When you’re a parent, no one — not the Almighty, not nature, not fate — asks you what child you want. No matter how much you might want your child to share your love of fishing, or to become a respected business person, or not to contract childhood leukemia, you don’t get much say in the matter. You can love and support your child as their own person, with their own challenges, desires, and goals. Or you can do something else — something likely to be harmful.
I know this because my young adult child is transgender. He has received hormone therapy and other necessary medical care for several years now. As a result, his formerly discordant gender no longer gets in his way. He is a highly competent student studying the Civil War and Reconstruction, a theater lighting designer, a mature and charming individual with many interests. I am proud of my child.
What prevented him from getting this care in his early teens, when he first started to realize his gender dysphoria? Probably me, in part. I was skeptical at first. This skepticism did not help my child. My attitude was my problem, not his. Once I realized how much more comfortable my transmasculine child was as transmasculine, I came around.
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I understand the difficulty that some people can have with accepting transgender people for who they are, without trying to fit them into a gender box that doesn’t work for them. Difference can be unsettling. But that doesn’t mean it’s o.k. to assuage one’s discomfort by forcing other people to change.
Being transgender is a condition, like having red hair, and not a disability. Nevertheless, an analogy may be instructive. Not too long ago, we dealt with the discomfort that some felt in encountering some disabled people by institutionalizing them. This is typically no longer true. A Missouri curriculum on disability now observes, for example, that “When children don’t fully understand why a person is different, they often make fun of him or her,” and that it is important for children to learn about differences when young, especially “by watching and listening to peers, teachers and family.”
By this standard — by any standard of common decency — Attorney General Andrew Bailey and the Missouri Legislature are setting a terrible example. Their attempts to restrict health care for transgender adults and children contravene the tenets of good parenting, medical decisionmaking, and personal freedom.
They should know better. After all, some members of the legislature who are seeking to restrict transgender people’s health care and lives also claim to staunchly support “parental rights” and tout their defense of “freedom.”
Why, then, would the Missouri attorney general and Legislature think it’s appropriate to step in here?
Transgender Americans are a tiny minority. Like Jews and Muslims, they constitute only about 2% of all Americans. As such, they are an easy target for discrimination.
Bullies target people who not only stand out, but who also are perceived to lack social support. Hence the problems that so many unpopular, tiny minorities face.
Make no mistake about it: The Attorney General and Legislature are actively harming transgender children and adults by seeking to remove established medical care that brings transgender people true relief. What’s more, they almost certainly know this.
Why are they doing this? I can’t claim to know their motives. Do they think their constituents are so uncomfortable with non-traditional gender identity that they must force transgender people to conform to a strict gender binary? Do they think it will advance their own political interests to harm a stigmatized group of people and stop the parents of transgender children from providing them with the health care they need?
I don’t know. But I do know that you must stand up against bullies to stop them. All Missourians, regardless of political persuasion and degree of comfort with transgender people, should demand that this cruel and senseless targeting of transgender adults, children, and their loved ones must cease.
Laura Hermer is the mother of a transgender adult. She is also a visiting professor at Saint Louis University School of Law who focuses on health law, bioethics and the law, and reproductive rights.