Many people are excited about this, and I can understand why. In many ways, to have a biological basis for your identity makes it theoretically more difficult to discriminate. It suggests a fundamental physical proof of identity. Being transgender can no longer be seen as a choice, and medical access should no longer be denied due to the “cosmetic” nature of hormones, surgeries, or therapy. We can prove that we are who we say we are, and that our lives are pre-determined.
However, before we get too excited I’d urge transgender people who might not be as directly involved in these groups to recall the struggles of folks in disability communities and in LGB communities. We might belong to both these groups, but for trans folks who don’t know these histories as well, it could be prudent to review them.
Certain folks with disabilities have the physical proof of their disability readily available, yet that doesn’t mean that folks with disabilities have an easier time when dealing with medical procedures, in fact from what I’ve come to understand most folks have a more difficult time as doctors are resistant to doing any more than the bare minimum to ensure health and comfort. Moreover, medical professionals are inundated with the idea of “normal”. Many try to “fix” things that might not actually need to be touched, resulting in multiple surgeries for an issue that isn’t an issue for the patient. Folks in the disability rights community can show trans folks (who can of course belong to the disability community too) that relying on science to justify your existence is a dangerous and stigmatizing route.
LGB rights advocates suffered from the search for “the gay gene” back in the early 2000s as studies began to suggest that pre-natal searching for this supposed gene might result in targeted abortions. In the end, any possible gain of proving we exist by finding a gay gene was dismissed by the potential of seeing the gene as either an unfortunate detriment or a reason to target pregnancies.
Moreover, for me at least, I dislike this emphasis on scientific “proof” of transgender identity as it implies that out mere existence isn’t enough, the world needs proof that we are who we are. It takes our stories and puts them in the hands of other people. I understand the immense privilege that comes from working for an LGBT organization. I don’t need to justify my existence quite as often. I don’t need to hide who I am for fear of violence. I still need to constantly educate and correct. I still fear for my job, as many people don’t seem to understand why my position is important. I worry about what is said behind my back, and I grimace at the complete lack of understanding most of my colleagues have on transgender issues.
Understanding the privilege of being employed, and being employed in a mostly affirming environment, I still feel strongly that there is no true need for an explanation of transgender existence. Maybe our brains are washed in hormones. Maybe we are born with a gene predetermining our identity. Maybe it’s part of a supreme creator’s plan. Whatever. For me, the important thing is that we do exist. Folks who doubt our existence will not be swayed by science or theory as their doubts are based in prejudice and ignorance, not in any need for logic. From the 2008 book Men Speak Out: Views on Gender, Sex, and Power:
“If geneticists find a variety of genes that they have been hunting for some time now – the genius gene, the criminal gene, the gay gene, the mothering gene, the super-athelete gene, the warrior gene – will this really put a smooth end to a variety of ideological and sociological debates..?”**Until we are free from discrimination on the job, violence in the streets and at home, bigotry on all levels, ignorance and malice in medical establishments, and a lack of understanding or care in the criminal justice system, until all these things are carried away I really don’t care why I am the way I am. Moreover, I don’t need to justify it to anyone else. I don’t need to prove to you that I do exist, because I am right here in front of you. And hundreds of thousands of my people have stood here before me and will continue to stand here after me.
It’s tempting to desire a certificate of identity, a “proof” that our struggles are real, but we shouldn’t be looking for this acknowledgment outside of ourselves.
** Unger, Donald N.S. “Judging Fathers: The Case for Gender-Neutral Standards.” Men Speak Out: Views on Gender, Sex, and Power. Ed Shira Tarrant. New York: Routledge, 2008. p. 210