Why I will do anything to counter the Kansas Legislature’s poisonous narrative about transgender kids

"There are some who believe that the deeply personal and private cooperative effort between families and doctors will somehow damage gender-questioning youth," writes Ericka Nicholson. "On the contrary, it can save them, and my son is living proof." (Submitted)

The Kansas Reflector welcomes opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of widening the conversation about how public policies affect the day-to-day lives of people throughout our state. Ericka Nicholson, of Gove County, has spent 22 years advocating for rural Kansas in various healthcare, business development and city government roles.

Help me understand how some legislators get from openly defying science, rejecting our governor’s order for masks and gathering restrictions in the name of “individual liberties” and “we know what’s best for our family” to: “We know what’s best for Kansas transgender kids and their families”?

The hurtful HB2210 would have made it a crime “for a doctor to perform gender reassignment surgery or hormone replacement therapy on minors.” When we thought it had met a fate similar to former Rep. John Whitmer’s 2017 “bathroom bill” and would not get a hearing, allies of transgender people across the state exhaled a collective sigh of relief. A few mornings later, we woke up to realize the House had simply passed the torch to the Senate in the form of SB208, the “fairness in women’s sports act” requiring female student athletic teams to “only include members who are biologically female.”

I’d like to share briefly the transgender journey we’ve been on in very rural Kansas, and how this proposed legislation could take us out at the knees.

More than 12 years ago, my then-6-year-old was brave enough to tell us he was questioning his gender. Can you imagine how frightening that must be for a 6-year-old to have to talk to parents about? Despite what some Kansas legislators would lead you to believe, we did not load up and drive across the state to a surgeon’s office to have his reproductive organs removed and rebuilt to his identifying gender.

Afraid and alone in very rural western Kansas, we started with an unprepared school psychology staff and our family physician. For nearly eight years, my family fully committed to my child’s psychological well-being by attending regular professional counseling, despite living in a part of the state where we lacked the education and resources for our communities to learn more.

Additionally, almost 400 miles away from the experts, we began to slowly build our team of medical and psychological professionals to help us make the best decisions for my son.

Finally, after seven years of counseling, research, physician and pharmaceutical consult, we met with our amazing endocrinologist in Lawrence. In that office, we talked about things that apparently make a lot Kansas legislators uncomfortable, about things that some think they know an awful lot about — and things that are deeply personal and private to my family.

We talked about the menstrual cycle of a 14-year-old transgender boy and how to stop it, how to slow down the feminine changes to my son’s body that were causing him enough anguish that he had attempted to take his own life. After considerable family contemplation, we accepted a prescription for Lupron, a “puberty blocker.” This product would completely cease the progression of my son’s bodily feminine puberty, and we had studied it and its long term effects for years prior to it being prescribed.

Lupron saved my son’s life and now is on the table as a criminal act if a physician would prescribe it.

Our decision was ours and it was private. The consequences of our decision affected no one but our family. There are some who believe that this deeply personal and private cooperative effort between families and doctors will somehow damage gender-questioning youth. On the contrary, it can save them, and my son is living proof.

There are those who do not understand and have compared the “urges” of transgender youths to the urges of a pedophile or a murderer. Some are making ill parallels to “what if my kid says they are a cat or a dog or a cow,” somehow assimilating the very complex, deeply personal and emotional journey of a transgender teen into a joke of some kind.

Most frightening to me are those who share their belief that a transgender person and those who support them will not be allowed into Heaven, as they are “an abomination of God” — words spat into my face during a confrontation in my own hometown.

These narratives are poisonous to a transgender youths. It’s important to note that 13 years deep into our journey, I have yet to talk to a single physician, clinician or transgender family seeking any surgical intervention for transgender patients under the age of 18. Yet it is addressed in Kansas’ proposed legislation.

As a parent, you will do anything for your child, especially when they have come to the conclusion that taking their own life is a better option than being forced to live a life that is not authentic to their true self. You will tolerate incredible hate, public criticism of your own faith and beliefs, and your intelligence and commitment as a parent. But you will forge ahead.

Tears will find you when you think you have none left, and in an effort to advance the transgender narrative, you will swallow your desire to retaliate outwardly and angrily to those who grossly misunderstand or who intentionally choose not to understand your personal journey.

You will do it for your own child, whatever it takes.

Through its opinion section, the Kansas Reflector works to amplify the voices of people who are affected by public policies or excluded from public debate. Find information, including how to submit your own commentary, here.