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'It feels like a dystopia': Trans youth in Texas navigate an uncertain few months

Michael, who's 18, lives in North Texas and met his friend Tristan in a trans support group. Since Texas leaders' spoke out against trans youth and gender-affirming care a few months back, he's felt a "whirlwind of emotions." "It's just oppression compounded on oppression," he said. "And it's just really difficult to fathom your own existence in that."
KERA News
/
Elena Rivera
Michael, who's 18, lives in North Texas and met his friend Tristan in a trans support group. Since Texas leaders' spoke out against trans youth and gender-affirming care a few months back, he's felt a "whirlwind of emotions." "It's just oppression compounded on oppression," he said. "And it's just really difficult to fathom your own existence in that."

It’s been two months since Texas leaders spoke out targeting health care access for trans youth. Investigations into families and lawsuits circling the courts have made people like Michael and Tristan, who are part of a trans youth support group in North Texas, feel overwhelmed. Because they both feel unsafe given the current climate in Texas, we're only using their first names in this story.

Tristan was at home when Gov. Greg Abbott's statements on trans youth popped up in his newsfeed.

"I was like, ' W hat is this? What is he doing now?, '" he said.

Tristan, now in his early 20 s , says it wasn't too long ago that he was a kid receiving gender-affirming care.

"To think that now [the] governor has basically said that gender affirming care for minors is equivalent to child abuse is just kind of bizarre to me," he said. "I think it was the exact opposite in my case. Gender affirming care literally saved my life as a teenager."

Both Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton issued statements a few months ago targeting trans youth and their families in the state. Part of these statements urged case workers with the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services to investigate families providing access to gender-affirming care to their kids. It's left both trans youth and adults feeling anxious about their future.

"It was such a weird, bizarre moment, when your government official says you are invalid," Michael said. "It feels like a dystopia. Maybe it is a dystopia. It's really traumatic."

Michael and Tristan met in a support group for trans and non-binary youth in North Texas. The group has been a mainstay over the past few months for both of them, as it's given them a space to share their fears and frustrations.

"The work that we're doing is really transformative in the fact that it's exclusively by transgender people, for transgender people," Michael said. "That is really a liberating feeling."

"It's just very important to have like a support system that understands the struggle," Tristan echoed.

Tristan and Michael both discussed how easy it can be to internalize harassment as younger teenagers, especially in school.

"If you are told you're this one thing enough times, you're gonna start to believe it, which is like, really sad," Tristan said. "Even as an adult, if you are called slurs enough times, you're gonna be like, man, that sucks. I guess I am."

But Michael wants to make sure people know that being trans, especially being trans in the South and in Texas, is not full of "pain and suffering."

"I want [people] to take away the fact that we're beautiful and that we're here to exist and to flourish and thrive just like everyone else," he said. "We're beautiful and our existence is filled with inherent beauty."

Tristan said that he feels so much better now, with a support system and affirming healthcare providers, than he did at 13.

"It is definitely not all doom and gloom being trans," he said. "It's very empowering to have other people who understand [and] have other people who respect you."

They both encourage allies to lift up trans voices in their community.

"I think it's really interesting when cisgender people try to understand the entirety of what it means to be trans," Michael said. "What allies really need to do is to just recognize that they don't know everything about it and just let transgender individual speak for themselves, and give them a platform to do so."

"Knowledge is power," Tristan said. "It can really affect the people around you if you are knowledgeable about their struggles."

Got a tip? Email Elena Rivera at erivera@kera.org. You can follow Elena on Twitter @elenaiswriting.

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