The unique cruelty of legislation targeting trans youth

Over the last few months, I have watched with dread as anti-trans legislation has popped up and passed throughout the United States. 2021 has been the worst year for trans legislation ever in this country, with 34 states introducing bills to restrict the rights of transgender people. This is a travesty in and of itself, but the insidiousness of these bills goes a step further. Unlike previous waves of anti-trans legislation, which were typically targeted at adults, this most recent wave has overwhelmingly targeted trans youth. While the purpose of these bills ranges from preventing trans kids from participating in sports to outright banning medical care, these laws all have the same effect: attacking the health, well-being, and validity of trans kids. And in a cruelly ironic twist, these bills inflict this harm under the ludicrously false pretense of “protecting kids”.

One of my biggest regrets is that I did not discover that I was transgender earlier. I have suffered from gender dysphoria all my life, but it wasn’t until I was in my 20’s that I could identify it as such. My gender dysphoria was especially bad during puberty. Puberty and its ensuing changes absolutely devastated my mental health and left me feeling hollow for most of my teenage years. I had no recourse for this issue. I knew that something was wrong, but I lacked the vocabulary to describe the experience. As a result, my struggles were dismissed as standard “puberty stuff” and I was forced to suffer alone. At the time, the only thing that I knew about being transgender was the word itself. I did not even hear the term gender dysphoria until I was in college. The societal understanding and visibility of transgender people were not at a level where I had an opportunity to identify and label my own experiences.

This is no longer the case. Trans issues and people have never been more visible than they are today. In general, this is a positive development. It is now far easier for people to learn about trans people and gender dysphoria. There are significantly more resources on transgender issues in all mediums and they are much easier to access. The cultural understanding and awareness of trans people, while imperfect, is far improved over what it was a decade ago. Trans issues have moved from a relatively fringe issue to a topic that is discussed frequently on major networks and politicians. While there is still significantly more progress to be made, trans visibility has made major gains just in the last decade.

This increased trans visibility is what makes the current wave of bills targeting trans youth so incredibly cruel. States are banning trans care at the time when kids need it most and the knowledge of trans issues has never been more accessible. Trans care is harm reduction, it reduces the pain and suffering that trans youth have the experience. Denying minors these treatments and services is not simply bigoted, it is causing real harm. It is dangling life-saving treatment in their faces and then using the power of the state to stop them from accessing it. In doing so, it is subjecting children to a wholly preventable harm while criminalizing those who would provide aid.

While all anti-trans legislation is abhorrent bigotry, seeing legislators go after trans adolescents upsets me at a deeper level. I know what it is like to suffer from gender dysphoria through childhood and puberty while being unable to accurately label that suffering, and it is a miserable experience. I understand how much harm can be prevented by affirming care, as I have lived through that harm. I cannot fathom what it must be like to be able to identify that suffering, know how to address it, but then be prevented from accessing care by transphobic politicians and laws. That is the ultimate cruelty of these laws, they limit access and care at a time when it has never been easier to discover the need for it. This is harmful and cruel, and it protects absolutely no one.

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