Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

The kindergarten face of SB6

Meet the Shappley family of Pearland.

Kimberly Shappley’s former self is about as by-the-book right-wing as you can get: a Southern Baptist-identified evangelical, a Republican stalwart, an “ultraconservative” Tea Partier. When she heard of other parents with transgender kids, she remembers derisively thinking, “If my kid wants to be a dinosaur, am I just supposed to let them?”

Then Kai was born and everything changed.

By the time Kai was 2 years old, Kimberly said, she was already noticeably, dramatically feminine for a child being raised as a boy. Members of Shappley’s conservative Christian family speculated on whether the child would turn out to be gay. By age 3, Kai only wanted to play with girls, and had begun telling her parents and teachers that she was a girl.

Kimberly turned to a DIY form of conversion therapy. She dressed Kai in camouflage and held her down to cut her blond hair into a flattop. Since most of the family’s seven children are boys—Kimberly has one adult daughter—there were no “girl toys” at home, but Kimberly asked the Christian daycare Kai attended to hide any baby dolls from her as well. When Kai turned her T-shirts into skirts or insisted she was a girl, Kimberly spanked her. When Kai asked for a Minnie Mouse birthday cake, Kimberly bought her one with Mickey.

“No matter how much punishment this kid got, you couldn’t beat it out of her,” Kimberly said. “You couldn’t pray it out, I couldn’t cast it out.” Indeed, Kai was having none of it. Sometimes she would wait until Kimberly was on the toilet to taunt her from just out of striking range: “You know I’m a girl.” Other times, she began praying within her mother’s earshot that God would “let Joseph” (Kai’s former name) “go home and be with Jesus.”

Kai’s prayer was Kimberly’s breaking point. That, and learning about the sky-high suicide rate for trans kids; according to one study, 41% of trans youth had attempted suicide—a rate almost ten times higher than their cisgender counterparts.

“There are so many trans kids who don’t have her persevering, persistent spirit,” Kimberly said. “And if Kai didn’t have that spirit, I would have succeeded in breaking her, into conforming into what I was trying to make her be. And we would have all been ok with that until she killed herself, at 14, or 13, or 11, or 20, or 50.”

[…]

Trans advocates often say “everyone loses someone” when they transition; Kimberly’s family lost almost everyone. While one of Kai’s uncles helped his niece pick out new outfits, most of her extended family distanced themselves. One aunt threatened to call CPS on Kimberly. Other relatives shared a Facebook post from a Houston-area preacher, proposing a training day where the church would teach children how to spot and report trans kids at their schools. A cousin sent Kimberly a Facebook message warning if he ever saw Kai in a bathroom with his 22-year-old daughter, Kai would “need a stretcher.”

A best friend from the family’s church, where Kimberly served in ministry for years, stopped their years-long 5 AM prayer phone calls. When Kimberly attended a school board meeting last June to discuss the accommodation of trans students, she said one pastor from her church showed up to speak out against them.

Kimberly had begun to panic whenever she saw “Jesus fish” bumper stickers in the parking lot outside school board meetings or at a press conference with Equality Texas, the state’s largest LGBTQ group. “My stomach would sink, and I’d just feel sick,” she said, “because I knew they were the enemy that day.” On the day of the press conference, the sinking feeling prompted Kimberly to tearfully apologize to the LGBTQ community for things she’d said or done in the name of her faith.

Kai’s school life isn’t a respite from hate, either. Already this year, a boy has walked in on Kai in the classroom’s bathroom and threatened her, saying she was disgusting and he was going to punch her in the face. Next year, in the first grade, there will be no in-classroom bathroom, and Kai won’t be allowed to use the girls’ room or, Kimberly worries, the boys’ room either. Pearland ISD spokesperson Kim Hocott said the district is waiting to hear what will happen to state and federal law as it considers what accommodations will be available to Kai and other trans students.

But as it stands, every time Kai seeks out the bathroom she’ll be permitted to use, she’ll be reminded just how different she is from everyone else.

I have made note of the Shappleys before, so you may already know of their story. Whether you do or you don’t, you should read the whole article, as there’s a lot more in there. Here’s a bit about someone I’d not known of before:

Ian Finch

SB6 doesn’t just threaten K-12 schools, nor is it happening in a vacuum. In 2016 alone, at least three Texan trans women of color were murdered, and Ian Finch, a local state attorney who finished transitioning in November 2015, says that in the weeks following the election he learned of several Houston trans women who’d been violently attacked—including one who was assaulted and raped the day after she and Finch had gone on a date. Notably, he said, none had felt safe enough to report their assaults to the police.

Finch, a senior staff attorney at Texas’ Fourteenth Court of Appeals, is the picture of straight-laced tradition: a man given to suits and conservative haircuts, a former Republican precinct chair and delegate to the state GOP convention. In part that’s just who he is—he’s so idealistic about the law that Finch named one of his sons “Atticus.” But he also wants to demonstrate how trans people are no longer relegated to marginalized and dangerous lifestyles and professions.

Of course, he was still nervous about telling his Republican boss and colleagues about his transition. And yet, the morning after he discreetly told the judge he worked for, he began to receive congratulatory emails, found his office nameplate and personnel records updated with his new name before he’d legally changed it himself, and learned that a former boss, another Republican judge, had cited him in an awards acceptance speech, using his new name.

It was an astonishing moment of affirmation: “Nobody I know professionally batted an eye.” Not only did he not find himself having to prove he was as smart as he’d been before, but his colleagues acted as though there “was no before—that this is who I am.”

Now he’s counting the days before he loses his job. He works in a public building, and as the only out trans person in that court, he says his workplace will have to create a policy that will apply only to him. It might not happen the first time someone complains about the bathroom he uses—there’s an initial $1,000 to $1,500 fine for schools or public agencies that have not created a bathroom policy—but perhaps after the second, when penalties climb to $10,000. (Texas, like 29 other states, has no law that protects employees from being fired because they’re trans.)

Finch is the only attorney among his colleagues certified to work in some areas of appellate law; he chairs certain subcommittees; in January he was accepted to the bar for the U.S. Supreme Court. His ouster would, by any standard, be a loss for the state.

But, he argues, it’d also be a confirmation that SB6 isn’t so much about bathrooms as an effort to purge trans people from public life. If trans kids can’t go to public schools, Finch reasoned, they’ll be home-schooled. That means public school kids won’t have contact with trans kids. And if trans people don’t have full access to public buildings, from schools to libraries to courthouses, they’ll also lose full access to justice and education.

“They are trying to condemn a generation of a marginalized population to a permanent underclass,” Finch said. “And if we all disappear from public life, what then?”

Again, I urge you to read the whole thing, and ask yourself why Dan Patrick wants Ian Finch to be required to use the ladies’ room while Kai Shappley is forced to use the men’s room. And if you think what Ian Finch is saying about the real goal of SB6 being erasure of transgender people from public life, then consider who Dan Patrick is enlisting to help him push SB6 through. These are people who would gladly eradicate gays and lesbians from public life if they could, and the only reason why they have stopped trying to do so openly is because public opinion has finally and forcefully turned against them. Make no mistake, this is still their goal, and if they are constrained to picking on the trans folks these days, they’ll do that. We can argue about the economic impact studies of SB6 and North Carolina’s HB2 till the sun fizzles out, it’s the human cost of these laws that really matters.

Related Posts:

3 Comments

  1. brad m says:

    Dan Patrick is pathetic.

  2. Mark says:

    It’s sad that these people have zero empathy. Only when it happens to them or someone in their family do the scales fall from their eyes. And they call themselves christians.

  3. evelync says:

    Thank you, Charles Kuffner, for your excellent web site, articles and especially this poignant article.

    Great job!!!!