"Supergirl" star Nicole Maines is very much on the front lines of a growing battle over the civil rights of transgender people. She always has been. The actress not only plays television's first transgender superhero Nia Nal on The CW Series and transitioned at an early age herself; she was also the plaintiff in a groundbreaking Maine state Supreme Court decision affirming the rights of transgender children to use restrooms that match their personal gender expression.
And now, with those rights under increasing attack throughout the United States, we spoke at length with Maines, who tells TheWrap that seeing bills aimed at enshrining discrimination against trans youth across the country is "enraging" -- especially when the lawmakers proposing them claim they are doing so on behalf of the children that would be harmed by those laws.
"It's so frustrating and enraging to know that they are citing a concern for children's safety and they're citing concerns of child abuse on the floor," Maines says. "And then they'll go back to the testimony room where trans kids have traveled five plus hours to testify on their own behalf in front of state legislators saying, 'Please do not take away the care that could save my life.' And they're gonna go backstage and scream at those children to shut up, belittle them, record them, try to take photos of them, actively harass these children and then in the same breath go out there and say 'These children are clearly being abused.' Yeah! By you!"
Just four months in, 2021 has been marked by a troubling spike in anti-trans legislation, most of which specifically target transgender youth. 33 states have introduced or passed more than 100 new laws that limit or forbid gender-affirming care and some even actively punish children who do not conform to extremely conservative definitions of gender expression.
The most notorious is a disturbing law passed on April 6 that, if upheld by courts, will make Arkansas the first state to outright ban gender-confirming medical treatments and surgery for transgender youth, or even referring patients under 18 to anyone who provides such care. The law sparked widespread outrage, including from Maines' "Supergirl" costars such as Chyler Leigh, who said "This a matter of LIFE & DEATH for transgender youth!"
But in Texas, where Maines and her family currently live, three bills aimed at transgender youths were advanced as of Monday. This week, Senate Bill 1646 will be introduced, which would indeed redefine child abuse to include administering, supplying or consenting to provide puberty suppression drugs, hormone replacement therapy, or gender affirming medical procedures.
Texas Republican Sen. Charles Perry, the lead sponsor of the bill, said he felt obligated to protect children "who have not reached the maturity to understand what is being proposed nor the impact on them in perpetuity." He referred to gender-affirming care as "not reversible" and "life transformational and life changing."
That is something Maines is quick to debunk. "Literally the first they tell you about hormone blockers is that it is just a pause button. And hormone blockers have been used for cisgender children who have prematurely been going through puberty for years and years and years," Maines notes. "And what they do, is they just stop the puberty process so that kids can be kids a little bit longer, in the case of cisgender children. In the case of transgender children, you put a pause on puberty so you don't start going through whichever innate puberty may or may not be right for you, or wrong for you. And it gives you that chance to kind of decide and work with your family, and work with yourself, and with counselors and therapists, and figure out the proper course of action."
And, according to Maines, that course of action can't always wait until a child turns 18, as SB1646 defines.
"When we're saying 'Oh, just wait 'til you're 18,' we don't have the luxury of waiting until we're 18. We don't," Maines says. "We have to make these choices now because, one way or another, we're going to be going through a puberty. No action is still an action. So we should at least be given the opportunity to have all of the information so we can make an informed decision."
Of course, those who are the most informed already are those who are living in this reality. And yet, Maines contends that trans people are not being given a true opportunity to advocate for themselves.
"The people who have lived through this, and the people who are experts on this, are not being given the same opportunity to fight for ourselves as other people are being given to fight against us. We're not asked follow-up questions," Maines notes. "So we only have two minutes to try to convince people 'Hi, please listen to us and understand that we know what we're talking about, and we understand ourselves and our bodies, and you know, please don't hurt us. Please stop hurting us, because we have done this time and time again. You know, it's bathroom bill 3.0. We've been here before."
At the end of the day, Maines notes that she and most other transgender people just want to live their lives. "We just want to be left alone," she says. "And it's so exhausting that we have to keep fighting over and over, and trying to figure out new ways to articulate that you should care about people."
"There is no reason to condemn kids to a life of being miserable because YOU don't understand what they're going through. And kids should not have to wait for YOU to get with the program," Maines adds. "It's not about you. It's about them."
When it comes to those who are looking to be an ally in this situation, Maines's advice is simple.
"Make noise. Make as much noise as you can. Spread the proper information. Make sure that people are getting the correct numbers, because everything that's being talked about are all these big, scary ideas and numbers, that are meant to evoke a reaction out of people."
You can watch Nicole Maines's full thoughts on these pieces of legislation in the video above.