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“My children love being Texans”: A father of a trans teen weighs whether his family can stay

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott wants parents investigated for child abuse over seeking gender-affirming care for their children.

LGBTQ rights supporters gather at the Texas State Capitol to protest state Republican-led efforts to restrict the participation of transgender student athletes on September 20, 2021, in Austin.
Tamir Kalifa/Getty Images
Nicole Narea covers politics and society for Vox. She first joined Vox in 2019, and her work has also appeared in Politico, Washington Monthly, and the New Republic.

Investigations of parents of children who have received gender-affirming treatments got underway in Texas in the weeks after Gov. Greg Abbott ordered child protective services to look into “any reported instances of these abusive procedures.” And prior to Friday’s court ruling halting such investigations, other families were left to wonder if they were the next targets.

“It’s just who they are, so we support them,” said Claudio, the father of a trans teen in Houston, who is being referred to by a pseudonym to protect his family’s privacy. “Getting tarred with the label of ‘child abuser’ for doing that is demoralizing and obviously pretty horrible.”

Abbott’s February directive, based on a non-binding opinion from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, targets the parents of trans minors who have received treatments including gender reassignment surgery, hormone therapy, and puberty blockers. They could face criminal charges or have their children taken away by state authorities as a result. The move came after GOP lawmakers in the Republican-controlled state legislature tried to ban gender-affirming care for trans minors last year. The bill passed the Texas Senate but failed in the House.

The ruling Friday by a Travis County judge means, at least for now, those investigations won’t go forward. A trial is set for July.

But the order has made the parents of trans children, including Claudio, wary of staying in Texas for fear of further anti-trans acts. We spoke Wednesday, before the statewide injunction; our conversation below has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Could you tell me a little about your family and how you have been affected by this directive?

My son came out to us several years ago. He’s been on hormone replacement therapy. He’s had top surgery, so I suspect that he would be of interest to the government goons.

It’s been pretty scary. It’s been the cause of some internal family division. My wife and my kid are more defiant. “We should fight this. This is where we live and this is the time to take a stand.” I’m a lot more of a scaredy-cat and just want to move to a different state where my children’s future is not in doubt.

Do you fear being the target of an investigation as a result of the directive?

My wife immediately caught on to the fact that this was a non-binding opinion from the AG that basically cascaded through the governor to child protective services. She thought at the beginning that nothing would actually happen and that it was political posturing more than anything that would have consequences, while I was pretty scared. There was a lot of anger and dispute about it. We had our differences there.

I think to some extent we’ve both been validated. The ACLU and Lambda Legal strongly state that it is in fact a non-binding opinion and has no real weight and they’re contesting it in court. We’re watching the court cases hanging off the edge of our seat, of course. But at the same time, child protective services has started investigations, famously this one of their own employee, which has super ugly overtones.

There is part of me that is just scared that the gender police is going to come knocking on my door. We’re scared, and we’re frustrated and we’re very sad that this is happening in our home.

At least one of the hospitals in the Houston area has stopped offering gender-affirming care as a result of the directive. What do you think about that?

Texas Children’s is trying to prevent its physicians from [facing potential criminal penalties] because they are supposed to be mandatory reporters for this so-called “child abuse.”

But gender-affirming care — especially the varieties that are usually used in children, such as puberty blockers — are validated and accepted by pretty much every child medical society in the US and the world. Lots of scientific studies have validated the value of gender-affirming care for children and, of course, adults.

It’s disappointing to see a hospital buckle under the pressure, especially one as prestigious as Texas Children’s. Fortunately, it doesn’t affect us personally, but it’s demoralizing to see them do that.

How seriously are you considering leaving Texas?

We’ve lived in Texas about two decades and when I got here, one of the things that really impressed me about the place was that it had a very live-and-let-live kind of vibe. It was an impression, but the people were all super friendly. The general Texas attitude was “We don’t get in each other’s business.” That doesn’t seem to be the case anymore.

I’m not speaking for the rest of my family here, but I’ve personally been wanting to leave for a while ever since we’ve been having to watch the legislature closely and watch the blow by blow every session for the last couple of sessions, trying to see if they are going to pass anti-trans bills. We’ve been lucky so far. They seem to be filed for political posturing more than with the intent of actually getting passed.

The governor’s order kind of caught us off guard. If this continues and this gets enforced more broadly, I think we are going to have to leave, and that sucks because we’ve lived here for almost two decades. We love living in Houston. We’ve been pretty happy here. But we are going to do what’s right for our family and obviously we cannot stay here with the state threatening to take away our children, who we love very much and we’re just trying to support their gender identity. It’s a shitshow, what can I say?

How does it feel for some people in this state to think that what your family has collectively gone through is child abuse?

Words would only fail me. None of us are perfect parents. I don’t know if you have children, but it’s always a struggle to try to do the right thing for your kids and no one that I know is wishing their kids to be transgender. It’s something that happens. It’s something that you end up having to deal with.

It’s difficult to wrap your mind around it. That’s one of the reasons I ended up being a part of a [support group for families of trans kids]. It was hard for me to accept it. It was hard for me to wrap my head around it. It’s always been a struggle. But we’ve tried to do what’s right for our children. We’ve consulted an incredible number of specialists, psychiatrists, pediatricians, psychologists and we try to do what’s right for our kids and what’s right by our kids.

My child was suicidal. My child was hospitalized in a mental hospital because of suicidal ideation. And the moment they told us that they were transgender was the moment that they started getting better. A lot of the time, you don’t get to choose. Your kids are who they are. And a lot of times, your choice is between having a transgender kid or having a dead kid. And I very much know that I’d rather have an alive kid who is getting better and thriving.

Those of us that get to live with transgender children, we know that it’s no picnic, that it’s not something that they seek out. But it’s a profound realization that they come to. Some people come to that realization when they’re 40, and some people come to that realization when they’re 14. It’s just who they are, so we support them. Getting tarred with the label of “child abuser” for doing that is demoralizing and obviously pretty horrible. It’s been rough.

I’m so sorry that your family has gone through that.

So am I. We can fight, and we hope it doesn’t come to that, but if we have to fight in court, we’re going to fight in court. If things get really bad, I guess we’re going to leave. There are 49 other states and there are a few of them that don’t do this kind of nonsense. My children love being Texans and they love living in Houston. The reason we did not leave when the legislature was considering some horrible anti-trans bills was because the kids did not want to leave, and they’re the ones that are most likely to be affected by all of this.

I’m just a middle-aged dad. Of course, I have skin in the game, but it doesn’t affect me to the same level that it affects them personally. And my son wants to stay here, so here we are. We’re following his lead. He’s brave and young and we want to support him, even though it puts us at risk.

But I don’t know how much risk we’re going to be willing to take, so at some point, we might decide to cut our losses and pick up and leave. We don’t want to, but my family left Europe after World War II, after they were [targeted] by the Nazis, and that’s a lesson that gets etched in your brain pretty strongly even through generations. Persecution scares you extra.

If you, your child, or anyone you know is anxious, depressed, or needs to talk, there are people who want to help.

Crisis Text Line: Text CRISIS to 741741 for free, confidential crisis counseling
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255

Update, March 11, 730 pm ET: This story has been updated to reflect the temporary halt of investigations into the parents of trans kids.