The adults are talking too much and need to sit down and listen to trans kids.

As legislatures across the country enact anti-LGBTQ bills, one group has taken center stage in our national conversation: trans youth. Of the 491 anti-LGBTQ bills that we are tracking in this legislative session, 118 are bills seeking to restrict or ban gender-affirming care for trans kids. In the midst of all of this we are losing sight of the big picture. Trans kids are simply kids. And they’d like everyone else to let them be that. They don’t want to have to grow up fast, or be thrust into the spotlight. They want to manage their cheer team, build robots in their bedrooms, and go to homecoming with their friends.

So today, we’re passing them the mic, because well, the adults are talking too much and need to sit down and listen.

Listen to the episode

1. Transcript



Kendall Ciesemier [00:00:01] From the ACLU, this is At Liberty. I’m Kendall Ciesemier, your host. As legislatures across the country enact anti-LGBTQ bills, one group has taken center stage in our national conversation: trans youth. Of the 491 anti-LGBTQ bills that we are tracking in this legislative session, 118 of them are bills seeking to restrict or ban gender-affirming care for trans kids. In the midst of all of this, we are losing sight of the big picture. Trans kids are simply kids, and they’d like everyone else to just let them be that. They don’t want to have to grow up fast or be thrust into the spotlight. They want to manage their cheer team, build robots in their bedrooms, and go to homecoming with their friends. So today we’re passing them the mic because, well, the adults are talking too much, and we all need to sit down and listen. Dylan is seventeen and lives in Arkansas. Despite having a tough time at school over the last few years, he has found a meaningful support network that has led him to even want to become an educator.

Dylan [00:01:30] School just got out. We’re on day two of summer, which I’m very excited about. I—school has been rough for me. I don’t necessarily enjoy it. I used to, you know, as I’ve gotten older, of course, you know, school gets harder and more challenging. When I came out—I was in—I was starting my eighth-grade year—and so that was just—it’s been the past three years and living, you know, how I how I present and school which has been interesting to see how, you know, everybody deals with that on their own. But I’ll be going into my senior year, and I’m really excited to get out of high school and see what other opportunities I have besides that. I want to go into education because I’ve had some teachers who have made such a huge impact on my life and showed me that who I am is okay and kind of been like a safe place for me. And I want nothing more than to do that for somebody else because I feel like there’s not enough of that. And so as much as I, you know, don’t like the school environment, there are people who have made it so much better for me, and I want to be that for other people. So education is definitely in my future.

Kendall [00:03:00] Jayden is fifteen years old and lives in Idaho. She plans to finish up high school online and hopes to pursue a computer science degree so she can mix both technology and art to tell meaningful stories about her life and the lives of others around her.

Jayden [00:03:14] I want to go to college for coding or I.T.. I really want to tell my stories through video games. That way, I can use both art and music to really convey the stories that I want to tell.

Kendall [00:03:33] Hobbes is sixteen years old and lives in New Jersey. Since finding his passion for robotics and advocacy, he feels like he is learning more outside of the classroom these days. One big goal he has in the next few years is to design a prosthetic.

Hobbes [00:03:49] I have like a blueprint for a prosthetic that I want to work on. So in two years I see myself, at least, with the coding part of it complete or the actual design of the prosthetic itself complete, just some part of it done.

Kendall [00:04:08] Dylan, Jaden, and Hobbes joined me for a wide ranging conversation about their lives, their health care, and what adults are getting wrong about both. So many adults across the country are discussing the lives and identities of trans youth, and we don’t really think that they have the answers. We appreciate you so much coming and talking to us about this and what it means to be growing up right now. What has that been like throughout your coming out process or throughout seeking medical care, or have you found people, supportive peers or supportive teachers, Hobbes?

Hobbes [00:04:56] I have a very supportive school system. I will say, I’m in New Jersey, so it is like a very blue state. For me, my biggest supporter, my biggest advocate, is my father. He was there for me since day one. You know, he’s constantly educating himself about everything within the transgender community, which I find is very, very admirable, right? A lot of people will kind of just take whatever they’re given at face value and assume that, you know, how it is-is fine and they’ll just move on with whatever they’re given. But my father will actively search for more information, find out how he can better support not just me, but, like, the community as a whole. You know, that’s kind of why he’s such a large advocate. It kind of inspires me to be like him. He’s one of my role models. I just really love my dad.

Dylan [00:05:52] I’d say growing up, I was friends with all the guys, you know. Third, fourth grade, I grew up playing football outside at recess with them, and I was friends with most of those guys up until I came out. And that was kind of the turning point for them that they didn’t think that that was okay. And so I-I lost all of them. But then I gained so many more people who loved me and supported me—and—unconditionally. And so I’ve got my-my group of friends, my best friend, who just graduated, has helped me through all these years of high school, and I am absolutely in awe of her. She grew up with a very different mindset until she met me, and—it was—she’s become—my—one of my biggest supporters. And I really look up to her for that because it takes a lot. You know, growing up in the South and growing up with a mindset where maybe that’s not okay for a lot of people. I’ve just become very close with a small group of people, but that’s fine with me, and they’re all very supportive. Teachers at my school, I have my-my principal. I love her with my entire heart from the moment that I came to her one day and was like “hey, this is going on,” she made it a point to check in with me all the time. If there was ever a situation that needed to be handled, she handled it right then and there. I’ve gotten very close with all the office ladies in my school. Every single time I come in, they just open the door for me. I don’t even have to say what I’m doing. They just open it, and they’re like “hey,” and we have a ten minute conversation. And—I just they—they’re all just so supportive. Those people have made it to where I want to be that. And so that’s why I want to go into education so bad is because of those people. And I let them know that so much because—they’re just—they’re kind of inspirations for me. They’ve made my school experience way better than it would have if I didn’t have them around.

Kendall [00:08:13] I love that. I love that you’ve found some supportive people, and whether that’s your parent or someone at school, I think, Dylan, that’s so encouraging for people who might be listening, who are in education. We have a lot of people who listen to this podcast that are teachers, and, you know, they’re being met with a lot of different kinds of efforts to control how they show up in classrooms. And a lot of them write to us, and they’re very concerned and they want to really stand up for their students. So I think that knowing that people like them have made a difference in your life is really cool, and people will feel really heartened to hear that. Jayden, I wanted to ask you how it’s been with your community and your friends. Have you found some people that have been helpful to you or supportive of you?

Jayden [00:09:09] So typically when I go to school, I have a smaller support group of friends. They’re always there for me. But when I was younger, like in middle school, around the time when I came out, it was really difficult for me because all the teachers and all the people that I was friends with before, like, didn’t see me the way that I saw myself. And it was really difficult—for me to try to get, you know—for me to try to get by that, with everybody seeing me as the opposite gender of what I identified as. And I don’t think that they were doing it to hurt me. I think it was just difficult for them, and they didn’t understand. But when I got to high school, I was able to change, like, high school districts because I moved out of the state I was at the time. And so it was like a fresh start. And it was so much, you know, easier for me because I introduced myself the way that I saw myself, and it was way easier. And the people who I am still friends with today are the ones that sought me out and were just there supporting each other. Last year, I think, it was me and a bunch of friends, I had them come over so we could have dinner. We were going to go to homecoming as a group together, and so I had them bring all their makeup and we ate food at my house and we got ready and I didn’t have any at the time because I’m like, I don’t-I don’t know how to use it. So they let me use their makeup, and they made sure that I felt pretty, and they made sure that I was confident in the way that I looked because they just cared about me.

Kendall [00:11:01] It sounds so meaningful, even though it’s-it’s so simple, just sharing what we know as humans with other humans. It’s so—but it’s so—meaningful to be affirming of people’s experiences and to help people along the way. And I’m, like, really, really glad that you got to experience what it feels like to have a really supportive group of people around you. And I think it’s so awesome to hear your story, Jayden, because I think—people—young people who are listening can take cues and-and say, “okay, how can I be a better friend to my other friends?” That’s such a simple, but powerful, story and a way that they can-they can do that. I want to talk about the adults for a second. A lot of people are working really hard to ban healthcare. Specifically, I mean, Dylan, you’re a named plaintiff in the Arkansas case that the ACLU is arguing, Brandt v. Rutledge, to fight for gender-affirming healthcare. What has gender-affirming healthcare looked like for you? What does it mean to you? And what do you want these people who are trying to ban it, what do you want them to know?

Dylan [00:12:18] I—it has been a life-saving thing for me. And I mean, I-I started testosterone in 2020. August of 2020, I started, and it’s been almost three years. And I have been the happiest person I think I’ve ever been. I’ve seen so many changes with myself—not even—not only physical, but, like, mentally and emotionally. I’ve just become a better person and grown as a person since then. And I talk about this all the time with the lawsuit, like—I just—I’ve been able to put myself out there more. I would never be doing this three years ago. It wouldn’t happen. There’s no way. I was so concerned with the way that other people saw me and the way that I saw myself that—the even thought of—even going out was not-was not an option. It was not a possibility in my mind. Now, my mom probably hates it, but I’m never home. You know, I’m never home. I go out with my friends all the time. I went to prom this year as a last minute decision, was able to find a suit and go and feel so comfortable. Just—I felt good. It was just one of those things where I put that on, and I was like, “wow, like, this feels good. This feels nice.” And so for the adults that are trying to take this away, they don’t really—they don’t—see how good I’m doing now because they didn’t see me before. Not that they’re even seeing me now, really. They don’t-they don’t know who I am. They don’t know what’s going on. They need to sit down and listen to people’s stories because I feel like if they did, maybe it would make them think a little bit, because—I just—I was not doing well before this. Like I said, very insecure. I didn’t want to go out. I didn’t really want to talk to anybody. I was just very hidden within myself. And since that, since I’ve been able to start my hormones, my confidence has shot up. It’s been-it’s been a crazy experience, and just being able to feel-feel the way I do on the inside and present that on the outside is just something that’s just unexplainable. And so all of these adults trying to take this away is just really hard because—I just—I don’t get. I don’t understand, and they don’t really understand what they’re doing either. So—it’s just—it’s very hard. And this lawsuit has been interesting to go through for the past two years. But I’m glad that I’m able to get my story out there, hoping that it’ll reach the right person, it’ll make them think.

Kendall [00:15:56] Hmm. Hmm hmm.

Dylan [00:15:57] Because if it reaches one person, it’ll reach somebody else.

Kendall [00:16:00] Absolutely.

Dylan [00:16:01] So…

Kendall [00:16:01] Yeah. And-and Dylan, what would happen if you weren’t able to access healthcare? Would you have contingency plans?

Dylan [00:16:10] I—we have had many conversations within my family about this. If, for some reason, I can’t get my hormones here in Arkansas, we would have to leave. And that is not going to be easy. My mom owns a small business here in town. I have a job. I’m going into my senior year. My brother is going and starting his sophomore year. He’s been doing cheer for the past four years and really enjoys it, is really in love with his team. We have friends. Our entire family is in this town. And my mom is a single parent. It would be really hard to leave, but we would have to do it because me not getting it isn’t an option. I don’t think that that would end very well, just because I know how happy I am now, and the thought of having to lose that, I feel it would be way worse than it was when I never started it.

Kendall [00:17:21] Yeah, it’s-it’s devastating. I mean, when we think about these cases and we hear about the stuff on the news, you know, I think, Dylan, you’re so, I don’t want to say brave because that can sound trite, but in a lot of ways you’re so brave for, like, putting yourself out there, and you’re doing it on behalf of so many people in Arkansas to say, “this is not okay. This is going to really impact my life.” And you’re putting a name and a face to a story that is just getting used and abused, I think, by people in positions of power to stoke fear among uncertainty or discomfort among uncertainty or unfamiliarity. What’s that decision like for you, too, to say, “I’m going to name myself, I’m going to be a plaintiff here, I’m going to put myself into a situation that is-is at the center of all of this?”

Dylan [00:18:18] It was another one of those very long, multiple conversations with my family. We knew that it could be rough. But ultimately we decided that we could speak up about it and that we were going to, just because we knew that we could and we knew that some people can’t for whatever reason. So it was kind of like a no brainer. There isn’t anything that I would rather do. I wish that we didn’t have to do this, but I wouldn’t rather do anything else. Sitting back and not doing anything kind of just isn’t how my family rolls. So we were going to do this no matter what.

Kendall [00:19:07] Yeah, well, I don’t know if it would be a no-brainer to everyone, but I’m certainly glad that you feel safe and supported enough to put your story out there. We’re really appreciative, you know. Obviously, we can’t do our work at the ACLU without people like you all. Jayden, I wanted to ask you, you know, you’re living in Idaho, where we recently saw an effort to pass a trans healthcare ban. The bill was actually passed. What was that day like when you heard that decision?

Jayden [00:19:43] It was shocking because I didn’t know how a bill like this could come out in the first place. It’s, you know, it’s blatantly attacking trans people. And I don’t get how anybody could see it any other way. It’s either people refuse to see it for how it is or just don’t care. It was shocking, but at the same time, the moment that I saw that bill was on the table in Idaho, I was really, really hoping that it wouldn’t happen. But, you know, part of me realized that this is something that we’re going to have to fight hard. It’s-it’s really harmful to think that the people who govern your state don’t have your best interest in mind and that they’re out there for everybody else who is in the majority and are willing to attack people in the minority in order to appease those in the majority. In the event that, you know, I’m not able to get the medication I need to—I’ve been on estrogen since February, I think—and I’ve talked to my doctor about it and we’re trying to come up with a plan, worst case scenario, you know, we can just go to Oregon to get that. But that’s still going to be rough because that means a whole, you know, changing of doctors and all those, you know, complications. And whenever I need those refilled, I need to go to Oregon to get them.

Kendall [00:21:22] Accessing healthcare is not easy in this country, period. So to now start an interstate system, where people are having to, you know, very similar to what people are doing for reproductive health care, travel to other states to access it, you know, then becomes a system where only people who have a certain amount of resources can really access that. We don’t feel like that’s a solution. And I know we’re all in agreement here. Hobbes, What is it like to hear all of us, to hear Jayden and Dylan talk about what life is like?

Hobbes [00:21:58] Well, it’s hard to say that it’s surprising, right? I’m fully aware of everything that’s happening in the country, and I feel the-the main thing, the main emotion that I have is a similar sense of somewhat being overwhelmed, of being upset and frustrated because while it’s not happening directly to me, it’s happening to people in my community. You know, I-I connect to the both of you in the sense that when I started, you know, my hormone therapy, I felt a thousand times better than beforehand, right? I felt like I was finally able to open the door, start my way, progressed towards the person that I know I am and-and form that proper self. So to imagine, even just to fathom the fact that in certain places they’re trying to or are actively barring other people from it and inhibiting your ability to feel yourself, it’s I know it’s sort of malevolent. It hurts me to even just hear, you know. My heart goes out to those.

Kendall [00:23:17] Yeah, hearing about it and living it are obviously different things, but, you know, being a part of the community. Hobbes, you know, the ecosystem of the dialog, right, like it does affect your daily life, your daily existence, the way you move through the world.

Hobbes [00:23:36] Hearing about these stories, it does also somewhat move me to the advocacy that I’ve been trying to get into. It moves me to know that when I help to put on events like the Trans Prom, I’m not just doing it for the party guests, but I’m doing it for the message and the effect which it spreads, which will in turn help the entire community. It helps me stay motivated. It helps remind me exactly what I’m working for.

Kendall [00:24:06] Absolutely. And-and while we’re on the subject matter of Trans Prom, I’d love if you’d share a little bit about what that was and what that is. Yeah, what was it like? Because it just happened. It was like…

Hobbes [00:24:20] Yeah, literally last week. So Trans Prom—it was really just this huge event in Washington. We got, like, over two-hundred people and about fifty trans youth and a bunch of other trans adults just come together and have a party pretty much just like right in front of the Capitol. It was a good four hours, maybe longer than that, of just music, dancing, speeches of the community, just a bunch of different people just talking to each other, making connections, you know, actually being able to feel joy and-and emphasizing like the pride that is within the community. And after the main event, we had like a whole march and everything. Really, we were just trying to create, like, a supportive space for the trans community, a space where people can feel themselves in spite of the—trans—anti-trans legislation and bills that are being put into place. It’s a space where they can create support systems, which will carry on beyond what these bills can possibly do.

Kendall [00:25:36] Yeah, and to really rally together. It looked so fun, like it looked so joyful. It looked like such a great time. I saw, you know, a bunch of people sharing stuff on social. Dylan, Jayden, I’m curious, do you have other trans young people that you know, that you can talk to, relate to, have fun with? What does trans community look like and feel like to you in your life?

Hobbes [00:26:02] I feel like there’s not a lot, and if there is, there’s nobody who’s really like, open about it. I have a lot of online trans guys that I follow and talk with quite a bit. There’s a few that I’m pretty close with, and I’ve started getting into fitness and working out and everything just to kind of make myself feel just a little bit better. And there’s a lot of guys who have been doing it for a couple of years and they’ve been able to help me and give me tips. And my girlfriend’s little brother is trans, and I’ve been able to help him through a lot. And a lot of my other friends have trans siblings or trans family members. And it’s been amazing to kind of see them through that and have them come to me and be like “Hey, this happened or I’m feeling like this. What like—have you felt like that, or what can I do about this?” But kind of having that community is really nice. Having people I can go to or having people that know that they can come to me, whether it’s in person or online is-is really nice.

Kendall [00:27:31] That’s awesome. Jayden, what about you?

Jayden [00:27:34] So I do have a few trans friends that go to my school. But, you know, I get this feeling that there are probably more, and they’re just not out to everybody yet. You know, whether that be out of, you know, uncertainty or fear of being attacked—it—I just, you know, want those people to know that, you know, even if you are out, you can always still find support. And, you know, I found, like my small group of friends, you know, they’re mostly queer people. And so they can get, you know, my frustrations and I can get theirs. And it’s just nice to have somebody who can truly get it.

Kendall [00:28:31] Absolutely. And then, you know, to-to turn it around and be able to be that support for other people is really cool, especially when, you know, in different times in our life and different moments, we might feel more vulnerable or more unsure of ourselves, and we might be seeking that support from from others around us to then be able to kind of turn around when we’re feeling more confident and more strong in who we are and-and be able to share that with and support other people who may be feeling more vulnerable at that moment is a really cool thing. It’s a very cool, like, pay it forward kind of concept that, I think—is—can be so meaningful, especially to know that you were once there and that might not be where you are anymore. That really can feel so affirming, I think. You know, as we sit here today, I realized that like kids, young people of other marginalized identities, you all have had to have some really mature conversations and do some really brave things before other kids your age. As someone who lives with a disability, I sometimes resent that pressure to feel like I have to do something before other people or I have to use my voice in-in a different way. But some other times, I’m really proud and grateful for that responsibility, and I’ve learned that both of those feelings can coexist and be valid. How do you all feel about this today, about using your voices in this way, about having these conversations, about being in a position where you’re being asked to give up your extra time to talk about something that, you know, not-not all your friends are-are talking about?

Hobbes [00:30:32] Well, I feel it’s exactly as you said. It’s-it’s a dual fold kind of thing, right. I feel like I’m honored in a sense to be given the platform and be able to speak my thoughts because, obviously, I have many opinions about this. I-I would like to speak for my rights and my life and my happiness, but at the same time, I feel that at the end of the day, I am just sixteen years old. You know, I am still just a junior in high school. I have academics. I have my extracurriculars. You know, I have a whole identity, a whole personality, whole character outside of just what I put it out there, you know. And I feel that while it is a great opportunity, while it is a moment and a state, and for me to go out there and defend my community, you know, I-I still would like every now and again to just, you know, be sixteen years old.

Jayden [00:31:43] So I feel like it’s important to remember, like what Hobbes said, we’re just teenagers, right? And—there’s only, you know—we have had not very much life experience, if any. You shouldn’t, like, overload yourself with your own expectation. Like, you can have such a big voice, but that doesn’t mean you need to use it at all times. You know, you should live your life how you want to and by your own principles. I think that it’s really important to let people know that we are real people, and—not just—our whole personality isn’t being trans. We have entirely, like, whole, complex feelings and personalities that they just never get to see because they’re too busy looking at our genders. It’s frustrating to see that. But I feel like the more that we fight, the easier it will be for us.

Kendall [00:32:52] It’s a double edged sword.

Hobbes [00:32:53] Yeah.

Kendall [00:32:54] Dylan, what do you think?

Dylan [00:32:56] You know, doing this is something that I-I wouldn’t say love, but it’s something I’m passionate about: using my voice, knowing that I have one that can make a difference is something that’s super powerful. I also feel like I’ve had to grow up a lot faster than a lot of people around me, which kind of sucks because I’m seventeen years old, and I am involved in suing a state at seventeen years old because I’m trying to live my life, which is hard because I kind of just want to do whatever and not have to worry about this. But at the same time, I’m glad that I’ve been able to use my voice and use my story for good. And—it-it’s just kind of—it’s powerful to me knowing that I can talk and share my story and it makes a difference in other people’s lives that it can help. And like I said, doing this is something that I couldn’t think about not doing.

Kendall [00:34:11] Yeah.

Dylan [00:34:12] And I just, like, appreciate everybody else speaking up about it because that’s just unfortunately, that’s what we have to do. But the more people who do it will make it a whole lot easier for people, for us and people who come after us.

Kendall [00:34:25] Mm hmm. Absolutely. I mean, the more people who are talking about all of this, about trans issues in particular, especially, you know, we’ve got pride at our doorstep, this is the time to have those conversations. For the folks listening, if you’re a cisgender person, it’s time to use your privilege to really speak out and speak up for what’s right. And think especially if you’re among people who don’t understand, take it upon yourself to explain. Yeah. Because it is a lot of heavy lifting. And I want you to know that you’re not alone, and we are out here with you fighting for sure, and that we’re working to get as many people as possible to rally behind you all. My last question for today is what do you want other trans young people who might be listening to this to hear loud and clear from you all? What message do you have for them?

Hobbes [00:35:39] I think that something that I have said since I started advocating, something that I end most interviews or speeches with, is you are not alone. And I feel like people just need to hear that because for a while, I thought that I was until I realized I wasn’t. You are absolutely not alone. There are so many people willing to fight for you and that are fighting for you. So don’t for a second think that you’re alone.

Kendall [00:36:10] That’s really important.

Hobbes [00:36:11] Yeah. I have to say I-I completely second that notion. And I feel like, to add on to that, with all these people who are fighting and all of these people who are constantly supporting, I hope that one day in the future, we will have a society in which saying that you are transgender is no different from saying that you are just a person, right? That one can identify themselves however they please without anyone casting a second glance.

Jayden [00:36:45] And I really hope that for those of you out there that you’re younger and you find yourself caught in the hurricane that is the quote on quote “trans debate,” that you can find the eye of that hurricane and just learn to be yourself because, you know, as the recurring theme here, you’re not alone. And no matter how far you sink, there will always be someone there that is willing to lift you back up.

Kendall [00:37:16] Jayden, with the word. That was beautiful. Thank you all so much for doing this with me. I just feel so honored to be in your presence, the presence of such brilliant, young people who give me so much faith for the future of the country, future of the world. I’m so excited to see where you all go. I hope that you all stay in touch, too. We can all just be a little crew. Thank you all so much for-for doing this and sharing your time with me and doing the extra, extra legwork that I know we all, you know, are honored about showing up for our communities, but I really wish we could just be hanging out for fun.

Hobbes [00:38:05] Yeah, absolutely. Thank you for doing this and allowing us to share and speak. This was an amazing experience for me.

Jayden [00:38:16] Yeah, thank you for having me.

Kendall [00:38:20] Thanks so much for listening. If you enjoy this episode of At Liberty, please subscribe or wherever you get your podcasts and rate and review the show. We really appreciate the feedback. Until next week. Stay strong.