In 1952, a man flew to Denmark and came back as a woman. Her new name was Christine Jorgensen, and she made headlines around the world. I was 16 at the time and, until Christine made her sex change public, I never understood people could be uncomfortable with their gender. Sadly, the woman faced ridicule and discrimination for her courage in speaking out and died of cancer at 62. (Click)
In the 21st Century, we’ve done little to advance our understanding of sexual identity. The media had a field day when Bradley Manning (Chelsea), convicted of espionage, sought a sex change. Bruce Jenner (Caitlyn), a former Olympic athlete, also sparked our attention after undergoing sex change surgeries.
A good primer for grappling with questions of gender identification comes from Nicole Pasulka. (“Within Reach,” by Nicole Pasulka, Harper’s, Feb. 2018, pgs. 53-61.) She suggests we think of “transgender” as an umbrella term to include not only those who undergo a surgical sex change but those who don’t. The latter folks, also identify as intersex, nonbinary and “people who do not physically transition but do not identify with the gender assigned to them at birth.” (Ibid pg. 54.) It helps, Pasulka says, to think of gender, not as a light switch turned either to on or off positions, (male/female), but rather, as a light switch with a dimmer that provides gradations of light. Approximately 1.4 million in the United States fall one of these degrees of gradation. (Ibid, pg. 54.)
At the moment, the author notes, no federal laws exist to prohibit discrimination against transgender people. What rights they have come under Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. Regrettably, administering these regulations falls to departments sensitive to political intrusion. (Ibid, pg. 60) The Trump administration has attempted to bar transgender people from military service, for example. The Obama administration posed no obstacles. Tinkering with the Affordable Care Act, as the current administration is now doing, poses another difficulty for transgender citizens. Many of them are on long-term hormone therapies. Deny them insurance for their medications and their health could be impaired.
All around us we see nature abhors sameness. Evolution speaks to that abhorrence, as well. Now that we’re in the 21st century, perhaps we humans should go along with what nature has wrought, instead of arguing about it in the Congress.