Any high school or college student should be able to tell you that sex and gender are two different things. Sex is determined by chromosomes: ‘XX’ chromosomes are characteristic of the female sex, while ‘XY’ chromosomes are characteristic of the male sex. It’s purely biological.
Gender on the other hand, according to the American Medical Association’s Journal of Ethics, is defined as “the continuum of complex psychosocial self-perceptions, attitudes and expectations people have about members of both sexes … the terms male and female, man and woman are not interchangeable.”
The Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Law estimates there are 1.4 million transgender individuals in the United States as of 2016, and for those 1.4 million people, gender and sex don’t perfectly line up with each other — that’s what makes them transgender.
According to a report by the National Center for Transgender Equity, 63 percent of transgender individuals experienced serious discrimination in their school, 57 percent experienced severe or total loss of familial relationships, 50 percent reported having to teach their medical professional about transgender-specific healthcare and 19 percent were refused medical care altogether. The discrimination experienced on behalf of the transgender community is real and rampant.
Regardless of this reality, though, the Trump Administration is pursuing an effort to write transgender identity and current protections out of existence. These efforts aren’t just a blatant disregard for the lives of 1.4 million Americans, though; they’re inept assumptions at odds with the medical community.
This month, The New York Times obtained a memo from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) explaining the Trump Administration is considering a serious crackdown on gender by narrowly defining it.
The problem isn’t a narrow definition, though. Narrow definitions still have some truth value. The problem is the Trump Administration is seeking to deeply distort the definition of gender to the point that it’s unrecognizable to the medical community.
The New York Times said the administration would seek to define gender as being a “biological, immutable condition determined by genitalia at birth”, a narrow explanation of a complex issue. The Times dubs it as “the most drastic move yet in a government wide effort to roll back recognition and protections of transgender people under federal civil rights law.” By using such stringent language, gender would essentially be irrelevant.
According to The Times, the HHS expresses the need for government agencies similar to it to come to one universal definition of gender, which the HHS is aiming to determine “on a biological basis that is clear, grounded in science, objective, and administrable.”
A clear definition of gender, grounded in biology and science, is that it’s an expression instead of a body part. It’s perception instead of chromosomes. The HHS is attempting to define a word with a definition for something else. From studies of the differences between sex and gender, we know gender isn’t objective. It’s literally defined as a personal perception, and perception isn’t objective whatsoever. It’s subjective.
Sure, there might be some differences in providers and doctors, but the American Medical Association universally defines it through the lens of perception, cultural indicators and personal comfort.
By writing the term ‘gender’ out of existence, health providers could flat out refuse to treat transgender patients and to recognize trans-specific healthcare needs.
It should be unsettling for all Americans that a federal agency — supposedly comprised of health professionals and analysts — literally doesn’t understand the difference between sex and gender.
Political administrations shouldn’t have the power to erase the reality of our physical bodies and psychological perceptions as defined by science time and time again, and they should never be able to erase members of their constituency just because they don’t understand them.