By Lexie Bean
Anti-Trans Legislation Promises to Protect CSA Survivors But Creates The Conditions For More
The ACLU is tracking over 450 anti-LGBT bills in the U.S. In some form, most bills focus on trans identity and claim to protect children from pedophilia. The premise of many of these proposals is that trans people are groomers or secretly cisgendered and broken from abuse. This mythology erases actual trans childhood sexual abuse (CSA) survivors, like myself.
Ironically, anti-trans legislation creates conditions that will lead to more instances of CSA. There’s a paradox in legislation of centralizing CSA narratives as evidence while dismissing the most harmful parts of CSA survivors’ lived experiences.
As someone who has been impacted by CSA, it was inherently isolating because nowhere, including my body, felt safe. The future seemed impossible — especially one where I felt whole, respected, and loved. Lastly, it took my language away. I stopped speaking and believed all traces of stability would be ruined otherwise.
Trans CSA survivors are isolated even further on the political stage by the narrowing of our existence. The legislation diminishes our futures with healthcare bans. They erase our language by censoring schools. Each bill breaks down critical systems we rely on for information and life-saving care.
For example, this year, Tennessee became the first state to sign a drag restriction, which “protects children from obscene, sexualized entertainment.” Last month, 14 proposals for drag show restrictions declared that visibly gender-expansive people are dangerous to youth. Labeling gender non-conforming adults as predatory and building laws around the visibility of our community further isolates both people who are and aren’t out as trans. Solitude is a primary reason people fall into abuse. It encourages us to accept any kind of love or care. In removing youth from community spaces, it’s more likely they’ll make unsafe decisions in desperation to belong. This sets youth up to blame when the system at hand creates conditions for loneliness.
Meanwhile, nearly 80% of states on the ACLU’s tracker have bills advancing related to LGBTQ+ students. Many restrict conversations around gender and sexual orientation with clauses like duty-to-report to parents, schools, and/or Child Protective Services when flagging a student’s gender or sexual orientation. Involving these authoritative parties without a person’s consent is bad for survivors. Youth with unsupportive families could be punished privately by family in addition to state-level punishment. Youth with supportive families are now threatened with CPS or school suspension.
It is harmful when a survivor lacks clarity about the repercussions of disclosing new information about themselves. This is both true for sharing with others the most beautiful parts of life, like a new name or the hardest parts, like being molested.
Equating LGBTQ+ identity with abuse in schools is additionally damaging. To the legislators of these bills, child abuse is defined as a trans person simply existing: at home, at school, in media, in public, near children, or being a child at all. Without correct definitions of abuse, naming CSA when it happens is delayed. It already takes 17 years for most CSA disclosures to come to light. Removing words relating to our bodies and experiences and replacing them with misinformation creates another generation seeking language and thus resources.
Anti-Trans Legislation Is Abuse Masquerading as Protection
The second most common type of bill bans gender-affirming healthcare for minors, which has passed in Utah and South Dakota, and is advancing elsewhere under names like “Protect Children’s Innocence Act.” If youth seek gender-affirming care, authorities assume it’s because of home abuse and mutilation by doctors. Parents supporting their child’s journey are assumed criminals by law. With so much legislation mislabeling abuse, child welfare agencies are further limited in their ability to help actual survivors. Doctors are criminalized or lose licenses for these health practices. This upholds fascist rhetoric where politicians are experts and, like abusers, promise they’re doing what’s best for you.
States are now expanding these bills to trans adults, revealing that anti-trans legislation was never about protecting children. Additional healthcare legislation, similar to SB 897 in Oregon, targets incarcerated trans adults. Trans inmates are more likely to be CSA survivors, and these bills make more survivors by placing them in facilities where they’re more vulnerable to being preyed upon. As anti-trans laws pass, more people will enter this pipeline.
Perhaps the least obvious corruption of CSA narratives is bans on trans youth, especially girls, from sports. These claim we cheat to win, propagating we’re not trustworthy. Additionally, these bills experiment with proving athletes’ gender. In the case of Ohio, legislators hoped to put kids through genital inspections, which reminds us again this was never about protection. Quite the opposite.
Bills in other categories use backward abuse narratives; for instance, a recently proposed bill in Arkansas bars trans adults from using public restrooms in the presence of minors, naming it “sexual indecency with a child.” Or many states are establishing a “Women’s Bill of Rights” emphasizing biological sex which impacts all genders seeking domestic violence services that already narrowly support cis-women.
It’s worth noting that it’s not only the far-right who believes in many of these myths that link abuse to transness. It is ever-present in liberal communities and even centrist publications. One of the most common misconceptions across the political spectrum is that domestic violence and sexual abuse underlie victims’ decisions to medically transition.
My experience contradicts this. Abuse has delayed my coming out and transition process. The person who abused me as a child would cut my hair and held a very firm rule that anything above my shoulders was a “boy’s haircut.” A type of gender exploration so basic was a punishable offense.
To this day, if a cis man asks me about my interest in medically transitioning, I soften my wishes, fearing they might hurt me. If a cis woman asks, I again shrink myself because I don’t want them to associate me with the men who may have hurt them. Ultimately, childhood sexual abuse stamped me with the question — is my body ever my own? To make the choice to explore my gender and transition requires a type of agency many of us CSA survivors are slow to come to. Amongst our local communities and the media at large, it is deeply unfair to speculate that the decision to become yourself is a result of weakness or victimization. Preventing people from transitioning or exploring their genders with legislation will never be the thing that will save them.
Protecting survivors is listening to survivors. Legislating virtually every space, even a supportive home, promises that help is not for us. To tackle these bills, we need to honor that trans-CSA survivors exist and, at any age, deserve belonging, a voice, and a promise that tomorrow comes without punishment.
Lexie Bean (they/he) is a trans multimedia artist from the Midwest whose work revolves around themes of bodies, homes, cyclical violence, and queer identity. They are a Jerome Hill Artist Fellow, member of the RAINN National Leadership Council, and a Lambda Literary Award Finalist for their anthology Written on the Body. They have worked with sexual abuse survivors for nearly 15 years, maintaining a special focus on trans victims. They’ve served as a keynote speaker around the US, led over 100 panels and workshops, and collaborated with restorative justice group Hidden Water. Lexie integrated their personal experiences into the acclaimed The Ship We Built, the first middle grade novel centering and written by a trans boy released by a major US publisher. Their work has been featured in Teen Vogue, The New York Times, The Huffington Post, The Feminist Wire, Ms. Magazine, Them, Bust Magazine, Autostraddle, and more. Currently they are working on new book projects, film writing, and co-directing their first feature-length documentary, What Will I Become? Visit www.lexiebean.com for more info or follow them on Instagram.