notice that it would appeal the case an hour later, saying it was ready to take the case to the Supreme Court. That these life-saving family choices are even the subject of some kind of public “debate” is so detrimental to transgender people of all ages.
Idaho went ahead and went further with HB 675. The bill makes any medical treatment to help a child affirm their gender illegal, but it creates a stipulation that doctors can take surgical and medical measures to make children’s bodies intersex breaking into the false notion of binary sex – an action that intersex activists have called unnecessary and traumatic for decades and that The UN declared a violation of human rights.
The legislation would also threaten parents who cross state lines for gender-affirming care with felony charges. Fortunately, Idaho HB 675 hasn’t come out of the Idaho Legislature yet.
These laws impact LGBTQ+ youth not only in these states, but across the country.
I remember watching the slow march of marriage equality in high school. I had to ask the IT guy to unlock The Advocate, personally advancing the queer agenda at my own school. I have seen debates about marriage equality and the legal right to found a family quickly devolve into assertions that we are only a hair’s breadth from bestiality.
States that were among the first to adopt these laws have seen a 7% drop in teenage suicides across the board, but the specific impact on LGBTQ+ teens was undeniable. States have seen a 14% reduction in suicide attempts – states that have not legalized same-sex marriage have seen no change.
The Trevor Project launched a poll last year to investigate the impact the deluge of anti-trans laws had on young people: 85% of transgender and non-binary young people said that debates around these laws had had a negative impact on their mental health. The supposed impulse of all these laws is to protect children.
The people behind this brutal and discriminatory rhetoric have clearly never had to try to convince a trans teenager to stay, promising them that somewhere, one day, they can just exist in peace.
I’ve often found that when I’m feeling hopeless, which I certainly am right now, finding a way to be helpful gives me a little sense of control. You don’t have to live in a state to call their lawmakers. You can donate any amount of money to local organizations that fight on the ground for the children in their backyard. You can go from ally to accomplice and help these families who are fighting for the lives of their children.
As the great American philosopher, Mr. Rogers reminds us, when life is a dumpster fire and heartless fanatics attack children (not a verbatim quote), “seek the helpers”. I can’t begin to describe how working with queer and trans youth has restored my faith in humanity and how very different their childhoods are from mine.
Although I sometimes get salty about their access to care and community that I couldn’t even imagine in the early 2000s, these laws make it more than clear that transgender visibility hasn’t and won’t save us. But these kids are tough, because being authentic isn’t for the weak. I encourage anyone who feels hopeless to turn to the young and the just hell they raise.
For example: HB 1557, or Florida’s “don’t say gay“The legislation is a soup of unintelligible words that would give parents the right to protest or sue the school over any ideas for LGBTQ+ content or discussions. third year, it also offers room for maneuver for Florida Department of Education decide what appropriate “exposure” to LGBTQ+ content is for all students.
Last week on social media, I started seeing videos coming out of Florida high schools – crowds of bodies coming out of Florida high school hallways and into parking lots and football fields. Thousands of students across the state came out to protest the bill, leading chants of “say gay” and passing megaphones to LGBTQ+ students to share their voices.
While the thought of being outside at that age is amazing to me, the thought of having hundreds of my peers supporting and cheering me on brings me to tears.
More students descended on the capital. LGBTQ+ students hosted a sit-in on March 7, and in the corridors of the capital, they read the names of LGBTQ+ people who died by suicide. These kids know how high the stakes are.
One lawmaker said, “They shouldn’t have to abstain from being kids to come here and make sure we do our job well.”
Lazarus Nance Letcher is a contributor to Source New Mexico, part of States Newsroom, a grant-supported network of news outlets and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Laz holds a Ph.D. candidate in American Studies at the University of New Mexico and a musician. Laz has written for Autostraddle, them and QED. Laz’s work focuses on the roots of transphobia in white supremacy, black and indigenous collaborations for liberation, and queer diasporas.