What Texas’ Attacks on Trans Healthcare Did to One Family

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Mary Harris: Hey, everyone. It’s the day after a big midterm election. That might mean you are showing up here because you want to understand what the heck just happened. But this year, we’re going to do things a little differently because we know that it might take a little time to get complete midterm results. Some ballots are probably still being counted. Some elections may end up in court. And that’s why today we’re bringing you something different, a show we’re really proud of. All right. Here we go. Here’s what I picture when I think about the importance of elections, like the one we just finished up yesterday. I picture the scene that played out about a year ago in Austin, Texas.

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Speaker 2: The House Select Committee on Constitutional Rights and Remedies will come to order. The clerk will call the roll.

Mary Harris: Chairman Ashby. You’re sure this is a committee meeting in the Texas State legislature? One of those very long, sometimes dull hearings that make up the bedrock of American democracy. And there are a lot of people here to testify.

Speaker 2: LONGORIA At this time, the chair lays out House Bill 25 by Representative Swanson and recognizes Representative Swanson to explain the bill.

Mary Harris: Everyone here has got something to say about House Bill 25. It’s a trans kids in sports bill. First, the representative who wants to keep trans kids from competing lays out her case.

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Speaker 3: This year, nine states passed legislation that protects safety and opportunities for girls and women in sports.

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Mary Harris: And the list is quickly growing. When this representative is done, something pretty remarkable happens. Dozens of people get up to testify about why they think this bill is nonsense.

Speaker 4: I thank God my child was homeschooled and shielded from the bullying and trauma that happens in most public schools to trans children. I’m here to say let them play. Today I come as an ally who is a former school board member of 12 years, 12 years and a member of the Athletic committee. We never had this as a problem. It’s not a problem. It’s not an issue.

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Mary Harris: As a faith leader, I am speaking in opposition of HB 25, especially in light of the dangerous and violent and cruel ways that faith is often weaponized against trans people. I learned so much about God from our transgender siblings, so it takes more than 8 hours to get through them all. Parents of trans kids get up. Teachers get up. At one point, a ten year old trans girl gets up.

Speaker 5: Today is pitcher dance school. But instead, I had to come to Austin again to tell you, please do the right thing and vote no on this bill. I have listened testimony given in support of this law, and it makes no sense. No one had any campuses in Texas where trans kids like me hurt another kid playing sports. But I can tell you personally that even just trying to pass these bills has hurt real kids in Texas like me.

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Mary Harris: The reason I think about this scene, when I think about elections is because of what happened next, which is nothing. House Bill 25 got signed into law three weeks later, as if none of the people who showed up to testify had shown up at all. Listening back, that ten year old trans girl, Maya, she had this exchange with a lawmaker that he couldn’t quite shake. She talks about how hard it is to testify, which she’s done before. And then she says.

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Speaker 5: When I try to fall asleep, sometimes I imagine having to leave my best friend, friends, cousins, family, etc., because of this loss. I imagine you as yelling and shouting at me to leave Texas because I’m trans and being myself, and that’s not fair.

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Mary Harris: One of the few Democrats in the room, a representative from Houston, speaks next. Thank you, Maya. I’ve heard a couple of people say that about leaving Texas. And would you do me a favor? You are what makes Texas good, and I don’t want you to leave. Okay. The idea that you could feel so thoroughly haunted by a bunch of politicians that you abandon your home. It seemed wild to me. But that representative, she was right. A lot of people in the room that day were feeling out of options.

Mary Harris: The first time that it really was clear to me that we needed to be making some plans, just starting to do research was when I got in my car after I testified in front of the House committee. This is Katie Laird. She was at that hearing testifying about her trans son, Noah. And I just felt. GROSS Having walked through these hallways of people holding these horrific signs, calling me, you know, a genital mutilate or people screaming at me who had seen me on the screen as I was testifying. It just felt rotten and gross and dirty. And I was like, we have to just have a Plan B because I don’t want my son to ever have to experience this.

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Mary Harris: After that hearing, things got worse. Over the winter, Governor Abbott released guidance that encouraged Child Protective Services to investigate trans kids in their families. And after that, doctors who’d been caring for Katie son said they couldn’t treat him anymore. That’s when Katie’s plan to leave began to take shape.

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Mary Harris: She visited Vermont, considered California. But then she went to Colorado. Ultimately, I visited Colorado, and it was just that experience of a very visible, you know, trans and LGBTQ community. The pride flags the existence of some really strong gender clinics for teenagers. I mean, we’re we’re moving from a lovely neighborhood in Houston that had an ocean of Trump signs. And whenever I put Our Love is Love Yard sign up. We got reporters in the hallway and they made us take it down. Association.

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Mary Harris: Yes. Yes. So to me, it’s like if we’ve got to move, let’s let’s get the things that we need. Let’s be surrounded by the people that we need to love us. And why not? Let’s get into hiking. So it was kind of a fun that part of the decision was fun. It was the first state to guarantee insurance coverage for gender affirming care, right? That’s right. That’s right. Katie and Noah left Houston behind over the summer. Powered by Go Fund Me campaign.

Mary Harris: Katie’s five year old stayed back in Texas with his dad. It was one of the hardest decisions of my life. And I still every day wonder how to do this because, you know, as a mom, to leave one child, to take another child out of state, I mean, it just it hits you hard. It really does. It’s just it’s brutal. It’s brutal. Some people might hear us talking and think it’s just one’s one family’s choice and obviously a family with some privilege, they can pick up and move.

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Mary Harris: Mm hmm. It’s not like people are leaving in droves. I wonder what you’d say to them. You’d be surprised. All the families that I know personally so have a personal relationship with. Just from the Houston area alone, we know five other families that currently lives in the general Denver area. Five families have been forced to either completely pick up their lives or are living this fractured reality of half the family there, half the family here. And that’s just me and my limited social circle. In one city. It is much, much bigger. This this flight’s much, much bigger. Today on the show, not every family can pick up and leave when their political leaders don’t listen. But what happens when you do? I’m Mary Harris. You’re listening to what next? Stick around.

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Mary Harris: Katie son, Noah, is 16, now a high school junior. I got him on the line because I want him to understand their big move from his perspective. Most of all, I don’t know many teenagers who would sign up for a move like this one in the best of circumstances. And his circumstances were not that. So I asked him to start at the beginning. Noah says he’s never felt quite right with his assigned gender and that he didn’t really have a big coming out process. He sort of eased into his new identity and it started with a name change.

Speaker 6: I started going by Noah in the seventh grade, actually, because my friends looked on a baby naming website because I was the youngest of the group. And I started telling my teachers that I was going by Noah, and I started writing on like homework and just schoolwork all around with that name. But my mom saw the name on some of my papers and and just questioned it. And at first, I was really, really scared. Obviously not that anything about it would happen, that I’d get in trouble or anything, but I didn’t want to take away that little daughter girl.

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Mary Harris: At the time. You know, your mom notices you writing Noah on your schoolwork. Were you aware of? The political conversation about. Being trans and trans kids.

Speaker 6: The most that I really knew about it at the time was that people were talking about having an all gender type bathroom. I distinctly remember me and my my dad going into a target and us talking about how they wanted to have all gender bathrooms in the target, but that a lot of people were like kind of freaked out by it. And I didn’t understand that until much later that it was kind of facade reasons at times. So yeah, that was really all I understood. And I also sorta kind of understood that like people thought that coming out in 2018 was almost like a weird trend. Like, Oh, you’re, you’re seeing this online and you’re seeing it everywhere. Like, so this is something that you want to do, but it was not.

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Mary Harris: So you were aware of people basically thinking what you were feeling was faddish?

Speaker 6: Yeah.

Mary Harris: How was school as you were beginning to transition was a fine. Like, was it when you started writing a different name at the top of your papers? Were your teachers like, okay.

Speaker 6: Yeah, they didn’t really care. I mean, like, I’m always really thankful because I have pretty broad shoulders and I have thick eyebrows, so I was already pretty easily passing as mail before I really even came out. I also always preferred to have shorter hair and like whenever I told my teachers, they were like, Yeah. Not surprised. Not not surprised at all. And were totally okay with me changing my name up. And I like would take a note on their attendance sheets. Um, that this was a name that I was going by. Everyone knew me by said name.

Mary Harris: He him pronouns too.

Speaker 6: Yeah. And he him pronouns. And no one really cared. And it wasn’t till, unfortunately, or until high school that I was terrified.

Mary Harris: What was it about high school that made you terrified?

Speaker 6: There are just more and more. Bills and like talking about bills coming out, going against trans kids and just a lot of stuff with child protective Services that we were scared of and like. In schools. There’s mandatory reporters all around. And unfortunately, I have kind of a bad past with age and.

Mary Harris: With.

Speaker 6: What, like self-harm? Oh, yeah. So if if they were to see that think that something was going on at home and wanting to help for possibly the wrong intentions or the correct intentions, like it, it was just terrifying to be at school around people who could possibly take me away.

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Mary Harris: Did you ever feel that directly? Like you say, you got scared in high school? I’m sure it was all different teachers, people who are just getting to know you. Was there a vibe shift?

Speaker 6: I mean, yes and no. Hitting high school like there are already kind of some weird issues that we were talking to about, like with my principal about like, where can I go to use the bathroom, like all this other stuff? Because I was just personally scared of going to the girl or the boy bathroom.

Mary Harris: Because the girls felt wrong. And the boys. You worried about being safe?

Speaker 6: Yeah. And in the boys, I also was like, scared that someone who already knew me and knew that I was trans would be like, No, you can’t be in here because you don’t have the correct part to be in here.

Mary Harris: So what did your principal say when you said, This is a concern of mine?

Speaker 6: He told me I could use the nurses bathroom and then basically everything else was unknown to him. And I don’t think he still is knowing at all. Which sucked.

Mary Harris: Do you think he felt stuck in some way, like between what people above him were telling him and kids like you?

Speaker 6: I don’t know if you really cared.

Mary Harris: Wolf. Yeah. Do you remember when Governor Greg Abbott put this letter out instructing child protective services to investigate families like yours?

Speaker 6: I. Very, very, very much so. Remember that.

Mary Harris: What was your reaction at the time? Like, how did you hear about it.

Speaker 6: Mom? Mom told me and like, is big hugs and just. An awful, awful night. And Greg Abbott sent out his letter. What? I came home with my partner and my mom is trying to keep it together. And like, as soon as my partner Massey left, like, immediately ask my mom, like, Hey, what’s happening? What happened this time?

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Mary Harris: It sounds like you had already been worried about being in school. You knew that, you know, teachers might notice that you were in distress. And. Possibly blame you and your family for it. Did it feel safe to go back to school with all the mandated reporters?

Speaker 6: Last year in Texas, I. I skipped a lot of school. And there’s there’s I remember there’s this one particular corner down this long, long hallway that basically no one went down except the people who are skipping. And like I, I get overwhelmed really easily and I get I can get really dissociative and basically everything just gets really loud. So I’m to step out and like, breathe or take a walk.

Speaker 6: So what I do is I go down into this hallway, to this into this corner, and I would just be on my laptop doing work. So I was still doing the work that I needed to do. Like, that was more or less how I just kind of got out of it more than anything. I also took a lot of days off because I was just. Scared to be there and stressed out and very, very anxious to be around a bunch of people when this is on my mind, like all the time.

Mary Harris: When did you start thinking about leaving Texas? Was it your idea or your mom’s?

Speaker 6: Oh, it was definitely Mom’s idea.

Mary Harris: Were you enthusiastic? Like I saw at some point you spoke to a reporter and. And you said leaving forever made you want to cry and curl up into a ball.

Speaker 6: Yeah, Still does, huh? It’s painful because that is everything. That is my entire family that I’m really close to. That is all my friends that I’ve ever met. Ever seen.

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Mary Harris: You mean Texas?

Speaker 6: Yeah, in Texas. And that is also my partner of over one year. And that was. The most painful and hard thing I’ve ever had to do is to say goodbye and leave completely.

Mary Harris: When we come back. Life after Texas.

Mary Harris: How easy was it to adjust to Colorado? Like new school, new kids? Did you know anyone?

Speaker 6: No. I knew absolutely no one.

Mary Harris: Did the school feel different when you walked in?

Speaker 6: Oh, yeah. Much different. First of all, I could have my preferred name on, like, my my transcripts and stuff and on my I.D. at my school in Texas. My preferred name was in quotations right next to my legal name. So no longer having a C. That was amazing.

Mary Harris: Has anyone ever questioned you about the trans stuff?

Speaker 6: They’ve questioned me just about Texas. Stuff about like how that was Basically, most of the questions that you’ve asked me is like, how is coming out in Texas? It’s funny. One of my good friends here moved from Florida recently so we can share our war stories.

Mary Harris: Are they trans too?

Speaker 6: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. In fact, I’m like the second or third day of school this year. I was super excited and I told my mom that there were three trans girls and like, all my friends are trans. And like, I was super excited to tell her because that has never happened before. Like, it was just crazy to see, like, Oh my God, look at these other teenagers who are really close to age with me. Like coming out as a girl when that is really hard or coming out as a boy, which is also really hard.

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Mary Harris: You must have had friends back in Texas who needed to stay. Like, not everyone can move.

Speaker 6: Oh, yeah. My best friend who is also trans and unfortunately does not have a family like mine, he has to stay and moving has never been upon the subject or topic for them to be talking about because they. Almost completely deny the fact that he even is trans. Really?

Mary Harris: How often are you in touch with your friend?

Speaker 6: Not as much as I like. I mean, we’re very much into, like, saying each other videos and means or funny photos. But both of us can get into, like, really depressive states, so we kind of self-isolate, isolate. And I think currently, actually, unfortunately, he is in that area, so he’s not really reached out all that much and replies very shortly.

Mary Harris: Does that scare you?

Speaker 6: I’m. Yes. It sometimes it scares me because I think like, Oh, his parents. Grounded him. And other times it’s. It’s scary because, like, I want him I want him to be safe or I need him to be safe. So I don’t know if he is safe or not when he doesn’t respond.

Mary Harris: Has he considered? I don’t even know how to say this, but like d transitioning for safety, like saying like, okay, I guess in school I have to do X, y, z even if that makes me feel wrong. Dysphoric.

Speaker 6: I’m sure he has considered it because I have considered it. But at some point you just kind of stop caring and like you just. You just can’t help it anymore. And which is painful because you could get into trouble for wanting to be yourself somehow, which is still really stupid to me. I’m. But he just wants to be comfortable with himself and the people who do accept him. He. I like the people who do accept him, make him happy and make him feel stronger. But then, like, he just has to deal with other people who don’t accept him.

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Mary Harris: I wonder if you have, like an alternate timeline in your head. A version of you that stayed in Texas and whether you ever wonder about. That person now they’re doing. Hmm.

Speaker 6: Um, actually, I’ve been kind of thinking about that topic a lot. I wouldn’t say stayed in Texas cause I tried to mind some some specific family members that, like, I am still the same person. Um. But I mean, I think it’s definitely just a huge part of my heart that has stayed with my family and just wanting to be there with them.

Mary Harris: Do you think about going back.

Speaker 6: Like forever or for visits?

Mary Harris: Either? Both.

Speaker 6: Forever. I don’t think will ever be a possibility again, because I don’t think it will. I don’t think they’ll change fast enough for it to be safe, even when I’m in my twenties or thirties.

Mary Harris: That’s sad. You sound like when you hear stories of immigrants who. Left somewhere after a flood or tragedy. And they have to migrate, but they don’t really want to.

Speaker 6: I mean, that’s that sort of feels like it feels like really it feels like life or death for Renee to be able to run away. And that’s that’s kind of what we did, is we ran away as quickly as we could to be safe.

Mary Harris: Yeah. Noah, I’m so glad that you’ve found a spot that’s working for you. But I’m sad that you had to leave. A place. He loved to do it.

Speaker 6: Yeah, me too.

Mary Harris: All right. That’s the show. What next is produced by Elena Schwartz, Carmel Delshad and Madeline Ducharme. We are getting a ton of support right now from Anna Phillips, Jared Downing, Victoria, Dominguez, and Colton Salaz. We are led by Alicia montgomery and Joanne Levine. And I’m Mary Harris in Go Tracked me down on Twitter. Say hello. I’m at Mary’s desk. Yeah, I’m still there. All right. Thanks for listening. I’ll catch you tomorrow.