Have trans kid, will travel: Alabama’s ban on healthcare access (or, what’s a parent to do?)
This is what wakes me up at 4:30am : trying to take a tough situation and pull out a win. My kid could be described as “bright and quirky.” This includes not only having diagnoses of autism and ADHD, not only being highly intelligent and hilarious and dear, driven to deep-dive in areas of particular interest and unusually good with animals; it also includes being gender non-binary (one of several ways of being transgender). From a mama’s perspective, I see my kid’s non-binaryness as part of a larger whole, part of a brain that is wired differently and wonderfully. In fact, a growing body of research finds important links between neurodiversity and gender diversity. In other words, this is about brain physiology and brain wiring.
Alabama just passed a law, one of the most sweeping in our nation, that shuts down access statewide to gender-affirming care for my kid. I am rarely intensely angry, but I can hardly see straight about this. And I am heartbroken. This “benevolent” law, referred to as the Vulnerable Child Compassion and Protection Act, seeks in patronizing language to protect children — from their parents, their doctors, and themselves. For lawmakers who love to murmur honeyed words about the sanctity of the family and the protection of the young, their new law actively endangers children not only by limiting parental rights and access to healthcare, but also in its insistence that all talk of gender and sexuality be outlawed through fifth grade.
(And if you are now clutching your pearls about fifth graders and sex talk — have you met any fifth graders lately? They are cute, and curious, and mouthy, and someone in the friends group has access to TikTok.)
Of course I wrote letters — several of them. My senator usually responds to my letters, emails and calls, whether we agree with one another or not. This time, there was radio silence. And then I realized that he was Alabama Senate Bill 184’s co-sponsor. I had written about my experience parenting a transgender child, the surprise when your child’s identity differs from their biology, mine and my husband’s devotion to our child’s wellbeing, the call to love and care for one another, the scientific and medical studies on transgender youth from the past 10+ years that Sens. Allen and Shelnutt appear not to have read.
The new law and surrounding soundbytes give the impression that our lawmakers don’t really know what gender affirming care means, or how it is practiced. For our family, it has been learning about options down the road and having a map and several possible plans. It’s going to a wonderful medical group where we have been able to see a nutritionist, a therapist, an endocrinologist, an exercise physiologist, where everyone uses my child’s correct name and pronouns (not yet legally changed as these are still settling). Gender affirming care means my child knows they have a team of people to help them navigate this journey — in which their inward and felt identity does not match up to the way their body is developing — with safety, support and patience. It does not mean, and has never meant, rushing prematurely into surgery or hormone therapy.
I came home from church yesterday and found my kid sitting downstairs in the sunny kitchen. I said “I guess you have heard by now about the new law.” Yes, they had heard. In a state where bullying in schools is “not tolerated,” bullying and identity-targeting by lawmakers is perfectly acceptable.
This is my child. They went after my child! I’m so disgusted, I could spit.
I continued “I want to hear how you are feeling and usually that comes first but I need a minute to say some things to you:
- We are with you 100% and we will figure this out. Finding continuity of care for you is a first priority, and we will travel or do whatever we need to ensure you have access to the healthcare you need.
- We love you and lots of folks at church today love you and are sending their love; you have a whole community of people right here in our state and our town who love and support you as you are.
- We will ask your doctor for a referral to a medical group out of state, and as I said we will travel as needed to see them.”
My kid brightened up at this. We dreamed out loud about occasional travel to NYC or Philly, or the West Coast, about how fun it could be to go on homeschool/unschool field trips to art museums, historic locations, urban parks, Broadway shows…. “But mom, plane tickets are expensive!” (My sweet, thoughtful kid.) It’s ok, honey, you are worth it.
Then, they came and sat outside with me on a gorgeous sunny afternoon. We admired spring flowers and talked about the birds we saw, and shared our dreams from the night before, and giggled at the antics of a cat.
The other day, I mentioned my kid at work and one of my adorable student employees said “Dr. R-B, I love how supportive you are of your child.” 😍
I replied, “thank you. It seems to me that the choice is simple: you can decide whether to love and accept your kid, or whether to alienate and isolate them.”
For my kid, being transgender/non-binary is not a moral choice. It’s how they are wired, who they are, who they have always been. For me, choosing to love and support them is the only moral choice.