The ‘trans debate’ isn’t just about wonky policy issues, it’s about families

OPINION: Anti-trans laws are tearing apart the families conservatives purport to want to protect

With this year’s wave of state bans on gender-affirming care for trans youth sweeping the country, countless families with trans kids have been forced to flee their homes for safer blue states. A Radio Atlantic interview earlier this week gave an interesting look at the lives and struggles of trans kids and their families who are leaving conservative states that simply don’t want them around anymore for blue states where their identities will be protected.

The interview features snippets from an unnamed 17-year-old trans girl who, over the summer, moved from Texas to California in the wake of Texas passing and beginning to institute a new law banning the gender-affirming care the girl depended on.

The interview gives a glimpse into the burgeoning internal trans refugee crisis the U.S. is facing as trans people begin to leave the states leading the conservative charge against trans lives.

The girl said she was excited at the prospect of moving away from Texas, but also mentioned a lingering guilt over making the rest of her family come along. “They don’t want to move, but I do,” she said. “If it were up to me, I would probably go and live with my grandparents and let them stay here in Texas, because I don’t want to do that to them. But at the same time, I didn’t want the fact that I happen to live in a place that is in America, the country that is the home of the free, like, if I’m just a couple thousand miles away from not having to feel like this. I’m not gonna put up with everything [in Texas].”

It’s easy to take a high-level view of the debate over trans issues and forget that all of these arguments have an impact on real people like the teen featured on Radio Atlantic. We sit here and talk about trans people feeling like they have to flee their homes to avoid state persecution, but every time it happens, that’s a life uprooted. In the case of families with trans kids, that’s a whole family uprooted.

Most people are focused on the policy debates over gender-affirming care when this stuff comes up, but I think about the difficulty of picking up and moving across the country. Will this teen’s brother be resentful that he was forced to abandon his school friends and move to an unfamiliar state? We don’t think about the potential strain such a move might put on a family.


This “trans debate” isn’t just about wonky policy issues, it’s a debate over families.

What stuck out to me in listening to the girl speak about her life is all of the adult strangers she mentioned speaking to who all felt emboldened to weigh in on how the young girl should be living.

The piece mentions that someone at the girl’s longtime dental office warned her parents that most of the staff at the office simply disagreed with her being transr. Another time, after the Texas state legislature passed the gender-affirming care ban, the teen hurt herself and had to go to the local emergency room. While being checked in, the intake nurse told her to her face that she disagreed with the girl’s identity.

At school, after the adult political campaign against trans lives seeped into her social life when the teen heard her classmates talking about how she was “unhealthy” and “unnatural.”

Imagine being a teen—dealing with all the other teen problems that happen to pop up—and everywhere you go strangers are telling you that they disagree with your existence. What a miserable life to live.

Still, through it all, the teen endured the abuse, from classmates and adult strangers alike. It wasn’t until her government turned against her that she felt she had to flee her home. Once state power is introduced in the persecution cycle against a minority, the stakes go up dramatically.

The teen could have potentially been seized by state authorities and put into foster care, wherein untold horrors could be thrust upon her, including conversion therapy. The state could also criminalize her parents for supporting her transition.

This is the truth of the conservative campaign against trans people. For all of their talk about “family values,” conservatives don’t actually give a flip about families, especially if they’re not the quintessential white, cis, straight family unit idealized in their propaganda.

People on the sidelines need to wake up and get over their feelings of ick toward trans people that allow these transphobic arguments to seep into their brains. There are real people and families at the other end of all of these discussions. You don’t have the right to dictate how trans adults and teens live their lives. Help us or get out of the way.

Katelyn Burns is a freelance journalist and columnist for Xtra and MSNBC. She was the first openly trans Capitol Hill reporter in U.S. history.

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