By Monica Hesse / The Washington Post
Under a newly proposed bill targeting transgender youths in North Carolina, government employees would be required to notify the parents of any minors they witnessed “exhibiting symptoms of gender dysphoria” or “gender nonconformity.” The Youth Health Protection Act specifies that the notification should come in writing, describing “relevant circumstances” with “reasonable specificity.”
It’s good for laws to be as specific as possible, and so it’s worth pointing out that this proposed wording is vague. What, precisely, does the bill consider “a desire to be treated in a manner incongruent with the minor’s sex”? Is it when a student known as Samantha asks to now be called Sam and happens to have primarily male friends? Is it when a girl signs up for shop class instead of home ec? If a bunch of boys flout a rule about warm-weather school uniforms by showing up to class in skirts — as several teens did in England a few years ago — are they exercising their right to protest, or are they now gender incongruent? What should a reasonably specific note to their parents say?
This bill is bad. This bill is bad for many moral reasons, not the least of which because it puts random government bureaucrats in charge of personally deciding who is gender appropriate, and because outing transgender kids to their guardians could actively put them in danger.
But also it’s just a bad bill. It lacks logic and coherence. In one paragraph, the bill frets that “minors, and often their parents, are unable to comprehend and fully appreciate the risk and life implications” of gender-affirming treatments. Then, several paragraphs down comes a section titled “protection of parental rights,” which is designed to preserve “the fundamental right [of ‘parents, custodians and guardians’] to care for their child.”
So, parents must be fundamentally trusted to know what’s best for their children, unless they decide that what’s best is to allow their child medical treatments, in which case they are unable to comprehend their actions?
This bill is one of dozens of transgender-related bills introduced so far in 2021, each with a sumptuously Orwellian moniker (“An Act Concerning Civil Immunity for Interscholastic Athletic Organizations and the Sanctioning Bodies of Private Youth Organization”), and each one claiming to protect children, while faltering upon close reading.
Arkansas has recently passed three anti-trans bills. One of them, titled the Save Adolescents From Experimentation Act, prohibits doctors from administering care related to gender transitioning, deeming medical interference as “risky” and “permanent.”
But the language of the bill includes puberty blockers, i.e., hormones that shut down the production of estrogen or testosterone. Not only are puberty blockers reversible, but their original use included assisting cisgender children who were undergoing precocious puberty. Blockers were a way of, say, keeping a 5-year-old from the trauma of early menstruation. The bill doesn’t have anything to say about preventing that use.
So, which is it? Are puberty blockers so dangerous that they must be illegal for transgender teens, or are they safe enough for cisgender toddlers?
A recently proposed bill in Tennessee prohibits schools from adopting textbooks that “promote, normalize, support or address lesbian, gay, bi-sexual or transgender issues or lifestyles.” Those texts, according to the bill, have no place in an educational system that “should focus student attention on academic curricula critical for student success, such as reading, science and mathematics.”
Fine. Back to the basics. Reading!
Does this bill mean that schools around the state should strip “A Raisin in the Sun” from their language arts textbooks, since Lorraine Hansbury was rumored to by bisexual? Is Walt Whitman a no-go? A quick Google search turns up several Tennessee schools whose theater departments have produced “The Importance of Being Earnest.” Does someone want to tell them about Oscar Wilde?
Or maybe the plan is to permit these works of literature but to ignore their context. To act as if they were written by no one, in response to nothing. Schools could try that, I guess, but doing so would mean skipping a fundamental lesson of critical thinking: understanding how art is shaped by the historical and political era in which it was created.
And I still don’t know how you get around the fact that in Wilde’s London, “earnest” was a code word for “gay.”
A whole spate of bills have cropped up with the goal of prohibiting transgender girls from participating in girls’ extracurricular activities. Save Girls’ Sports Act in Georgia, Save Women’s Sports Act in Montana, Fairness in Women’s Sports Act in New Jersey. When the Associated Press contacted more than 20 state legislatures to ask for local examples of trans girls participating in school sports — i.e., evidence to support the necessity of the local legislation — most legislators could not name any. (Two successful transgender high school runners in Connecticut have become the go-to citation for conservative lawmakers around the country.)
And back to the North Carolina bill: The Youth Health Protection Act would prevent doctors from performing gender confirmation surgery on individuals younger than 21. Most medical associations already recommend postponing this surgery until patients are legal adults, i.e., over 18. This law would mean that trans people could vote on country-shaping policies, smoke cancer-causing cigarettes and enlist in the military where they might be wounded or die, all before they were allowed to do these activities in the body in which they were most comfortable.
These bills are legally, logically and linguistically incoherent and there is a reason for that: because they come from a place of emotional incoherence. They are not based on widespread statistics of transgender athletes elbowing cisgender girls out of college athletic scholarships; those statistics do not exist. They are not based on studies revealing that the majority of transgender youth regret hormonal intervention; the majority report the opposite.
What they seem to be based on is a combination of ignorance and discomfort. They seem to be based on lawmakers being terrified of transgender people but also being vaguely aware that, in 2021, they shouldn’t say that outright. Better to be “saving women’s sports” or “saving adolescents from experimentation.” The Pretend LGBTQ Kids Don’t Exist Act would sound, I dunno, too delusional?
These bills are silly. These bills are paranoid. These bills are lying. And most of all, these bills are offensive. They are offensive to trans people, and they are offensive to thinking people of all genders.
Monica Hesse is a columnist for The Washington Post’s Style section, who frequently writes about gender and its impact on society. She’s the author of several novels, most recently, “They Went Left.”