In Texas this week, state legislators launched fresh attacks in the ongoing conservative culture war against trans children and their families. At the forthcoming session, two bills were proposed for consideration that would label gender-affirming nurturing as child abuse, while another bill allegedly targeting “drag” shows is so broad that it could potentially ban all trans people from “performing.” ” (to act). , singing, lectures, etc.) in all public places accessible to minors.
This makes the release of the documentary Dear Noah: Pages from a family diary fiercely well-timed.
Produced by NBC Out, the film takes a close look at Noah, a trans state boy who, along with his supportive family, was forced to relocate under threats of an investigation that began when the Texas governor ordered child protection agencies to handle him the act of confirming a child’s sex as child abuse. The documentary begins with Noah (whose face is not directly shown) living in Houston with his mother and younger brother, and home video footage helps complete the picture of his boisterous childhood. In the end, Noah and his mother uprooted themselves to Colorado, where they feel more protected, but also achingly distant from Noah’s father and younger brother, who were forced to stay behind.
Before the document was released, I spoke to Noah’s mother, Katie Laird, about raising a trans child, the difficulties of moving and balancing advocacy for trans children with concerns for Noah’s privacy. Katie and I had an easy connection based on our shared experience of raising transgender youth (foster parenting in my case) and my experience as a trans man, similar to Noah’s. Our conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Evan Urquhart: I really loved this document, especially the footage of Noah as a little boy. Tell me more about what he was like as a kid.
Katie Laird: Noah has always been this wide-eyed, open-hearted soul. He is warm, empathetic, concerned about justice, concerned about fairness for all. And he’s so funny – he has great comedic timing. We watch a lot of BBC comedy and he has this dry wit, more British humour. He’s just this nice, interesting, funny person. [However], as we have gone through darker moments, there has been an ongoing battle with depression and anxiety. I have a teenager and I also have a 5 year old so that’s like a teenager and a little teenager so [there are] many complex feelings.
Noah is so masculine in all those early takes, well before he switched. Did you choose shots of him that made him look particularly boyish, or was it always just Noah?
Only he! He’s always been a boy. I think I forced him to wear a dress a couple of times but it was clear it wasn’t right for this kid.
There was a part of the document where I started to tear up and it was the part about the notebook. Noah came out as trans in writing in a kind of shared notebook you two shared. Why did you buy this notebook? Tell me more about this story.
Why? Because we always had a close relationship, but it got harder in middle school. I knew something was wrong, but I just couldn’t get it out of him. What happened was he discovered YouTube and found out he was trans and found the language for gender dysphoria. It was an exciting time for him and also very scary. But he couldn’t tell me. I needed a place where we could process things with me. I’m a writer, I write morning pages, and so is he. It was just an experiment.
It seems to have worked amazingly well for you during what might have been some pretty tough times. I saw Noah’s cutting scars in the documentary. They’re actually a lot shallower than mine, but a lot harder to hide. I wanted to ask you how you, as a parent, deal with the fear that your child might not be well. And, I just wanted to jump into the conversation that I’m 44, an adult trans man, and my old scars are a bit embarrassing because I was SO a teenager, everything seemed so intense to me and now it doesn’t; but i’m ok
Your first reaction as a parent is fear. But we were really helped by his advisors and the whole team around him to understand him and what that meant. When a child feels so out of control and invisible, they will do anything to regain that control. We continue to work with Noah and our medical team to understand what it means, its triggers, and other ways to manage it.
There are so many levels of potential danger for trans youth. Self-harm and suicidal thoughts are a real and imminent threat when these children are bullied by these cisgender male politicians – and it is bullying. It was very difficult, but there is nothing about my child that I am ashamed of. It’s painful to see your son suffer, but that’s the reality for trans children. It is one of the dangerous outcomes of this harsh political environment.
Tell me about Colorado. I know you made the decision to move in with Noah because you were concerned about the state of Texas’ decision to investigate parents who authenticate their transgender children for child abuse. But why don’t you tell me how you’re doing with the move and how life is for you?
It’s the best of times, the worst of times, like Dickens. Our reality in Colorado is an exceptional, healthy environment, a community of inclusiveness. There’s hiking, craft beer, it’s very friendly, and all of the resources we fought so hard for in Houston just became available. It’s a place where infrastructure was built to support people. The difficult side is that this isn’t our home, we don’t know anyone, we struggle to make friends. Also, we love being Texans, we’re proud of the wonderful, warm people we come from. Texans are fighters, and as difficult and sad as this was, we will keep fighting.
Hear more of Noah’s story on What Next:
One last meta thing that was so interesting to me was the decision to hide Noah’s face but still show yours and Noah’s father’s. What can you tell me about this decision and more generally how you balance the need to protect Noah individually with a desire to make the world a less hostile place for him and all trans children?
It was a big deal to ask the film crew to make a film about a person and not show the person. It was rooted in: I fear for his safety. There are people who see something like that and want to hurt him. But it was also that I wanted him to be able to walk into every room in his life, just like Noah, and not be the guy from the documentary or the news.
As a young mother, I regretted it. I’ve been active on social media, at conferences, meetings and I haven’t always thought about his inability to give his consent, his inability to do things like posting his photos on the internet agree. Of course he’s older now. A teenager can give informed consent and understand things like the outlet or the reporter. For the documentary, we initially said yes to just one interview. But the producers met Noah, and of course, to know him is to love him, and so he became the focus of this whole documentary. It’s a fly on the wall, an unfiltered look; Sometimes they would film him getting out of bed, they would be there before he was even awake and film me going in to wake him up. And everything is directed by Noah, even the home video footage, he was I think the editing of what he got to broadcast.
As public as parts of our lives were [due to their activism], it has never been so up close and personal. He’s 16 now, he’s going to be 18 soon, and I want him to be able to be himself, not just that. He makes art, he’s into longboarding, he wants to get his pilot’s license — I’m not sure which of all that made it. He has so much more to offer than just the trans Guy.
Dear Noah: Pages from a family diary will air NOW Friday at 10:30 p.m. EST on NBC News and also stream on Peacock.