How would redefining gender affect students?

The Trump Administration is planning to redefine gender, but what does that mean? How will it affect students?

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The Trump Administration is currently working on a proposal to change the legal definition of gender. The New York Times first found out about the plan on Oct. 21. It states that a person’s gender would be assigned from genitalia at birth, and virtually unchangeable after that.

Although a full layout of what the plan would cover is yet to be released, it can affect which bathroom a person uses to Medicaid coverage. The only way to legally change gender on federal documents would be with genetic evidence, which would be obtained through genetic testing.  

The current process to change gender on legal documents varies from state to state. In Iowa, a person looking to change their gender would need to get an written oath from a physician or surgeon. The oath, called an affidavit, would need to state the sex the person wants to change to, as well as include evidence that their sex has been changed. This evidence can come from surgery, as well as hormone usage (which can alter how defined features are). After the registrar confirms that the evidence constitutes a sex change, they will give the person a new birth certificate.

 

Havana Heitman ’21 is a trans male at West who is starting hormones in January. He’s worried about how the new plan would affect his transition. 

I really cannot imagine myself being female. I honestly can’t imagine living and, you know, not being real”

— Havana Heitman '21

This is because the new plan would change what type of evidence is used in the request to change gender. The evidence presented would rely heavily on genetic testing, instead of medical history and a doctor’s oath. The issue that doctors and scientists have with this is that most transgender people don’t have any common genetic patterns. Genetic testing will only show chromosomes that are assigned at birth. This means that there isn’t really a way to prove whether or not a person is trans based on genetics. It’s also not clear on what genetic tests would be performed. Because of this, genetic testing is even more opposed.

“If it (the plan) were to go into action I would.. I honestly don’t know. I really cannot imagine myself being female. I honestly can’t imagine living and, you know, not being real.” said Heitman.

Travis Henderson is a teacher and co-adviser of West’s colors club, a safe space where LGBTQ+ students can come to talk about their experiences and spread awareness. Henderson spoke about the uncertainty of genetic testing. “I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around how they even think they’re going to do this in a way that’s rational and scientific. I honestly think that, ultimately, this might be a distraction tactic by the national government.” 

 

It’s not quite clear how much state and local governments will have on enforcing bathroom policies, pronouns, birth names, or gender policies in general. However, the Iowa City Community School District currently has lots of programs in place to protect transgender students.

An example of this is the fairly recent addition of gender neutral bathrooms, which allow trans and non binary students to have a safe space to use the bathroom without judgement or dysphoria. Other policies, like a gender neutral homecoming court and protections against harassment make for a safer, more inclusive school environment. Plus, colors club is always an available safe space for students.

“In a lot of ways ICCSD is on the forefront of the way that they think about gender and the way that they’re trying to create protections for transgender students,” Henderson said, “So at the local level, I’m not convinced that it will make that big of a difference.”

 

Because of the relatively accepting community, the student body here at West might have more freedom compared to other districts, but again, it depends on how much power individual states and districts have. Even with these physical protections, the plan could trigger numerous negative psychological effects.

It forces them to be something that they aren’t, and that means that the federal government doesn’t recognize them, or see them, as what they really are. And..that’s very psychologically damaging for someone who’s going through that experience.”

— Travis Henderson, COLORS adviser

As students get older, they have to interact with the government more and more. Documents like drivers licenses, passports, etc. would have a gender on them that the owner doesn’t identify with if the plan were to pass.

“That’s really troubling and sad because, it forces them to be something that they aren’t. And that means that the federal government doesn’t recognize them, or see them, as what they really are. And..that’s very psychologically damaging for someone who’s going through that experience.” Henderson said.

Kerri Barnhouse, who started colors back up again about 18 years ago, agrees with Henderson. “It’s almost like with all of the progress we’ve made: gender identity, and gender neutral bathrooms, and policies about nondiscrimination and all of that, to have the leader of the free world say, ‘we want to make it so that you can’t exist anymore…we can pretend like you don’t exist,’ I feel like is a real sort of slam their identity.”

Suicide rates for LGBT and especially trans people are really high. I don’t want them to go up and over.”

— Aaron Fennell-Chametzky '20

Suicide is a common struggle that many people in the LGBTQ+ community  deal with. It’s especially prominent in transgender people. About 40% of trans people said that they have attempted suicide, compared to 18% for cisgender females and 10% for cisgender males. Also, some trans people feel uncomfortable going to doctors for help in fear of discrimination, which can cause health issues to get worse.

Negative attitudes towards the trans community could become more prevalent due to the plan. In fact, according to a survey done by Ipsos Public Affairs, one in three people (about 32%) think trans people are committing a sin, or have some kind of mental illness.  If the plan goes through, it could encourage these discriminatory beliefs or misconceptions.

Colors member Aaron Fennell-Chametzky ’20  identifies as a boy who doesn’t conform to gender, and worries about how the plan might affect mental health. “If the policy comes though, it might convince people to just give up. Like, suicide rates for LGBT and especially trans people are really high. I don’t want them to go up and over.” They don’t really think the plan will pass though. “It’s just a really extremist thing.”

By making trans people feel invalidated and possibly spreading negative stereotypes, the plan could lead to higher suicide rates and decrease the likelihood of trans people getting medical help when they need it.

Students who want to communicate their opinions on the plan can contact Iowa City’s district congressman, Dave Loebsack. Once receiving letters, congressmen get an idea of how much an issue means to their district, and can then be encouraged to speak out about it.

“Sometimes I think people don’t think that those things matter, because either they think that like, our congress members are super busy, and they don’t, you know, care about what we write to them. But it actually makes a huge difference,” Henderson said.

I think it’s really hard to make a policy that impacts somebody once you know their story, once you know who they are.”

— Kerri Barnhouse, COLORS adviser

Barnhouse emphasized how important opening up about personal struggles is. “I think it’s really important, probably more than anything else, for people to tell their stories and find avenues in which to tell their stories, whether that’s in social media (probably the best place), whether it’s in public forums, writing letters, things like that, because I think it’s really hard to make a policy that impacts somebody once you know their story, once you know who they are.”  

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