Trans Parenthood in Alabama

Editor's note: the following essay was submitted anonymously to The Alabama Take to protect the writer's family. We at The Alabama Take chose to run the essay without hesitation as it was submitted .

Reading the news article that was sent to me, my heart started to pound, my stomach dropped, and my ears started to ring as the anxiety attack took hold. The adrenaline kicked in as I tried to think what to do next, how could I protect my kid, my transgender son, who sat in the next room doing calculus homework, oblivious to the latest update from the courts.  I didn’t want to share it with him and distract him from his responsibilities, so I went out to my car to cry as I came up with a plan. The next day I frantically called the gender doctor who assured me we would get through this, this latest attempt by the state of Alabama to erase the existence of my child by depriving him of the care he needed to live his true self. The news article reported that the temporary injunction that had prevented the new 2022 law, the helpful-sounding Vulnerable Child Compassion and Protection Act (SB184), banning gender affirming care from taking effect, had been lifted by a higher court, meaning it would go into effect within a few days and continue to remain in effect unless it was struck down by an even higher court. I wasn’t sure if another injunction could be put in place (thankfully, it could and would be, at least at the time of this writing), but I had to plan for the worst. 

FILE PHOTO: A person holds up a flag during rally to protest the Trump administration's reported transgender proposal to narrow the definition of gender to male or female at birth, at City Hall in New York City, U.S., October 24, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo

This gender-affirming care ban, which makes it a felony for doctors to prescribe hormones and blockers to individuals under the age of 19, punishable by 10 years in prison, is not unique, of course, as laws like it have spread like a fungus throughout the Southeast. Lawmakers have, state by state, targeted transgendered youth, one of our most vulnerable populations, in the name of protection, depriving parents and doctors the right to make decisions that affect their children. These laws are politically motivated and are really more about winning votes than so-called protection of transgendered minors. Legislators have latched onto this issue because it is the low-hanging fruit, the easiest group to control because, being a relatively small portion of the population and unable to vote, they can’t fight back unless someone does so on their behalf. Not only are they unable to fight back, but they are too busy trying to live their already difficult lives even without the mean-spirited attack on their existence by the brain trust that is Alabama’s government. Alabama doesn’t want to protect transgendered youth–they want to chase them out of the state, to grind them into the ground into oblivion, so that no one can be forced to acknowledge those who are different and don’t conform to their understanding of what it means to be human. Other trends indicate a new, even more frightening focus, the rights of trans adults to exist, as legislators in some places make it illegal for anyone regardless of age to wear clothes of the opposite gender in public. Drag bans have multiplied, and a theater student in Texas, in fact, was recently prevented from playing a lead role in a production because it was the opposite gender of the performer, making even Shakespeare and his cross-dressing young actors roll over in their graves. 

It is hard to understand what it is like to live where one’s government hates them, unless you are Black, Jewish, Asian, Arabic, or a member of any other minority group. As a cis-het white person, it’s easy to overlook these circumstances and go about your privileged life obliviously until, God forbid, it touches you or someone you love. No one understands this experience more than our trans children, who are bullied and hated by others and, most concerningly, themselves.  Trans youth have much higher rates of self-harming, suicide, and, as many other parents I know report, mental health problems severe enough to require hospitalization. I laugh when people say, “How could you let your child choose to do this?” Even if it were a choice, which it very much is not, who would willingly subject themselves to such dangers? What child would want to be so different that they become a target of such hatred? 

However, as a parent I do have a choice. I can watch my child go through it alone, or I can choose to walk through it with them. For me the answer is clear. I can’t imagine rejecting one’s child for dressing as the opposite gender, wanting to seek help, wanting to be called by a new name or new pronouns. I admit at first it was very difficult, and I went through a period of adjustment having to imagine my sweet daughter (as I knew him at the time) speaking in a deep voice with facial hair. I had picked out his name, named after my grandmother, I dressed him in dresses, bought him dolls and pink bedding, and now suddenly my child was telling me my efforts were well-meaning, but mistaken, that he needed to express for his own well-being a new identity, one he now understood was true to himself.  He showed me that while I believed in equality of the sexes, I had antiquated notions of gender, and that actually gender is much more nuanced and, frankly, arbitrary as far as social norms were concerned. In order for trans individuals to experience what is known as “trans joy,” their true selves need to align, so that their physical expression of gender matches their innermost gender, even if it does not match their biological sex. The option to change the secondary sex characteristics exists (surgery is not performed on children under the age of 19, except in rare cases), though many people choose not to pursue it, and on rare occasions when people change their minds, the process is reversible. It is crucial that transgendered youth have access to the appropriate treatment, as over 20 medical associations have outlined, to protect the lives of these young people. It is literally a matter of life or death.

I often hear critics say, “This is just a fad,”  as though it were a contagion, but the truth is that Gen Z, more liberated than previous generations, are more comfortable expressing and accepting their true selves. They respect other people’s wishes about how they wish to be perceived, understanding that trans people don’t need our permission to exist. Gen Z realizes that trans people aren’t hurting anyone, and on the contrary, are contributing to the beautiful kaleidoscope of humanity. Trans and their non-binary siblings have lived among us since the beginning of time, yet, apart from a few intrepid souls, it was just not okay to tell anyone. My son is so very brave. He is my hero because he lives his truth in a world stacked against him, and that is more than one can say for many conforming adults who will go to the grave without ever revealing who they truly are. 

Today, even though I am fully accepting and affirming of my child’s identity and value them for the precious unicorn that he is, I do have bittersweet moments, such as when I see pictures of friends’ kids on social media, prom pictures, cheerleading and graduation photos, highlights of traditionally gendered children’s lives. My kid is very happy at his school and gets to have all of those moments he wants to have, so I know he isn’t missing out. I celebrate him and post about him often. However, I wonder what my friends with picture-perfect children would do or say if their child told them they wanted to be different, that they didn't conform to their parents’ expectations, didn’t grow up to have long, beautiful hair and formal dresses, to be a cheerleader, to play sports, to join a sorority, to be girly and sparkly, to wear a white wedding dress and give them lots of grandchildren, didn’t want ANY of those things. What if, just what if, your child said, “Mom, I am not happy in my skin. I know everyone thought I was a girl all these years, but actually everyone was wrong. I need to wear different clothes and change my name, and I’d like you to use new pronouns,” or even, “Mom, I think I am in love with another boy/girl. I hope you’ll be supportive.”  This is very difficult to hear as a parent. We have to grieve the child we envisioned, the future we’d planned, the kid we thought we knew. A tragic number of parents, though, have such a hard time with this–and the kids’ strong need to express themselves–that young people end up either on the street or dead, parents stubbornly separated from their children potentially for life.

What if your precious child did not conform to your ideals? What then? What if they wanted to live outside of the box? Would you judge them or help them? Furthermore, what if you couldn’t even relate to parents whose children came out as gay, because you would see gayness as the lesser of two evils, more accepted and increasingly more understood. Parents worry about their kids’ safety first and foremost, so now, armed with the knowledge your child is so different that even some gay kids reject them (yes, that is a thing), you put them in self-defense classes, check on their whereabouts obsessively, fear for their safety when they go on a retreat and have to room with strange boys. Fortunately, my child’s world is a bubble of relative ease. He has supportive parents and grandparents. His school and teachers are affirming. He has lots of friends, enjoys great academic success, and has therapists and doctors who help him on his journey. He experiences a lot of “trans joy,” despite how the government feels about him, because it is possible to be trans and happy, regardless of what some people would have you believe. He is celebrated for what he is and who he always has been, the same mature, brilliant, funny, kind, responsible nerd who likes math, science, Star Wars, video games, D&D, art, music, and his family.

But what happens when he graduates and heads off to far corners of the world to escape the government that hates him? Because that is what he intends to do, to graduate and move his bubble to a college up north where the laws are affirming and his rights will be recognized, where people in general are more accepting, and he won’t have to worry so much about discrimination and safety.  I weep for the state of Alabama and other states in the region, who through their own incompetence, bigotry, and ignorance, have alienated a portion of students who are bright, sensitive, capable and who most likely will have to live elsewhere to be themselves. The LGBTQ brain drain is real, and it is happening as we speak. For my child has hopes and dreams. Regardless of his gender, he is the same kid who at the age of four expressed his lifelong wish to work for NASA in Mission Control to further space exploration, to study ecosystems and the biology of distant planets, to research the origins of life itself, which remains his goal to this day.  Huntsville would be the perfect home, just right down the road from me, where he could see us often.  However, now he feels compelled to become a political refugee to a distant state, far away where we can’t physically be there at a moment’s notice. If, for some reason, he does go to school in Alabama, then we will have to deal with the discrimination and hatred, and my heart will continue to hurt for him. I blame primarily the government of Alabama for this, and it really pisses me off.  

Regardless of how his government treats him, though, he has a brilliant future ahead with many options. He serves in leadership positions and is open about his gender identity, educating others, and hopefully making positive connections with people who may never have met a trans person before.  The only way to change people’s minds is to educate and personalize the minority’s experience, and he intends to do that, speaking out bravely and eloquently on the topic when he can, reaching out to those who may view him with curiosity.  While no one in our family has the emotional bandwidth to march on the capitol or speak in front of legislators–it is simply too exhausting trying to survive– we support these efforts from afar, of course. For the tide is changing, and I believe, as I have heard expressed, this is the last gasp of a dangerous, dying animal, thrashing about to take down anyone in its path.  Still, I have a petty dream to pay a large sum of money to a proud, young trans person, celebrated for some achievement (they do exist) and invited to the governor’s office, to shake Kay Ivey’s hand, and ask, “Gov. Ivey, nice to meet you. By the way, what are your pronouns?” The look on her face? *Chef’s kiss*