E, my 9-year-old child, who I lovingly call Bug, is at the kitchen counter slurping spoonfuls of cereal and milk into his mouth on the cold, snowy morning of Jan. 29, 2023. I hand him a napkin from the other side of the counter to wipe the milk from his chin, take a sip of my coffee, and pick up my phone to scroll for a moment.
He asks me what I’m looking at.
I hover my finger over a pink, blue, and white flag in a small square and a caption below informing me that Utah has just passed the first law restricting gender-affirming care for transgender youth. I debate being honest with him, but before I can respond, he asks again, this time a bit annoyed, “Mom! What are you looking at?”
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Like most parents I know, I am careful when sharing the news with my young child. Almost every day, I have to digest the headlines, then share them in a way that my kids can understand so that they don’t come across them on their own or through friends at school. However, what I am currently reading feels especially tricky to share with E. The news of the recent legislation here in Utah, where we live, targeting trans youth could send the message that he doesn’t belong or that there is something wrong with him. This is a message I’ve been actively keeping out of our home.
Almost three years ago, he shared that “sometimes I feel like a girl, but sometimes I also feel like a boy” and soon after, asked if we would use he/him pronouns. It has always felt like a celebration to us—his father Allan, his sister B, and me—that E knows who he is and felt safe enough to share. However, I have been very careful not to share any anti-LGBTQIA+ narratives with him.
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I haven’t told my beautiful, wildly funny, and intelligent child about the politicians fighting to take away his rights. How the new law bans hormone therapy for minors, prohibits trans youth from changing their name and gender on their birth certificates, and restricts schools from changing names and gender on permanent records without parental consent. How this law will make it harder, if not impossible, for many families like us to navigate the health care system, school, and most other systems and institutions in our state. Or what it ultimately does—deny E and all trans nonbinary youth the reality of being truly themselves.
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I keep this from E because what is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics for children his age who are discovering more about their gender identity is simply support, respect, and affirmation from their family, school, friends, pediatricians, counselors, and community. Our conversations about his gender are normally us, as a family, checking in with him to see if he needs a haircut, new clothes, or shoes that align with how he feels inside.
Trying to find the words to respond to him this morning, I decide to keep it simple. “I’m looking at a post about an upcoming rally to support trans youth at our state capitol building,” I say.
“Why?” he asks, smiling, slurping another spoonful.
“Well, because I’m interested in going,” I say, sipping my coffee.
He says, “No, Mom. Why are they rallying?”
I quickly go over in my mind what to say next before speaking. I decide not to tell him about the new law. Not yet, anyway. I don’t go into how conservative politicians are demonizing these practices, even though they’re safe, effective, and life-saving. I don’t explain that these therapies have been used safely since the 1990s for children who entered puberty early. I don’t rattle off the fairly small group of adolescents (14–18 year-olds) and the astounding reported rate (99%) of people who do not regret their gender-affirming surgery.
I don’t want to tell E any of this, but I also want to be honest with him. This morning I do this the best way I can by saying simply, “Utah just passed a bill into law banning gender-affirming health care.” And before he can ask why, I add, “but it probably won’t stand up in the Utah courts.”
“Why?” he picks up his bowl and sips at his milk sloshing around the bottom of the bowl.
“Because it’s unconstitutional.”
E puts his bowl down. “Then how could they pass it? If it’s unconstitutional,” he asks, barely pronouncing the last word. I’m not sure if he even really knows what that means.
“The politicians that are backing the bill are most likely using the topic of gender-affirming care to get more votes, but it may not be legal to take away trans kids’ rights and the rights of their parents,” I explain. “And there are amazing organizations that know this and will fight them in court.”
He looks genuinely curious, tilting his head to one side. “Why would that get them more votes?”
The bowl of cereal is now empty, and his eyes are entirely on me. “Because their voters, maybe even they, are scared,” I say.
He slouches as he puts his elbows on the counter, chin in his hands. “Of what?”
I take him in for moment—his black beanie over a shaggy cut, curling around its knit edges. Both ears pierced with sparkling gems. A black hoodie half tucked into sweatpants. Pink-painted fingernails playing with two silver and string necklaces peeking out. “They are afraid of what you and other gender-creative kiddos represent.”
“What do we represent?” he asks earnestly.
This time I answer with a question. “You tell me, Bug. What do you think?”
I sit on the kitchen stool next to him as he begins: “We are creative and full of big imaginations and kind and courageous.”
I say, “Yes. Exactly.” He sits a bit taller.
“Knowing you has reminded me how big my mind, heart, and worldview can be,” I continue. “It’s endless, really. For as many people as there are, that is as many ways someone can express themselves. By just being who you are, you are breaking out of the status quo.”
He’s now more playful and back to the original line of questioning. “Why?”
“Well, because you being you is a deep clearness. Like a vast, calm lake or a wide, cloudless blue sky,” I explain. “You know who you are, and you state it fully. And your courage to be authentic in a world that often forces us to conform is powerful. You are powerful. And I bet that is what scares people the most—your power.”
“Why?” his smile wide, missing several teeth on the upper right.
“Because that is the beginning of change. Of creating a world where people have autonomy over their bodies, can express themselves in an endless array of possibilities, and can love whoever they want.”
He’s still smiling at me. “Why?”
“Well, look at you!” His face is beaming. “This is part of your power. People see your genuine joy and brightness, and they can’t help but question their own.”
I say, “Bug, there are no rules to being a man or woman or nonbinary. And that can scare some people, especially people who feel safe with set ways of being. But you are potential. You are aliveness!”
For a moment, I feel my chest tighten and my eyes well. I worry that I’ve shared too much with him. I want to preserve his trust and confidence in the world. Part of me wants to take it all back, but the words are already out there.
I take a deep breath, then say, “Also, Bug. Forget them. It doesn’t matter, ultimately if some old politicians and voters understand who you are. You are here. You are a miracle. And so are all of the other trans nonbinary gender-creative people. You make our world better.”
E’s up off the stool and puts his bowl and spoon in the sink. Then, he asks, “Are we going to the rally?”
I give him a hug, holding him a little too long. He squirms out of my grip. And as I help him with his backpack, I ask, “Do you want to go?”
“I would!” he slides on his boots, and I yell out, “I love you!” before he slams the door.
Watching E, move down the front stairs, I remind myself of his clearness. I assure myself that this is how to support my child’s power—thoughts and words shared. Knowledge, maybe wisdom gained. Hopefully something learned, a heart expanded and a mind more curious. Then, I check for the location of the rally. Text some friends to see if they want to join. And make a note to donate to the ACLU and Equality Utah.