As we approach the midterm election, the Department of Health and Human Services has drafted a new definition of sex under federal law Title IX. This new definition, according to a memo from the New York Times, “would define sex as either male or female, unchangeable, and determined by the genitals that a person is born with.” Thus, the only way to change one’s legal sex designation would be to undergo genetic testing. This discriminates disproportionately against transgender and intersex individuals, barring them from recognition and existence of their gender identity in legal documents, potentially hurting their access to healthcare, and removing any legal protection afforded to them under Title IX.
Besides being incredibly transphobic, the revision is scientifically implausible. While it would be very convenient for the federal government if sex and gender were as simple as penis or vagina, human biology is much more complicated than that.
Currently accepted definitions state that gender identity is independent of sex, and that neither gender nor sex are simple binaries; not man-or-woman, not penis-or-vagina. A transgender individual's gender identity does not fit the gender they were assigned at birth based on their genitalia. They may choose to alter their behavior, clothing, voice, mannerisms, name, or their body to reflect their gender identity, but none of these changes are necessary to define them as transgender. Nevertheless, transgender individuals need the ability to legally change their sex in order to receive fair treatments and accommodations from society; labeling sex as unchangeable and equivalent to gender identity is a threat to those rights.
Additionally, intersex individuals are threatened. The majority of people have either XX sex chromosomes—females—or XY chromosomes, males. However, a few in every thousand babies are born with alternative combinations of sex chromosomes like XXY or X, so their sex is not as clear-cut. These individuals are intersex, and their sex characteristics at birth may confound simple identification as male or female. For years, doctors have performed surgeries on intersex infants, forcing them to adopt a male or female designation, a questionable practice that is now under great scrutiny. The new definition of sex would further complicate that debate about surgical ethicality, posing an even greater danger to intersex individuals
The source of this memo, the Health Department, is a cabinet-level federal agency controlled by President Donald Trump. The Trump administration has already attacked the rights of transgender and intersex individuals, including a ban on trans people in the military, a reduction of the rights of transgender students, and more. This is yet another attack on the rights of the transgender community, and its timing may not be incidental. Some say it is an attempt to influence the midterm elections: By inciting outrage in liberal voters, Trump hopes to simultaneously suede evangelical Christian voters to the polls in defense of traditional gender roles.
Every single transgender and intersex person is affected by this proposal of a new definition. On top of all the challenges that already come with being transgender, these individuals must now also face a government that is actively working against them. This is especially harmful to young people who are struggling with their gender identities; the environment they come out into is becoming increasingly hostile.
It is unclear how likely this proposal is to be accepted or enforced, but regardless, action must be taken to halt the passage of this definition of sex. Collectively, we as a society need to support the transgender community. On campus, transgender students are not protected by BC’s notice of nondiscrimination, in that it does not explicitly include gender identity in its list of protected identities.
To counteract the lack of resources and conversation surrounding trans representation on campus, The GLBTQ+ Leadership Council (GLC) has started a petition to add gender identity to BC's notice. Beyond signing the petition, voting in the midterm elections is the best way to affect change. For Massachusetts voters, Question 3 on the ballot asks if discrimination based on gender identity should continue to be banned. Voter turnout will be key to keeping the transgender community protected in our state. This should not be a partisan political issue.
This is an issue of human rights.