Texas custody battle puts gender identity into the spotlight

Two Texas parents in the throes of a divorce both still deeply love their child. The problem: One parent says that the child is a girl, and the other parent says the child is a boy. Now, the courts are involved and politics are in play.

This issue surrounds the gender identity of a child who was designated male at birth. The child's mother, a pediatrician, says that the child is a transgender female. The father disagrees.

After a lengthy jury trial that heard evidence from both sides, the jury awarded sole conservatorship of the 7-year-old to his mother, essentially agreeing that the child is a girl. The father's inability to support the child's gender identity was seen as detrimental to the child's best interests by the jury. When the child was with the father, he refused to allow the child to use a female name or wear typically feminine clothing.

Despite this, the judge in the case chose to order joint conservatorship, instead, saying that the child seems to be "comfortable as a male, female, or gender nonspecific." That means that both parents will have a say on any treatment the child might receive for gender dysphoria.

The judge also took the step of putting the parents under a gag order. That's largely seen as a move to keep the father from continuing to blog and make public allegations (which remain unproven) that the mother was trying to have the child castrated or otherwise surgically altered. The judge even wrote, "the Court finds that the Father finds comfort in public controversy and attention surrounded by the use of unfounded facts" and suggested financial gain in the form of donations has been his motivator.

While this case will likely continue to play out for a while, there's no doubt that issues surrounding a child's gender and sexual orientation are hot-button issues that tend to attract a great deal of attention in the political arena as well. However, the judge's comment serve as a warning: Parents need to be sure that they do not attempt to manipulate the court via the media when fighting for custody and keep their focus firmly on the child's best interest, not their own.

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