People who have spent their lives fighting against gender labels imposed on them at birth may now have these restrictions legally imposed upon them. The Department of Health and Human Services is attempting to create a legal definition of sex under Title IX nullifying protections for transgender people.
Title IX is the federal civil rights law that bans gender discrimination in education programs or activities receiving federal funding. The Obama administration expanded Title IX to recognize the existence of transgender people through looser definitions of gender, while this new proposed legislation — mentioned in a memo obtained by The New York Times — will define sex as a binary based on genitalia at birth.
Changing a dictionary definition won’t change who people are. It’ll make it harder for them to exist. It’ll bring transgender discrimination into school bathrooms, dormitories and any programs where gender identity comes into play. But it won’t, as President Donald Trump’s administration probably hopes, change the fact of their existence.
It’s ironic enough that the administration is using a civil rights law that bans gender discrimination to exclude anyone who doesn’t fit into a strict gender binary from benefiting from certain government programs. But the misunderstanding apparent in their argument for adopting a uniform concept of gender — the idea that gender is something that can be made “objective” — is even worse.
Gender is far too complex to define with anything other than very broad terms. And while gender and sex are two different things, neither one is as straightforward as a male/female binary. It must be made clear that there’s no scientific justification for this. The administration is using science in a biological sense to rationalize its transphobia, when gender is fundamentally not biological.
The dictionary result that comes up when one Google searches “gender” is as outdated as it could be: “the state of being male or female.”
How can the nation condemn the Trump administration for creating a legal definition of gender excluding transgender and nonbinary people when we accept these definitions in our everyday lives too? Yes, there’s a difference between the federal government legislating gender and an everyday person forming a social construction through a Google search, but for nonbinary people, the only difference is the resulting policy that may come from a change to Title IX.
The basis in thought is the same: a lack of respect for the personhood of people who don’t fit into a binary we assume to be standard.
Legally, our government is making the statement that transgender people don’t exist. The gravity of that can’t be overstated. The department would decide how schools document gender, which could impact which bathrooms students are allowed to use and which dorms students are allowed to live in.
And beyond impacting logistical decisions, this will embolden people who already believe that the identities of transgender people are invalid and need legislation that confirms their beliefs.
The government is telling people how they should identify themselves. For Republicans who support small government to support this move — purely because they’re opposed to transgender rights — is hypocritical. Failing to speak out against this legislation is supporting it, and supporting it is enabling the government to tell people how to live their lives, how to mark themselves on applications, what bathroom to use.
This situation is reminiscent of George Orwell’s “1984.” It’s a dangerous precedent for the government to be eliminating words that don’t fit in with its definition of what the nation should look like. The word transgender will still exist, and people will still use it, but it’s alarmingly easy for the government to take steps to censor a population.