October 22, 2018
Yesterday, the New York Times reported that a draft memo by the Department of Health and Human Services proposes to define sex as unchangeable and determined by a person’s genitalia at birth. Legal and bureaucratic regulation of sex and gender identity are not new. But the broad and aggressive scope of the HHS proposal, and its utter refusal to recognize the reality of transgender people’s existence and our basic humanity, are deeply concerning.
This draft memo does not undo the multiple federal and state court holdings recognizing the legal rights of transgender people. It cannot undo the Washington Law Against Discrimination, which explicitly prohibits discrimination against trans people in contexts including employment, education, public accommodations, housing, and access to credit. But it does ignore the prevailing medical perspective that gender identity exists beyond a limited binary and that invalidating transgender people’s gender identities has damaging consequences. And crucially, it attempts to evade the reality that all people – including transgender people – are the best experts in defining who we truly are.
While legal recognition and documentation do not dictate our humanity, they can be important to safety, particularly for trans people who experience increased vulnerability due to racism, anti-immigrant bias, ableism, and classism. For those of us who are transgender, who have trans family members and friends, and who care about the trans students and colleagues in our learning and working communities, the draft memo may feel threatening, dangerous, and cruel.
No memo can take away what we know is true about ourselves, our families, and our communities. Trans people, especially trans people of color, are no strangers to attempts at legal erasure. Trans people carry rich legacies of resilience. Our lives will not be erased. Trans people are beautifully, powerfully here.