Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has moved to block Biden administration guidance requiring that employers allow transgender workers to use bathrooms and dress in a manner aligned with their gender identity, following a separate challenge by 20 other Republican-led states.
Paxton’s office, in a complaint filed in Amarillo, Texas, federal court on Monday, said state agencies will not allow workers to use bathrooms designated for the opposite sex or discipline employees over their use of gendered pronouns, placing them at risk of facing legal action in light of June guidance from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
The AG also said the guidance is invalid because it was approved by EEOC Chair Charlotte Burrows without a vote from the full five-member commission.
Paxton in a statement said states should be able to place the rights of employers over “subjective views of gender,” and that the EEOC guidance puts many women and children at risk.
“These backdoor attempts to force businesses, including the State of Texas, to align with their beliefs is unacceptable,” Paxton said.
The EEOC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In August, 20 other Republican-led states filed their own challenge to the EEOC memo and a separate U.S. Department of Education directive covering the rights of transgender students. The states, led by Tennessee, moved for a preliminary injunction earlier this month.
The EEOC guidance was issued in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark 2020 ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County, which said discrimination against gay and transgender workers is a form of unlawful sex bias under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The commission in June said that under Bostock, employers cannot prohibit transgender workers from using bathrooms and wearing clothes that align with their gender identity. Employers also can violate Title VII by refusing to refer to employees by their preferred pronouns, the EEOC said.
But Paxton’s office on Monday said the guidance interpreted Bostock too broadly. The justices expressly declined to decide if the ruling applied to sex-segregated bathrooms and locker rooms, the AG said, but the EEOC improperly concluded that it did.
The bathroom, dress code and pronoun policies targeted by the guidance apply equally to workers of all sexes, and do not violate Title VII, according to the complaint.
“While [Bostock] held that ‘discrimination based on homosexuality or transgender status necessarily entails discrimination based on sex,’ the June 15 Guidance instead addresses the converse question: whether discrimination on the basis of sex necessarily entails discrimination based on transgender status,” the AG said.
Paxton’s office is seeking an order vacating the guidance and will pursue a preliminary injunction barring the guidance’s enforcement while the lawsuit is pending, the AG said.
The case is Texas v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, No. 2:21-cv-00194.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is suing the Biden administration over recent federal guidance issued to protect LGBTQ people in the workplace, including a directive that says employees should be allowed to use the bathrooms, locker rooms and showers that correspond with their gender identity. The guidance also clarifies that misuse of a person’s preferred pronouns could be considered harassment in certain circumstances.
In the lawsuit, filed Monday in the Northern District of Texas federal court, Paxton claims that the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 when it issued a technical assistance document outlining the impact of a landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year. That ruling prohibited employer discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Title VII prohibits discrimination against employees on the basis of sex.
A Black trans woman named Disaya Monaee was shot to death in Chicago, Illinois, marking the 36th violent death of a trans person in the US in 2021.
Disaya Monaee was found suffering from multiple gunshot wounds at around 4am on 6 September. She was discovered outside the Prestige Inn and Suites along 1355 East Sibley Boulevard in the leafy suburb of Dolton.
The 32-year-old was later pronounced dead just after 5am at Franciscan Health hospital in Hammon. Dolton Police detectives are investigating the incident, but no arrests have been made at the time of writing.
Family members told 5Chicago that the crime scene was “gruesome”.
“At the hotel room door you can tell the struggle was at the door it was not inside the hotel room,” Latrina Banks, Monaee’s mother, said.
“There’s blood, there’s like a trail of blood at the entranceway right there from the hallway area.”
Banks’ daughter transitioned shortly after graduating high school in 2014, she said. Her family welcomed her, making it all the harder that her life was so tragically cut short.
“Whoever knows anything about my baby’s murder please tell,” Banks added. “Y’all took the best thing ever from me.”
Activists decry ‘appalling’ killing of Disaya Monaee
Monaee was described by family and community leaders as a “sweet individual” who was outgoing and sociable. “She loved to take care of people, Banks said, “she’s been like that ever since she was little.”
She is, at the very least, the 36th trans, non-binary or gender non-conforming person to have been murdered in the US this year, according to the Human Rights Campaign, which has been monitoring the killings. Across the whole of 2020, that figure was 44.
“At least”, the HRC say, because with deadnaming and misgendering remaining rife in police and press reports, the real figure can be impossible to grasp.
In the death of Natasha Keianna, investigators have not ruled out homicide, but details remain sparse at the time of writing. Haven Bailey was also fatally shot by police in May.
“The epidemic of violence plaguing the transgender community, particularly Black transgender women, is appalling,” Tori Cooper, director of community engagement for the group’s Transgender Justice Initiative told PinkNews.
“It is often the result of a toxic combination of transphobia, racism and misogyny.
“We must do more to protect trans lives and provide resources to support the trans community.”
The US Department of Justice is to review Trump-era policies on housing trans inmates in federal prisons.
After the Donald Trump administration, like it sought to across housing, health and education, rolled back trans rights when it comes to the prison system, the Biden administration might just change that.
The federal Bureau of Prisons, the agency that cares for incarcerated Americans, saw its policies pulled into the spotlight when the leader of an anti-government militia, who is trans, was sentenced to 52 years for helming the 2017 bombing of a Minnesota mosque.
Emily Hari, sentenced Monday (13 September), will now see which of the 122 federal prisons she will carry out her jail time decided by the Bureau of Prisons Transgender Executive Council.
The council consists of psychologists, prison experts and correctional officials, but they are currently using a Trump-era manual when it comes to housing trans inmates – meaning that Hari may be forced to serve her prison sentence in a men’s prison.
Under the Trump administration, the Bureau can only assign trans people to the correct prison “in rare cases”, according to the Associated Press.
This was an about-turn from the Obama era, where the council was advised to “house by gender identity when appropriate”.
Justice Department officials told the news agency that they are looking into reviewing these policies, “including providing gender-affirming housing where appropriate”.
“[The Bureau of Prisons] is in the process of reviewing the current version of its policy regarding transgender inmates,” they added.
The council will now decide where Hari is housed, where factors such as her health and safety, history of disciplinary action and the security level of the prison itself are considered.
Of the 156,000 federal prisoners in the US, only 1,200 are trans – a number, while small, is a damning indictment of the higher incarceration figures for trans Americans.
According to Lambda Legal, an LGBT+ advocacy group that provides legal advice, nearly one in six trans Americans – and one in two Black trans people – have been in prison.
Inside, they face disproportionate levels of violence and abuse, both at the hands of fellow inmates and, at times, prison staffers, the group added.
A university that fired a professor after she came out as trans must reinstate her with tenure, a US appeals court has ruled.
The trans English professor, Rachel Tudor, won her sex discrimination lawsuit against Southeastern Oklahoma State University, claiming she was denied tenure and ultimately fired after she came out.
The university had argued that the hostility engendered by the six-year legal battle with Tudor, and the school’s concerns about her work, meant it shouldn’t have to reinstate her – but three judges at the 10th US Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously rejected that argument, according to Reuters.
The court said that because Tudor won her 2015 discrimination lawsuit it was clear that she would have been granted tenure if she wasn’t trans, ruling out the university’s arguments about her academic record.
“A tenured university professor holds an insular position that can effectively operate without the need for extensive collaboration with colleague or schools administrators,” circuit judge David Ebel wrote.
That amount was reduced to $300,000 by a judge in 2018, who cited the caps on damages under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act 1964. The same judge, district judge Robin Cauthron in Oklahoma City, also awarded Tudor $60,000 in “front pay” to reflect her lost future earnings – despite her seeking more than $2 million in front pay.
In 2018, Cauthron denied Tudor’s request to be reinstated to her job with tenure, accepting the school’s claim that many other faculty members opposed her return and that it did not have the funds to pay her salary. Tudor appealed this decision, and the 10th Circuit ruling said her evidence was clearly sufficient for a jury to rule in her favour.
The panel of judges referred to evidence of the school’s dean and vice president making comments about Tudor’s appearance and lifestyle, the fact that a faculty committee had voted to grant her tenure, and testimony from experts affirming that Tudor is more qualified than other, tenured, professors in her department.
And the judges also agreed with Tudor that there was not the kind of “extreme hostility” that would make her reinstatement impossible.
“There are plenty of workarounds and solutions making reinstatement possible in cases where some animosity exists, such as a remote office, a new supervisor, or a clear set of workplace guidelines,” the judges wrote.
Forcing non-binary students to choose “male” or “female” on application forms leaves schools and colleges at “massive risk” of legal action, an expert has warned.
The forms that students pursuing further education must complete force them to choose a binary sex option – and non-binary students to misgender themselves.
This includes on the individualised learner record (ILR) that further education providers must fill in with a student’s information so they can access funding.
This is a policy set by the Education and Skills Funding Agency (EFSA), an “arms-length” official body sponsored by the Department of Education.
But the practice puts further education institutions at “massive risk” of legal action under the Equality Act 2010, said Emma Lambert of independent provider Dynamic Training.
“The ESFA’s old fashioned attitude to gender identities not only risks damaging the provider reputation, but it will undoubtedly end up in complaints and possibly legal action, which will be left with the provider to deal with,” Lambert told FE Week.
Dynamic Training, which provides apprenticeships for NHS nurses and skills courses for the Greater London Authority, asks its learners which pronouns they use and manually enters these into the documents.
However, Lambert explained, “there’s no way on the ILR system you can put anything other than male or female”.
She said she is “frustrated” by the lack of action from EFSA on this both because of the risk to providers and because she thinks “it’s wrong anyhow” not to allow students to select the correct gender for themselves.
Lambert added that Dyamic Training has raised this with EFSA multiple times, but only received non-committal answers.
Further education is the band describing education for students in the UK who are over the age of 16 but before degree-level, or higher, education.
Non-binary recognition part of ‘societal change’
While the Equality Act 2010 specifically protects those undergoing or proposing to undergo some form of gender reassignment, whether that protection extends to non-binary trans people has been unclear – until recently.
Last year, a landmark case won by a non-binary person against Jaguar Land Rover affirmed that non-binary and genderfluid people are protected from discrimination under the “gender reassignment” provision of the Equality Act 2010.
This progress, 11 years since the Equality Act was introduced, means it “seems timely for those characteristics protected by law to be reviewed and expanded in light of over a decade of societal change”, said Association of Colleges boss David Hughes.
Hughes added that while EFSA and the Department of Education are “working within limitations”, the challenge of including non-binary gender options on forms should not be “insurmountable”.
PinkNews contacted EFSA and the Department of Education for comment.
Protesters picketed Weill-Cornell, a private institution part of the New York Presbyterian Hospital system, earlier this month, demanding the hospital cease medically unnecessary surgeries on children born with intersex traits, and investigate a surgeon who conducts these operations.
Intersex people, or people born with variations in their sex characteristics, make up approximately 1.7 percent of the population. Surgeons popularized cosmetically “normalizing” surgeries on infants to remove gonads, reduce the size of the clitoris, or increase the size of the vagina. Intersex advocacy groups, as well as a range of medical and human rights organizations, have spoken out against the operations and called for regulation.
One type of procedure surgeons conduct reduces the size of the clitoris for cosmetic reasons. It carries the risk of pain, nerve damage, and scarring. Intersex activist Pidgeon Pagonis, who underwent one of these at age four without their consent, called the operation a “clit job,” emphasizing that it should be an individual’s choice to modify their body.
As survivors of this procedure began speaking up, it became controversial. Weill-Cornell’s pediatric urology chief, Dr. Dix Poppas, in 2007 published a medical article that attempted to disprove claims of nerve damage from his clitoral surgeries by touching the genitals of girls he had operated on with a “vibratory device” and querying what they felt.
New York Presbyterian, in response to questions from Human Rights Watch, said, “In all circumstances we will continue to put our individual patients’ life and safety first” but did not commit to ending the surgeries at their hospitals; Dr. Poppas did not reply to a request for comment.
All hospitals should end these harmful surgeries immediately.
“AOC calls women ‘menstruating people’ while explaining the female body,” read a screenshot of a headline from the Daily Mail that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez shared to Twitter – and the much-loved congresswoman was having none of it.
“Not just women!” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted. “Trans men & non-binary people can also menstruate.
“Some women also *don’t* menstruate for many reasons, including surviving cancer that required a hysterectomy.”
She continued: “GOP mad at this are protecting the patriarchal idea that women are most valuable as uterus holders.”
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez pointed out that trans and non-binary people have ‘always existed’
In a follow-up tweet, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez added: “Trans, two-spirit, and non-binary people have always existed and will always exist.
“People can stay mad about that if they want, or they can grow up.
Ocasio-Cortez’s incredible clapback has already been liked more than 70,000 times, while countless LGBT+ people rushed into the replies to thank her for standing up for the queer community.
Many also weighed in to applaud Ocasio-Cortez for drawing attention to the fact that not all women menstruate.
The story in question referred to Ocasio-Cortez schooling Texas governor Greg Abbott on the menstrual cycle, after he suggested that his abhorrent law banning abortion after six weeks of pregnancy “provides at least six weeks for a person to be able to get an abortion”.
AOC pointed out that many would not know they are even pregnant at six weeks, being that their period might only be two weeks’ late at that point, which is not unusual.
“I don’t know if he is familiar with a menstruating person’s body,” she said. “In fact, I do know that he’s not familiar with a woman – with a female or menstruating person’s body, because if he did, he would know that you don’t have six weeks.”
This is far from the first time that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has used her sizeable platform to stand up for LGBT+ rights.
In October 2020, she won praise from queer Americans when she used her mammoth Twitch debut to deliver a rallying cry for trans rights.
Speaking in front of hundreds of thousands of people, Ocasio-Cortez bellowed: “Trans rights!” into her microphone.
The congresswoman has become well known for her truly epic clapbacks and takedowns. In June, she won the hearts of pretty much everyone when she slammed Republican Marjorie Taylor Greene for calling her a “little communist” during a rally.
Proving that her sense of humour is perfectly pitched, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez shared video footage of Greene’s rally speech and simply wrote: “First of all, I’m taller than her.”
For three years, Jesse Brace avoided getting care for their seizures after they experienced discrimination at an emergency room near their home in Lawrence, Kansas, in 2017.
They said they told the staff that they are transgender and nonbinary, that their name is different from their legal name and that they use gender-neutral pronouns.
“They refused to even so much as acknowledge this information, and not only did they not use [my pronouns], but they also sent me home without treating me for what I went in for,” said Brace, 25.
When they tried to get care elsewhere after that, they said, they had similar experiences, so they avoided care entirely.
In 2018, they began having seizures every day, so they started living in their car outside the Amazon facility where they were an assistant operations manager, because they couldn’t drive themself to work anymore.
In November 2018, they lost their job. “I lost my car soon after and ended up on the streets in the winter,” they said. “I was having hundreds [of seizures] a day and wasn’t even leaving where I was laying.”
They were homeless, living out of their car or on the streets, for over three years.
Brace’s experience in the ER — and the impact that health care discrimination had on their life — is something many trans people face and fear when they try to get care, according to a report released Wednesday by the Center for American Progress, or CAP, a liberal think tank.
Discrimination, among other factors, prevents trans people from seeking necessary care, which leads to health disparities that can affect many other areas of their lives, the report found.
The authors outline a road map of solutions, including legislative protections for LGBTQ people and better competency training for medical providers.
“The onus should not be on individuals,” said one of the report’s authors, Sharita Gruberg, vice president of the center’s LGBTQ Research and Communications Project. “It really should be on these institutions to do the right thing, and the resources and guidance is out there.”
Forgoing routine care after trauma
CAP’s report found that nearly half of transgender people — and 68 percent of transgender people of color — reported having experienced mistreatment at the hands of a medical provider, including refusal of care and verbal or physical abuse, in the year before the survey, which took place in June 2020.
Discrimination can then prevent people from seeking future care, the survey found: 28 percent of transgender people, including 22 percent of transgender people of color, reported having postponed or not gotten necessary medical care for fear of discrimination.
Brace got another job in May 2019, but they said they weren’t able to get consistent care again until May of this year. They said doctors in the area repeatedly told them that they were unable to take on new patients. It wasn’t until Brace was referred to a doctor who has a transgender child that they were finally able to obtain a primary care physician.
“I get panic attacks just making appointments,” they said. “I have no support whatsoever. Unfortunately, all health care around here is like this. There is no support for trans people, and so most avoid seeking care.”
Dallas Ducar, a psychiatric nurse practitioner, opened Transhealth Northampton, a trans-led organization that provides health care to trans and gender diverse patients in western Massachusetts, in May. Ducar said that as a health care provider and a trans woman, she knows there’s a dearth of affirming care for trans people across the country.
She said many of Transhealth’s patients have gone without medical care for long periods of time. A patient who came in a couple of months ago had abnormal vital signs and had to be quickly taken to an emergency room because they were so sick, she added.
“It’s unfortunately not uncommon to see people who have experienced such high levels of discrimination and then forgo the routine visits, then perhaps even forgo an urgent care visit, which then turns into an emergency care visit,” she said.
The CAP report said harassment and discrimination “contribute to high rates of stress,” and — along with social determinants of health — make trans people “more likely to experience poor health outcomes.”
People will read about health disparities among trans people “and just think of that as something that, horribly, is associated with just like being trans, but actually a lot of these experiences have to do with being trans in a world that is constantly oppressing you and where you’re experiencing discrimination both interpersonally but also institutionally and in these broader systems,” said one of the report’s authors, Caroline Medina, a policy analyst at CAP.
The report cites the 2019 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which found that trans people were more than twice as likely as cisgender adults to be told they had depressive disorders.
Fifty-four percent also reported poor physical health at least one day in the previous month, compared to 36 percent of cisgender respondents, according to the CDC data. Trans people also have an increased likelihood of having asthma and developing cardiovascular disease, according to the CAP report.
The Covid-19 pandemic has also aggravated the health disparities trans people face: 1 in 3 reported having had suicidal thoughts during the pandemic, and 1 in 2 reported that their access to gender-affirming health care was curtailed significantly during the pandemic.
Ducar said barriers to care, particularly gender-affirming care like hormones, is “really, really harmful, and they add to the layers of discrimination that exists within the trans community.”
“On the mental health side, we are seeing folks with really complex issues — tons and tons of trauma — that’s coming to our doorstep,” she said. “We’re just seeing a lot of not only trauma, but complex PTSD specifically. These are people that have just been consistently burdened with the symptoms of PTSD, trauma just recurring. It’s really been terrible.”
A lack of cultural competency
When trans people do try to seek health care, they can face discrimination or outright refusal of care, as CAP found. But even when they don’t experience discrimination, they are likely to see providers who don’t have the cultural competency to provide them with affirming care.
CAP’s survey last year found that 1 in 3 transgender people reported having had to teach their doctors about transgender people to get appropriate care, and 15 percent reported having been asked “invasive or unnecessary questions about being transgender” not related to their reasons for visiting.
The report cited a 2018 brief from the Kaiser Family Foundation that found that more than half of medical school curriculums lack information about unique health issues the LGBTQ community faces and don’t cover treatment beyond HIV prevention and care, “likely contributing to transgender people’s inability to access affirming care,” CAP wrote.
Alex Petrovnia, 24, a writer and scientific researcher living in central Pennsylvania, said that last fall, he had to report a primary care physician after a negative experience.
He was worried about how testosterone would affect a joint problem he was having, and he asked the doctor, who was still a medical resident, whether there was a form of physical therapy to help the problem. After a tense exchange, he said, the doctor told him, “I don’t know anything about this, because I’ve never had a patient like you.”
“I was trying to keep this interaction peaceable, and I replied with: ‘Yeah, I know. It’s really unfortunate that you’re not taught anything about trans people in medical school, and it’s just not a very well-known issue,’” he said. “And she looked me right in the eyes and she said: ‘I don’t think it’s that important. There aren’t many of you.’”
When he left, he tweeted about the visit so other trans people in the area would know not to see that doctor.
The medical practice reached out to him a few days later and asked what it could do better, Petrovnia said. When he returned to see a new, supportive primary care physician, “they told me that they sent the resident back to trans-inclusivity training and that they had instituted that for all of their residents going forward,” he said. “So that was very positive. … Being the squeaky wheel really actually made an impact and actually improved the situation theoretically for others.”
Petrovnia acknowledged that not everyone is able or willing to spark such teachable moments.
Mel Groves, 25, visited a primary care office in Montgomery, Alabama, in January when he had a cough, fever and lower body pains. When he was taken back for a full-body CT scan, he said, he had a decent conversation with the attendant who was pushing his chair. Groves said that when the procedure was over, however, the attendant’s tone changed. The attendant had apparently seen Groves’ chart and made a comment about his genitals, Groves said.
“I was taken aback,” he said. “It was shocking, to say the least.”
Groves said that he wanted to report it but that he was feeling too ill and overwhelmed, as he was working in the area temporarily. “I knew that that’s what I should have done, but at the time, I had a lot of stuff going on,” he said.
The health care system that oversees the primary care office where Groves was treated could not confirm his story, citing patient confidentiality.
‘The role falls on society’
CAP’s report outlines a number of policy recommendations that the authors said would help address health care discrimination against trans people.
One in particular is among the most pressing, the authors said: They recommend that the federal government create a rule to strengthen Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex and has protected trans people from discrimination in federally funded health care facilities.
“The protections in Section 1557 are so critical but are also a floor that we need to firmly establish and strengthen,” said Gruberg of CAP. She said it was great that the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Civil Rights had announced that it would enforceSection 1557 to cover sexual orientation and gender identity, “but we’re also very worried about what that looks like, how strong these protections are going to be and the potential for religious exemptions to undermine them.”
U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor issued a permanent injunction last week against the nondiscrimination protections in the Affordable Care Act, ruling in favor of religious health care providers who said the rules would force them to perform abortions or provide gender-affirming treatment against their religious beliefs. While Gruberg expects the decision to be overturned, she said “that threat is still there.”
The report’s authors also recommended that Congress and state and local governments increase funding for LGBTQ community health centers, which often fill the health care gaps that trans people face.
Groves was connected with an affirming primary care physician through the Knights and Orchids Society, a grassroots organization in Selma, Alabama, led by Black trans people. He drives about 4½ hours from his home in Jackson, Mississippi, to Auburn, Alabama, when he needs care.
Although groups like the Knights and Orchids Society have provided what Groves described as “life-changing” support, he said it’s ultimately up to the medical system and society to address pervasive issues like discrimination.
“We’ve always been here,” he said. “So I think that now the role falls on society and the medical professionals to educate themselves more. If that means more fellowships, more trainings, more professional development … I feel like that is single-handedly the best thing that we can do to foster better health care for trans people, is helping people to understand how to be inclusive, and then going forward from there.”
Like most LGBTQ families, my partner and I didn’t become parents in the most conventional way.
In fact, for most of my life, I never considered having kids! But when my partner and I got a call asking if we’d be willing to take immediate guardianship of our niece and nephew, we agreed to do everything in our power to create a loving home for these two children.
After years of visits from social workers, inquiries from investigators trips to the courthouse, and mountains of paperwork and fees, we had the privilege of becoming a forever family through legal adoption.
If you are considering adoption, here are 7 things you should know from my personal experience:
Adoption is a story of joy…
None of us will ever forget the day that our adoption was finalized. To know that we could truthfully tell these amazing children that we would always–ALWAYS–be their parents. It was a day of pure relief.
But in addition to those big milestones – Adoption Day, kindergarten graduation, first performance as a Russian dancer in The Nutcracker – it’s really the little things that bring the most joy. The simple moments are what get to me the most. When they reach for your hand because they’re scared (and you get to tell them it’s okay to be scared). When they learn a new fact and share it with you (did you know that elephants use mud to cool themselves down). When they ask a hard question that you don’t *totally* know the answer to (how DOES an apple seed know how to grow into a tree?!).
Those opportunities to see your children grow into whole, complete humans with their own thoughts, ideas, and passions. That’s joy.
And finally, one of my absolute favorite things about being a parent is having the opportunity to share LGBTQ culture with them. Helping them build an enduring appreciation of drag. Feeling the freedom of getting to pick your own family, your own community, even your own name. All of the powerful, beautiful parts of our community– we get to pass those on to our children.
…and also one of loss
There is no way to get around the fact that your adopted children get to be in your lives because they do not get to be in the lives of their biological parents. While many adopted children will grow up to have no desire to know their biological parents, some feel a profound sense of loss or abandonment that they could not be raised by their biological parents, no matter how wonderful and caring their adoptive parents are.
It’s vitally important for adoptive parents to accept this pain in their children, to sit with it, to be empathetic, and to not take it as a personal rebuke to your parenting. Make sure that your kids have professional support throughout their childhood, and give lots of opportunities for them to share their feelings with you in a safe way.
Make sure that you have support as well, so you can process through the many feelings you may have– feelings of grief that you aren’t their biological parent or that you couldn’t have biological children. Feelings of anger towards their first family and what harmful experiences your children may have experienced while under their care. Feelings of love toward their first family for allowing you to raise their biological children.
Many complicated swirls of emotion may come up as you go on this journey, and you’ll need a place to put them all.
Parenting is not for the faint of heart
Your kid might not like you. You might not like your kid (all the time). Your kid might have severe emotional trauma. Your kid might do this annoying thing where he lies on the couch for two hours flipping a pillow over his head while the rest of you are doing dishes and vacuuming the floor and cleaning the tub.
When you become a parent, no matter how it happens, you’re not just signing up for the giggles and the tickles and the cooing sighs of a sleeping newborn. You’re also signing up for screaming babies and poopsplosions. And, after that, defiant teenagers who scream “I hate you!” and slam their door so hard the handle breaks and they have a panic attack because they can’t open their door anymore and they feel trapped. You’re signing up for their first heartbreak. For helping them deal with bullies… or BEING the bully. You’re signing up for a world of stupid, unsolicited advice and your own parents saying, “We never did that when you were a kid and you turned out fine!!!”
Despite what Instagram may tell you, parenting is not all fun and games. You’re going to mess up. You’re going to lose your temper. You’re going to yell at the lady in the supermarket who asks, “Are they REAL siblings?”
There are millions of ways to be a perfectly adequate parent. Don’t compare yourself to other parents. Be honest with your kids. Know that it’s hard for *everyone*, even the perfect families on social media.
There is no rush to start your family
When we became parents overnight in our mid-twenties, we had no idea what challenges were ahead of us. We were almost completely unprepared and had to make it all up as we went.
So any time a young LGBTQ person stands up at one of my talks and tells me that I’ve inspired them to start a family, and asks if I have advice for them, I always say the same thing: “WAIT!” Usually, the audience laughs, so I have to tell them that I am not joking.
People will tell you that you’re never really ready for parenthood. And while that’s true, there are times in life when you will be more ready! Parenting is already hard enough. Work to get your systems in place before making the leap: do your best to get your finances in order, make sure your housing is stable, and if you have a partner or partners, make sure they’re the people who truly want by your side for the next 18 years.
And above all, take the time to work on yourself and your own insecurities. If you didn’t have an ideal childhood, seek support and healing to process through it effectively so you don’t end up overcorrecting or taking your hurt out on your children. Whatever you wish your parents had worked on before they had you– you have a chance to work on those things for yourself.
Creativity, flexibility, and humility are essential
When our children first came to live with us, the eldest was nonverbal. There’s a whole section in my book in which I talk about the elaborate method I had to create so I could communicate with him – he wasn’t able to speak or share his opinions using words at all. We all had to be really creative to find solutions for their unique challenges. Many parents, especially adoptive parents, have to do the same. Build parenting solutions that work for the kids you HAVE, not the kids you wish you had.
It really does take a village
From kid supplies to legal help, our community was always there for us in ways we would never have expected. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, to invite people into your lives, to build an extended family around your actual family. Remember that most straight people have biological family around them! Grandparents help with babysitting so they can do date night, aunts and uncles help with school pick-ups so they can work late, and cousins are around for playdates and family dinners. LGBTQ people might not have that built-in support network, so we have to build it for ourselves.
Your “village” can come from outside your community as well. In fact, you can find allies anywhere – bosses may be willing to give you time off for court dates (even if that’s not covered in your PTO plan), lawyers may give you a discount on their legal fees, daycares may cut you some slack on registration costs. People want to help you form your family. Let them.
Also – sometimes you and your partner won’t see eye-to-eye. Joining a Facebook community of other parents raising their partner’s nieces and nephews (yes – there are groups this niche!) helped me keep my sanity while adjusting to the new situation. You can access vital resources and emotional support throughout your adoption journey by finding support groups for trans parents, for LGBTQ parents, for parents raising kids in open adoptions, or for whatever your specific situation is.
Love makes a family
I’ll never forget the day that we brought the kids to court for their official adoption day. Our close friends filled the courtroom and the judge, a bit taken aback by the crowd, asked, “Well who do we have here?” Our daughter Hailey, who was five at the time and didn’t understand court decorum, exclaimed, “It’s our Love Family!”
Even at that early age, she already knew that biology doesn’t dictate familial relationships. She will always be surrounded by a constellation of people who love her, support her, and will go to the ends of the earth to make sure she has what she needs to thrive in this world.
Whether your family is you and your collection of houseplants, or three parents and a gaggle of foster children – what makes a family is love.
Trystan Reese, author of How We Do Family: From Adoption to Trans Pregnancy, What We Learned about Love and LGBTQ Parenthood, launched into the public eye as “the pregnant man” in 2017 when the story of his family’s unique journey gained international media attention. He was invited to give closing performances for The Moth Mainstage in Portland, Albuquerque, and Brooklyn; a video of the Brooklyn event has garnered over 2.5 million views. As interest in his family’s story grew, Trystan partnered with many major media outlets, including CNN, NBC, People, and Buzzfeed.
Trystan is an established thought leader, educator, and speaker, focusing on diversity, equity, and inclusion. He is a professionally trained anti-racism facilitator and has been organizing with the trans community for nearly two decades. The founder of his own consulting firm, Collaborate Consulting, Trystan provides customized training solutions for individuals, organizations, and communities that are interested in social justice. He is married to his partner Biff and they live in Portland, Oregon with their three kids: Lucas, Hailey, and Leo. They are very happy.