New Definition of Transgender Threatens Trans Rights

By, Ariela R. ’19 and Teresa L. ’19

Recently, The New York Times broke the story that the Trump administration is considering changing the governmental definitions of gender and sex to being biologically determined by one’s genitals at birth. These definition would be exclusively either male or female and unchangeable. “Sex means a person’s status as male or female based on immutable biological traits identifiable by or before birth,” said the proposal. “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 change would be part of a plan to roll back transgender rights and protections granted under the Obama administration through a series of decisions that loosened the legal definition of gender. The Obama-era policy prompted disputes over bathrooms, dorms, locker rooms, and other traditionally single-sex spaces. Republicans, particularly evangelical Christians, vehemently opposed a more fluid definition of gender.

The proposed definition, which first circulated in a memo from the Department of Health and Human Services last spring, would revoke any federal recognition currently afforded to individuals who identify as a gender other than the one  associated with their sex at birth. This is the most extreme and broad measure yet to emerge from the Trump administration; however, ever since he took office in 2017, President Trump’s government has been attacking and undermining transgender rights. In February 2017, the Department of Education and the Department of Justice announced that the Obama administration’s directive to schools that allowed students to use the bathroom of their choice had been rescinded. Similar actions were taken by the Justice Department regarding bathrooms and housing for inmates.

While several other countries have recently allowed gender neutral or third gender markers on government identification, the proposed changes to the United States government gender policy would explicitly disallow similar steps. This memo comes on the heels of a national “Intersex Rights” campaign which highlights those who are neither “biologically male” nor “biologically female.” In other words, those born with variations in sex characteristics, including chromosomes, sex hormones, gonads or genitals. The recent Intersex rights awareness campaign has focused on surgeries performed on infants with “variant” but functioning genitals. .5% of people are born with variant genitalia, which is greater than the percentage of the population with green eyes (2%). These surgeries have no purpose other than cosmetic and may often result in reduced function. They result from the same impulse to stick to the outdated idea of both gender and sex as fixed and either male or female that the Trump administration is clinging to in this revision of policy.

Many at Winsor are familiar with the narrative of transgender being defined as being born in the wrong body, or being born with “female” genitals and desiring “male” ones. However, there is so much more biologically to sex and gender. It isn’t as black and white as we have been lead to believe. And other countries are starting to recognize this. There is nothing that makes genitals inherently male or female. Why not have a male vagina? Neutral anything?

While it may seem that all is lost, many states have passed bills allowing neutral gender ID. Most recently, New York City joined Oregon, Washington state, Maine, Washington DC and California. While these states all allow “X” markers for nonbinary genders on birth certificates and driver’s licenses, they require the resident who wants to make the change to be over the age of 18. No states allow X markers for intersex babies.

California is the only state to denounce intersex surgeries, stating, “Intersex children should be free to choose whether to undergo life-altering surgeries that irreversibly — and sometimes irreparably — cause harm,” and “a baby cannot consent.”

The changes made and threatened by the Trump administration are dangerous and unacceptable. Winsor students must stand alongside those who face misunderstanding, discrimination, hate, and violence. Spectrum urges those who are cis-gendered and in positions of power to use their influence to protect those who are more vulnerable. As always, contacting representatives to state your support for trans and intersex rights is important and useful. In addition, hard conversations with the adults in our lives can really make a difference. Have you spoken to your mother or your father about the things they can do to support trans lives? Did you speak to them about question 3? Additionally, there are many organizations in Boston and across the country that provide support to trans people, such as Fenway Health, that could use monetary support.