By Laura Woolf*
With hate speech and threats continually directed at Davis schools, educators, and LGBTQ+ rights organizations for supporting transgender people, I am compelled to share my perspective and experience as a transgender adult living in Davis. I hope that my words will be illuminating for individuals within the community, as well as, perhaps, those who currently peddle this vile hatred. I hope to inspire my community and my neighbors to take a measure of personal responsibility in pushing back against these extremist groups during this time of broad attacks, but also in times when bigotry is directed solely at the LGBTQ+ community.
In my teenage years I lived in a setting that groups like “Moms for Liberty” advocate for. It was a small blue collar town in a midwestern state. There were no pride flags in my classrooms. There were no LGBTQ+ rights organizations, GSAs, online support groups, or Davis Phoenix Coalitions. No pride parades, pamphlets on gender or sexuality, or queer social events. There were no students who were out as transgender in my vicinity, and I cannot name a single person who was out as gay to the high school student body. In the place I was raised, being transgender meant most saw you as a freak fit only for appearances on daytime talk shows. Neither topic was raised in sex-ed. We didn’t even have an understanding of the term “transgender.” Individuals who did not fit into the gender binary were referred to almost exclusively with slurs.
But many of my classmates and I were transgender, whether we wanted to be or not. We all grew up knowing the gender we presented in our daily life did not match our internal understanding of ourselves. It is a feeling that is painful and impossible to look away from, and can only be truly understood by experiencing it. I still remember typing “what does it mean to feel like a different gender?” into early internet search windows and finding no answers. It was the only anonymous help I could seek at the time. I was never told to feel this way or taught concepts of gender. It came entirely from within me.
The idea of coming out as transgender during my school years was unthinkable. The social consequences would have been catastrophic, with pushback sure to arrive from both school staff and peers. It also would have had severe consequences at home. My parents were unsupportive of my transition when I came out in my mid-twenties. My father called me a deviant, and we haven’t spoken in the years since. If I had come out as transgender to them during my teen years, it would have been the end of my life as I knew it, and the start of a punishing journey I am not sure I would have survived. Even if I had talked about my feelings to a counselor or therapist, access to care was a precarious unknown. I wouldn’t discover any information on the existence of gender-affirming care until YouTube arrived in my late teens. There, I found video diaries of transgender individuals with feelings matching my own, but in more accepting situations. It was profound to hear about their stories, and find others who shared my experiences. I dreamed of a life where I could be myself.
Nobody would have known what to do with a transgender child like me in my town, and there certainly weren’t resources. Coming out as transgender in my environment was a dead end, offering no solutions, and a world of barriers and struggles. So what did you do if you were a transgender kid in this environment? You told nobody, for starters. You might have mentioned your feelings to your closest confidant, or, like me, you vowed to take the truth of your feelings to your grave. Since graduating, starting my life, and later transitioning in my 20s, I learned that several classmates from my high school also transitioned in adulthood. We sometimes ask of one another “When did you know ?” The sad truth is that many of us knew before our teenage years. Due to the conditions of our community, we suffered silently or lived in denial.
We didn’t have the vocabulary for our feelings. There was no illumination for us. Some of us even befriended each other, with neither party revealing their inner thoughts. The consequences were simply too much to risk. “Moms for Liberty” might cite the statistics from this time period to show that there were zero transgender students in my school. The truth in the face of this cruel obfuscation of reality is that we weren’t counted because we were closeted and terrified. But we were always there. “Moms for Liberty” members often state that they do not believe that children can be transgender. They are wrong. My existence was proof of that.
The feelings of gender dysphoria drove stakes into our hearts as time went on. It was an abundant source of daily pain as we tried to shut down and pretend to play our roles as the people we were “meant” to be. We were told to be grateful for our health and our bodies and our lives, despite everything feeling wrong. We faked contentment in order to appease others around us, and ensured our own safety by avoiding questions. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think back to all the missed time I spent living a life that was not mine, living in a body that didn’t feel like mine, and charting a course through life that felt forced upon me. I wasn’t able to make friends as myself, date as myself, play sports as myself. I wasn’t able to attend prom as myself or relate to others in a genuine way. Like many others, I cried myself to sleep many nights as the grinding friction of who I was inside, and who I was told I had to be, tore at me. Without options, though, all we could do was suffer in silence.
“Moms for Liberty” do not believe that transgender identities are genuine in children or in adulthood. Organizations like this will tell you that the solution to dysphoria is some combination of putting those feelings aside, and conversion therapy in all but name. They believe that gender identity is something taught, and not felt. I was never taught what “Moms for Liberty” refers to as “gender ideology,” but I was still a transgender child. Their proposed “solutions” to gender dysphoria bear resemblance to those presented to gays, lesbians, and bisexuals, who were pressured into rejecting their felt sexuality “for their own good.” Gender-affirming care, and the ability to live authentically, has been a lifeline for me and so many others. The positive benefits are inarguable, and you could fill a library with positive testimonials. Denial of this care, for adults or transgender youth, is beyond cruel. This is why every reputable medical organization supports gender-affirming care.
My childhood represents what a world without resources for transgender youth looks like. It is painful, lonely, sad, and isolating, and it has consequences down the road. The pains of gender dysphoria don’t go away, and ultimately, my transgender classmates and I would transition later in our lives once we found ourselves in places of relative stability. Some classmates are still biding their time, not yet being in those same spaces. Others still likely suffer in silence and will never get the chance. Amongst ourselves we ask, “How different would our lives have been had we only been given the support to voice how we felt?” For us, it is a tragic question. How different would our lives have been with the inclusion of pride flags, of supportive teachers and school districts, of resources for transgender youth, of books and novels of others relating to our experiences? We may have been able to start living as ourselves decades earlier, instead of suffering in the shadows until our hard work afforded us a chance at gender-affirming care and supportive environments. We might have had a real shot at full, authentic lives. Instead, we faced decades of pain and delay, and now live with dark ashes of our regrets and lost time.
“Moms for Liberty” state positions such as “Gender ideology is anti-science” and “You are perfect. You don’t need drugs or surgery.” These groups claim to protect children, but their position relies on the idea that transgender people of any age are simply confused, or have been led astray. In the same way that the “moral majority” of the past argued that gays were only gay because of choice and social contagion, transphobic hate groups constantly state that we have been brainwashed. No matter how many stories of transgender people existing throughout time, history, and disparate cultures one presents to members of these hate groups, they claim that the presence of transgender people is a recent phenomenon and a symptom of social contagion. If you press them on these beliefs, they will often walk them back, and repeat their constant refrain that they are “protecting children.” Their true aim is to remove all affirming references and resources for transgender youth from schools, thereby preventing transgender children from sharing their honest experiences and living as themselves. It is a tactic of suppression, rather than protection. My friends and I were recipients of that suppression. We say now: No more.
Just as the number of left-handed people rose in schools at the end of enforcement of right-handedness, and just as the number of out and proud gay folks has risen in the time since social acceptance, transgender folks are now refusing to live in the dark. I have been transgender my entire life, and the only thing stopping me from making that known to the world was fear. Groups like “Moms for Liberty” are attempting to instill those conditions of that fear into our community, forcing transgender youth back into the closet, and depriving them of information and resources. They may say they are protecting children, but their success would cause incredible harm. I am here to tell you that I was a transgender child, I still am transgender, my classmates were and are still transgender, as are many people in the community of Davis. As a transgender member of your community, I promise you that gender dysphoria is genuine, and devastating to ignore. We are real. Our feelings and lived experiences are crystal clear to us. We are your family and neighbors, friends and co-workers, teammates and passersby. Transgender youth deserve in-school support and resources. Transgender youth deserve to play sports with their friends. Transgender people of all ages deserve respect and gender-affirming care.
If you are a Davisite, I hope this was revealing. If you are a member of Yolo “Moms for Liberty”, I hope reading this gives you some pause regarding your continued push to remove resources and support from schools. You are profoundly incorrect in your beliefs and assumptions. You will never be able to ensure that there are fewer transgender students through suppression. You will never again succeed in dropping transgender students into the pit of isolation, fear, and darkness that many of us faced. You should consider accepting our existence and letting this community heal from the all too real consequences of your anti-transgender hatred and skepticism. You might also, perhaps, find some healing within your personal relationships and with the community at large. It is not your right to strip us of our support or care. Transgender people and transgender youth are real and we always have been.
*Laura Woolf is a pen name to protect a vulnerable member of the community