‘It is hurting us’: Trans kids and parents in Missouri speak out, and brace for bans
As their health care is being debated in Missouri’s legislature, the lives of three young trans boys growing up in St. Louis County are, for now, largely unchanged.
Speaking to St. Louis on the Air’s Elaine Cha, they described attending school, playing in sports leagues and looking forward to summer camp — typical for a group of young friends between the ages of 9 and 11. With the consent of their parents, the three boys spoke to St. Louis Public Radio on the condition that they not be named.
“My coming out was very spontaneous,” said an 11-year-old trans boy. Accepted by his parents and friends after coming out, he has lived as a boy for more than five years, a substantial proportion of his young life.
“At some point, it was summer,” he continued, retelling his coming out story, “and I came back with a new haircut and a new set of clothes. I was just like a different person. And no one questioned that.”
It’s not always that simple. For a 9-year-old trans boy, his first day attending school under a new name took a turn when he realized that, due to an apparent miscommunication, his teachers and administrators had no idea of the change.
“I didn't think kids would believe me,” he said, recalling his worries from that day. “But I just told them my name and they were fine with it.”
Things did change after that. As boys, they found themselves more included in group sports like basketball or baseball. The third trans boy who joined St. Louis on the Air, also 9 years old, said he sees coming out as a way of “embracing yourself.”
“That's what I tell my friends,” he explained, “because I feel like my friends are a safe place for me to be with. So I like to tell them everything.”
Yet, in recent years, trans children and their parents in Missouri have found themselves telling their stories over and over to Republican lawmakers. For families and advocates of trans kids, trips to Jefferson City have become a kind of yearly ritual, one motivated by the ongoing efforts by the state’s conservative-controlled legislature to ban trans students from playing on sports teams or accessing health care.
This year is no different, but the intensity of the legislative session reached a new peak in 2023. Propelled by controversy over accusations against a Washington University gender clinic, lawmakers filed dozens of bills seeking to restrict how sports teams, schools and medical facilities treat trans people.
Even though gender-affirming care for children is widely supported by major medical associations, the Missouri sponsors of these bills frequently describe gender-affirming care as a form of child abuse, while accusing trans children and their parents of being victims of a “social contagion.”
Rori Picker Neiss, the mother of the 11-year-old trans boy, has spent years testifying in Jefferson City. She said that confronting the bills proposed in this year’s session was “one of the hardest things I've ever had to do as a parent.”
“This notion, that I think we've all heard so many times, that being transgender is something that is forced upon a child, or that it's an agenda that we as parents have…. it is the most painful thing for me as a mom,” she continued. “That somebody would rather think that we are part of some kind of conspiracy, rather than understand that we are just committed to our children living the best lives that they could possibly live.”
Picker Neiss and other families of trans kids are now faced with the question of whether to stay in Missouri as it bears down on trans health care. Daniel Bogard, parent to a 9-year-old trans boy, said his son is already asking about what might happen to him, and his body, if Missouri lawmakers are successful in banning gender-affirming care.
“Something about my son who has expressed, repeatedly, is that he doesn't want to grow breasts,” Bogard said. “But when he expresses it, he'll almost always say, ‘Daddy, are Missouri Republicans going to make me grow breasts? Are they going to make me do this?’”
Speaking to St. Louis on the Air, Bogard’s son said he thinks the lawmakers are simply ignorant of his life, but he doesn’t understand why they don’t try to learn more about trans people before they pass laws restricting their lives.
"They just don't understand," he said. "And they don't know how much it is hurting us."
To hear more from the three trans boys and their parents, including their reflections on coming out, choosing their new identities, and testifying in Jefferson City, listen to the full St. Louis on the Air conversation on Apple Podcast, Spotify, Google Podcast, Stitcher, or by clicking the play button below.
“St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is produced by Miya Norfleet, Emily Woodbury, Danny Wicentowski, Elaine Cha and Alex Heuer. Avery Rogers is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr. Send questions and comments about this story to firstname.lastname@example.org.