This February, Texas governor Greg Abbott labelled gender affirming care, hormone blockers for transgender children, child abuse. In a letter to the Commissioner Masters, Abbott stated that it was the “duty” of “doctors, nurses, and teachers” to report any child they believed to be under this “abuse” – essentially, any child they believe to be transgender – to the Department of Family and Protective Services, under pain of criminal penalties for not doing so. He also openly called for DFPS to “investigate the parents” and impose legal penalties. It has since been reported that parents of transgender children are already facing penalties.
Before continuing, it is imperative to note that hormone blockers, the primary treatment for transgender children, have not been proven to cause sterilisation. Instead, they have been consistently proven to show to improve the wellbeing of transgender children and can alleviate often debilitating gender dysphoria. The crux of Abbott’s argument falls apart at the first hurdle.
Despite the horrendous effects already being inflicted by Abbott’s letter, he faces significant opposition from Biden and (more effectively) trans organisations in Texas and the wider United States. There is hope that this morally bankrupt decision will be squashed before it can take full effect. What really concerns me is how Abbott has used and weaponised British transphobia in ways that affect even more trans people beyond this island – in particular, the export of the precedent set by the 2020 Bell v. Tavistock judgement.
Bell v. Tavistock (2020) is an ongoing legal case that centres on the administration of ‘hormone blockers’ to under 18s at NHS Tavistock’s Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS). Keira Bell, the claimant, stipulated that by sometimes prescribing these blockers after several appointments spanning at least a year, GIDS pushed the concept of Gillick competence (defined as the capacity for those under 16 to consent to medical treatment without parental permission) “to its breaking point.” It was said that the “misleading” information meant children could not consent to treatment because they were not aware of its “full effects”. The original 2020 judgement ruled in favour of Bell: sixteen and seventeen year-olds had to win a court order to receive treatment while under-sixteens were entitled to nothing. Crucially, this was overturned in September 2021 and the evidence given by Bell’s legal team was largely thrown out, labelled “argumentative and adversarial” in its depictions of childhood transition. The 2020 judgement of Bell v. Tavistock has been overturned in a UK court of law.
But the fact that this judgement has been overturned in the UK does not matter. Abbott’s letter uses evidence that cites the 2020 judgement, specifically “Bell’s conclusion that a clinic’s practice of prescribing puberty suppressing medication to individuals under 18 was experimental” and that, in Texas, such procedures “implicate a minor child’s constitutional right to procreate”.
The Bell v. Tavistock judgement has a perverse, paradoxical obsession with childhood naivety that has been translated to Abbott’s letter. It states that children on hormone blockers “miss a period of normal biological and social experience […] that can never be truly recovered or reversed.” The hormone blocker interferes with a predestined, natural childhood – the child thus, from this perspective, becomes irreparably broken. This framing of transgender people excludes them from the ‘normal’ population, constructing them as freakish, dangerous, even threatening; they need to be controlled. The trans child is pulled apart whilst the architects of this violence celebrate that they have protected the child from themselves. This paradox is exacerbated by Abbott and his threats of splitting families apart in order to protect a “minor child’s constitutional right to procreate”: the child’s ability to procreate is considered far more worthy of protection and safeguarding than the child themselves.
With such obvious paradoxes, it becomes clear that both Bell v. Tavistock and Abbott have little regard for the mental wellbeing of the children they claim to campaign for. A child on hormone blockers is considered more destructive than the act of legally dissecting that same child’s reproductive capacity. It is entirely, utterly perverse. The motive is to protect children’s innocence, yet children are constantly referred to as inevitable collateral damage. A child killing themselves because of this medical abandonment is more palatable to the judges than that same child on medication.
The precedent set by Bell v. Tavistock could be far greater than the effects it has had on the UK. It has, at least in part, inspired a U.S politician into attempting to enact a series of far more punitive measures for transgender children: beyond restricting access to medical care, he has progressed into criminal legal proceedings for their parents and the adults who care for them.
Bell v. Tavistock has been ineffective legally, but that was never the point. The point was to create an atmosphere of division and hostility that the reactionary right could leap upon and begin to undo the foundations of transgender liberation. Both cases are symptomatic of the anti-trans moral panic which weaponises childhood innocence as justification for pathologising, policing, and controlling queer individuals.
The end goal here is not protecting children, but instead the total denial of trans people altogether. It is imperative to realise how trans children are being sacrificed as pawns within this emotive and destructive rhetoric, and to realise the part that Britain has played in creating this atmosphere on a global scale.