February 19, 2019 | 28° F

FOWLER: Title IX change can move us backward


Opinions Column: Sex and the City


Just a few weeks before midterm elections, President Donald J. Trump's administration has begun “spearheading an effort to establish a legal definition of sex under Title IX, the federal civil rights law that bans gender discrimination in education programs that receive government financial assistance.” In the memo, written by the Department of Health and Human Services, it is argued that agencies need to have a notion of gender that is “on a biological basis that is clear, grounded in science, objective and administrable.” The memo stressed the importance of binaries like male and female, and said that in the case of disputes about one’s sex, clarification would be found by doing genetic testing.

The argument against transgender individuals is nothing new. The notion that sex is defined by a set of chromosomes or by one’s genitalia is one of the defining arguments of those on the side against transgender rights. The word “objectivity” is held up as gospel, as though one side has access to the truth, while liberals, transgender individuals or what have you, believe in some sort of unverified concept of gender which one can change and switch as if it is a subjective property controlled by their own will. Perhaps the fear is that gender will become too fickle — but this seems unlikely. Changing the way one defines themselves is already stressful, but it is not difficult to find depressing statistics about the difficulties of being transgender: transgender individuals are more likely to live in poverty. The 2011 National Transgender Survey found that transgender people were four times more likely to live under the poverty line. They experience homelessness at twice the rate of the national average, and the same study revealed that 41 percent of them have attempted suicide. Being transgender is, unsurprisingly, more difficult for people of color. A particularly shocking fact on this comes from an article reporting on the 2013 National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP), which found that “transgender people are at a higher risk of homicide than other LGBTQ people. In 2013, trans victims and survivors made up 13 percent of anti-LGBTQ hate violence reports to the NCAVP, and yet transgender women made up 72 percent of anti-LGBTQ homicide victims. Trans women of color — who accounted for 67 percent of anti-LGBTQ homicide victims — were particularly at risk.” 

Statistics about the difficulty of being transgender should make it obvious that the impetus for changing one’s gender or the way an individual identifies is difficult and likely would not be done without need, as determined by the individual. Discovering changes in one’s gender is nothing short of stressful or difficult — transgender people worry about rejection from their families, about finances for hormones or surgery (if they are interested in those options) and the like. It is unclear what specifically is worrisome about transgender individuals to the Trump administration. According to The New York Times, the memo states the old notion that, “Sex means a person’s status as male or female based on immutable biological traits identifiable by or before birth.” Even in its fluidity, many people understand gender in the way which is described here. A nuanced understanding of the concept of gender provides ways to fully comprehend transgender and gender non-conforming individuals at large. Of course, it seems as though the Trump administration does not want to think about the concept of gender at all.

The Atlantic article, "When Children Say They’re Trans," asked questions about transgender children, which I think can broadly apply to the concern of the conservative movement about expanding definitions of sex and gender. According to the article, “The current era of gender-identity awareness has undoubtedly made life easier for many young people who feel constricted by the sometimes-oppressive nature of gender expectations ... Where is the line between not ‘feeling like’ a girl because society makes it difficult to be a girl and needing hormones to alleviate dysphoria that otherwise won’t go away?” I do not know if these questions can be easily answered, but it seems we should take into account the difficulties of being transgender and the lack of stories about individuals who transition for what is perceived as some sort of illegitimate reason. Individuals should be able to feel comfortable within their gender identity, and it would be a shame to continue to move backward after so much work has been done to get where we are now. 

Ashley Fowler is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in English. Her column, “Sex and the City,” runs on alternate Thursdays.

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Ashley Fowler

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