Handling a .50-caliber machine gun atop a Stryker armored fighting vehicle in Iraq and Afghanistan, Josephine became an expert at scanning her surroundings for potential threats. The Army taught her how to absorb a flood of information in a moment. On patrol, she would count the number of passengers inside an approaching vehicle, identify places where she could quickly seek cover if necessary, or commit a patch on someone’s jacket to memory.
Since she returned to civilian life nearly a decade ago in Killeen, the Central Texas town adjacent to the Fort Hood Army base, those skills have mostly lain dormant. Recently, however, Josephine, who began identifying as a transgender woman after leaving the military, has begun to feel that she’s back on the battlefield. Like many other queer Texans, she has read with mounting concern about rising rates of violence and intimidation against transgender Americans. (She asked for her last name to be concealed for fear of being harassed.) Lately, when she stops at a red light, pulls into a gas station, or enters a Walmart, she anxiously scans her surroundings for symbols she associates with American extremism: Confederate flags, Back the Blue bumper stickers, Punisher decals on jacked-up trucks.
Now, amid the 2023 Texas legislative session, in which lawmakers have introduced more than 130 bills that seek to radically transform the lives of members of the nation’s second-largest queer population, Josephine says extremism is no longer fringe. To her and many others, the slate of legislation now up for consideration looks like the beginning stage of a larger attempt to criminalize—and eventually eradicate—transgender Texans. She argues that the debates about transgender identity parallel “the Jewish question” in nineteenth- and twentieth-century Europe that set the stage for widespread violence against Jews and other “undesirable” minority groups, including homosexuals. In particular, Josephine is concerned by the introduction of Senate Bill 1029—which, if passed, could effectively end gender-affirming health care for transgender adults. Other bills of particular concern to her would require that individuals of all ages undergo psychological evaluation before they can receive such care, ban classroom instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity in certain grade levels, and impose civil fines of as much as $10,000 on venues that host drag performances.
The anti-trans bills before the Legislature don’t explicitly call for the eradication of transgender communities, and the authors and supporters of many of those proposals claim their intention is to protect young Texans who might be confused about their gender identities from treatments that can be difficult or impossible to reverse. After decades of study by medical experts, those same treatments are the standard of care in medicine. Advocates say gender-affirming care saves lives and leads to very low rates of regret.
Josephine and other trans Texans say any proposal that would restrict access to gender-affirming care, particularly for adults, is an indirect form of violence that threatens their existence. If the state’s official policy demonizes a particular group, some trans Texans argue, it’s only a matter of time before physical violence ensues—just as attacks on Mexican American communities increased after former president Donald Trump described undocumented migrants as murderers and rapists.
Days after reviewing SB 1029, Josephine spent $600 on a Glock 9mm handgun that holds fifteen rounds—enough, she estimates, to counter multiple attackers or to, at the very least, “take one or two of them with me to the grave.”