ON OCTOBER 21, 2018, the New York Times reported that a memo had been circulated in the Department of Health and Human Services seeking to amend a law which protects against gender-based discrimination in any government-funded educational program. Part of this memo argued in favor of a legal definition of sex, with The New York Timesciting a quotation from the memo: “Sex means a person’s status as male or female based on immutable biological traits identifiable by or before birth.” If such a statement would appear in just one of our nation’s laws—or even in one of their amendments—the floodgates of legalized discrimination for the transgender and intergender communities would open, with unimaginable consequences.
When someone comes out and begins the journey to their authentic gender, there are many milestones and turning points. A necessary step in transition is when a transperson holds their new state ID in their hands after having their gender legally changed. It is a tangible and physical reminder that they belong to a society whose government protects them, and whose law enforcement officers look out for them. ID cards can be felt, held in a person’s hands, and shown to friends. School ID’s, state ID’s, passports and birth certificates are among a person’s most important documents, they validate and verify identity. For many transgender individuals that simple letter “F” or “M” is something they have spent years of their lives in conflict with; being discriminated against, invalidated, and excluded based on a solitary character on a piece of plastic. The significance we give to the concept of gender and what it means is something to discuss but that’s a different conversation for a different day. Today, we have transpeople fighting for a basic right, the right to be seen and the right to be recognized as who they know themselves to be.
Ignoring the existence of transgender individuals goes against an unbroken line of court decisions in this country. With the proposed policy the administration reveals yet again that it does not care about science and will ignore it when convenient. Members of the trans community pay taxes, serve jury duty, and abide by the law just like other U.S. citizens. However, under the Trump administration, they would be barred from correctly identifying themselves to the government that profits from their tax dollars, and whose laws are supposed to, but do not currently, protect them.
Many people operate under the supposition that protecting transgender children who attend public high schools and middle schools is negligible because it could “just be phase.” The age of transition, however, is getting younger and younger. More and more high school- and college-age people are seeking help toward this end, and more parents are reaching out for support for children who are questioning their gender identity.
It appears that just as the transgender and non-conforming community is experiencing a brief moment of relief, finally receiving some of their much deserved rights as citizens, this Administration has decided to pick at the scab, inflicting more pain, anxiety, and frustrating on an already marginalized population. Many transpeople, including many adolescents, die by suicide. This memo was circulated about a law that would directly affect educational institutions, which means that it would directly affect our children. For every transboy or transgirl who is allowed to use the bathroom of their gender, or who is allowed to change in the locker room of their choice, there is another who will be required to use the locker room of the opposite gender, and change clothing in front of a crowd that bullies them and inflicts physical and emotional harm. This Administration is turning its back on a community that seems to be getting larger and younger all the time.
The Timesalso stated that “any dispute about a person’s gender would have to be clarified by genetic testing.” This reminds us that numerous governments in the past that have forced certain populations to undergo scientific tests and experiments. No government has the right to subject its citizens to a biological test without their consent.
Furthermore, there are many instances in the past in which gender and sex have been adjudicated or tampered with by a third party. Hospitals used to require a certain penis length before designating an “M” next to gender on a birth certificate. John T. Money was the famous doctor who crudely stated that “for plastic surgeons, it’s easier to dig a hole than build a pole,” referring to children with XY chromosomes whose genitalia were underdeveloped or mutilated under his medical supervision. We must return to the simple idea that if you leave genitalia alone, disregard a child’s chromosomes, and allow an individual to develop without arbitrary societal restriction, they will eventually tell you themselves the gender to which they belong.
It has been shown time and time again—medically, psychologically, and sociologically—that the best and healthiest way for a trans individual to flourish is to allow them to exist in their stated gender. Why open the floodgates in the opposite direction? Why not allow a community to legally define themselves, instead of posing a constricting definition upon them?
Monica Prata, a feminine image consultant for those who are transgender, transitioning, or exploring gender fluidity, is the founder and CEO of NouveauShe.