• Now, more than ever, it is essential that trans allies step up and fight this battle alongside us. (Getty Images North America)Source: Getty Images North America
The US government's proposal for stricter definitions of gender is not about biology, it's about creating the conditions for individuals and institutions to entrench transphobic bigotry.
Liz Duck-Chong

23 Oct 2018 - 10:14 AM  UPDATED 23 Oct 2018 - 10:16 AM


If the anti-trans agenda had a playbook, chapter one would be the science of 'biology'. In every scare campaign, half-baked policy or drab campaign speech, biology is the bogey-person stand-in, the reason that things just are the way they always have been, and really should continue to be.

Continuing this trend, a memo from the Trump administration as described by The New York Times buys even further into the gospel of biology, calling for gender to be defined as not only determined by one's genitals at birth, but indelible and undeviating.

"Sex means a person’s status as male or female [is] based on immutable biological traits identifiable by or before birth" the memo reads, explaining how the only way this can be contested is with "genetic evidence". This comes as part of an effort to shift the function of existing federal law, with the administration claiming that this misunderstanding has incorrectly extended civil rights protections to transgender and non binary people.

This proposed change relies on the well curated cultural myth of biology as inherent, simple, and unchangeable, but nothing could be further from the truth. The simple narrative of sperm meeting egg, with either an X or a Y determining the rest of a child's life, is a good primer, but doesn't begin to cover the range of variation and expression that bodies are capable of.

Though little is understood about what physiologically makes someone transgender, it is estimated that 1.4 million transgender people are in the U.S. alone, a number that is rising as the fictional rigidity of the gender binary becomes less interesting or necessary for younger generations. In addition, conservative estimates place around 1 in 2,000 people as intersex – people born with sex characteristics that do not fit medical norms for 'male' or 'female' bodies – traits that in some cases are not visible until long after birth.

The fervour about biology often negates that genetic testing is fairly uncommon (in no small part because it is expensive), and that many of the people who decry transgender, intersex and non binary identities and bodies have themselves not been tested. This is not to levy some "gotcha" moment at cis bodies and lives, but to express that the way our bodies genetically exist is for the most part a mystery, our lives ongoing and expanding without being defined by a few squiggles on a karyotype.

Now, more than ever, it is essential that trans allies step up and fight this battle alongside us

In reality, this memo is not about biology, or science, or even religious conviction; it is about creating the conditions for individuals and institutions to entrench transphobic bigotry in their practices and processes. A transphobic TSA agent won't hear the minutiae of the memo, they'll hear that they have a right to fondle trans women under the guise of security (moreso than they already do). A bigoted office clerk will hear their ability to neglect the identities of trans and non-binary people. A more moderate presidential candidate will accept the new Overton window and see us as baggage not worth taking into an election campaign, further entrenching the harm my trans siblings in the US face.

While Australia is not passing notes about banning us from existing outright, our leaders are also spiralling into their increasingly bigoted blindspot. As they continue to take their lead, puppet-like, from the United States leadership, we too must counter the misinformation and harm they hope to perpertrate against some of our community's most vulnerable individuals.

Now, more than ever, it is essential that trans allies step up and fight this battle alongside us, lifting up the voices of trans people and asking us what we need to be done here. That we're not going anywhere, is not to say that the political and personal fights we're in aren't difficult and take their toll on trans people's health and wellbeing.

It's not only that we won't be erased, we can't be – transgender people have demonstrably existed throughout time and across cultures that span the globe – and that doesn't cease to exist because of the likes of law, legislation or bigotry at large. This comes as just one more attempt to wipe us off a map that we are stitched into the very fabric of, the tapestry of human history containing our threads since time began. We aren't budging this time either.

Liz Duck-Chong is a queer, trans and non binary woman. You can follow her on  Twitter @lizduckchong or www.lizduckchong.com.


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