Molly Wills Carnes never would have described her daughter as bubbly.
When Carnes looks back on photos she took of her daughter Kate from even 18 months ago, she thought her child was happy. Carnes holds up a picture of 18-year-old Kate, who is transgender and queer. Kate is smiling, wearing winged eyeliner and a clip holding back her curled blonde hair. Her eyes are bright.
“Not every day is perfect,” Carnes told the Daily Dot. “But now she has so much peace in her face.”
Being a transgender child or the parent of a transgender child in Texas is not easy. The anti-transgender bills that progressed through the Texas legislature, including SB 1646, HB 68, and HB 1399, criminalized providing gender-affirming care that transgender advocates and medical professionals call life-saving.
Arkansas has already passed legislation that denies access to gender-affirming care for youth. In Texas, May 25 was the final deadline for advancing Senate bills in the House. A bill that requires transgender athletes in public schools to compete in competitions based on biological sex, SB 29, missed the deadline.
The existence of these bills brought LGBTQ advocates all over Texas to the Capitol to protest for gender-affirming care and transgender rights, including college students whose grades suffered from the time they spend testifying and sets of parents and children whose lives have been saved by gender-affirming care. Despite the failure of these bills to pass, people online are speaking out about the dangerous precedent they’re setting.
State of discomfort
Even when Kate was young, Carnes knew that she was different from her first son. Her daughter would tell her that the boy’s clothes she wore were costumes and wished she had a boy brain like her brother.
Carnes said in Texas, transgender kids live in fear of the government on top of navigating their own gender identity. Kate describes being transgender as wearing the ugliest sweater that you can’t take off. It’s itchy, rubs the wrong way, and is impossible to ignore. That was her everyday reality.
“We were always trying to protect her from the outside world that people might not understand,” Carnes told the Daily Dot. Looking back, she wishes she had asked her daughter from a young age what she wanted her name to be and what clothes she wanted to wear.
As a devoted evangelist Christian, she prayed for her daughter. Carnes said that even when being authentic made Kate part of a minority, it put her in a position of strength.
“She has become a very strong person because she’s had to be,” Carnes said.
The coronavirus pandemic gave Carne’s daughter the space to come out as transgender after identifying as gender fluid during her teenage years. School became a smaller source of stress, and Kate was able to confront the discomfort she still felt in her identity.
After watching her daughter previously experience suicidal thoughts, Carns was relieved to see her daughter become more affectionate and funny. For years, Carnes had to ask Kate permission to hug her. She says everything is different now in the best ways.
“She’s running free now,” Carnes said.
Renee Baker, a licensed professional counselor, told the Daily Dot that providing gender-affirming therapy is a stance a health professional takes to allow individuals the choice in how they express their gender or identity without bias or judgment. Baker is transgender and became a counselor to help foster pride in others who are also transgender and exploring their gender identity.
“Being somebody that grew tremendously myself through my own transition, coming out, staying out, being proud, and being visible, I think that others in a closet find a sense of safety in seeing me because they can trust that I get it already,” Baker said.
Celia Neavel, director of Austin’s People’s Community Clinic’s Center for Adolescent Health program, told the Daily Dot that delaying the onset of puberty or acquiring secondary sexual characteristics can give individuals the time to clarify their self-identification.
“We now have years of experience in offering hormones in a controlled way that allow individuals to acquire the traits of their gender identification,” Neavel said. “Certainly more research needs to be done, but we have good research that shows [that treatment] affirming the sexual identity of individuals can create quite improved mental health.”
Baker said a sense of self is difficult for anyone to understand but that being assigned the wrong gender causes a break in one’s internal sense of integrity. Fearing rejection is akin to losing hope and a sense of meaning in life, Baker said, and can lead to depression and suicidal ideation. Discrimination, harrassment, and violence are other factors that create a higher risk of suicide.
According to the Trevor Project, an organization dedicated to suicide prevention for LGBTQ youth, LGBTQ youth are almost five times more likely to have attempted suicide than heterosexual youth. A 2008 survey by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention found that more than 40% of trans men and women had attempted suicide in their lifetimes. Those who were younger, of lower educational attainment, lower-income, and a person of color had higher rates of suicide.
“Acceptance affirms you are OK and loved the way you are, that you belong and are wanted,” Baker said. “Transition brings people a sense of integrity back, within one self and with one’s world. We become whole.”
Carnes said looking for gender-affirming care for Kate is a scary process to navigate. Even choosing a hairstylist for her daughter involves a vetting process. But now, Carnes fears that they may lose the specialists that their family has worked with since Kate was 13.
“For us, it would be devastating,” Carnes said. “We have a team of people that have been working for years together for my daughter, so starting over from scratch would be so difficult.”
As the possibility of anti-trans legislation loomed, social media communities were safe hubs of support and celebration for the transgender community and its allies.
“Y’all, none of the 33 anti-LGBTQ bills passed in Texas Legislative Session,” Kati Shappley, 10-year-old transgender activist living in Austin tweeted. “Zero of thirteen anti-trans bills passed. I don’t want to do this again next lege session. Pass the Equality Act.”
Others have used social media to talk about transgender issues and raise awareness for anti-trans bills. One such bill in Arkansas, which is also on hold, would force public entities like schools to make people use bathrooms that correspond to their sex at birth.“This bill will only put more trans people more at risk of harm and cause even more confusion,” said TikToker Alan Belmont in the caption of one video. “Is this the outcome you wanted? Really?”
‘I do not get to rest’
Carnes went to the Texas Capitol on April 28 to speak out at a rally against anti-transgender legislation. She told the Daily Dot that nothing could convince her that legislators cared about her daughter Kate or other transgender kids.
Neveal, who also spoke at the Capitol, said some of the legislators’ concerns are not supported by medical expertise and that most young transgender children are not undergoing medical procedures or even taking hormones.
As they get older, transgender children can take puberty-blocking hormones, which is both safe and reversible Neavel said. Puberty-blocking is already used for kids who go into early puberty or even for kids with certain types of cancer.
“I think there’s this misunderstanding that all this stuff happens to little kids, which is not true,” Neavel said. “It’s a very slow progression that uses a mental health team, physicians and the family.”
Indigo Giles, a 19-year-old student at the University of Texas at Austin, also spoke at the Capitol. She said the past few weeks had been the longest and most tiring weeks of her life. Despite her academic grades taking a major hit, she still came to testify the next week.
“The sheer amount of bills designed specifically to hurt me and my trans siblings means that I do not get to rest,” Giles said.
At midnight, people cheered and waved transgender flags as SB 29 missed the midnight deadline.
Although SB 29 and other ant-transgender bills failed to pass, Giles said these bills made to other her and transgender youth set a dangerous precedent. On Wednesday, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick asked Gov. Greg Abbott on Twitter to call a special session in June to advance legislation that died on May 25, including SB 29.
“What bills will come next?” Giles said. “What form of legal discrimination will be legalized next?”