By Holly Williams

Elm Staff Writer

A memo leaked by the New York Times showed that the Trump Administration is working to redefine gender as unchangeable and identifiable by sex organs clear at birth. In cases where sex is disputed, genetic testing would be relied upon.

This new definition of gender would roll back Obama-era anti-discrimination guidelines that protected transgender and intersex individuals’ civil rights in health care, education, housing, and more. Trans people already experience homelessness and unemployment at twice the national average, and disproportionally high rates of homicide.

Unfortunately, it’s not a surprising move from an administration that has consistently come down against trans civil liberties. From attempting to ban transgender military personnel, to dismissing complaints from trans students about gender discrimination, the Trump administration has made it clear that the rights of 1.4 million Americans are of little consequence. Now, the administration seeks to make transgender identities invisible within the protections of federal law.   

The memo not only sets a dangerous precedent but is willfully ignorant to the scientific realities of sex and gender.

The most simplified dichotomy of a person’s sex is having chromosomes that are either XX or XY. This is the model most middle school health classes and the Trump Administration follow. With more research, you’ll find the scientific consensus is that gender exists on a spectrum, and that this dichotomy does not apply to many individuals. This is not only true for trans people, but intersex people as well.

Intersex conditions, differences or Disorders of Sex Development (DSD) affects 1.7 percent of the population. And if you believe that’s too small a percentage to call for inclusion in federal policy, keep in mind that redheads only make up 1-2 percent of the population. Yet, federal protections that would exclude redheads for not being strictly blonde or brunette would be laughable. Why should we see attacks on the inclusion of intersex persons as being any more acceptable?

The memo also specifically references “immutable biological traits identifiable before or during birth.” Again, science would dispute that the biological expression of sex is unchangeable over time. Transgender people can change their sexual characteristics as well through surgery and hormone therapy. In both puberty and beyond, traits associated with being intersex emerge. Children can be born with ambiguous genitalia and sometimes display traits of both sexes. Such policies would force healthcare professionals and family to make the decision of what sex a child will live as for them, sometimes resulting in unnecessary cosmetic surgeries to normalize their sexual characteristics.

Genetic testing, which the memo treats as the catch-all solution to questions of sex, doesn’t always support a sex binary. Instead, it further reveals the complexities when more unusual chromosomal combinations such as XXY and XYY appear. Even individual cells within a person’s body can be a different sex than the rest. Moreover, the order conflates gender with sex. Scientific and psychological consensus again would negate the memo’s stance. Gender is social, cultural, and psychological. Sex is not.

Of course, this should all be easy for a president who boasts about his “natural instinct for science” to understand.   

The desire to preserve a constructed duality of gender should not outweigh the reality that sex and gender are changeable. If the definitions sought in the memo are made policy, it would remove some of the most marginalized communities from their protections against discrimination.

It’s not just factually incorrect, it’s morally wrong.

The Elm

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