Are transgender people people?

Someone you know is transgender. They deserve to be treated like a human.

Look. My job here is normally to pick apart public statements by people, to show you how things can be written better. I try not to get into taking political positions. But I am making an exception today. If this bothers you, please skip today’s post.

If you’re still here, let’s take a look at what is happening in the Trump administration with regards to transgender people, according to The New York Times:

‘Transgender’ Could Be Defined Out of Existence Under Trump Administration

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration is considering narrowly defining gender as a biological, immutable condition determined by genitalia at birth, the most drastic move yet in a governmentwide effort to roll back recognition and protections of transgender people under federal civil rights law. . . .

Now the Department of Health and Human Services is spearheading an effort to establish a legal definition of sex under Title IX, the federal civil rights law that bans gender discrimination in education programs that receive government financial assistance, according to a memo obtained by The New York Times.

The department argued in its memo that key government agencies needed to adopt an explicit and uniform definition of gender as determined “on a biological basis that is clear, grounded in science, objective and administrable.” The agency’s proposed definition would define sex as either male or female, unchangeable, and determined by the genitals that a person is born with, according to a draft reviewed by The Times. Any dispute about one’s sex would have to be clarified using genetic testing.

“This takes a position that what the medical community understands about their patients — what people understand about themselves — is irrelevant because the government disagrees,” said Catherine E. Lhamon, who led the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights in the Obama administration and helped write transgender guidance that is being undone.

The move would be the most significant of a series of maneuvers, large and small, to exclude the population from civil rights protections and roll back the Obama administration’s more fluid recognition of gender identity. The Trump administration has sought to bar transgender people from serving in the military and has legally challenged civil rights protections for the group embedded in the nation’s health care law.

Several agencies have withdrawn Obama-era policies that recognized gender identity in schoolsprisons and homeless shelters. The administration even tried to remove questions about gender identity from a 2020 census survey and a national survey of elderly citizens.

For the last year, the Department of Health and Human Services has privately argued that the term “sex” was never meant to include gender identity or even homosexuality, and that the lack of clarity allowed the Obama administration to wrongfully extend civil rights protections to people who should not have them.

Is the headline incendiary or accurate?

I think it’s accurate. If you are defining gender identity solely through what parts you were born with or what your chromosomes say, then the idea of a person who is transgender doesn’t make sense. They don’t exist.

Basically, there are three positions that a government can take.

  • You can admit that transgender people — people whose gender identity differs from what they were assigned at birth — exist and have rights. If you take this position, you need to make changes in laws to preserve those rights.
  • You can agree that there are transgender people, but deny them civil rights protections. This was where the Trump administration was before this news broke.
  • Or you can just decide that being transgender is a choice, an opinion, and for that reason, it does not deserve any protections. This is far simpler than just denying these people rights, but it is heartless.

What do you think?

I have a clear opinion on this issue since I am very close to several transgender people. Here’s what I can tell you from real and personal experience.

Transgender people suffer. They feel profoundly out of place already. Their problem is not a “choice” to be transgender. Their choice is between hiding their fundamental feelings about who they are, or revealing and acting on those feelings and suffering constant and profound mistreatment and prejudice throughout their lives.

Some transgender people choose to do everything possible to adapt themselves, their bodies, and their appearance to present themselves to the world in a way that conforms with who they feel they are. If you met a trans man like this — a person who identifies as a man — you would never know. The idea that such a man should use the ladies room would seem pretty odd. When a burly, balding guy is walking around with a beard, you really want that guy in the ladies room? And the same applies to trans women.

The trans people I know — some quite well, and some just as acquaintances — are much happier now that they are at peace with who they are. Many were depressed and anxious before. They decided that they’d rather deal with the anger and harassment from ignorant people than with the pain of constantly pretending to be someone they are not. This takes courage.

No matter what their choices, trans people do not have an easy time of it. They are far more likely to attempt suicide.

I’ve heard the arguments about trans women competing with cis women in sports. I’ve heard the story about the trans man that insisted on getting a bikini wax. Frankly, these seem like pretty minor issues compared to the hundreds of thousands of trans people waking up today with more than their usual burden — because the Trump Administration wants to declare them nonexistent.

I don’t personally know any illegal immigrants. I don’t know any Muslims banned from entering the country. I worry about these people, because I am a human and have empathy, but the difference is, with trans people, I know a bunch. And this policy just seems heartless and cruel and is hurting people I personally care about.

You can’t put the genie back in the bottle

I’ve seen this movie before.

There was a time when gay people had to hide who they were and who they loved.

Then that began to shift. It took decades. I was present at City Hall in San Francisco when the first gay people got married. I saw hundreds of people waiting in line — bikers, guys in tuxes and women in wedding dresses, and men and women and their kids, people who looked just like me, just hoping to get married to the people they loved. People I loved, who loved each other, got married that day.

What began to happen was that gay people — married gay couples — became visible that day. This made a lot of people uncomfortable. But it also made a lot of gay people recognize that they could be gay and be a solid and essential part of the fabric of America.

Now, regardless of what other people might think, gay people and their relationships and their marriages and their lives are visible and valid. This is essential to the mental health and well being of millions and millions of adolescents. And regardless of what the fearmongers were saying, no one is marrying in threesomes or marrying their pets.

People tried to define gay people out of existence, describe them as deviants, make them hide in the shadows. We don’t do that any more, at least in most of America. I love Seth Stevens-Davidowitz’ research that shows through Google search data that there are just as many gay people in parts of America where they’re not visible. They exist. It’s just a question of whether we allow them to be visible, and thankfully, for the most part, we have.

Trans people are becoming visible now, too. They’re famous actors and directors and journalists and athletes.

This is no time for the government to deny their existence. Really, they’re not out to get you. They don’t want to change you or your children. They just want to be who they are.

25 responses to “Are transgender people people?

  1. I’m usually liberal on social issues but on trans issue we are just being bullied into pretending to believe something that APPEARS TO defy physical reality. There may much more to the story, but the story is not getting out. We need to hear from individuals experiencing this. They rarely getting out into the media or even online, and when they do all they do is bully us about “rights” and scold us and tell us theories about gender. Meanwhile, you are asking us to believe something that sounds crazy, and you know it.

    Trans people, tell us more about what this feels like. Give us something to work with here. Remember that you are asking a LOT, you are asking us to believe something that appears to defy physical reality.

    Bottom line:
    1. The trans issue is different than gay issue because you are asking us to believe something that defies physical reality and usually also defies our own eyes.
    2. It’s not clear that a man can “feel like a woman” because a man has no idea what it feels like to be a woman.
    3. It appears that trans men are women that want to show up for social purposes as men, and visa versa. Fine, do it! But this is NOT “being a man”, this is simply showing up for social purposes as a man (or a woman, for trans women).

    The trans community needs to provide more individual stories, more information for us… give us SOMETHING to work with! Demonstrations and theories don’t cut it. We need personal stories to develop a deeper understanding.

    Currently you are trying to bully us into believing that Katlin Jenner is a woman, but, no one on earth ever looked or sounded LESS like a woman! Come on, you can do better than this.

    Don’t scold us, don’t bully us and don’t tell us theories. We need personal stories, individual tales of how it feels, why this is such a big issue. And tell us why this is more than just showing up as the opposite gender for social purposes. And tell us why you (men) think you know what it feels like to be a women.

    If this issue is important to you at all, then step up to the plate and take it seriously.

    1. Michael, at one time people believed that floating on water defied physical reality, so anyone who didn’t drown was burned at the stake. Just because you don’t understand it and are not familiar with it, does not mean it doesn’t exist.

      Has it occurred to you that the reason the majority of trans people don’t speak out in public is because they are afraid – for their jobs, for their safety, for their lives? No, that isn’t exaggeration; trans people have been singled out for murder simply because of their gender identity.

      As a die-hard editor who has learned to call one of her children “they,” I believe people can change what they believe is possible. Sadly it doesn’t necessarily mean they will, or will even try to, but they are capable of it.

      1. Nancy, you are not addressing what I said at all. We need to hear from trans people in order to more fully understand why we are supposed to believe something that both defies physical reality and also defies our own eyes. This is an invitation for trans people to speak up, anonymously if desired.

        We need something to work with. Currently we are just being bullied into defying something that defies physical reality and defies what we can see with our own eyes.

        The bullying will fail. The backlash is building. This CAN be prevented, I think, with more personal stories, more direct information, perhaps, I am confident that it can.

        Demonstrations, bullying and theories won’t help at all. It will probably have the opposite effect.

        Notice that you are trying to justify the bullying rather than the direct information that would actually help.

    2. I have a transgender child. While I was unaware of it for 22 years, my child felt it their entire life, but hid it. I am a cis woman, yet I have a deep voice and am constantly mis-gendered on the phone. Does that make me a man? Just because you don’t think Kaitlyn Jenner looks or sounds like a woman does not mean YOU get to decide. Transgender people simply want to live their lives without persecution, which is what they get now.

      There is a study done with young children where they look at pictures and identify whether it is about them, or others. When you compare cis kids with trans kids, the trans kids brains are identical to the gender that they identify, when compared to the cis kids.

      https://www.psychologicalscience.org/news/releases/transgender-kids-show-consistent-gender-identity-across-measures.html

      Trust me, no one would choose to do this unless they felt deeply compelled. They face rejection, taunting, and criticism every day of their lives. That is why it is such a big issue. They are in danger simply by showing who they are. This initiative will cause so many suicides. It makes me feel ill.

      1. Thanks Judy, this is helpful. I am not trying to decide whether Kaitlin Jenner is a woman. I am doing the opposite. I am asking for evidence that explains why we should defy both Kaitlin’s appearance and physical biology. For a man to say “I am a woman” makes no sense at face value, but it might if we get additional information, can you understand that? Your note does not really explain why we should do this, but, I suspect that you do know if you dig a little deeper. Tell us more.

        I was assuming that we need to hear from transgender people but certainly someone very close to a transgender person would be helpful indeed.

        Why does your child believe they are the opposite gender? Personally I have no idea what it feels like to be a woman because I am not a woman, so how could I tell?

        These are honest questions and without answers we might very well see a substantial political backlash. This is not intolerance, it’s just responding to the information that we have. That is the point of my note. We are being asked to defy physical reality and pretend something exists that defies our own eyes, and when we ask for information we are just told we are intolerant. This is a recipe for a backlash.

        1. As I am not part of the transgender community, I cannot answer your question about how a transgender person feels. From the outside, it is sort of like when people ask how you know if you are gay. You just know. We can turn that around and say “How does Judy know she is a woman beyond the physical attributes?” I just know and feel whole. I cannot imagine the angst at not feeling whole.

          I cannot get over your comments about defying physical reality. There are so many women who look like men, but are women. And many men who have feminine characteristics who are men. What does it matter what we look or sound like? Why do we need to neatly put people in a box? I have both feminine and masculine characteristics. I am fine with all of them because that is what makes me ME. We have so much more to offer than just our physical appearance and being judged for it.

    3. Trans people have been telling their stories. Look here:
      http://www.transpeoplespeak.org/
      https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/opinion/transgender-today/ look here: https://www.vox.com/a/transgender-stories
      https://transgenderlawcenter.org/legal/discrimination-stories

      I believe that trans people do take “this issue” very seriously and they are doing what they can to tell their own stories. We should be willing to educate ourselves by listening to them.

      1. Thanks for the links. None of them showed up in various searches I did when I tried to understand this topic some weeks ago. (My searches turned up theories and angry debates.) The bottom line, I surmise, is that these are usually people who feel much more comfortable appearing as the opposite sex. From there, in many cases we are being requested or demanded to believe that they really are the opposite sex in some sense (is this accurate?). The phrase “who I really am” or “who you really are” comes up in the writeups.

        I think someone is on safer ground claiming to be much more comfortable showing up socially as the opposite sex, rather than claiming to actually be the opposite sex. The latter might be a tactical error. I guess we will have to see how this plays out.

        In my experience, what makes the news and Youtube are the protests and demands. For some reason I rarely stumble into anyone just talking about how much better they feel showing up as the gender opposite their biology. My day to day reading does not skew conservative, not by a long stretch. I think that a stronger effort to promote personal stories would help.

    4. Michael, with all due respect I think you might need to widen your reading and listening. I am not trans, but I have known about trans people and heard their stories for years. Their stories are out there (no pun intended) and available for you. What’s more, the science of gender is interesting and widely available in both technical and lay-person forms.

      If you haven’t heard those stories, or the science or read about them yet, then part of that responsibility is yours. Your argument is a minor version of that of a creationist who insists that their is no evidence for evolution – despite it being all around them in the public domain. It is disingenuous.

      So please, go online, listen to podcasts, watch some films, Google trans stories. They are there, and there are a lot of them. Don’t be lazy and then blame the trans people for not telling you what is going on.

      1. What percentage of the population is going to do a search like you suggest? As for me, I could get a PhD in transgender studies and be completely convinced, so what? I am just one vote.

        My experience is that the information is not readily available on CNN, NY Times, HuffPo, …. to the casual reader / listener, even if you lean left and read mostly left wing publications, you will rarely encounter personal testimonies about being transgender.

        I sometimes do encounter discussions revolving around activism, demonstrations, laws (toilets) and debates. Arguments. Not personal testimonials. Professors debating transgender studies is not helpful, just preaching to the converted.

        Donna above pointed to a link to a NY Times article with personal testimonials. This is good. Useful. How often does that happen in the NY Times?

        I believe that personal testimonials are a way to achieve understanding and consensus. I believe there is a path to wider acceptance and appreciation for the transgender community, and it depends on widely available personal testimonials in the news. We can’t count on people searching for them.

        I will have to leave it at that. I don’t know how be any more clear.

        1. Michael, saying that being transgendered appears to defy physical reality would be like someone who’d only ever seen blonde people claiming that brunettes defy physical reality. And simplifying transgenderism to wanting to appear to be the other gender in social situations is incredibly superficial, and insulting to people who can’t reveal their true selves, their hopes and dreams and everyday thoughts, for fear of persecution. Please do avail yourself of the resources others have offered here.

    5. Micheal, you feel bullied by transgendered people? I wish you to look into your heart and realize that over the years, you have hidden a lot of hate for people who are different than you. The good news is that it isn’t too late for you. You don’t need to believe everything you think. Wake up tomorrow and be kinder.

      1. James you are not describing me at all. My point is that forcing people to pretend, for example, that they see a woman when they look at Kaitlin Jenner. — this is bullying and it will not work. It will lead to a backlash. WHAT WILL WORK is to provide personal stories that generate empathy and understanding. There is hope but not so much on the current path.

        Trumps attempt to redefine gender legally – turn back the clock – taps into a lot of frustration generated by lack understanding. Further bullying will not generate useful understanding but telling personal stories will do it.

  2. Thank you. There are beloved people in my life deeply impacted by these prejudices. Laying out the 3 choices the government has bluntly exposes the injustice.

  3. Thank you! ALL people deserve Civil Rights. This administration continues to step beneath the gutter. It is still shocking to me, depressing ….. the fight continues, however, to move our world to more evolved thinking.

  4. I think Trump and crew are doing this just to appeal to his base. I don’t think he has feelings about it one way or another. As for those who are looking for trans stories, there are lots of them online as Donna has posted above. If you are serious about it, you can spend many hours reading, and if you are truly interested, there are many organizations that would be happy to provide information.

    As for believing something that defies physical reality, may I introduce you to gravity…. You are on a ball that spins around every 24 hours and is simultaneously hurtling through space at incredible velocity. Is that your physical reality?

    1. You say: “As for believing something that defies physical reality, may I introduce you to gravity…. You are on a ball that spins around every 24 hours and is simultaneously hurtling through space at incredible velocity. Is that your physical reality?”

      I am aware of gravity. It’s a physical reality. Your analogy suggests that we should respect the physical reality (biology, like gravity) and ignore the contradictory claims. I am trying to dig deeper than that. And I don’t think this is just about me at all. I do think that if we saw more personal stories in the media it would go a long way towards alleviating the situation.

      1. PS: I agree 100% with “I think Trump and crew are doing this just to appeal to his base. I don’t think he has feelings about it one way or another.” I think he behaves this way a lot, just tactically what does he need to say to win votes and his base is top priority.,

  5. I don;t have a transgender (or even a gay) child, and I don’t have close connections to any transgender people, yet all of this STILL makes sense to me. Take all people as equals, don’t judge anyone based on standards that they didn’t have a hand in defining, and protect those who are weaker than you.

    To Michael: Would you deny psychological support to an 80-pound anorexic person because the physical reality shows they’re skinny, and they couldn’t possible think of themselves as overweight? In this society, it would be SO much easier for trans people to be cisgender, for gay people to be straight. They aren’t insisting on defining themselves this way because they want to annoy you or take advantage of you in some way; they’re doing it to feel real.

  6. I wonder if a less controversial analogy might be found in color blindness or being tone deaf. Some people very slight differences in colors while others see virtually none. I am often taken aback by people who see no difference between, say, the colors of a certain type of tangerine and a naval orange. I accept that I see things they don’t, but also note that they make an effort to hide their lack of ability to distinguish color; the desire to meld in is is strong. As a kid in music lessons my violin teacher tried to help me distinguish notes. He’d play “My Country Tis Of Thee” flat, sharp, and in tune. Nothing could make me hear the (to me) subtle differences. I believed he was joking, faking the changes in notes. In both colors and music I have no idea what it actually feels like to be other than I am. Happily our society doesn’t care much about color blindness or being tone deaf.

    It does care about gender identification. I suspect the reason why is that other differences are self-evident. If a person is tone deaf, it is revealed when they sing; color blindness when they pick the wrong thing based on color. Gender identification is an internal thing. Our society teaches us to compartmentalize and we are made uncomfortable by those who don’t fit the compartments.

  7. Also, what does the administration propose to do about intersex people? Just…they don’t exist? Assigning people a gender at birth regardless of how ambiguous their gender may be and then forcing them to live that way hasn’t worked out very well historically.

  8. I used to think transgender was weird and made up. Now I know 4 transgender people who are just normal people who happen to be transgendered. I got used to it; it turned out to be no big deal for me. Didn’t actually have any negative impact on my life. But for them, it is huge. So just by being a decent neighbour and colleague and friend, I can make their life much better and I don’t really have to do much I wouldn’t already be doing to be a decent neighbour and colleague and friend. I just need to display a little understanding.

    1. Thanks Dan. It sounds like they convinced you with their first-person stories; not bullying, not demonstrations and not academic theories. That is the point that I have been trying to make.

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