Transgender Awareness after the Week

Commentary by Nina Brennan

Most people would argue that the momentum for LGBTQ equality has been gathering remarkable steam over the past few decades; same-sex marriage, of course, being one of the most forefront debates across the United States. Yet, LGBTQ advocates are also making strides in educating the public that there are many more significant issues which must be bolstered into the public conversation. Yes, marriage equality is extraordinarily important, but it is not the sole important talking point for LGBTQ equality.

Earlier this month, Private Chelsea Manning was, once again, thrust into the public dialogue when a New York Times editorial indicted Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and other officials for denying her necessary medical treatment:
Clinical evaluations since have confirmed the need for care that includes hormone treatment, psychotherapy with someone qualified to treat gender dysphoria, and access to grooming standards for female prisoners — allowing her to grow longer hair, for example, to express her gender identity. A failure to follow this standard protocol for people with Private Manning’s medical condition can have a dire impact — creating a growing risk of serious depression, self-mutilation and suicide.

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Not surprisingly, toward the end of National Transgender Awareness week (November 14-22), there have been multiple stories regarding transgender issues which reached the public realm. Another notable example – Michael Phelps’ alleged ex-girlfriend announced she was born intersex, and had her male birth organs removed. In a Facebook post, she wrote:
By the time I could walk and talk I made it clear I was a girl and dressed as one. In my early teens I was medically diagnosed and went on testosterone blockers, at 15, estrogen enhancers. My birth certificate was modified along with my name while I was a teenager, prior to any corrective surgery.

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A common criticism of the news media storm regarding Taylor Chandler’s proclamation, is that it should not matter, and it should not be news. In lieu of belaboring perspectives about the necessity for public discourse, there is also another significant reason this story should be attended to. Again, she remarked “My birth certificate was modified along with my name while I was a teenager, prior to any corrective surgery.” Because she was born intersex, Taylor Chandler may not have been subject to the same requirements of those who were born with wholly improper genitalia, or perhaps she applied in a state which did not require invasive proof. The National Center for Transgender Equality has provided an interactive map which shows legislation regarding transgender issues across the United States. For example, the image below indicates the requirements for changing gender distinction on birth documents:

trans bc change

In Michigan, for example, a woman who is born with male genitalia will not be able to change her birth certificate to correct her gender without proof of sex reassignment surgery. Currently, even the definition of sex reassignment surgery is vague. For example, chondrolaryngoplasty, otherwise known as a trachea shave, is typically considered a gender reassignment surgery.

Upcoming legislation is particularly important. If we are to require transgender individuals to undergo invasive surgery in an effort to change their birth documentation to agree with their gender identity, we are dangerously suggesting identity is only a physical body distinction. And as Laverne Cox sternly implied to Katie Couric, no one should be forced to identify solely with what is underneath their clothing.


About Equality Research Center

The mission of the Equality Research Center is to promote, support, and disseminate research focused on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender equality and human rights. The Center is dedicated to the advancement of Equality by connecting academic, evidence based research to community action, public policy, and curricular innovation.
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