By Jonathon Van Maren
This column was first published at Substack–subscribe here!
For several years now, America has been going through a great re-sorting as conservative and religious parents move to red states and many progressives head to blue states. According to dozens of news reports tracking the trend, many of those moving are doing so for the same reason—while religious parents fear the power of the government to “transition” children and even remove them from the home if they should express gender confusion in public, progressive parents are leaving red states where laws restricting transgender “treatments” have been passed, seeking sex change surgeries and cross-sex hormones for their children while Democrat governors offer them “sanctuary.”
As Ben Shapiro noted: “I told my wife that we needed to leave California in 2020 because in 5-10 years, it would simply not be possible to raise children in line with traditional morality and decency there. My timeline was optimistic.” He was right. California’s legislators—with the encouragement of Governor Gavin Newsom, an LGBT activist who, as mayor of San Francisco, began to illegally issue same-sex “marriage” licenses in 2004—recently passed bill A.B. 957, the “Transgender, Gender-Diverse, and Intersex Youth Empowerment Act,” which would treat parental refusal to “affirm” their child’s gender confusion as a violation of health, safety, and welfare in any custody disputes.
The new law would require judges overseeing custody battles to favor the parent who “affirms” the child’s “gender identity”; the law specifically defines “the health, safety, and welfare” of a child as including “a parent’s affirmation of a child’s gender identity.” Simultaneously, notorious state senator Scott Wiener, who has championed bills helping statutory rapists avoid the sex offender registry, reducing the crime of failing to disclose HIV-positive status to a sex partner to a misdemeanor, and suggesting that Drag Queen Story Hour be made mandatory, has put forward a bill requiring foster parents to “affirm” gender confusion of children in their care.
It was Wiener who, in 2022, put forward the law enshrining California as a transgender “haven” where parents from out of state can take their children to undergo sex changes—or minors can get transgender drugs and surgeries without parental consent. And for those who insist that the bill’s critics are merely fearmongering, one of the bill’s authors specifically cited a 7-year-old being removed from the home of his or her parents if they decline to “affirm” gender dysphoria as a motive behind the law. This law is California’s first step towards making it illegal for parents not to “affirm” gender dysphoria in any instance—once the premise that “affirmation” is synonymous with “health, safety, and welfare” is passed into law, the writing is on the wall.
America is increasingly becoming the exception on this issue as many European countries move towards a more cautious approach. Democrats like Wiener are following their own “science,” and indeed are contributing to growing institutional mistrust by insisting that their critics are motivated by phobias and a refusal to listen to the experts when the experts who are looking at the question of gender dysphoria seriously are coming to very different conclusions than the Democrats determined to make child mutilation their hill to die on. But these laws are particularly pernicious for parental rights. As Carl Trueman observed in First Things:
[T]he California bill points toward something of much broader significance: the rise of the notion that parents are defined by function rather than biology. Now, according to the Oxford Dictionary, “parent” as a verb existed as early as the sixteenth century, but it did not gain currency until the twentieth. And its prominence today is likely significant, reflecting a world where “parent” is primarily something you do rather than something you are.
In one sense, parents have always “done” things. They care for and protect their children, nurture them, raise them to be adults. That we can talk of “good parents” and “bad parents” indicates that parenthood involves functions. But the assumption has always been that the biological relationship is basic and that the judgment of “good” or “bad” is understood relative to the moral obligations that relationship necessarily implies. What is interesting is the way in which this biological relation is slowly being attenuated by an increasingly expansive set of functions defined in law and demanded by governments. Add to this the scientific marginalization of natural reproduction—first via IVF and surrogacy, then by gay marriage, and soon (it seems) by the production of embryos from stem cells—and the notion of being a parent has become more and more removed from the simple biological relationship of being the source of half a child’s DNA. And as biology has faded as a stable basis for definition, so a functional definition of “parent” has risen in prominence. Thus now, with psychological categories coming into play, the way is open for “parent” to be defined ideologically by the state. That is what the California bill is, in practice, proposing.
Much of this derives from the dominance of therapeutic or psychological categories. In a world where many adults increasingly see every criticism as a personal attack and every disagreement as some form of malicious gaslighting, it is not surprising that children’s mental health has been expanded to include affirmation even of the most egregious confusions that our anarchic culture of identity has generated. What is deeply troubling is that this subjectivism is now becoming an instrument for attenuating the relationship between parents and children. In the past, a bruise or a broken bone might well trigger an entirely appropriate intervention by social services. But our present age is a new and rather nasty one. Here the bizarre excesses of the most implausible academic theories combine with the commercial concerns of the pharmaceutical industry and the moral bankruptcy of a political caste interested only in pandering to the most unhinged of sexual revolutionaries. In such a world, “parenting,” to use the egregious verbal form, becomes a matter of political taste, to be policed by the state. Children become the means by which lunacy is enforced by virtual fiat: “Toe the line or lose your kids” certainly looks as if it could be a remarkably persuasive strategy.
Trueman, like other optimists, believes the transgender house of cards will come crashing down once damaged victims of the industry start suing the medical practitioners who drugged and castrated them in an attempt to “affirm their gender.” The lawsuits, in fact, have already begun. But it is also true that significant human carnage will be left in its wake—and not only from the transgender industry. Abigail Martinez, the mother of a “transgender” child who killed herself, gave heartbreaking testimony to the California Judiciary Senate hearing in a desperate attempt to stop the bill’s passage. Her words are a warning for our dangerous times:
My name is Abigail Martinez. It has been three years and 164 days since I lost my daughter Yaeli. I miss her every single day. Let me tell you how she died. My daughter was murdered by a gender ideology. CPS took my daughter when she was 16 years old. It was helped by her public school counselor and LGBTQ group and another trans-identified girl.
My daughter was taken from her loving home because the state of California claimed I was abusive for not affirming her trans identity. I lost my daughter over a name and pronouns. Even after I promised to call her a male name, it wasn’t enough. My daughter was not a boy trapped in a girl’s body. She had mental health issues. Against my consent, my daughter was given testosterone instead of therapy. The LGBTQ group used her to raise money for them. “Look at the poor reject trans boy,” they said.
Why are there so many transgender in foster care? Because this state takes them from their families, tells them to run, then steals them. Parents are given one option to treat their distressed child, affirm drugs and remove their healthy body parts, or else lose your child. The abuse claim against me was finally dropped, but it was too late. The damage was done. By then my daughter was in horrible mental and physical pain. My daughter knelt down in front of a train. She was murdered by gender ideology.
I beg you, stop pushing gender ideology. I don’t want any parent to feel what I feel every day. Affirmation is not good for the health, safety, and welfare of any child.
Those of us warning about the consequences of governments adopting gender ideology are not paranoiacs. The government really is taking children from loving parents; those parents really are losing their children. I’ve interviewed some of them—like the father in British Columbia who lost his daughter and was ordered by a court to refer to her as his son. This isn’t some distant dystopia—this is happening now, and parents need to be extraordinarily careful about how they raise their children in this environment. Public schools will “transition” children behind your back and collude with government to remove them from the parental home for their own “safety” if mothers or fathers disagree with “gender-affirming care.” Smartphones and social media are incredibly dangerous for children. Parents should know who is teaching and influencing their children—because the stakes, sadly, have never been higher.