On Feb. 2, 2018, the Republican National Committee officially endorsed President Trump’s “efforts to bar transgender people from military service” altogether. Once again, transgender soldiers have to fight off the battlefield against the president’s administration. Yet the military is but one arena of many where trans people and other people who do not conform to the gender non-binary have felt discrimination.
I am proud that the University of Richmond is making progressive steps toward being open-minded and diverse, but it can be easy to forget that the rest of the world isn’t as accepting as the people around us. After stumbling upon a strongly opinionated article written by a student at Bowling Green University rejecting the gender non-binary, I felt a responsibility to counterbalance the misconceptions of the writer and those who agree with her.
MYTH #1: Sex is binary because sex is the same as gender, so gender is binary by association.
The idea that sex is binary is actually a misconception itself. While most people are born with either female or male anatomies, around 2 percent of humans born are intersex, which is a condition where a person is born with reproductive anatomy that doesn’t fit typical definitions of female or male. There are variances in severity with these birth differences, thus making sex a spectrum.
Gender identity and expression are different concepts that fall along a spectrum as well. For example, a person with female anatomy (sex) can identify as a man (gender identity) but do things that are normally associated with women, such as wear makeup (gender expression). This concept is known as gender fluidity.
MYTH #2: Gender dysphoria is a mental disorder.
According to Psychology Today, gender dysphoria is the distress a person undergoes because they identify with a gender other than the one they were assigned at birth. Its causes are unknown, but “hormonal influences in the womb are suspected to be involved.” Some point to this as evidence that people who identify with the non-binary have a mental disorder. The problem with this misconception is that the gender dysphoria alone has no negative effects on people themselves -- it is society that causes the negative effects, such as the 40 percent suicide rate.
If society accepted the non-binary and the fluidity of gender identity and gender expression, people would never suffer from gender dysphoria. Critics argue that a high suicide rate among the transgender community is not caused by the massive discrimination a transgender person faces, but by the hormonal effects of the condition.
This argument is simply incorrect because discrimination is not the sole cause of suicide. While black people face more discrimination than white people, some researchers hypothesize that black communities generally have stronger support systems and family structure in comparison to the “nuclear family of white Americans.”
According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, “Transgender people face discrimination and violence throughout society, from their family growing up, in school, at work, by homeless shelters, by doctors, in emergency rooms, before judges, by landlords, and even police officers.” Many transgender people struggle to find a community due to lack of family support and media representation. Consequently, claiming that the discrimination transgender people face doesn’t contribute to the high suicide rates is invalid.
MYTH #3: Transgender people will use the fluidity of labels to troll bathrooms and assault.
The state of Maine has had gender identity protections for more than 11 years with not a single incident of bathroom assault. In March of 2017, more than 200 municipalities passed anti-discrimination laws allowing transgender people to use public facilities that correspond to their gender identity. CNN questioned 20 law-enforcement agencies in states with these laws and none reported any bathroom assaults. Like many of the other arguments critics of the non-binary make, this argument is more rooted in fear than in facts.
The gender spectrum is a concept that is becoming more commonly accepted among younger generations, and more and more young people are questioning the gender label they were given simply because of their sex. The problem is that the rate at which people are identifying with the “non-binary” is increasing faster than the rate at which the public is being informed about what it is. This discrepancy results in a lot of confusion and ignorance.
What we need is education reform about sex and gender, legislation that protects transgender people from discrimination and more self-reflection on why we so strongly depend on restrictive labels to make our society seem strong.
Contact opinions writer Hallie Whiting at firstname.lastname@example.org.