There is a bill in the Texas legislature that would criminalize gender affirming care for those under 18. I am strongly opposed to the bill. Here’s why.

Transgender people are a very small percentage of the population and transgender issues are widely misunderstood. A transgender person has an insistent, persistent, and consistent conviction they are a different gender than the gender assigned them at birth. I will use sex to refer to physical matters and gender to refer to social matters.

For those who haven’t read much about transgender issues or may not have transgender family or friends, I have found an intersex example to be a useful way to start the conversation:

This will be direct and straightforward. Travis was born with both a penis and a uterus. Is this a boy or a girl? We want things to be simple, cut, and dried, but creation is complex. We want things to be simple, cut, and dried, but creation is complex.Individuals who are born with ambiguous/non-binary genitals (or chromosomes, or hormones) are called intersex. The fact that they constitute a small percentage of the population should not deprive them of rights, either as children or as adults. They are beloved children of God, created in God’s image.

Is this a boy or a girl? What makes one a boy or girl? Certainly, one’s sex (genitalia, biology, “plumbing”) is a factor. Hormones, chromosomes, and self-perception are also very important factors, among other things.

What should be done in John’s situation (not this person’s actual name)? In this case, the family opted for a hysterectomy, and the child was raised as a boy. John felt strongly from an early age that she was a female. From the friends she made to the toys she enjoyed, to the clothes she wanted to wear, she felt female. John did not know the word “transgender.” John felt painful dissonance between who she was and how she was treated. Her parents insisted, because she had a penis, that she was a boy and should live as one. A boy wearing a dress is a target for harassment and violence. Gender norms are often taught, absorbed, and enforced unconsciously, even in elementary school.

After multiple suicide attempts, John’s father shared the story of the gender ambiguity and hysterectomy at birth, which they had never mentioned to John. John was upset that this information had been withheld, and that she had been given no agency in the gender decision. John began social transitioning in dress and name change.

While people with genital ambiguity are a small percentage of the population, when you add those with ambiguous hormones or chromosomal complexities, the number grows. Struggling with one’s gender is diagnosed as gender dysphoria is the DSM manual. We should respond with compassion rather than judgement. Doctors and patients should be free to make the best decisions for their health free of government interference.

But what about minors?

If you’ve never been a parent with a distressed transgender child, tread carefully. Distressed kids, their parents, and their doctors need the latitude to treat the condition and keep the kids safe interference by those who are uninformed is unhelpful. Churches and schools can be a huge asset when leaders are well educated and supportive of struggling families.

Treatment may include therapy, social, transitioning experiments at home, social, transitioning in safe spaces, hormone blockers to buy time, and hormones. Genital surgery is not recommended by doctors prior to age 18, unless there is a medical necessity. Thoughtful hormone therapy has been approved by the AMA and the APA for decades.

Pastors are often in the trenches with these families. Here is what they see:

40% of transgender people attempt suicide according to American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the Williams Institute
71% of TG and non-binary kids report being discriminated against based on their gender identity
37% report being physically threatened and harmed
65% report symptoms of depression.
78% report symptoms of anxiety.
58% were unable to access mental health care
53% of TG minors contemplated suicide according to the Trevor Project.

Some may have questions about the risks of one treatment or another, but these pale in comparison to a funeral. What if it’s just a phase? Sometimes it is just a phase. Most times it’s not. If it is a phase there is no harm in allowing a child to socially transition to see if that helps. There is a little risk to hormone blockers which delay puberty, the onset of breasts, or deepening voice, or bone structure, or other things.

Texas SB 14 and HB 1686 would basically criminalize all of these treatments, making it extremely difficult for families of transgender kids in Texas. One parent said they would simply have no other option but to move out of Texas. The bill would make treatment of trans kids a criminal offense for doctors, a form of child abuse for parents,and turn teachers into mandatory reporters. A witch hunt.

At the Texas legislature this past week, I and other pastors and church leaders sat through hours and hours of testimony before the committee that makes recommendations to the house regarding health matters. I was disappointed at the level of conversation and deliberation. Some members (not all) appeared to have never read anything on the topic of gender dysphoria and issues facing transgender kids. They didn’t seem to care, having made up their minds before they walked into the room. No testimony necessary. One person asked everyone who testified if men could have babies.

One person who testified before the committee had transitioned and regretted it. Do some people transition and then retransition or detransition? Yes, but the number is minuscule, and the committee had to fly a person in from Indiana to find someone. Apparently they couldn’t find a Texan who had retransitioned. This individual had apparently transitioned as an adult, so it really had nothing to do with the bill at all, but seemed by some members of the committee to be a slam dunk argument.

A Methodist pastor who testified was asked over and over what he thought the apostle Paul would think about all of this. The questioner clearly believed he knew the answer. I found myself wishing the Methodist pastor would talk about the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8, or Isaiah 56. I found myself wishing he would quote Galatians 3:28. The house member excoriated him with an air of self-righteous vindication. He frequently championed the cause of “not mutilating our children,” as his cause célèbre.

The Puritans’ sexual ethics are alive and well in our country. Trans kids’ lives are in the hands of these folks. I can only hope that the bill does not pass, and the legislature does not interfere with the rights of kids, parents, and doctors to manage their complex health needs, but I sometimes fret that Texas way be moving away from freedom, towards a Taliban-like control over bodies and sexual ethics.

I hear people quote Genesis 1:27 from time to time: “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” Yes, yes. Of course. But are these now mutually exclusive categories? Biology suggests not. So does common sense. They are more or a continuum. I have known many people who didn’t fit neatly into the socially constructed categories, and people are also more biologically diverse than we often imagined.

Jamie Bruesehoff quotes The Rev. Asher O’Callaghan: “In the beginning God created day and night. But have you ever seen a sunset!?!?” Yes, God created land and sea, but have you ever been to the beach? God created the fish of the sea in the birds of the air, but have you ever seen a flying fish? Creation is magnificently diverse. When we try to cram everybody into the same mold, we create more problems than we solve.