Opinion: As a Transgender Person, I Am Afraid That Staying in Texas May Harm Me in the Future
Why does Texas attorney general Ken Paxton want to know about me?
Two weeks ago, I opened the news to see an article in The Washington Post that was specifically about me. I don't think that happens too often to most people, but this is life in Texas now:
"Employees at the Texas Department of Public Safety in June received a sweeping request from Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton's office: Compile a list of individuals who had changed their gender on their Texas driver's license and other department records during the past two years."
While I wasn't called out by name, I most certainly would have been on that list.
In November of 2020 I obtained a court ordered name and gender marker change in Austin. The next step was to update my driver's license, passport, and social security information. These processes took time and money, and I consider myself privileged that I was able to complete them during the pandemic. The mental health benefits of gender affirmation cannot be overstated: I was a healthier and happier person due to being able to present documents that matched my identity and preferences.
If you are a person that has married and changed their last name, you know that sometimes it can take months or years to have the change updated in every single database. When you add in the complexity of changing a first and middle name, plus gender marker, it might never completely happen. While for me it's an annoyance, for others it can create potential for recrimination or violence if someone accesses data that contains information about dead names or gender.
My information has been updated for over two years, and this week I had an online payment pull in my old name and address that was sent to a third party without my knowledge. I updated the database as soon as I noticed but if I hadn't reviewed the order, I wouldn't have known that the payee was seeing my dead name.
When I read the article and thought about what the implications are of the attorney general of my state trying to obtain a list of people that had changed their gender markers, my first thought was, "Why does he need to know?" Nowhere in the article did I see a statement from the Texas A.G. stating why they needed this data. I understand that data can be used for many reasons, good and bad, but in most cases government entities at least need to disclose they are gathering your data or at least justify the case. I don't see that either case was met.
The care of transgender people and specifically minors in Texas and other states is worrying. Taking a person's own decisions about their life out of their hands is not a good use of state powers in my opinion. Being transgender is not a choice, just like being cisgender isn't, or being queer or straight. If the A.G. had asked for a list of any other minority, I feel that group would be just as worried as the transgender community is now. Try to think of any reason why you are different from your neighbors: religion, political views, age, race, profession ... there are many reasons someone may need to know that information without your consent. I feel though that if the A.G. needed that information, then they should explain why to the people affected.
As I look forward, my options to remain safe in my home in Texas are limited. Austin feels like a safe place, but outside of the city limits feels different. Other cities and states in the country respect and represent minorities such as me much more, and I feel like staying here in Texas is not the right thing for me and other minority members.
Kat Steele is a transgender female, cyclist, blogger, and Austin resident since 2019, who moved here from Northern Virginia due to the more open society in Austin.