| by Daisy Fraser-Boychuk |
In mid-October, a memo went public outlining the Trump administration’s plan to legally define sex and gender as inextricably tied to one’s genitals. If implemented, this will justify giving more power to doctors, psychologists, and discriminatory individuals to commit violence against transgender, gender non-conforming and intersex people.
While this policy’s attempted removal of folks’ self-determination is upsetting, many of us in the LGBTQIA+ community weren’t surprised by it. Unfortunately this violence’s legal and social manifestation is not new—not to Americans, nor to queer, transgender and intersex Canadians.
The definition of identity may be within the legal boundaries of the United States, but as biological determinism, it lacks borders.
So while we support our friends in the States, we cannot position ourselves as a safe haven for “diversity” the way we often do. To do so is to ignore that transgender and intersex folks in our communities exist under very similar systems of domination.
We’re seeing this in Ontario right now. Our provincial leader Doug Ford opposes abortion rights, has cut initiatives to increase Indigenous public school curricula, and has reeled back sex education curricula by twenty years.
I would have benefited tremendously from the 2018 sex ed curriculum Ford has scrapped. Even being taught sex-ed from 2008 to 2011, my lived gender and sexual realities were not included. I can’t imagine the information that would have been withheld if I had grown up in the 1990s.
Sex and gender are not fixed categories. We interpret them like we interpret nature: trees are not there for us to make lumber; oil not for our burning; and land not for our ownership.
We’ve projected a system of domination onto nature to justify its extraction and exploitation. Nature has no intrinsic meaning—we’ve created meaning to conceptualize our relationship to it, and that same concept applies to body politics.
Similar to nature, our bodies have no intrinsic meaning. We’ve created meaning to conceptualize our relationship to bodies.
Our bodies are beautiful, self-sustaining machines. They hold deep knowledges and histories. But they don’t have an intrinsic purpose other than existing for themselves—and they’re certainly not there for someone else’s definition, control and ownership.
Sex is socially constructed based on interpreting bodies. When a baby is born, adults look at its body and checkbox them as “male sex” or “female sex.” But there is no such thing as “two distinct sexes.” We categorize children based on a socially-constructed binary sex and gender system.
This interpretation of biology doesn’t account for intersex babies whose biology does not fit into “male sex” or “female sex.” When a baby is thought to not “fit,” doctors often physically alter the genitals of that child to ‘correct the body.’
Following this sex categorization, gender is interpreted based on “male sex” and “female sex”. This gender interpretation extends into social and economic roles.
An example of this is the division of labour. There is nothing inherent about almost half of the population that has naturally resulted in their employment as waitresses, nurses, secretaries and kindergarten teachers.
Although gender is a constructed role, it is more than its external manifestation. Gender is an identity existing inside of us. It exists in relation to how an individual sees themselves and their relationship to their environment. Cisgender or transgender, gender identity is a true expression of what feels right to an individual.
The belief that sex, gender, and biology are indivisible is a paradigm we have constructed. And because it’s our dominant paradigm, it makes its way into our legal understandings of the human experience.
Gender and sex are critical categories. When they’re constructed and legalized to force conformity, they have detrimental effects.
It’s imperative we condemn the United States government for this oppressive definition. But it’s equally important to note that attempts of erasure in Canada are occurring right now.
Written by, Daisy Fraser-Boychuk, third-year gender studies major, political studies