Local experts respond to Gov. Abbott’s claim that transgender children are subject to ‘genital mutilation’

El Paso News

Ali Cross of the Austin Cheer squad waves a trans flag while her squad mates hold her up on the steps of the state Capitol at a rally against anti-trans legislation on April 28, 2021. Credit: Evan L’Roy/The Texas Tribune

EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — Governor Greg Abbott ordered top officials at the Texas Department of Family Protective Services to determine whether certain gender-affirming surgeries he claims are being done on transgender children are tantamount to child genital mutilation. If so, it would constitute child abuse under Texas law.

The problem, however, is these procedures are rarely performed — especially on minors.

KTSM 9 News spoke with local political experts and LGTBQ+ advocates about transgender issues on the Texas Legislature’s agenda and what it means for the second special session convened by Abbott, as well as the greater impact on LGTBQ+ people across the state.

Dr. Richard Pineda, Director at the Sam Donaldson Center for Communications at UTEP, tells KTSM 9 News the anti-trans efforts are nothing but a deflection from larger issues the GOP does not wish to grapple with.

“These issues are not emergency items in the traditional sense. They’re not budget-based, they’re not a reflection of the energy crisis or the grid meltdown. The Governor is really able to call the shots by making sure the issues being handled are red meat issues by conservatives,” says Pineda.

A new report finds that Texas gets almost 90 percent of energy and fossil fuels that political experts and advocates ought to be top-of-mind for the Texas Legislature — not non-emergent issues that impact a minority population. 

Ray Baca, El Paso GOP Chairman, says the concern is not an expression of intolerance toward the transgender community but rather an effort to ensure the decision to have gender-affirming surgeries are made by a person once they are an adult.

“Children of 10, 12, 14 years old are easily confused and easily led astray by others. And maybe brought to believe that they’re transgender when they’re really not,” says Baca. 

“The Governor is trying to prevent any permanent medical procedure being done on children,” he adds.

Despite the GOP’s fervor on the issue, transgender children in Texas (and nationwide) do not often have access to gender-affirming procedures.

In fact, most gender-affirming care for transgender children is either social transitioning or puberty blockers.

Abbott’s letter to the Texas Department of Family Protective Services claims “subjecting a child to genital mutilation through reassignment surgery creates a “genuine threat of substantial harm from physical injury to the child.” The Governor claims that procedures that include orchiectomy, hysterectomy, penectomy, or mastectomy is child abuse based on Texas Family Codes.

“The surgeries that they’re trying to prevent aren’t even happening,” Andi Tiscareno, Board Member at the Borderland Rainbow Center and an LGTBQ+ activist tells KTSM 9 News. “For transgender adults, for LGTBQ+ individuals as adults, we still don’t have a lot of resources,” she adds.

The Encyclopedia of Surgery reports that there are between 100 and 500 gender-affirming surgical procedures performed every year.

Changing gender identity is expensive in terms of time and finances. 

The Encyclopedia of Surgery says that most adults “have lived for many years with a dissonant identity” with the average time being about 29 years.

There is no mention of the surgery being performed in children.

Additionally, a team of doctors that include general physicians, surgeons, and psychiatrists must work together to prepare a person for gender-affirming procedures.

The cost for a male-to-female procedure ranges from $7,000 to $24,000, while female-to-male procedures exceed $50,000. 

The path to gender-affirming surgeries are long and complicated that first require a mental health evaluation to diagnose gender identity disorder or gender dysphoria, at which point a letter of recommendation for the patient to begin hormone therapy with a physician may be written.

Once the patient is placed on hormone therapy and begins to chemically transition, the patient is often required to undergo the “Real Life Test” that requires them to live as their self-identified gender prior to surgery. This includes going to work, school, dates, and other aspects of life. 

Only then can a candidate for gender-affirming surgery be recommended to have the procedure performed.

A study by Cedars-Sinai found that gender dysphoria can be established and identified in children as young at age 7, but notes that transgender women lived an average of 27 years and transgender men about 23 years before beginning social transition / hormone therapy.

While the GOP says it’s trying to prevent transgender children from making permanent decisions that will completely change their bodies, researchers and trans individuals attest that the decision is not one made lightly or immediately. 

“What they experienced earlier in life was not a ‘passing phase,’ which is often suggested about transgender people seeking surgery. They knew exactly when their gender dysphoria started. It’s like asking about your mom’s birthday – you just know it,” says Dr. Maurice Garcia who led the study. 

Members of the LGTBQ+ community say Abbott’s efforts to combat gender-affirming surgeries in children that do not take place is a step in the wrong direction when it comes to making transgender children and adults feel safe or included. 

“You can’t help how you identify,” says Tiscareno, “everyone identifies in their own way, in their own skin.”

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For LGBTQ mental health support, call the Trevor Project’s 24/7 toll-free support line at 866-488-7386. You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or text 741741 from anywhere in the country to text with a trained crisis counselor.

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