Fast & Furious XI: Texas’ Transgender Youth
Headed for the governor’s desk, SB 14 shows the Legislature has no idea what healthcare for trans kids even is.
Like Fast & Furious X, yesterday’s decision by the Texas Legislature to approve SB 14—a bill banning hormone and puberty-blocking treatments as well as surgeries for transgender children—is just the latest release from a franchise with a winning box office formula.
Call it Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization 2.0: The Saga Continues.
According to The New York Times, “The bill … positions Texas to become the largest state to ban transition medical care for minors.” It would have been nice if the Times had made some key distinctions that the bill’s creators mushed all together in their haste to misrepresent what’s really at stake here. Like the fact that there’s virtually no such thing as surgery for transgender children. Or irreversible transitioning.
As Joshua Safer, a medical doctor and executive director of the Mount Sinai Center for Transgender Medicine and Surgery in New York City, told MedPage Today, no other countries “are reconsidering the use of hormones and surgeries as first-line treatment for transgender children because hormones and surgeries are not first-line treatment for transgender children.”
“First-line interventions include mental health intakes and social adjustments,” he added. “Puberty blockers sometimes follow.”
Even Sodom & Gomorrah University, also known as the University of California San Francisco, tells transgender and gender non-binary people under the age of 18 that “there are some additional considerations both for gender identity exploration as well as for undergoing various medical or surgical interventions. In general, this involves first working with a behavioral health provider or child & adolescent gender program to explore identity and process.”
By the way, hormone and puberty-blocking are both preventative—not permanent—and easily reversible if the youth should change their mind.
Gender-affirming care isn’t surgery any more than contraception is abortion. Not that any of those decisions should be made by politicians for other people. But the Texas Legislature isn’t trying to get at any kind of truth here.
Like the FF franchise, Texas Republicans also have box office dominance as their ultimate goal—and also know how to milk a winning narrative. It was the Southern Strategy that first taught the GOP how to harness racism to get working-class Southern Dixiecrats to switch to a party that richly rewards wealthy supporters at the expense of the middle class and any semblance of workers’ rights. The Southern Strategy drove Richard Nixon’s evocation of “the silent majority” and his calls for “law and order” and Ronald Reagan’s conjuring of “welfare queens” and “young Black bucks.” It worked. But it was Roe v Wade that perfected the GOP’s strategy of using other hot-button culture war issues to stoke their voters’ outrage machine, timed to election cycles.
In passing this bill, the Texas Legislature is reprising the role they staked out in March 2021 with the passage of Senate Bill 8. That bill banned abortion after six weeks in direct and purposeful violation of Roe’s guarantee of abortion until the second trimester. Cue footage of distressed Democrats and protestors.
In turn, the United States Supreme Court’s September 2021 decision to let Senate Bill 8 stand—to, in effect, do nothing to stop it—signaled the strategy of the court’s ultra-right conservative majority: to pretend that turning these decisions back to the states is a constitutional advancement of state’s rights as well as a more perfect representation of the will of the people. Of course, last summer, when it suited that same majority of SCOTUS justices, they overturned 50 years of settled law in their Dobbs ruling on the grounds that no real right to privacy or bodily self-determination exists in the Constitution’s 14th Amendment. Then they tried to pretend, per Justice Samuel Alito, that their decision was a) legit and b) won’t “cast doubt on precedents that do not concern abortion.”
Senate Bill 8 combined with Dobbs taught the Texas Legislature precisely what the United States Supreme Court’s ultra-conservative majority intended to teach them. That this SCOTUS will return questions about all the many issues related to privacy and due process to the states, having already clearly signaled to them that they can go ahead with any kind of outrage without fear of interference from the highest court in the land. And that they will slowly and incrementally allow the continued erosion of the right to privacy and bodily self-determination under the Constitution’s 14th Amendment that undergirds the right of parents and their children to make informed healthcare decisions as well as so much else of U.S. law.
As Michele Goodwin, chancellor’s professor of law at the University of California at Irvine put it last year, when the Dobbs decision was first leaked: “What this all means is that anything that involves substantive due process and/or privacy is done and gone,” she told me. Anything having to do with sex, contraception, sex, gender, or sex education. Anything having to do with the configuration of our most personal relationships, including interracial marriage, marriage for LGBTQ+ people, or the treatment of LGBTQ+ parents, children, and families.
Now red states are lining up to pass new vote-getting, reputation-polishing, resentment-stoking laws under the winking eye of a Supreme Court that may claim that it never intended its decision to be read this way but has already signaled that it won’t interfere.
Clearly, the “point” of this latest legislation isn’t to protect the health and well-being of children. The same politicians who passed it ignored the sobbing relatives of Uvalde victims last month as they pleaded for the legislators to consider common sense gun safety measures in the wake of last May’s massacre at Robb Elementary, which killed 19 children and two adults. After making them wait all day for their only chance to testify in the year since the shooting. (The legislature has otherwise refused to take up any gun safety proposals.) “I’m perplexed now. Did you think we would go home?” said Kimberly Mata-Rubio, whose 10-year-old daughter Lexi was killed in the shooting.
The bill gives enforcement authority to Ken Paxton—the Texas attorney general who signed on to a lawsuit last summer that opposes a Biden administration policy that prohibits state schools from barring LGBTQ+ students from free school lunch programs (and who is still under felony indictment for state securities fraud). The bill will be signed into law by the same Texas governor who directed state agencies to investigate gender-affirming care for trans youths as “child abuse” a year ago but picked a man to head that effort who was forced to resign after botching investigations into real childhood sexual abuse. And Governor Abbott’s concern for the lives and well-being of children hasn’t moved him an inch in his opposition to the proposal the legislators briefly considered after a year’s delay, which would raise the age to purchase semiautomatic rifles from 18 to 21 years old.
The “point” of FF’s storyline isn’t to transform viewers’ lives. It isn’t even to propel viewers to the all-out fight scene where lots of things go boom and the heroes, who temporarily seem down for the count, rally to win. It’s to extract money from viewers’ wallets and stay on top of the box office so the FF franchise can make the next profitable sequel. It’s been very successful. And plenty of viewers would say that the entertainment value is well worth the price.