For families living in states with trans healthcare bans, Republicans have created an impossible situation

I’m the mother of two trans girls living in Ohio. Our state is making our family choose between giving up our home and our rights

This is the second in an ongoing series of first-person essays and op-eds from the frontlines of anti-LGBTQ2S+ policy battles, as told to journalist Nico Lang. You can read the first installment in the series here.

My home state has put my family in an impossible situation. In January, the Ohio legislature forced through a gender-affirming medical care ban over the veto of our Republican governor, Mike DeWine. The bill prevents trans kids under the age of 18 from receiving medical treatments that can be literally life-saving for them, including puberty blockers and hormone replacement therapy (HRT). I am the parent of two wonderful trans daughters, and my eldest, who is 15 years old, was lucky enough to start receiving HRT before the law went into effect, meaning she would be grandfathered in. But my youngest, at the age of 10, isn’t old enough to start her medical transition quite yet.

Without access to gender-affirming medications like pubertal suppressors, my little girl will start hitting puberty soon, and her body will begin developing in ways that don’t align with who she has known herself to be for virtually her entire life. Many of her closest friends don’t know that she’s trans—they just know her as the girl she is—and she may have no other choice but to tell them if she hopes to avoid unwanted questions. We have discussed the possibility of coming out to her inner circle over summer break and then going to school as an out trans student next year. 

It’s a scenario that I’ve spent so long trying to avoid. When she went to a classmate’s house last summer to hang out, the student’s mom texted me to ask if they could go swimming in the backyard pool and I panicked. As the parent of a young trans girl, you often live your life in worst-case scenarios. That day turned out fine, as the family was accepting, but I worry about what happens when not everyone is. My daughter worries, too, that she could lose her friends and the life we’re so lucky to have.

My daughter wouldn’t be in this situation if we hadn’t chosen to make Ohio our home, but we don’t really have another option. Although I sometimes hear about families who have moved away from their states after lawmakers pass bills targeting their kids, packing up your entire life isn’t a decision that anyone takes lightly, and it’s not one that everybody has the privilege to make. I support every family whose children are affected by anti-trans legislation doing what feels right for them, but for me and my kids, that choice has already been made. There is nowhere else but here, even as hard as that may be for all of us. 

 

There are so many reasons why we can’t just leave our home state at a moment’s notice, and I bet countless other families across the U.S. are in the exact same position. For one, we were already in the process of moving when Ohio banned gender-affirming care for trans children. We began moving to a more progressive school district nearby after my oldest daughter was forced to sing with the boys’ choir at a school concert and threatened with a zero on the assignment if she didn’t participate. Administrators and teachers refused to correct the name and pronouns that were listed in her student records, telling her that they would just worry about it next year when she started high school. With the state pushing so many anti-LGBTQ2S+ laws in the past few years—including a bill stopping trans kids from playing on the sports team that feels most right for them—I knew that things were only going to get worse for her.

Moving just 10 miles away so my daughter could go to a better school nearly broke my family, and I don’t think we could do it again. Our new house was a major fixer-upper, requiring months of around-the-clock repairs before it was suitable for us to live in. It needed a new roof, and we had to gut the kitchen and the basement. When we first moved in, the water stopped working, and it took us weeks to get it fixed. All of that was worth it, though, to see my daughters thriving. Instead of the shy girl she was in her old district, my oldest—who previously had trouble making conversation or speaking up in class—has become a social butterfly. She’s in five different student clubs, including the debate team, and has made a ton of friends. She’s like a completely different kid.

To uproot my daughters would mean taking away the social supports that ensure we’re able to live our daily lives without needing to look over our shoulders. Our new home sits directly across the street from another family of a trans kid, and we’ve become a huge part of each other’s lives. When things get tough, we know we have people whom we can rely upon and who can be there at a moment’s notice. We live in one of those little towns like you’d see in the movies, and some of the neighbourhood kids often take walks with my daughters to the town square, where they can enjoy being young without their parents around every second. The downtown business owners watch out for them and make sure that they stay safe. I can’t guarantee that we’d have that if we moved out of state, especially to a place where we don’t know anyone, where even our closest family members would be hundreds of miles away.

“My daughters should have never had to choose between their independence and their right to be recognized by their own political leaders, but here we are.”

And even if we did want to move, it still doesn’t mean that we could. I am in a custody agreement with my ex requiring me to reside in Ohio, and even if we were to draw up a new contract, moving out of state could mean regularly flying my daughters back for visitations. I can’t afford that kind of expense, especially considering the financial hit my family would take in leaving our home behind. I remarried, and my new husband has a specific job that would be extremely difficult to find somewhere else. He would likely have to change careers, or I would have to find a way to support us. There are so many open questions, and we can’t risk answers we don’t like.

My family has given up a lot by staying. When my youngest is ready to start puberty blockers, we are going to have to drive hours out of the way—all the way across the state to Pennsylvania—to get them. Every time she has an in-person doctor’s appointment, she will have to take the entire day off school to go. We’re hoping that we can opt for telehealth visits instead, but that may not be a possibility, depending on the actions of our political leaders. In January, DeWine signed an executive order promising to restrict clinics run by nurse practitioners from providing gender-affirming care to either trans kids or trans adults, although the governor ultimately backed off that position after LGBTQ2S+ advocates expressed how harmful that would be. With other states targeting telehealth services for trans patients, we don’t know what’s going to happen next. We live in uncertainty.

At the present moment, we feel lucky that things aren’t even worse than they are. Ohio’s gender-affirming care ban has been temporarily placed on hold following a court order, and we’re hopeful that the judge will strike the law down fully, just like the federal court that threw out Arkansas’ anti-trans medical care law last year. Many of our friends who did leave Ohio moved back because the states they chose to go to weren’t any safer for trans people—one went to Florida, just to watch the state pass several anti-LGBTQ2S+ laws—and we feel secure where we are, if a bit trepidatious. My youngest has begun having mock sleepovers with friends in place of real sleepovers, an activity that’s complicated for a trans kid. She will stay up late at a classmate’s house in her pajamas but then come back home before bedtime. We’re taking everything step by step as we figure it all out. It’s not easy.

My daughters should have never had to choose between their independence and their right to be recognized by their own political leaders, but here we are. Over Christmas break, they wrote letters to the Republican lawmakers who voted away their rights, and my youngest told one representative, point blank, that anti-trans laws are ruining her life. “This bill means changing everything about my world,” she wrote in a letter criticizing a bill that would prevent trans kids from obtaining medical care or playing sports with their friends at school. “It could change my friendships and the way people see me. I don’t understand why a bunch of grown-ups who don’t know me should be able to tell me who I am. I am who I am.”

When my youngest figured out who she was at just four years old, that’s what she told us: “I am who I am.” I had never met someone who was trans before, but she fought hard to be herself and we, as her family, have learned to fight with her, every step of the way. That’s what I want most for both of my daughters: for others to hear them when they say who they are and to listen.

Niki Schaefer is a pseudonym. On occasion, Xtra will give certain writers anonymity due to safety concerns.

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