The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion I’m the mother of a trans son in Texas — and no, I’m not a ‘child abuser’

The author's son at a recent protest in Texas. (Family photo)
Placeholder while article actions load

Amber Briggle is a small-business owner and mother of two in Texas.

From bathroom bills to sports bills to “religious refusal” bills to health-care bills, transgender children have been under attack in our country for as long as my son has been transgender. Which is to say, his entire life.

After years of hearing my child tell me he was a boy, I finally understood what he was telling me, kept loving him unconditionally and gave him the space to live his truth out loud. His name and pronouns changed, but other than getting a huge boost in self-esteem and confidence, he remained largely the same child. We told the people who needed to know and kept living our lives. We didn’t make a big deal of it, because who he is remained just as miraculous and predictable as the sun rising every morning.

In 2016, I was invited to speak at a news conference to share my story as a loving mother of a transgender child. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) was about to file suit against the Obama administration over a “Dear Colleague” letter that clarified existing federal law regarding trans students in public schools — saying they should be allowed to use their chosen name and pronouns, and to access sex-segregated facilities such as bathrooms consistent with their gender identity. Paxton disagreed.

The presser was meant to show that trans kids are not a threat to anyone. It was the first time I’d ever taken to a microphone to advocate for my child in that way, and I was terrified of what would come next. But I had to stand and fight.

The Post's View: In Texas, it is the politicians who are abusing transgender children

The day the suit was filed in federal court in nearby Fort Worth, my family took the day off to sit silently in the courtroom, serving as a visible reminder that trans-inclusive families exist, trans kids are adorable and children such as my son deserve equal rights. The injunction was granted anyway, and anti-transgender legislation began to distract and infest our state Capitol.

Which brings us to today. Paxton’s office has now issued a memo — full of scientific inaccuracies that defy the guidance of every major U.S. medical association — that defines loving parents, including me, as “child abusers” if we seek to provide our children the care they need to thrive.

My family’s goal has been to be real. To put a face on something many Americans have a hard time understanding. That is why, in 2016, we invited Paxton to dinner in our home — to help him think about these issues differently. It’s hard to hurt someone you personally know, after all. Maybe sharing a meal and exchanging magic tricks with a sweet third-grader would help Paxton’s heart grow a size or two.

He accepted. His wife brought a dessert still warm from their oven. The evening was lovely. Our guests were considerate, the conversation was lively and personal, and, to any observer who didn’t know it was the dinner party of the year, it looked like two families connecting over cobbler and ice tea. Which is why I feel so betrayed by this man who broke bread with my family: He knows we’re not child abusers but is willing to call us that anyway. Like Judas, he is selling us for 30 pieces of silver — primary votes and campaign contributions.

Voices Across America: Texas officials are spreading blatant falsehoods about medical care for transgender kids

I’m angry. I’m angry at my former dinner guest, but angry, too, at Gov. Greg Abbott and every other Republican who wants it both ways: advocating for “parental rights” when it comes to what children are taught in public schools, but stripping the rights of parents, including me, to raise our children as we see fit. Demanding to know a transgender child’s medical history and whether they receive lifesaving hormone therapy, but clutching their pearls if anyone asks them their vaccination status, because “it’s a HIPAA violation.”

I’m also angry at America. For years, I’ve been begging people to pay attention to what’s happening to trans children. But these precious kids, who are literally fighting for their lives, have been ignored. The result? An escalation both in the number of bills filed in states across the country — 79 anti-trans measures in 2020, 147 in 2021 and roughly 280 (so far) on track to be filed in state legislatures in 2022 — and in the cruelty of the content: putting parents in an impossible situation by forcing them to choose between providing medically necessary, lifesaving care, or facing the threat that their children will be taken from them.

Despite Paxton’s and Abbott’s efforts, my 14-year-old continues to thrive in Texas. He’s a decorated athlete, a talented musician, a straight-A student, a helpful big brother. He succeeds partly because he was born to be awesome, but also partly because he has parents who love and affirm him, and help him access the care he needs to live a healthy life. Taking him away from that care and love would be the real child abuse.