There is hardly an hour that goes by at this point that we are not subjected to a mis-framing of the so-called debate over justice for transgender people.
Of course, as I have said elsewhere, there is no debate here. Transgender people exist. We go to the bathroom. We need health care. And we face horrible and violent discrimination — the most egregious of which is levied upon the bodies of Black and Brown transgender women.
There are so many distortions and lies put forth in this conversation that it is hard to keep up. Thankfully, Media Matters for America has done a good job of debunking the many myths that opponents of trans existence use to undermine our ability to live safely in public.
But one of the most insidious of these lies — and the one that goes uncorrected the most — is the lie that this is a conversation about “men in women’s restrooms.”
From MSNBC to the Wall Street Journalto The Washington Post to the Twitter accounts of politicians across the country, powerful people uncritically talk about opening girls’ restrooms to men and boys (notably, no one seems concerned about opening boys’ rooms to women or to the supposed “bathroom predators” who already have access to these spaces).
Today, the Washington Post ran an op-ed from Marc Thiessen that opened with the question about “biological men” in women’s restrooms.
Earlier today, Texas Governor Greg Abbott tweeted this gem:
And these are just two examples among thousands. Last week Chris Hayes challenged Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick on his anti-trans vitriol but failed to correct Patrick’s repeated assertions that by protecting transgender people from discrimination under Title IX, the Department of Education and the Department of Justice were somehow mandating that “biological” men be permitted in women’s bathrooms. There may be some future time when we end sex segregation in restrooms altogether but that time is not now and the language used to talk about transgender people is deliberately erasing our identities.
When a transgender woman uses a women’s restrooms there are still zero men — biological or otherwise — in that restroom. Transgender women are women; transgender men are men.
You might believe that a person’s genitals define their “biological” sex but that does not make it so and continuing to put forth that narrative without challenging it as an ideological position as opposed to a fact is extremely harmful.
When someone says that Obama is “mandating” that boys and men use girls’ restrooms, the immediate response should be, “no, the Obama administration has put out guidance about what the law has meant for years and that guidance explains that girls who are transgender must not be barred from girls’ restrooms.” If someone then pushes back and says that transgender girls are biological boys, that assertion should also be examined. What does it mean to be a biological boy? Biology is diverse and complex and when it comes to assigning sex, the only medically appropriate way to make such an assignment is based on the gender the person knows themselves to be. This means that biologically-speaking transgender girls are still girls.
Yesterday, we filed our motion for a preliminary injunction in Carcaño, et al. v. McCrory, et al., the ACLU/Lambda Legal challenge to North Carolina’s H.B. 2. The motion asks the court to halt enforcement of the explicitly anti-trans portions of H.B. 2 while the case makes it’s way through the courts.
In support of our motion, here is how Dr. Deanna Adkins, our medical expert , explained the issue of sex assignment:
Sex assignment at birth is just that — an assignment of sex made at a moment in time based on the best information available at that time. It does not capture a biological truth beyond the truth of the appearance of one’s genitals at age 1 day. When I was born I weighed 7.5 lbs and was 20 inches long. We don’t use that “biological” truth to limit my height and weight for the rest of time nor should we use the appearance of my genitals.
We may fear difference but the idea that trans people are different does not translate into some truth that trans women are “biological” men. Adding the word “biological” before misgendering a transgender person does not make it more palatable nor does it make it somehow more true. It is still harmful and medically inaccurate.
I hope that as we deepen our understanding of who trans people are we hold ourselves to higher journalistic standards of reporting and stop ceding the terms of this conversation to the people who want to expel trans people from public life and write us out of existence.