When Does “Sex” Matter to Trans People?

Attorney and law professor Jillian Weiss has posted another interesting article over on Bilerico. This one concerns the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2003 decision in Lawrence v. Texas, which held that laws making sex between consenting adults of the same sex a crime (aka “sodomy” laws) are unconstitutional, and whether and how that decision can be used to, in her words, “loosen the chokehold that the law has on transgender people.” One of the commenters there asked if she could write another article on the definition of “sex” in Title VII and EEO policies banning “sex” discrimination, as applied to trans people. Rather than wait for Dr. Weiss’ response, I decided to weigh in on this topic. Here is my response:

E.T., I’ll take a stab at responding to your second question regarding the definition of “sex.”

It’s important to distinguish 2 different situations in which the legal definition of the word “sex” impacts trans people: first, laws that ban discrimination on the basis of sex in employment, housing, public accommodations, etc.; and second, the right of trans people to access legal privileges, e.g., marriage (in most states), that are restricted on the basis of a person’s sex. The second group could also encompass the right of trans people to use services or facilities, e.g., public restrooms, access to which is restricted on the basis of a person’s sex. (I say “could encompass” since, in most places, contrary to public opinion, there are no laws that say a man can’t use a women’s restroom, or vice versa. In other words, sex segregation of restrooms is largely a matter of social convention, not law, although trespassing and disturbing the peace laws are sometimes used (unjustly, in my opinion) to enforce those conventions.)

Where access to a legal privilege, service or facility is restricted based on sex, determining a trans person’s right of access requires a determination of what “sex” the person is, since sex-based segregation is based on a strict binary division between male or female, where no ambiguity is allowed. Answering that question, in turn, raises myriad complicated questions regarding how a person’s sex is determined. For example, is it strictly biological or chromosomal, or does it include a person’s gender identity or expression? If biological, do we look only at the configuration of the person’s genitals or genes at birth, or do we, also or instead, give effect to the person’s genital configuration after surgery? Can a person’s sex be legally changed? And what do we do about intersex people whose chromosomes, genitalia, internal organs, etc. are not clearly male or female?

Most, but not all, of the cases addressing this question in the context of the right of a trans person to marry have ignored the effects of surgery and attempts to “legally” change the person’s sex by amending her/his birth certificate. In other words, they were decided based on the basic premise espoused by many of our opponents that “once a man, always a man,” and vice versa.

Fortunately, most, but not all, of the recent cases involving the definition of “sex” for purposes of determining a trans person’s right to protection under laws banning sex discrimination have avoided this difficulty. They do so by saying that it doesn’t matter what sex a person is, i.e., whether the person is male, female, both or neither. Instead, what matters is whether the person was treated differently because of some sex-related characteristic. This trend started with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins in 1988. In that case, the court said that discrimination based on sex under Title VII, the federal law banning sex, race and other types of discrimination in employment, includes being treated differently because the person doesn’t conform to sex-based stereotypes regarding dress, mannerisms, etc. Thus, the Supreme Court held that it was illegal for Price Waterhouse to refuse to make Ann Hopkins a partner basically because she was too “butch.” (The court, of course, didn’t use that term and there is no indication that I know of that Ms. Hopkins was lesbian.)

This trend, IMO, reached its logical endpoint with last fall’s federal trial court decision in Diane Schroer’s Title VII sex discrimination suit against the Library of Congress. Schroer v. Billington. In that case, the court found that the Library violated Title VII by discriminating against Schroer because she was changing her sex, not because she was male, female, both or neither.

Thus, in the context of discrimination laws or policies that you were talking about, it isn’t necessary to define a person’s sex as male or female, etc. It is only necessary to tackle that question when the trans person is seeking access to a legal privilege like marriage, or a service or facility, like a restroom, where access is restricted based on whether the person is male or female. The lack of a coherent and consistent definition of a person’s sex and/or methods for legally changing one’s sex that are actually recognized by the courts are the source of most, if not, all, of the ongoing confusion regarding the rights of trans people.

In the case of marriage, I think the best solution to that confusion is to remove all sex or gender based restrictions, in other words, to legalize same sex marriage. That’s why the battle for marriage equality is important to the trans community, contrary to the opinions of some. With respect to access to restrooms and other sex-segregated facilities, I think the best solution is to provide for personal privacy, e.g., the stalls in women’s restrooms, and allow access based on the person’s gender expression. In other words, if you’re presenting as a woman, you use a women’s restroom, and vice versa, regardless of your physical sex. Any other solution quickly becomes too complex and confusing to administer and enforce. Implementing that solution will, however, require the American public to just “get over” their hang-ups about the sex or gender of the person in the stall next to them.

Cross-posted from my personal blog.

Follow-up on Transgender Access to Healthcare

Lately I have been doing more thinking about the issue of health care coverage for trans people. My original post on this topic can be found here. This topic seems to be one that comes up repeatedly, and I think that it is one that deserves more attention and more analysis. Over the next few weeks or so, I am going to do more research into the issue, looking at coverages, barriers to health care access, costs of health care for transitioners, and the medical needs of the transgender community.

A few months ago, we had the Town Hall call on this topic, but I have seen little follow-up on this issue. In fact, we have seen things get worse in some respects. Recently we saw the policy changes allowing doctors to refuse treatments if it goes against their religious beliefs, and this was followed closely by the Pope’s condemnation of homosexuality and transsexual persons. Was this a coincidence? Maybe, but the timing is suspect. I wonder if this will be followed up with statements and opinions about what “good” Catholic doctors should and should not do. I grew up Catholic, and I have always held out hope that the Church will move into the 20th Century, but it seems to continue to root itself in the dark ages.

Anyway, I would like to ask for your help with this little project of mine. If anyone has any stories about health care issues such as being rejected by doctors, insurance plan issues, or any other problems related to being trans and seeking health care, please e-mail them to me. E-mail me at transgenderhealthcare@gmail.com. I would even like to hear the good stories, the improvements in coverage, etc. When sharing your stories, I will always keep your personal information confidential, but please let me know if you would prefer me not to republish your story as part of this. If you don’t want it published, I will just use the information as a reference points as I look for trends, opportunities, or discriminatory practices. Thank you to anyone willing to share their experiences. Also, if you have any good links to information you may feel is relevant, please send me that as well. I think the more information I can pull together, the better I can put together a picture of where we stand today, where we need to be, and some ideas of how we can get there.

[Editor’s Note:  Cross-posted from Kathryn’s personal blog.]

Still More on Transsexual Marriage Rights

The discussion on various Yahoo groups that I belong to regarding the impact of the same-sex marriage bans just enacted in Arizona, California and Florida on marriages involving one or more transgender partner continues.  I’ve previously posted about those issues here and here.  This is my most recent addition to that discussion: Continue reading

My thoughts as TDOR approaches

On the eve of Transgender Day of Remembrance 2008 I find myself reading sites on TDOR and it saddens me to no end what hatred can do to someone. I’ve hidden my true feelings most of my life in fear of this ignorance and hate. Fear of losing my family, friends or worse, having a run-in with one of the hatemongers who profess to know better than I do. Several years ago I hit a time in my life where hiding who I am was not working for me anymore. So I started the process of transition to get my life back on track. I’ve learned a lot over the years and know that I am on the right path for me.

During my skimming of the sites discussing TDOR, I came across some links to sites that profess to know what’s best for me (yah right) and I’d like to take some of the comments that were left at these various sites and personally reply to them here. Continue reading

What the heck are we doing?

Hi Everyone,

This week has been an up and down week for me. It seems even with history being made in the election of a new President, which I thought would bring more hope to a lot of the nation (except for the ones who voted for McCain of course). It seems to have also started more divisiveness within the LGBT community (at least within the blogging world), which is sad. I’ve never really been the one to like to talk much about politics because it always brings out the worst in some people (which is another sad fact). I recently came across a few blogs on The Bilerico Project which seem to want to blame the blacks for losing to the Prop 8 proponents. Well, I myself will not go there. I’ve seen numbers that suggest that the blame is not on the black community itself, as many are suggesting. I’m sure that the proponents of Prop 8 are sitting around laughing at us as our community begins this infighting, which I’m sure they hope will tear us apart. I do not want that to happen as the right to marry should be for anyone of age.

Cindy Rizzo, a guest blogger, made what I thought were legitimate suggestions to get our rights back in California, Arizona and any other state that gets attacked by such crap. Here is my response to her blog and the comments she received:

Hi Cindy,
I’m a transsexual who recently found this blog. I’m also currently married to an Asian woman who has given me her support for my transition. This support did not come easy, but with time and a lot of discussion between us we have come a long way. You may say why is any of this relevant. She comes from a very strong Catholic background and without taking the time I did (almost 10 years, mind you, not every day) to educate her on my plight I don’t think I would have gotten her support. If I would have taken the route as some here are suggesting, “In your face, you will do what I say or else,” I’m sure I would not gotten anywhere with her. It seems some here want to force their view of the naysayers. How is that any better than what the political supporters of Prop 8 did and are doing? If we want to build more support for equal rights for all, then we need to better educate the public. It will be a hard fight, because the religious organizations do have a strong foothold in many of the communities that we need support from. Am I upset, YES I am. But to me, just sitting here blaming the Blacks, Latinos or any other group without even trying to have a intelligent dialog, I assure you will not get us anywhere. Education will be the key to our success and I believe Cindy has some valid points. We do have to strengthen our support with our allies and try to build up dialog between the ones that are opposed. If we can’t do at least that, I’m almost positive that we will not ever see any positive change for the future and it could even get worse by other states overturning the right to marry. I have a stake in this too as a transwoman; when I change the sex on my legal documents, they could have easily take away my right to stay married to my wife or any other woman. People, let’s join together and at least start taking a look at what didn’t work this time and correct those issues and do some proper education. Thank you all for your time.

I’ll take it even further. Sometimes people have to meet in the middle – now I didn’t see any of the ads supporting Prop 8 (I live in NY), but I’m sure not everything was true in their ads. What I mean by meeting in the middle is that we push for the right to marry, but not try and force a religious organization to do the ceremonies unless they support the right for the LGBT communities to marry who they like. There are other places to get married than a church, such as the courthouse, etc. The right to marry should be a fundamental right to all and not a select few, so I would not bend on that one, but I’m sure you see what I’m talking about.

Will we ever see the rights returned (especially after they seemed to be stolen from the people of California)?  I hope so. There are some blogs I’ve seen that suggest that they can be overturned because they are not constitutional. I really hope that they are overturned, because I really feel we have been burned by the religious right and many other organizations that supported Prop 8.

As I said in my reply to the original blog, I really feel that more education in the Black, Latino, Asian – hell in every community – is really needed. Things are better than they were 20 years ago, but they can get a lot better. If we continue to only attack the naysayers and not approach them with intelligence and dignity, what do you expect to get back? The same attacks and that will not get us anywhere. I hope we do have a better future with Obama for everyone.

Hugs, Michelle Lee

BBC – Transsexual gene link identified

Australian researchers have identified a significant link between a gene involved in testosterone action and male-to-female transsexualism.

DNA analysis from 112 male-to-female transsexual volunteers showed they were more likely to have a longer version of the androgen receptor gene.

The genetic difference may cause weaker testosterone signals, the team reported in Biological Psychiatry (abstract available here).

However, other genes are also likely to play a part, they stressed.

Increasingly, biological factors are being implicated in gender identity.

There is a social stigma that transsexualism is simply a lifestyle choice, however our findings support a biological basis of how gender identity develops

Professor Vincent Harley, researcher

Read the rest: BBC – Transsexual gene link identified

Fluid Gender

I recently read a blog posted by an online friend which included another post-op trans woman’s regrets of transitioning and having GRS.  She had described how her feelings to transition and being a woman were more sexually motivated, and that after surgery she could not have that satisfaction.  She mentioned that she misunderstood the drop-off of sexual desire due to hormones as a sign that she was doing the right thing.

My first reaction and thought was how it was a good example of why the real life test or real life experience is important.  I assume the person lived as the gender she wanted to be before having the surgery, based on the comment of her “following the rules”.  If she had, then I wondered if she truly did the necessary soul searching — the second-guessing and what-ifs playing in her mind over and over.  When it comes down to it, the physical aspects of transition are not as important as the emotional aspects.  Being emotionally ready for the changes is very critical to anyone’s successful transition.

I started my transition almost two years ago, and if I had had the money, was single, and could have had the operation sooner, I probably would have jumped in head first and had GRS.  But with my therapist’s guidance, I slowed down, following her suggestions to explore my femininity and get out in society presenting as a female.  I also wanted to do the changes in steps, where I could evaluate each step to see if it was enough for me.  First, I had facial and body hair removal, as it was one thing that always seemed to bother me (and guys have it done, so no harm there).  Then I attended several transgender conferences to “live” as a woman 24×7 for one full week.  I went out to public places in the daylight, such as a shopping mall and busy restaurants.  I wanted to get a feel for how I would be treated and how any negative reactions would make me feel.  Would I feel more like a “man in a dress”, or would I feel like a woman, regardless of how people treated me?  These exercises are very important, as they can let us know that if we are uncomfortable as a part-time woman, then we’re not ready to be full-time.

My soul searching has been going on now for quite awhile.  There are days when I think I just need to stop stalling and move forward with it all.  But I am very cautious, as there is much at risk.  I question myself over and over about what is right.  Am I that uncomfortable living as a man?  Can I just keep hiding this for the rest of my life?  Would cross-dressing periodically be enough, especially since my wife would be accepting of it (as long as I do it discretely)?  Would being on hormones but continuing to live as a man with no surgery be good enough?  Twenty years from now, would I be happier living as an older man or as an older woman?  These are just some of the questions I have asked myself over and over.  For me, I need to be as sure as I can that the distress and discomfort I experience is impacting my life enough to move forward with transition to full-time and eventual surgeries.

In my honest opinion, I think that gender is fluid and NOT binary.  I think there are many who are on one end of the spectrum, where the difference between body sex and gender identity are so polar that they absolutely know that they are “in the wrong body”.  Then there are others who are somewhere close to the middle, with just enough feminine-mindedness that they experience some discomfort and have a notion that something is out of whack, but can otherwise function in society as a man.  There are days when I think I fall into that category.  I had an acquaintance recently tell me that you should know you are a woman inside if you are truly transsexual.  I have to disagree with that, as that may be true with some but not all.  I think we all have within us, both natal male and female, a degree of masculine and feminine nature (and when I say nature, I mean born with it and not learned).  Those balances are different in each of us, and could even change based on how much we suppress or allow those natural tendencies.  It comes down to really understanding ourselves, to find the “true self”.  Once that is done, then the surgeries and other aspects become window dressing.

I hope we all take the time to fully understand ourselves, as that is the true journey.

Tiana 🙂