By Rebecca Capurso
The last two years have been full of questions, anxiety, and fear for America’s transgender population due to discrimination from the Trump administration.
On October 21, The New York Times shared a memo (obtained from the Department of Health and Human Services) stating that the agency is attempting to create a single, uniform definition of sex based on one’s genitals at birth, with male or female being the only two options. The memo states, “The sex listed on a person’s birth certificate, as originally issued, shall constitute definitive proof of a person’s sex unless rebutted by reliable genetic evidence.”
This new narrowed definition is being used to limit the protections afforded under Title IX, the legislation that prevents discrimination in schools “on the basis of sex.”
The Obama administration broadened these protections to also include gender identity, making it clear that transgender people were protected from discrimination during school-based activities or when applying to schools and could freely identify as any gender. Then, back in 2017, President Trump reversed the Obama administration’s gender identity specification, but it wasn’t until October 2018 that this new definition had been presented, stating whose rights are truly protected.
And this definition is absurd.
Sex or Gender Identity?
At this point, we should discuss the difference between sex and gender, and why it matters. It is something that the Trump administration doesn’t seem to remotely understand or care about, but it is certainly something you should care about. Sex and gender are two words are often used interchangeably in pop-culture and the media, which unfortunately leads to significant confusion and misunderstandings about such an important topic.
Sex refers to a person’s at-birth anatomy – genitals, chromosomes, physical characteristics. Gender is a social construct. It is how a person identifies themselves and is based on personal feelings, regardless of their body’s physical features. Basically, sex refers to the body, and gender refers to the mind.
Traditionally, people are given a gender at birth according to the societal norms regarding their sex at birth. Culturally, penises represent one set of behaviors, thoughts, and norms to follow, and vaginas represent another. In that sense, you’re handed these norms at birth and expected to identify with them. Some people realize that they no longer identify with their sex-based norms (or maybe never did), and transition to the gender identity that feels best for them.
By defining protections based on sex rather than gender, the Trump administration is essentially saying transgender people – people whose gender identity doesn’t match the sex characteristics they were born with – don’t have valid identities. To be protected under Title IX, transgender people would have to give up who they know themselves to be based on their gender identity.
Transgender and gender non-conforming people aren’t the only group whose identity is being questioned by this new potential policy. There are many other gender identities that don’t align with birth genitals, such as non-binary, gender fluid, and agender identities. There are certainly more people who don’t fit neatly into male or female identities than the Trump administration realizes. Again, gender is a social construct. Everyone should be allowed to select the gender that feels right to them, without anyone else telling them what that is. But that’s not what the Trump administration thinks.
And even if gender identity didn’t exist, there are still plenty of people who are born with genitalia that isn’t entirely male or female. This identity is called “intersex” and can involve having a combination of male and female parts, insensitivity to a sex hormone, XXY chromosomes, or inner anatomy that doesn’t match a person’s outward anatomy. If an intersex person underwent a DNA test, the results would likely indicate that person was neither male nor female – and what would the Trump administration do then?
The War Wages On
It’s obvious that Trump and his lawmakers have no knowledge of the human condition outside of being straight, cisgender, white males. If they did, they wouldn’t be creating discriminatory rules that could seriously damage the mental and physical well-being of the transgender and non-binary populations by denying their right to equal education, and more so, denying their identities.
Sadly, this wasn’t the last attack on the transgender population.
In November 2018, it was revealed that the guidance page for protecting transgender people in the workplace on the federal Office of Personal Management website was replaced with information that is not specific to transgender people. These guidelines offered terminology, resources, and rules for respecting transgender employees. By taking away this federal acknowledgement of transgender people’s identities, it appears that the Trump administration is trying to not only deny but erase transgender people.
And now, in January 2019, the Supreme Court allowed Trump’s proposed ban on transgender military personnel to go into effect. This move, first announced via Twitter in 2017, prevents people “with a history or diagnosis of gender dysphoria” and people “who require or have undergone gender transition” from serving in the military, according to a memorandum (BTW: being trans is not a mental illness as is implied by the term of gender dysphoria).
Their reasoning is that transgender service members “could undermine readiness, disrupt unit cohesion, and impose an unreasonable burden on the military,” despite evidence to the contrary showing that there is no medical justification for the ban, and that the supposed expenses would be minimal.
More recent developments show that not every lawmaker is clueless, however. On February 7th, both Democrats and Republicans proposed new legislation that would reverse Trump’s ban, allowing transgender troops to continue to serve as well as allowing transgender people who weren’t already serving to sign up. Meanwhile, Trump’s ban continues to be enforced and likely won’t be challenged in court until later this year.
This is a scary time for populations who fall out of the heteronormative culture in Trump’s America. It’s unclear what’s going to happen next, but in the meantime, gender minorities deserve all the support they can get. I urge you to support this community, to advocate, and to use whatever privilege you have to help. Check out these websites for ways you can get involved:
And if you’re transgender and are looking for support, check out these sites:
Trans Lifeline Support Line (Available 7am-1am PST / 9am-3am CST / 10am-4am EST) – 877-565-8860 (US) and 877-330-6366 (Canada)