Debi Jackson’s daughter, Avery, is a happy, healthy 8 year-old who loves princess dresses and pink shoes. She first asked to wear them when she was 3, but because Avery was born a boy, her alarmed parents initially refused. This was a phase, they thought. By age 4 Avery was visibly withdrawn, depressed, and suicidal. She said, “Mom, you know that I’m really a girl, right? I’m a girl on the inside.”
“I had never heard the word transgender,” Jackson said. A conservative Southern Baptist Republican from Alabama, she scoffs at the idea that her love for Avery is part of a liberal gay agenda. She gets teary when she mentions losing friends and family members and hearing people label her child a sinner doomed to hell. She’s weary of people dismissing gender dysphoria as a transient, childish fantasy.
“There’s a profound difference between wanting to be something in imaginary play and declaring who you are insistently, consistently, and persistently. Those are the three markers that set transgender children apart.”
Avery is lucky to have parents who support her. The Suicide Prevention Resource Center estimates that at least 45 percent of young transgender people have seriously considered suicide.
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“This is almost more deadly than anything else I treat,” endocrinologist Deanna Adkins told the News and Observer last September at the opening of the Center for Child and Adolescent Gender Care at Duke’s Children’s Hospital.
The Center reflects an evolving understanding of gender identity and the possibility of treatment. Children and adolescents with gender dysphoria, or a disconnect between their biological sex and their internalized gender, have treatment options not available in the past. Reversible hormone blockers can postpone puberty while transgender children receive psychological counseling. Older teens can elect to have hormone therapy, though in the U.S. they are not candidates for sex reassignment surgery until they are 18.
Hunter Schafer is one teenager who has benefited from her treatment at Duke. Now a junior at the North Carolina School of the Arts, Hunter grew up in Raleigh in a loving family who overcame their initial shock and confusion when their little boy was adamant that she was a girl. Like other families of transgender children, the Schafers want what is best for their child and want to keep her safe.
That’s harder to do now that HB2 prohibits transgender students in North Carolina’s schools from using the bathroommatching their gender identity. That means Hunter has to choose between using the men’s restroom or breaking the law. Hunter told WUNC that she has continued to use the women’s restroom at the School of the Arts and hasn’t been told to stop.
“I’ve considered starting to use the men’s restroom,” she said, “but I don’t know how comfortable I am...looking and feeling the way I do, like that’s not where I belong.”
Hunter has now joined the lawsuit against HB2.
Legislators who crafted HB2 cited “safety” as the reason for the bathroom provision, despite no evidence that transgender people are a threat. The argument that heterosexual men would use the law to become voyeurs or assailants is also specious.
Just as Jim Crow laws were never just about water fountains and buses, laws such as HB2 aren’t just about bathrooms but are forceful attempts to regain dominance over once-marginalized people. Some lawmakers have admitted as much.
That’s a dishonest, dis-
honorable use of legislative power, and any lawmaker who dismisses LGBT people as less than full citizens should not be in office.
Kay McSpadden teaches high school English in York, S.C. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.