Trans Texans Are Being Surveilled, This Is Everyone’s Issue

Feature image by Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images

In September 2022, after a grueling number of months going through the name and gender marker change process in Texas, I rolled up to my local Department of Public Safety (DPS) for an appointment. A nice receptionist led me to a desk, where I waited awkwardly to hand over a letter from a county judge saying I have permission to update my information on my driver license.

“Kaybee, huh? Nice new name,” she said. The woman was Black and masculine presenting — two things that made my nerves go down a little.

“Yeah. Thank you,” I whispered as she jotted down information on a screen.

“Here’s your temporary license. Go live your life. I’m proud of you.” said the woman. Three months of emails, waiting in lines, wondering why the process is like this, more waiting, and hoping some stranger would be nice enough to not hate crime me led to this moment. I’d finally changed my name and gender marker on all legal documents. Finally, my documents matched the person I’ve lived as for half a decade, the person I’ve always been (or close to it — Texas is one of the many states that only have M and F gender marker options). Though the process was unnecessarily complicated, a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I felt like a new era was born.

That was until December 14th. The Washington Post broke the news that Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton secretly asked the Texas DPS for personal data on who had changed their gender marker from male to female or female to male over the past two years. No reason was given as to why. In the minutes it took to read this piece, all of the anxiety I rid myself of just months ago came rushing back tenfold.

This kind of unnecessary surveillance and overstepping in efforts to oppress LGBTQ+ folks is not at all new for Paxton. In June, he publicly stated that if Texas passed an archaic, unnecessary Sodomy Law he would defend the decision in court. In March, Paxton called Austin Independent School District’s pride month celebrations “controversial” and “indoctrination”. That same month, he asked the Texas Supreme Court to let investigations into transgender families continue. And the list goes onand onand on (times nine).

The process to get one’s name and gender marker changed in Texas is convoluted enough. In order to even go up to the court house, I had to be “examined” by a doctor, get a note saying that I’ve been “living as a man” and am getting “appropriate clinical treatment” for transitioning, get my fingerprints taken, and fill out various forms. This process paints transness as a clinical disease, makes one prove their transness, and puts barriers up for those that are not out or don’t have funds to see a doctor or pay the $297 court cost. Luckily, I was able to fill out a statement for inability to pay, and I had been on hormone replacement therapy for a year.

After all these things, you then have to hope that whomever District Clerk and the judge they hand it to aren’t transphobic. Ultimately, the judge must sign off on your name/gender marker change order, and you must be okay with however long that might take (mine took about six weeks). If the judge decides to not sign your order, then you have to start the whole process over. People changing their name for non-trans reasons don’t have to do even half these things.

Post-getting my order approved, I had to go make appointments and/or walk in to at least 10 places (social security office, vehicle registration, bank, passport office, etc) to present them with my court order (again, proving my transness) in order to update my information. This process took at least 40 hours – an entire week of work’s time — to do, and I was only able to get it done in about a month because I have a flexible work schedule. If you add on all the years of having to rid myself of the mainstream anti-trans sentiments in order to realize who I was, this process took a lifetime.

Because of these things, Paxton’s recent surveillance is infuriating and scary — for me and other trans folks in Texas. It’s a spit in the face to those of us who’ve gone through the unnecessarily complex process of making our legal documents match who we are in the world. Changing my name and gender marker has improved my quality of life — no more outing myself to every employer, getting weird stares from the bouncer at clubs, and feeling my heart sink when I have to hand over an ID to get medical procedures done. I’m not ashamed of my transness, but others like Paxton have made it clear that they don’t want to live among me, so why should I have continued to subject myself to violence?

The Texas Legislative Session starts in January 2023. Given Greg Abbott’s ridiculous insistence on forcing the Texas legislature to have three sessions in order to push anti-trans, racist legislation in 2021, Paxton using this data in order to fuel more anti-trans bills is not out of the question. Regardless, nothing good has ever come from a government entity making a list of marginalized people. This is not just a me, or even just a transgender texans issue. Republicans across state lines tend to work in collaboration with each other on legislation that will invigorate their base of anti-LGBTQ+ supporters (take the 2016-17 bathroom bill and the 2021-22 sports bill, for example). Nothing is stopping this kind of violence from reaching other states in the U.S. — especially in the south.

This is not even a trans issue; this is everyone’s issue. It’s an issue of privacy and surveillance – two rights that are continuously being challenged (see Roe v. Wade and votes against interracial marriage). Continuing to let states like Texas antagonize marginalized folks via invading their privacy compels politicians everywhere to try it at state and federal levels for a myriad of issues. Folk who aren’t causing any harm to anyone deserve their privacy.

If you’d like to support trans folks in Texas and beyond, continue to make a fuss online and otherwise about Ken Paxton invading trans people’s privacy. Contribute funds and/or time to Trans Education Network of Texas and Equality Texas — two organizations always on the frontlines fighting anti-LGBTQ+ bills. If you’re in Texas, demand that your city councilors, congressperson, representatives, and senators denounce this clear attempt to antagonize trans people, and make the process to change names and gender markers better. Pressure national news organizations – *cough, New York Times and The Atlantic* — who’ve had time to cover anti-trans stuff to cover this.

As I’m reflecting on my experience of changing my name and gender marker, I’m reminded of the niceties I got from that woman helping me get a new license. I felt warm, relaxed, finally able to see something that seems like me on a document that’s supposed to be proof that I’m a person. And I am a person, regardless of a general, or a governor, or a party that thinks I’m not. All trans people deserve to feel the way I felt then, with no politician bursting that earned bubble afterwards.


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KB Brookins

KB is a Black queer poet and essayist. They are the author of How To Identify Yourself with a Wound (Kallisto Gaia Press, 2022) and Freedom House (Deep Vellum Publishing, 2023). Follow them online at @earthtokb.

KB has written 3 articles for us.

8 Comments

  1. Oh, hey, so, uh, that’s me in the WaPo article. Granted with my old last name as my second name change hadn’t gone through yet, but I told them it was okay.

    There was some stuff I wish they’d included from my conversation with Molly. Like, that the Travis County (Austin) court accepts all gender change petitions from across Texas, because they know the risk of getting blocked by transphobic judges is too great in all the other county courts.

    We also talked about how there is eventually a breaking point. I was protesting our governor this past summer with a big “Greg may go to hell, but I will stay in Texas” sign. I want to keep living here with the wonderful people I’ve met, but… there is a breaking point. If they find a way to prevent adults from getting gender affirming care, then I have to get out for my own medical safety. And they’re trying, with one of the proposed approaches being preventing doctors who offer hormones from qualifying for malpractice insurance.

    Also, and I’m stealing a bunch of this from an email I sent my company’s queer employee group, 2022 was a shitty year from trans folks in Texas. But 2022 was an off year.

    2023 is a legislative session.

    Of the 920 bills that have already been filed, there are several targeting the LGBTQ community. HB42 would codify Ken Paxton’s opinion that gender affirming care is child abuse into law. HB41 would prevent doctors from getting access to insurance if they offered gender affirming care, such as puberty blockers, to minors. HB112 goes even further, instead making it a second degree felony. HB643 would classify drag shows as sexual performances and severely limit how they can be presented. HB631 bans teachers from discussing orientation or gender.

    I’m tired. I’m so tired, and lonely and scared. But goddammit if I’m not going to spend 2023 yelling and screaming until the planet itself can’t bear it and it opens up and swallows Ken Paxton whole just to shut me up.

  2. I’m really sorry all this is happening to us. I’ve been really anxious and upset the past few days, ever since that article came to light.

    When I came out as trans, I wanted to stay in Texas and be both a role model for others in the community, and to show cis people that we aren’t to be feared. But I don’t know if I can stay now. Not if my physical and emotional well-being are going to be at this much risk.

    I’m hoping things don’t get worse, but I’m also not so naive as to believe they won’t. I hope things get better for you and our community.

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