By Angela Lemus-Mogrovejo
AFO Content Writer
I’ve said it before and I will say it again:
Fuck Donald Trump.
Except this time, fuck Roger Severino as well, him and anyone else who subscribes to his brand of cisgender, heterosexual nonsense and authoritarian views on gender.
What has prompted this new instance of fury at the Trump administration?
As of a few days ago, the New York Times reported on a memo being circulated by the Department of Health and Human Services that would effectively codify a new definition of gender for use in agencies related to healthcare, education, and more. Gender, under the new guidelines, would be treated as “biological, immutable,” and determined solely by the genitals one has at birth. Sex, according to the memo issued by the Department of Health and Human Services and its head Roger Severino, would also have only two options-male or female, again, determined by genitalia at birth. Should any disputes be raised about any individual’s sex, proper genetic testing will be used to determine the correct gender category to place someone in.
In addition to continuing the Trump administration’s systematic destruction of all civil rights protections granted to transgender folk under the Obama administration, this memo has the potential for even worse consequences in the near future. Should this proposed definition be accepted for use in public policy, it will have a dangerous ripple effect for transgender populations. Schools will continue to ignore legal cases from transgender students who have sued them after being barred access, should the new definition cement what has already been the current Department of Education’s approach. Transgender people seeking health services will suddenly find themselves written entirely out of healthcare systems that already struggle to acknowledge their gender identities respectfully. Even more dangerous, this kind of federal disavowal of transgender existence risks heightening the intense level of stress and psychological violence experienced by transgender youth overall. With services like The Trevor Project having already reported an overwhelming increase in calls to their crisis line under the Trump administration, these calls will only increase in severity should this definition receive federal approval. In one fell swoop, this definition risks initiating a whole host of horrors for transgender people, should it be officially adopted.
While all of this potential misery is enough to piss me off and cause concern for most in my trans communities, that isn’t what angers me so much about this whole mess. What bothers me most has to do with something Roger Severino stated in regards to the Obama era protections for transgender people. Severino is reported as having seen the expansions to definitions of sex and gender as “radical gender ideology.” In his eyes, the Obama administration went too far in expanding protections to people who shouldn’t have them.
What pisses me off most about this particular quote is that it says so much more about the priorities of the Trump administration when it comes to trans people than anything else could. Because if the proposed definitions for sex and gender have anything to do with “objective science” as it purports to, then those attempting to enforce it would know they have already failed to be scientific. Such a binaristic, middle-school class model of human biology ignores the plethora of intersex individuals who exist as part of the spectrum of sex categories people fall under. It disregards the level of medical violence such populations are forced to undergo for the sake of maintaining cultural ideals about only two genders/sexes existing. Furthermore, it ignores the reality that categories of classification such as gender and sex often have non-objective, highly social components to how and where they are applied. If this proposed definition had anything to do with science, then Trump policy makers would understand just how politically rooted our biological understandings of human bodies are in enforcing a two gender society.
But that’s the trick, isn’t it? That’s the politics the Trump administration wants you to gloss over when we talk about issues facing transgender folk. Because while the Trump administration can propose this kind of definition and trans folks can spend their time on pointing out the facts about how science really works or how democratically unjust such their definitions are, that isn’t the point. That isn’t the end goal of what Trump and people like Severino are trying to accomplish. They don’t care about science and they certainly don’t care about objectivity.
It all lies in that phrasing from Severino: “radical gender ideology.” As hilarious as I think it would be to imagine that people like him really believe trans people have the capacity to destroy society simply by existing, the truth is far more sobering. What this kind of phrasing, especially in the context of basic civil rights for trans people, fundamentally suggests is that we shouldn’t count as people, plain and simple. Trans people should not be considered part of everyday society because to allow for such people to exist with rights is too frightening for cisgender, heterosexual people to comprehend. Or rather, they have no political interest in defending the rights of people they don’t consider people in the first place.
Because what exactly is radical about asking for my rights to be respected or for me to enjoy the same small luxuries like bathrooms, schools, education, etc. that cisgender people take for granted?
Nothing. There is nothing radical about just wanting to say “I am this person of this gender, regardless of if I don’t conform to the ways you think gender should operate.” I could speak to so many more radical things on so many more radical topics like capitalism, imperialism, US interventionism, or god knows what other fascism my home country has caused. But when it comes to my gender, saying that I am a woman shouldn’t feel like a radical stance to take.
And yet, I’m hard pressed to find any other reason behind proposing such a narrow definition for gender/sex to be used in public policy other than to make me and other trans people sound like liars. This kind of political investment in creating disbelief around marginalized populations is ultimately what much of this administration has focused on for its politics since its inception. It doesn’t matter whether the group is undocumented immigrants, survivors of sexual assault, activists of color, or people who are all of the above. Since day one, the modus operandi for this administration has been to cast doubt on any of its critics, hold itself up as the real victim, and carry on with robbing us all of rights, property, and wellbeing. Not only that, but it has taken every possible measure to ensure that it has the last say on who should be considered worth believing in the first place. In the case of trans people, it has simply sought to categorize the deprival of our rights as part of proper policy, characterizing anyone who protests it as an endorser of “radical gender ideology”.
In reality, much of what motivates these kinds of antagonistic policies towards trans folk does not surprise me. As much as this administration will hide behind claims of objectivity and clearer policy guidelines, their political aspirations are as transparent as their incompetence. For an administration representing the conflux of white supremacy, rape culture, robber baron capitalism, and sheer fascism, this is par for the course.
What angers me most is that this decision, among all of the political moves made by the Trump administration, feels as though it may have the most unspoken support from everyday people. As much as I want to believe people will see this move for the politically motivated ploy that it is, I can’t help feeling doubtful. I’ve had friends state their public support for me before, all the while invalidating my gender in group settings. I’ve had members of my own family deny my gender because they thought it was too complicated for their children. I’ve had so many reminders in this society that people want to believe everyone else but trans folk about who they are that it feels hard to believe myself some days.
I’ve often wondered what society would be like for me if I ever physically transitioned. I can only hope, if that possibility still exists in the future, that people will stop trying to find ways to avoid believing me and other trans people. That, should another political mess like this arise, no one has to look towards science or any other discipline to feel like they are who they say they are. Hopefully the world will be ready for that kind of “radical gender ideology” someday.
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