Narrowing definition of gender marginalizes trans, intersex communities

Transgender and intersex individuals are already marginalized in society, and Trump’s plans to narrow the definition of gender will only worsen the problem.  I Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/ user: Krassotkin


The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is considering a narrower definition of gender under Title IX, according to a memo. This change would not recognize or protect transgender individuals.

The definition of gender would be determined “on a biological basis that is clear (and) grounded in science,” based on an individual’s external sex characteristics at birth. Transgender and intersex individuals  would not be able to change their legal gender designation under any circumstances.

This decision implies that the U.S. government has the ability to define marginalized groups out of their rights. In addition to endangering thousands of transgender and intersex individuals, such a ruling would be a clear abandonment of science and individual liberty.

This decision to redefine gender is not grounded in science, despite the administration’s statement. Two percent of people in the United States have “a reproductive or sexual anatomy” that doesn’t align with the typical definitions of male or female, according to the Intersex Society of North America.

This is approximately the same percentage of individuals in the United States with red hair. The intersex community, however, does not receive visibility or recognition.

The current common practice for intersex newborns – which make up about 1 in every 1,500-2,000 live births in the United States – is a swift and immediate sexual assignment surgery, or rather, infant genital mutilation.

Parents are often pressured by doctors to agree to these irreversible and invasive surgeries out of fear for their child’s healthy and safety, although there are very few intersex conditions that come with serious medical risks.

The Trump administration’s potential redefinition of gender would normalize and enforce these traumatic medical practices and further erase intersex people as a valid and protected community. 

Beyond Biology

The general consensus among researchers is that sex and gender are separate concepts that are both more complicated than initially assumed.

Sex refers to biological sex characteristics but “gender goes beyond biology“, said Dr. Jason Rafferty, the lead author of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ transgender policy.

Gender may be impacted by genetic factors, but it primarily exists as an innate psychological state within the brain. By definition, transgender people are individuals whose gender identity does not match the sex they were assigned at birth.

Our government’s manipulation of science and research does not come without precedence. The U.S. has a history of employing pseudoscience to warrant disenfranchisement and state violence.

This should not undermine the severity of a potential redefinition. The erasure of a marginalized identity is one of the beginning steps of dehumanizing and eradicating a culture.

For a country that claims to value individual liberty, a policy that fails to account for the identities of transgender and intersex individuals would go against this philosophy.

Just as when women fought for their right for birth control or when the LGBT community battled against anti-sodomy laws, individuals have a right to their own bodies.

Though the personal is inherently political for those in marginalized groups, identity and anatomy should not be further policed by government officials.  

The power of the executive branch can only reach so far – in this case, it would primarily only affect Title IX and the Affordable Care Act.

This redefinition would send the message to transgender and intersex individuals that their realities don’t matter when in truth, they are a significant community that is entitled to equal protection of their rights.

Opinion columnist Adison Eyring is a media productions and political science sophomore and can be reached at [email protected].

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