What exactly is a safe folder?
When Texas Governor Greg Abbott directed the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) to investigate the parents of transgender children for child abuse in 2022, we suddenly discovered, as the parents of a trans child, that we needed one.
We wondered, though: Republicans had failed to ban gender-affirming medical care, so what grounds would DFPS have for taking trans kids away from their parents, for throwing their parents in jail?
Because the governor told them to, the lawyers we were talking to replied, and if CPS agents knock on your door, you’ll need documented proof that your child is transgender and that you are providing your child with a stable home environment. You must prove that you are a good parent.
In other words, you must make a safe folder. Here is how.
First, you find a folder.
It doesn’t have to be anything special—just something large enough to hold documentation of your love and care for your child. One of those cheery, primary-colored folders will do, like the one the kindergarten teacher slid into your daughter’s first backpack—the crisp, clean fabric doming over her shoulders like a turtle shell.
Into this folder, place the following:
A letter from your child’s pediatrician, confirming your child’s gender identity. Provide evidence of annual wellness checks and thorough vaccination records.
A letter from your child’s pediatric neurologist, detailing the negative impact of gender dysphoria on your child’s mental health. Ask them to please explain in layman’s terms how dysphoria—a feeling of unease or hatred of one’s body—is not necessarily inherent to being transgender but does result from having people (e.g., family, classmates, teachers, strangers, etc.) refuse to accept your gender identity. Ask them to explain that the disparity between the way society demands we behave and the way we see ourselves causes intense stress that often leads to depression, self-harm, and suicidal thoughts.
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A seemingly harmless comment on the first day of kindergarten—_________ is wearing a dress!—can plague a child’s sense of self. ________ is wearing a dress! is the line she repeated to you when you tucked the covers around her tiny shoulders and she asked if she had to go to school tomorrow—only then the pronoun was he because you hadn’t yet understood what your child meant when she told you she is a girl. You’d set down your phone and, with the most self-satisfied look a parent can give, told your child that she didn’t have to be a girl to like girl things, that there was no such thing as girl or boy things.
________ is wearing a dress! she said when you saw her disappear into herself and you asked what was wrong. ________ is wearing a dress! on silent repeat, its words banging out in facial tics, growing more recognizable every day, first her lower jaw, then, weeks later, her head snapping back, difficult to ignore, then her eyes rolling back into her head, over and over and over like a child dying over and over and over right in front of—Mom! What is happening? My body is making me. Mom, how do I stop?
A letter from your child’s dentist, affirming their gender identity and regular checkups. (Child’s gums exhibit excellent flossing habits.)
A letter from your family therapist and your child’s psychologist. This letter should both affirm your child’s gender identity and detail parental responsibility in providing appropriate care. The therapist could explain that Mom made an initial inquiry after her child, assigned male at birth, repeatedly said that she is a girl. Again, I told them that they didn’t have to be a girl to like girl things and they got very quiet. “I know,” they told me, “but I am a girl who likes girl things.” And my husband and I have always been open-minded, but I don’t understand what’s going on—and I don’t want my child to think that they have to look or identify a certain way to fit into some socially constructed box, because that’s what this is, right? Gender is just a bunch of made-up bullshit to facilitate power and oppression, right?
The letter might indicate that the therapist interjected, and said that gender roles are socially constructed, but gender identity—our notion of who we are—is inherent. And that Mom thought about this before continuing: Look, my husband isn’t ready for this conversation, but I saw the look on my child’s face. I don’t know what they mean, but they mean it. It might just be me in these meetings for a while because my husband thinks I might be encouraging this. This might mean the end of my marriage, but the adults can take care of themselves. I have to look out for my child.
The therapist could also mention that Dad’s initial defensiveness and skepticism changed after two significant experiences: (1) Meeting with other parents of transgender children and learning that their kids’ behaviors and experiences—their slide into and climb out of depression—were similar to those he had observed in his own child; then walking outside and observing the kids laughing and chasing each other around the pecan trees like a micro migration of monarchs, his own child unfurling wet wings on a branch. It was the first time he had seen her smile—like, really smile—since she was in preschool. (2) Watching his child develop rapidly increasing facial tics as summer came to an end and she anticipated going back to school, where everyone still knew her as he.
The therapist can state that she met weekly with the child, and monthly with the parents, but that the only people who really needed therapy were the parents. The child already knew who she was.
Character references from family and friends. When you ask for these, you may wish to provide a clear, concise message explaining the purpose of their letter: to state that you and your spouse are good parents and that your transgender daughter is not being abused.
If they haven’t been keeping up with the War on Trans Kids, explain what’s at stake: that anyone can report you as a child abuser; that if your child undergoes any medical interventions, CPS agents could take your child away and put them into state custody; that you and your spouse could be sent to jail; that once an investigation begins, you will not be able to take your children and flee the state; that CPS agents are already showing up at children’s schools and knocking on their doors at home; and that agents have been instructed not to put anything in writing, but that you know people who are being investigated right now; that you are no longer safe here; and that you bought a house in Oregon and are moving as soon as the school year ends; and that all you need is this letter in case someone, anyone, reports you to the state. Explain that they don’t have to advocate for gender-affirming care, just state that our child is happy and healthy and that we are good parents. [Further reading: “How to Respond When a Family Member Won’t Write a Letter.”]
Letters from teachers and school administrators. These can describe how your child always gravitated toward her female classmates and the activities the girls liked. Teachers can confirm that she never enjoyed kicking the soccer ball with the boys but had to when her friends left her out of things that were for “girls only,” including gender-specific birthday parties. They can attest that she showed signs of being a skilled artist, drawing detailed family portraits that included her in a full-length skirt and with long hair. [Note: Include copies of drawings in which your child depicts themself as their affirmed gender. You might also wish to ask them to write a letter explaining how good it feels to live as their authentic self, though as that’s not something most people are asked to consider, much less write about, you may struggle to find instructive examples.]
Be sure to obtain a letter from the school guidance counselor, vice principal, and teachers, who sat around a conference table when your daughter asked the school to please start calling her a girl and to use she/her pronouns. Ask them to share their follow-up comment: It was the first time an elementary-age student called a meeting with all of us. We knew she had something important to say!
Second-grade teachers, who were present when your child socially transitioned at school, can describe the courage and conviction she used when reintroducing herself: “My name is _______, and I use she/her pronouns because I am a girl.” And how the only pushback she received was born of confusion, not criticism. “But you lined up with the boys last year and you used the boys’ bathroom.” “Yes, but I am a girl. That’s how I feel inside.” “Okay, but will you still play Gaga Ball at recess?” Current teachers might not have much to add beyond, She’s just one of the girls, but it’s important that all mandated reporters attest to your child’s safety and well-being.
A letter from your child’s pediatric endocrinologist affirming their gender identity and explaining that, before puberty, gender-affirming care involves no medical interventions. Zero. Contrary to what legislators shout into microphones, gender-affirming care at your daughter’s age simply means using pronouns that match her identity (she/her), allowing her to wear clothes that affirm her gender identity, and driving her to therapy. Anyone who claims that young children are getting genital surgeries is lying to you, trying to mislead your desire to protect children by scaring you into thinking that gender-affirming care is anything but best-practice medical care. [Further reading: “Roll Call! Major Medical Associations that Support Gender Affirming Care.” Spoiler alert: It’s all of them.]
The pediatric endocrinologist should also address misinformation perpetuated by far-right extremists and media, particularly around the safety of gender-affirming medical care. Right before puberty begins, transgender children—working with a dedicated team of specialists, including their pediatrician, endocrinologist, and therapist—may choose to take puberty blockers, a non-invasive medication that delays puberty.
If your child is taking puberty blockers, please remember some facts. Anyone who claims that puberty blockers aren’t safe or sufficiently tested is lying to you, ignoring the fact that blockers have been prescribed to children with precocious puberty since the 1980s and were approved by the FDA in 1993. These blockers are reversible, giving all kids sufficient time to determine when and how to proceed with puberty. Anyone who claims that blockers cause permanent changes is also lying to you. Don’t forget to ensure your child’s blockers are in their emergency bag. [Further reading: “How to Pack Your Child’s Essential Items for State-Ordered Family Separation.”]
Snap a photo of the paragraph where the endocrinologist’s professional tone cracks: It is child abuse to not provide medically necessary health care to children. Gender-affirming care is medically necessary health care. It is often the lifesaving difference that enables children to go on living, rather than become a statistic. Politicians using children as pawns to score political points are the real child abusers.
Some of you might not be able to request a letter because your child’s doctor is one of the physicians who has suddenly become unemployed in the wake of all of this. If so, record the dates of your visits so you can demonstrate a history of care.
Some of you might have had your child’s medical records leaked to a right-wing think tank and published. You should probably notify your lawyer and consider hiring armed security to guard your residence.
A letter from your obstetrician (ob-gyn) as well as the attending ob-gyn at your child’s birth. The doctor should confirm that Mom completed all prenatal visits and followed all American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommendations, including but not limited to abstention from all drugs, alcohol, tobacco, and other substances that could harm an unborn child, such as pain-blocking medications commonly used during labor and vaginal delivery (e.g., epidural). Mom may grant permission to medical staff to disclose any significant medical history, including her newborn’s sudden onset of pulmonary hypertension and subsequent intubation and 10-day residency in the NICU.
If space allows, the attending nurse practitioner (NP) may recall a conversation with Mom as she bled into a toilet, because all Mom remembers is that she still hadn’t gotten to hold her gray-skinned baby when NP looked down at her, sitting bare-assed, thighs quivering, and said, “You’ve got to prepare yourself.” And another nurse, who kneeled beside the toilet and kept Mom from toppling over—this nurse looked at you, and you asked her, “What did she say? I didn’t hear,” and the NP said, “The baby may not make it,” and the nurse on the floor screamed, “How can you say that to her?” and the NP spoke again, “I’m sorry. Your baby may not make it.” If attending medical staff feels comfortable, a comment such as, We nearly lost this child once and don’t wish to lose her now, would be appropriate.
You need to hurry. Don’t wait for an investigation to begin making a safe folder. As soon as your child and their team determine that they are transgender, begin gathering documents and add additional proof every six months. This may take the form of photos of your child displaying their gender identity—like the one you took when your daughter was 7 and she decided to take her pronoun out to lunch. “My daughter will have a Shirley Temple,” your husband said, and the waiter wrote down the order without comment. Then, taking your food orders, the waiter said, “And for the young lady—” and your daughter asked for a hamburger with pickles and mustard, and the waiter took her order and left, and your daughter took in air through mouth, nose, eyes, eyebrows, outstretched fingertips, and exhaled ecstasy into a smile, and her little brother (age 6) threw his arms around his sister and said, “You did it!”
That’s a good photo to include.
You’ll need report cards, award certificates—Oh! legal documents! Her birth certificate, passport, Social Security card, the signed court order from a federal judge to change her gender marker on these documents.
If your folder has gotten heavy, you may select something larger and more durable—like a plastic envelope with a drawstring. Make sure it’s transparent. You might do this so that all you must do is open a drawer to be reassured that the proof is there.
You might do this because, one day, the CPS agent could knock on your door, and you would want the essential documents to be visible right away.
Have a plan for what you would do if the CPS agent does come. Accept that your life has now come to require these sorts of contingencies. Know exactly how you want to handle it if you hear the knock. We’re going to answer questions calmly. We’re going to help our children pack their essential items. We’re going to calm the neighbors. We’re going to keep our lawyer’s number in our favorites so that we can call right away.
Then we are going to stop. We’re going to look our babies in the eyes. We are not going to cry. We’re going to tell them that this is wrong and that we’ll see them soon. Then we will turn to the agent. We will tell them that they might not understand this now, but they could. That if they stop and really think about what’s happening, they’ll know this is wrong.
Do you understand now?
CPS did not open an investigation against our family, but the threat is real enough that my children and I are in Oregon now.
My daughter asking, Am I going to die? is when it felt most real. School employees calling CPS in tears, I don’t want to report this family, but I can’t lose this job. That is real. That is happening in our lifetime.
It doesn’t matter that we weren’t reported. Tragedy shouldn’t have to come knocking for you for it to matter to you.
A memory: All the airport TVs show the live footage from Uvalde, 160 miles to our southwest—parents pleading to save their children, the police force refusing to intervene. “My daughter’s in there!” a man shouts. “What are you doing? Get inside the building!” a woman screams. “Go protect the kids!” Everyone watches the screens. The flight attendant scans our passes. I take my children and board the plane and watch our home getting smaller and smaller behind us.