Transgender children like me are not political pawns

As a transgender student athlete, I’m tired of Texas lawmakers using transgender children as political pawns without listening to what we have to say. Transgender students like me want to participate in sports just like other kids, but some lawmakers use us as a punch bag to score political points.

Two state lawmakers near my home in Houston – Rep. Harold Dutton and Rep. Dan Huberty – recently voted to move forward Senate Bill 29, which aims to prevent transgender youth from participating in sports as genuine ourselves. Representative Dutton admitted that he did not know how many children this bill would affect and that he was advancing SB 29 as a form of revenge on another bill. Representative Huberty said SB 29 does not appear to be so harmful.

From my lived experience, I can tell you that SB 29 would hurt transgender student athletes across Texas by complicating the currently harmful, unfair and discriminatory rules.

Representative Huberty says SB 29 only codifies the existing rules of the University Interschool League (UIL). But they are already discriminatory, severely requiring students to participate in sports based on the gender indicated on their birth certificate. SB 29 goes one step further and would require students to compete on the basis of “sex as correctly stated” on their birth certificates. This wording change could cause some schools to intrusively inquire about student genitals or private medical information to determine whether a person’s gender is “correctly stated.” This would be a mistake and could cause great harm to transgender youth.

I will know it. I’m a boy and all of my friends knew me as a boy all through high school. When I joined the marching band to make friends and have fun, I was treated like a boy. In my classes, my teachers and my friends respect my name and my pronouns. But as soon as I joined wrestling, I was separated from the boys and forced to wrestle with girls under the outdated and rigid rules of UIL. Unlike others, I was not allowed to compete in the team that matches who I am.

Being forced to wrestle on the women’s team was horrible. At every wrestling encounter, my short hair and masculine clothes make me stand out. Some of my teammates refuse to fight me and laugh at me. I have been intimidated, harassed and injured by other wrestlers performing illegal holds. Sometimes I come home from training with bruises and my back hurts so badly that I can barely walk, but I try to hold my head up and keep pushing to prove to myself that I can struggle.

When I shared my story with the House Public Education Committee on April 20, Representative Huberty asked me about my record in wrestling. “Terrible,” I replied, because so many girls refuse to fight a boy and lose matches. I hate having a bad record and desperately wish I could wrestle with the men’s team.

It’s a complete myth that trans students like me try to ‘dominate’ sports or beat our non-trans peers. Even if I could have wrestled in the men’s team, my record could have been far from perfect, but at least I would have had the chance to compete as I am.

Now that I’m a senior, I don’t want other trans kids to go through what I’ve done. Everyone should be able to exercise like the person they really are. We should not consolidate the prejudices in the law to allow lawmakers to score cheap political points. Instead, we should give UIL, schools and coaches the flexibility to allow students to participate in the teams that suit them best.

Texas lawmakers should stop SB 29 from becoming law, stop playing with transgender children, and let us play.

Elijah is a high school student from the Houston area. The American-Statesman honors his request not to use his real last name to protect his privacy.

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