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Administration makes mistake with gender plans

The current administration is in the process of trying to erase transgender/cisgender people. If they have their way they will define gender as biologically incontrovertible, determined by genitalia at birth. This definition will exist in title IX, the federal civil rights law that bans gender discrimination in education programs that get government financial assistance. It will also inform section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, which investigates medical discrimination based on sex, in which sex includes gender identity and presentation. It would effectively relieve doctors of any obligation respect gender that may differ from genitalia at birth. 

The Department of Health and Human Services argues that the government needs a uniform definition of gender based on biology that is “clear, grounded in science, objective and administrable.” While the intention of clarity for the purpose of bureaucratic facilitation is not harmful in and of itself, this definition, if implemented, will be extremely detrimental. 

Gender, as medical professionals attest, is not determined anatomically. Many factors contribute to gender identity including genes, hormones, biology, and the mind. It can be different from the biology of one’s body, and it often does not fall clearly into male/female boundaries, even on a purely anatomical scale. Gender is a spectrum, on which some people, though they are a minority, fall somewhere between the existing boundaries. Forcing these people to be defined by words that do not befit them is not only harmful to these people psychologically, but is also medically/ biologically dangerous. 

There is substantial evidence that shows transgender/cisgender children and teens are at much higher risk of depression, anxiety, drug/alcohol addiction, and suicide. They must exist in a world that wishes not to define them or allow space for who they are. They must live according to definitions they did not choose, within boundaries that have no room for them. The loosening of technical definitions of gender (within schools/hospitals/public spaces) during the Obama administration caused much public discourse of the issue, lots of it malicious, but it created the beginnings of a world/country where those who exist “between” gender were no longer in some limbo space linguistically. To be able to be who they are very simply, and not in comparison or according to the standards already laid out. 

History shows us the dangers of forcing people to define themselves in accordance with and in comparison to others. When Spaniards conquered the great portion of the Americas and almost completely successfully transformed the population they did not eradicate into Spanish speaking Catholic people, it took generations and centuries for Latin Americans — especially those with strong native ties — to understand themselves in the philosophical sense. They had been defined not by their own history but starting with the Spanish conquest (not their choice), in the Spanish language (not the native language of the Americas), and by Spanish standards (a culture completely foreign to their own). They were forced to define themselves through the eyes of their conquerors. 

This may seem like a far-fetched comparison. But all people should have the right to define themselves as they are, it should not be forced upon them by others. Sure, language complicates this, but language is ever changing anyway, never static and so we must help push it forward when these complications arise. We must call people how they wish to be called. Define people as they wish to be defined, if for no other reason than to better understand those humans around us. Their complications and intricacies, all the beauty and light they have inside them to offer the world, different or the same to yours. 

So whether it is correctly defining the spectrum of genders at the bureaucratic level, using appropriate pronouns, or taking the time to learn and understand new terms that define gender, sexuality or anything else — do it. Push the boundaries of your mind if you must, in order to more fully appreciate and understand the human experience in all its intricacies. 

(Hannah McLeod is a writer and social media specialist for The Smoky Mountain News, Smoky Mountain Living and Mountain South Media. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

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