Colt Keo-Meier, a native-born Texan, a clinical psychologist, and a trans man, has been one of the most visible people in the fight against transphobic politics in his state. Keo-Meier’s research on how testosterone affects the psychological health of trans men was the first of its kind, and influenced the American Psychological Association’s first guidelines on the clinical care of trans patients. Recently, he gained new prominence when he testified against SB6, the anti-trans “bathroom bill” currently sitting in the Texas state legislature.
Keo-Meier is now a medical student at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston. He also continues to practice therapy, teaches at the Transgender Health Lab at the University of Houston, and runs Gender Infinity, an organization he cofounded with his partner, Becca Keo-Meier, that provides resources and “affirming spaces” for gender-expansive people.
I talked to Keo-Meier on the phone about his life, his work and his fight for trans rights. His comments have been condensed and edited for clarity.
It’s not just about, “you can’t use a certain restroom.” People say, yes you can. You just have to use the other one. But we really can’t use the other one. I cannot use women’s rooms. Because somebody’s boyfriend watches me go in there after their girlfriend, guess who is more likely to be beat up, murdered, or raped? And even more so for my siblings who are gender non-conforming and non-binary, and my sisters who are trans women.
[People] don’t understand that the process to change one’s birth certificate for many people is actually impossible depending on the state you were born in. There are some states that will never change your birth certificate, period. If you’re in Texas, there’s a fee associated with it. Plus you’ve got to get a court order that costs a minimum of $300. If you do use a lawyer, [it’s] $2,000 or $3,000, and most judges in the state of Texas will not sign these court orders.
Then, after you get that [court order] signed, you have to get two doctor’s letters and you’ve got to get your parents to sign a notarized form. And the state of Texas can still reject it.
The overwhelming majority of transgender people, with [a bill like SB6], would not be able to use public facilities. There’s physiological and psychological damage. From a medical standpoint, we have really specific health issues that come up from not being able to use the restroom. And then from a psychological standpoint, the message is, “you do not belong here.”
A sense of a lack of belonging is one of the number one predictors of people who attempt suicide. The number two is feeling like you’re a burden. So this bathroom bill hits both of the top two predictors of suicide. Unfortunately, I don’t believe that the senators who created [SB6] care, because I literally was able to say those things and they still voted for it anyway.
People already target transgender people for violence, harassment and discrimination at higher rates than the general population. What [SB6] does is it increases the likelihood of further discrimination. Especially people who aren’t necessarily trans, but again, those very masculine-appearing women, really face the brunt of that harassment. “Are you sure you’re in the right restroom? I’m going to call the police.” Especially for people of color—getting the police called on you? I don’t have to tell you that. These are not little things.
I do not believe anyone in Trump’s administration would be open to discontinue harming the transgender population. That’s a hard truth.
People ask me why I do what I do and the number one answer I keep saying right now is, to keep my people alive. And people keep saying, oh, you’re exaggerating, it’s not that bad. And I’m just like, come do the work with me for a couple of days. Come and see.
My people are dying. My people are being exterminated and people don’t care.
I think my experience growing up in the South gives me perspective. I understand the fear, I understand the hatred. I remember praying to God, “Please don’t make me a lesbian because somebody said that’s wrong.” I remember voting against gay rights growing up. So when I’m working with these people I have to remember that compassion.
My name has a spiritual significance as well as a practical significance. When I was at church one Palm Sunday, the gospel reading was from Luke and it talked about Jesus asking for someone to go “untether a colt because the master has need of you.” My interpretation of that was God kind of anointing and blessing [me]. Yes, I see you. Yes, I made you. Yes, you’re on the right track, I know that you’re a boy. And I need you. It also reminds me, in the same vein, to be kind of light hearted in my work. “Colt” meant sort of like a donkey. And so it’s kind like don’t take yourself too seriously. And the untying piece also speaks to me. Before I transitioned, before I became Colt, I was not able to be free, to do the work that God has created me to do in the world. So that—the imagery that I’ve been unchained, and so many of my brothers and sisters and siblings are still in chains, trans or not, POC or not. So [much] of humanity is tethered, and I’m not. And God needs me.
Something I’ve been doing very frequently is monitoring how I’m talking about myself to myself in my head. I make sure I’m my ultimate encourager because there’s so much messaging out now about how it’s bad to be me. I think it’s really common to feel like you’re not doing enough when you’re trying to do this work. There’s shame. I’m not doing enough. People are dying. I didn’t take care of enough people. White savior complex stuff. I just remind myself, “Colt, you are one person. And you are doing the best you can with what you have like everyone else. And I’m proud of you.”