Last week I was on the Joe Rogan Experience podcast and Joe Rogan asked me about gender transition for minors. He pointed out that there are many things children aren’t allowed to do until they grow up, and gave the example of getting a face tattoo. I argued that, while the question of how much counseling should be required is best left to people with far more expertise than either of us have, the disanalogy between the two cases is as follows: going through what you experience as the wrong puberty would be traumatic, while the kid who has to wait until he’s older to get that sick tattoo will be just fine.
The same week, Texas governor Greg Abbott and the state’s attorney general, Ken Paxton, were scoring culture war points with the Republican base at the expense of real children and their families. Paxton issued an official legal opinion (and a spotlight-seeking press release) claiming that not only surgical transition but even allowing trans kids to have puberty blockers counted as “child abuse.” The next day, Abbott issued a letter directing the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) to conduct a “thorough and prompt investigation” of the parents of children who have endured such “abuse.” The letter darkly warns that any “licensed professionals who have direct contact” with the children, including “doctors, nurses, and teachers” are subject to “criminal penalties for failure to report such child abuse.”
Got that? If you’re the parent of a trans child on puberty blockers, the governor is telling the DFPS to legally investigate you for child abuse. If you’re a nurse who overheard the conversation, or even child’s eighth grade math teacher, you could be criminally punished for not ratting out the child and their parents to the authorities.
Abbott’s decree is reprehensible, no matter what we think the clinical requirements should be for approving youth gender transitions. However much counseling a child goes through before receiving treatment, Governor Abbott wants to inflict “criminal penalties” on the doctor who agreed with the parents that it was in the child’s best interests to receive that treatment. And on the parents themselves. And on other doctors, nurses, and teachers whose only crime is not reporting the family to the authorities because the family made a medical decision that conflicts with the governor’s ideological beliefs. It’s an obscene directive.
It’s also deeply hypocritical. The Right loves to invoke the specter of a powerful and intrusive government bureaucracy as a (nonsensical) excuse to oppose the expansive social programs advocated by democratic socialists and other advocates for the interests of working people. Now conservative Republicans want Department of Family and Protective Services bureaucrats poking into the most intensely private aspects of family life and legally penalizing parents on the grounds that the governor and the DFPS know better than them (or their doctors) how to safeguard their children from trauma.
When they’re trying to protect rich people from redistributive taxation, conservatives lay the libertarian rhetoric on thick. The patron saint of the contemporary Republican Party, Ronald Reagan, told Reason magazine the first time he ran for president that “the heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism.” Governor Abbott’s own official website has an entire section devoted to his initiatives to create a “freer” Texas. Now it turns out that conservatives are just about libertarian enough to oppose raising Jeff Bezos’s taxes even slightly to provide housing for veterans, and exactly libertarian enough to want to roll back “intrusive” regulations on what corporations can do to workers, consumers, and the natural environment — but not quite libertarian enough to oppose government intrusion into families’ most intimate medical decisions. They aren’t even libertarian enough to stop short of criminally punishing anyone who fails to finger the families to the DPFS.
As socialists, we here at Jacobin don’t have any trouble sorting out our principles. We agree with Michael Walzer that “what touches all should be decided by all” — which is why we think economic decisions that impact the lives of vast numbers of people shouldn’t be made by private individuals. But the flip side of that principle is that if “all” aren’t impacted by a decision, our default position is to allow people to make their way through the world as they see fit.
Abbott and Paxton are rightly being sued by the victims of this grotesque stunt. I hope the lawsuit is successful. But whether it is or not, when Paxton, Abbott, and all the conservatives who cheer them on inevitably turn around and posture as defenders of freedom and families — or as opponents of intrusive government bureaucracy — everyone should know the score.
These people are full of shit.