On the Hunt

The Trans Crisis: South Texas Transgender Community Hopes for a Better Future

Words by By Rozena Shirvani & Revati Gummaluri

“I knew I was something Other and it felt like coming home.”

The transgender community has been oppressed by society for decades and even in 2022, the challenges they face seem unrelenting. At just the start of the year in February, Texas governor Gregg Abbott ordered that families and providers of children seeking gender-affirming care be criminalized and investigated, which was then followed by 15 other states with similar agendas. The transgender community particularly has significantly been affected by the shift in the political atmosphere and the distressing reality of being a transgender youth.

Growing up as a transgender individual has its own challenges without the threat of criminalization. Local activist of South Texas, Adrian Melgar who founded the Rio Grande Valley (RGV) Trans Closet allowing low-income transgender and nonbinary folks to have access to gender-affirming clothes, describes his experience. “When I had to go to school during my junior high and high school years I was constantly harassed by school staff and students for being Transgender and gender non-conforming. Anytime I had to use the bathroom, I had school staff call security on me to watch me, as I used the bathroom. I would have to hold it in all day until I arrived home from school, just to avoid harassment from school staff.” 

According to the 2015 national school climate survey, 75% of transgender students feel unsafe at school because of their gender expression, 50% were unable to use their name or pronoun that matched their gender, and 70% avoid bathrooms because they felt unsafe or uncomfortable.  A closeted transgender adult (he/they), CT, who wishes to be anonymous describes the mental strain this can have on a young mind. “It felt like I was carrying a ticking time bomb in my pocket- a small slip that could change everything for the worse…. I was in a losing race with myself and preconceived notions of what it meant to be a woman.” 

Gender norms and pressure to comply with biological sex can cause strain on a developing child and contribute to trans youth having higher rates of anxiety, depression, and self-harm compared to cisgender youth. Not only is it difficult to discover your own identity apart from the norm, but for many, this identity could cost them what they hold onto most- family. CT proclaims “You know that the person they love is right in front of them- you exist, you have always existed, as you are. There would be no loss, there would be nothing but a change in perspective. But you have a choice to make. You, or them? And like many trans people faced with the possibility of total isolation from the people meant to love you most of all, you choose them. You stay quiet.” 

Discrimination doesn’t start or end at coming out. Millions of adults today face stigma for their identity on a daily basis.

“When you are a Transgender person of color living in a border town, it can be very difficult due to the extra obstacles put in place by oppressive transphobia in public spaces such as schools, restaurants, businesses etc. I personally have been refused medical care at hospitals and doctors visits for being transgender, and I am now one of many people in the Rio Grande Valley who have been denied care for being transgender as well.” 

Accordingly, 76% of transgender people of color report some form of discrimination in the prior year but it doesn’t stop there. Nearly 1 in 3 transgender adults have experienced homelessness, 4 in 5 report that discrimination negatively affects their ability to be hired, and nearly half report having negative or discriminatory experiences with a health care provider. All this contributes to the “minority stress” model that theorizes that minorities faced with stigma, prejudice, and discrimination that create a stressful social environment can contribute to mental health problems such as anxiety and depression and increase the risk of unhealthy behaviors making them even more vulnerable to issues in the future. 

Furthermore, new laws suggesting medical therapy for transgender children as child abuse greatly undermine the importance medical care has proven to be in their lives. Having early interventions for transgender care can reduce the risk of deteriorating mental health over time. According to the American Association of Pediatrics, those presenting for gender-affirming medical care at younger than 15 years of age had lower rates of depression, self-harm, and suicide while those in later stages of puberty were associated with depression disorders. 

Many make assumptions about the treatments children receive and how it affects them fueling the stigma against youth transitioning. “Children who are transgender do not receive hormone therapy, they receive a completely non-permanent that essentially pauses their puberty. For many Trans children, puberty can trigger anxiety and depression even before they hit puberty. So hormone blockers help them by being able to feel more aligned with their gender identity.”-Adrian. 

Mark Cazares, a trans man and advocate, describes how having access to these medical services would have changed his youth “I cried often about my appearance cause I never looked or sounded the way I was supposed to. So life would have been 10 times better!” 

Accessing these medical services alone can be a challenge,“It is already extremely difficult to access this kind of care for children, in fact there is no gender-affirming medical care for transgender children to access hormone blockers here in the RGV.”-Adrian. In the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas, and other medically underserved areas, families are forced to travel hours at a time to receive the care they need which is not always feasible and yet another barrier the trans community faces. 

 Adrian describes the terrifying reality that began with this new wave of anti-trans movement starting with Abbott’s order at the time of its release, “I am a co-admin in an RGV LGBTQIA+ Parenting group, and I already know how many parents of Trans youth are preparing themselves because Abbott’s directive directly threatens the foundation of families. Many have consulted attorneys, looked for at-home schooling options, and have even considered moving out of state.”

Trans children are increasingly vulnerable in our political climate and this threat to the trans community seemed to try to erase them. Mark adds “ I’ve talked to many trans people in my life and 9 out of 10 people will say they’ve known they were trans since early childhood. Parents have no say in what their children’s gender is.”

For many, this feels like a step backward for the LGBTQIA+ community and has added to the grief they feel. “We are doing them a favor by pretending this level of hatefulness is simply a result of ignorance. It’s malice. He [Abbott] knows perfectly well that this order will kill people. That the further condemnation of trans people will only ever, as it always has, lead to grief and suffering. He simply does not care….For trans youths who remain closeted for their own safety, I’m sure this order remains a constant reminder of the delicate tightrope they have to walk beyond being true to themselves and surviving a situation where their needs and wants are considered socially deprived.”- CT

In early March, Texas judge Amy Maechum ruled Abbotts directive as unconstitutional but this hasn’t stopped the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services from continuing investigations into transgender patients after the Texas Supreme Court overturned injunctions on these cases. Other anti-LGBT legislation has also been introduced across the nation. As of March 2022, 13 other states are considering bills that could deny gender-affirming care. Each of them would criminalize or involve state licensing boards for health care providers who provide gender-affirming care to minors. Ten of these states would allow individuals to file suits for damages against providers who violate these laws. Of these states, over 58,000 transgender youth and young adults risk losing gender-affirming care. 

 Now more than ever the Trans community needs the support and recognition they deserve. Adrian proposes “The best way for allies to support trans people is to stand up and vocalize your support for trans youth. Vocalize your support in schools, in offices, at work places and businesses. Wear a transgender pride sticker, stay informed of which elected officials are speaking out against Abbot’s anti-trans directives. If you are a teacher, let your students and parents know your classroom is a safe space. If you are a doctor or social worker, show your support by asking for your client’s pronouns and how you can best support them during this time.”

 The visibility of transgender identities is only growing and as members of our community, we should advocate for their rights as we would our own. CT states that “Above all else, I hope for a time where trans people can be accepted and celebrated. I wish and hope for a time when the exploration of gender identity is as commonplace and accepted as any other step towards adulthood….Trans people have always existed and will continue to exist. They are your friends, your family, your teachers, and your coworkers, and your pillars of the community. They have nursed you, have fought for your rights, and live among you now. They need your help.”

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