Joshua Baish looks uncomfortable in his orange jumpsuit as he tells his story in a video conference call at the Denton County Jail in early August. Fifteen video monitors line the walls inside the small visitation room, and nearly all of them are in use this Sunday afternoon. Several children patiently wait to see their fathers, who are behind bars for various reasons, since a video call won’t connect until a minute before each meeting.
No one is waiting to see Baish, who says he hasn’t seen his 4-year-old twin daughters since the judge sentenced him in late July.
In June, he drove to his ex-wife’s house on Father’s Day to pick up his daughters for a weekend visit and was met by two Denton police officers and a freshly filed temporary restraining order. “The accusation?” he wrote on Facebook. “I was forcing Lily to be a boy. And that it constitutes abuse.”
Because of a temporary restraining order prohibiting Baish from posting on Facebook about the case, doing so landed him in jail. He also failed to take a parenting class as mandated by Judge Jonathan Bailey. His ex-wife has described his answers on the stand as perjury.
Baish is serving a six-month sentence for contempt of court. He’s only been in jail for a few weeks, but he says it's been long enough for him to question whether he made the right decision regarding his daughter.
"It's so easy to believe in here that I'd done something wrong," he says. "But I didn't. The only thing that I've done was let Lily be Lily."
Too young to understand?
Baish’s courtship with his ex-wife, Kenna, was a whirlwind that landed them at the Choctaw Casino in Durant, Oklahoma, in early September 2013. They were there to watch Mötley Crüe on their wedding night. Baish sang along with every song as if he were Vince Neil.
“Didn’t know what to expect,” he told D Magazine in December 2013. “Vince Neil was portly and seemed to be winded the whole show. Mick Marrs looked like he could crumble at the touch of a feather, but they pulled it off wonderfully.”
The couple hailed from different worlds. Baish says he came from money while she came from a religious family that attended a megachurch in the Metroplex.
Baish was the longtime owner of Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studios and a fixture in the Denton music scene and local news publications. The two met at a studio after party about 10 years ago and remained friends for several years before love took over.
But their love wouldn’t last. She filed for a divorce and her first restraining order in late December 2014, 16 months after their wedding.
“Joshua told me that he despises me, hates me at every level, and that I am his biggest number one enemy,” she wrote in her Dec. 29, 2014, affidavit for a temporary restraining order. “Joshua told me that he will destroy me.”
Baish denies this.
Their divorce proceedings lasted longer than their marriage. It was eventually granted in June 2016. Baish was ordered to pay $1,050 per month in child support, as well as the more than $7,000 he owed in back child support. He was required to pay medical support, given standard visitation and told that he had 60 days to pay $15,000. The judge allowed him to keep Johnny, a donkey living with Baish’s sister in New Mexico.
Baish had planned to sell his Rubber Gloves property and move abroad, but he scrapped the plans when the divorce papers arrived. Instead, he decided to perform reconstructive surgery on the old venue and rehearsal studio. He told the Observer in August 2015 that he planned to overhaul the electricity and HVAC, add a kitchen, reopen the outdoor stage and pay $25,000 in roof repairs in hopes of making it a profitable business.
Baish closed the venue portion of Rubber Gloves shortly before his divorce was final. He called closing the music venue “a casualty of divorce” when he spoke with the Observer in early May 2016. “When I woke up that morning, if you’d told me I would have to make the decision to close Rubber Gloves, I would never have believed you,” he said. “I was backed into a corner. It came down to time with my girls, so I would have to make a tough decision.”
Baish says he never took his
4-year-old daughter to visit a mental health professional when she started saying she wanted to be a boy. Instead, he perceived her to be transgender and gave her a bedroom decorated like a boy’s room. He allowed her to play with Star Wars and Batman toys, monster trucks and Legos and let her dress in boy clothes and boy underwear.
“She was telling me, ‘Daddy, I’m a boy,’” he says.
He says he didn’t see a problem with her claims she was a transgender boy and that he wouldn't have a problem if she later says she's gay. “Neither of those things are wrong,” he says.
But he didn’t have the support of his child’s mother, who says she doesn't want to comment “regarding any article surrounding anything that has to do with Josh Baish or the abuse he has caused" their daughters. But she offered her perspective in a June 15 affidavit for a temporary restraining order.
“Joshua Baish expresses to me that Lily is a boy and that she’s transgender,” she wrote. “He says that she was born a boy. I would say that she is very young and has no idea about any of this. Both girls have said that when Lily wants to put on girls’ panties that their father says, ‘No, no no.’”
She also claimed that her daughter said, “Daddy says I’m a boy, but I want to be a girl.”
When parents disagree
Since North Carolina politicians passed the state's bathroom bill in March 2016, the word “transgender” has become part of the daily news cycle. For those in support of trans rights, the awareness is needed to help a segment of the population with a high risk of suicide, which is attributed to bullying, discrimination, and rejection by family, friends and the community. Many critics claimed ignorance of the transgender community in Texas fueled the fear that many Texas politicians, most notably Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, display as they push for legislation focused on which restrooms trans people can use.
Local political celebrities, such as New Hope Mayor Jess Herbst, who is transgender, and former Denton City Council candidate Amber Briggle, the mother of a transgender child, became the focal point of a transgender movement in Texas. They attempted to raise awareness by allowing the media into their homes to chronicle the normalcy of their everyday lives.
Briggle persuaded Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to dine with her family at her Denton home so he could see that her transgender child, MG, was a normal second-grader with hopes and dreams. Paxton even brought dessert.
“I don’t understand what is so offensive and scary about my son,” Briggle told the Observer in August 2016.
Briggle told her transgender son’s story in a June 2016 TED talk and discussed the signs that something was different about her child. The first revelation occurred when her child was 4 years old and asked, “Mommy, do you think scientists can turn me into a boy?”
“What do you do with it?” Briggle asked the TED audience. “We had a choice to make. On the one hand, do I encourage to redefine girly, to identify as a tomboy? I mean, let’s be honest, even tomboys know they’re girls. I wanted my child to define himself from the inside out, not the outside in.
“But on the other hand, if I encourage him and allow him to dress like a boy in public, was I setting him up for a life of bullying, discrimination or worse?” she added. “It is not easy being transgender.”
The Genecis program at Children’s Health Speciality Center in Dallas focuses on helping children and teens with gender dysphoria, a psychological term used to describe individuals who do not identify with the gender they were assigned at birth. Many children with gender dysphoria outgrow it as they grow older, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
Heavily rooted in mental health support, the Children’s Health program offers children ages 4 to 17 access to specialists in psychology, endocrinology, adolescent medicine, gynecology, social work, pastoral care and ethics.
The Genecis team provides not only mental health care but also hormone replacement therapy and puberty blockers, “a standard of care that grants time to gender dysphoric adolescents as they contemplate their long-term gender identity,” according to the program’s website.
“People have this idea that transgender people are just weird and awkward and troubled,” Dr. Ximena Lopez, a pediatric endocrinologist at Children’s Medical Center in Dallas, told The Dallas Morning News in June 2015. “That’s because historically people came out as transgendered adults when they’d spent much of their lives depressed because they were not being themselves. These children have an opportunity to have a normal life. The new generation of transgender people we’ll see are completely different. They’ll look normal like you and me. And they’ll be happy.”
In order to participate in the Genecis program, a child must meet the age requirements, have an established mental health provider — though one will be offered if the child doesn’t have one — and have a letter from the child’s therapist supporting the diagnosis of gender dysphoria. Then the child and the parents or legal guardians go through an assessment process with mental health providers.
Issues regarding transgender people are also beginning to unfold in courtrooms. In Philadelphia, the parents of a transgender woman named Christine Kitzler sought to prevent her from undergoing gender reassignment surgery in late 2015. They argued that she wasn’t competent to make an informed decision, but the judge disagreed and sided with Kitzler, who told a local news outlet: “I would rather die than live the way I was and return to my bad addictions, like alcohol, because I can’t do it and I won’t do it.”
California-based family law attorney Paul Wallin told the story of a single mother of a transgender daughter who turned to crowdfunding platform GoFundMe to raise money for her legal fees in a custody battle. “The mother is seeking sole custody of their daughter because the father has been forcing the child to be a boy and refuses to refer to the child as a girl or let her wear girls' clothes,” Wallin wrote on the website of his law firm, Wallin & Klarich. “The child was born as a boy but now recognizes herself as a girl.”
Wallin points out that the California court system has not been able to address the topic of parents who disagree about how to raise a transgender child in a family law case. But he claims that in California, when the judge determines who should receive custody, it would be based upon the “best interests of the child” standard.
Lisa Marie Vari, a family law attorney at Lisa Marie & Associates in Pennsylvania, predicts issues involving transgender children will become more controversial for minors seeking to undergo surgeries because they need permission from parents or guardians.
“Though a shared legal custody order is very common in most custody cases, inevitably, this decision may become more heated when one parent supports a minor child’s status as a transgender and one does not,” Vari wrote on her law firm’s website. “Because Pennsylvania custody law is focused on the best-interest-of-the-child standard, cases involving complex legal custody issues often require a testimony of expert witnesses including psychologists and physicians.”
In Briggle's TED talk, she discussed what will happen when her son hits puberty. “Puberty is not a cakewalk for anybody,” she said. She also mentioned puberty blockers and touched upon the community support she receives.
It's notable that Briggle spoke, too, of the support of her husband, Adam, who works as a philosophy professor at the University of North Texas. When spouses disagree, the courtroom spillover is inevitable.
In interviews discussing her son, Briggle has not said if she sought help from a mental health professional to see if a diagnosis of gender dysphoria was appropriate for her transgender child. The Observer reached out to Briggle, but she was unwilling to discuss the mental health aspect of her son’s story.
“People start asking personal questions about my family that I'm not willing to talk about, and I shut that shit down real quick,” she wrote in a Facebook message. “I share what we are comfortable sharing, and we know that speaking publicly will make a difference. It's hard being in the spotlight — you know you have to speak up to protect your child's future, but you also want to live a normal life to protect your child's safety.
“I don't know what the right answer is, and I think every parent wonders if they're doing the right thing for their kids,” she added. “But I do know one thing: I love my child unconditionally. I don't need a therapist to tell me if he's a boy or a girl. All I know is that he'll always be my baby.”
'The children's wellbeing'
In June, Baish stood in Bailey’s courtroom, feeling confident because, as he claimed in his public Facebook post, he had put together “an airtight case.” He figured he could convince the court his ex-wife's claims were unwarranted.
“It was crystal clear from all the evidence that I had done nothing wrong,” he wrote. “I had only allowed them to be who they wanted to be, and as their father, I’ve been loving, supportive and involved.”
But he was in the wrong courtroom to make that argument.
Bailey, a pastor’s son and a Denton County resident since 1983, was first appointed to the bench by former Gov. Rick Perry in January 2011. He is an Aggie, a firm believer in his faith and a lifelong grassroots Republican.
“This judge has balls to me and is what we need in Denton County where the little guy gets screwed,” one reviewer posted on gavelbangers.com, a website for sharing information about judges. He is also the kind of judge who is not afraid to share his opinions, no matter how harsh they may sound.
“[He] determined that I was guilty of intentionally trying to force her into identifying as a boy by making Lily play with boy’s toys and wear boy’s clothes,” Baish later posted on Facebook. “That this was an issue of control on my part. That I was trying to get back at my ex-wife. And that I was a child abuser, and that the abuse I brought on her was borderline sexual.”
Some of Bailey's decision was based on evaluations by two doctors, Linda Threats and Dean Beckloff, from the Pediatric Behavioral Center in Dallas. Both agreed that Baish’s behavior was abusive.
“There is a reason Judge Bailey ruled the way he did,” his ex-wife wrote in a Facebook message in early August. “He is a fair judge and looks at nothing but the children's wellbeing. There is a reason that Mr. Baish got 180 days in jail instead of the 15 days that Judge Bailey was going to give him. He was caught in multiple lies and perjured himself on the witness stand even after being told by the judge and his lawyer that he didn’t have to testify.”
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Baish says he felt numb, outside of his body, and couldn’t accept the judge’s opinion, which he called “outrageous, twisted and fundamentally wrong.” He learned that his standard visitation had become supervised visitation, for which he is required to pay. He also has to attend, and shoulder the costs for, therapy related to the “psychological and emotional harm his children may suffer due to inappropriate gender identity coercion or emphasis.” His daughter must continue to attend play therapy that both parents pay for.
Baish must jump through several hoops if he wants his parental rights restored. The first phase requires 12 supervised visits and at least six counseling sessions. In the second phase, he will continue counseling but is allowed to have unsupervised visits with his children. The third phase begins when he’s completed eight unsupervised visits and at least 10 counseling sessions. Baish also must pay for a parenting facilitator, who will make sure the conditions are met, and attend a course on parenting and conflict resolution. He failed to attend the required course by a July 21 deadline, which factored into the contempt charge.
Baish harbors resentment for the judge. Despite his doubts, he still believes what he wrote on Facebook shortly before his arrest.
“All this has been done because I let her wear clothes she wanted to wear," he wrote. "Let Lily play with the toys she wanted to play with. Let her decide who she was and who she wanted to be.”