Though I identify as a cis woman, I’ve long been skeptical of the ways in which the modern milestones of adulthood recognized in the U.S. are conducted. One such milestone is that of raising children. Despite many friends’ insistence that I will “change my mind” (or, in other cases, that I’d be “selfish” not to), I’m fairly certain I never want to raise children.
I think doing so is an extraordinary responsibility (potentially accompanied by great joy) for which I am and would be woefully equipped. While I am not opposed to the concept of parenthood, I recognize my limitations. However, if I were to have a child, there is one thing I could not, in good conscience, willfully impose upon them, and that is a designated birth gender.
In some states, like California, Oregon, and Washington, rather than choose between “female” or “male,” new parents are now offered a gender-neutral option on their newborns’ birth certificates. The option to not designate your newborn’s gender for life based on their externally visible genitalia is one more parents should take advantage of for a panoply of reasons—including, but far from limited to, because scientific research has shown, time and time again, that anatomy does not determine gender. (Of course, at this point, I think gender essentialists would overturn cars and torch houses if policymakers even suggested eliminating the “female” and “male” options altogether.)
Not surprisingly, the Trump administration has put forth a policy which, if enacted, would define gender under Title IX as a “biological, immutable condition, determined by genitalia at birth.” Today, there are certainly parents-to-be who consider themselves trans-“supportive.” However, in order to be truly supportive of their children’s abilities to realize and freely express their gender identities, these parents must shirk the dual tradition of designating a child’s gender at birth, then spending their formative developmental years socializing them according to the norms prescribed to that gender.
Giving your child’s birth certificate the gender-neutral stamp may very likely come with several intimidating implications (how will you explain it to trans-unaware or outright conservative family members?). However, you, perhaps together with your partner, but even alone, are certainly far more apt to carry that burden than your child is to carry that of combatting an entire society’s real-time expectations of their ability to perform their designated gender “properly”—and that’s only in addition to the long road of legal barriers they’ll likely be forced to contend with.
By subscribing to traditional gendering, parents effectively act as extensions of the Trump administration and all other parties who continue to see fit to systemically perpetrate anti-transness of the like. The practice of legally gendering newborns based on their external genitalia—enforced systemically in most states by the lack of an alternative choice—is often punitive for trans and gender-nonconforming (TGNC) individuals when it comes to public life.
After being attacked in an anti-Black, anti-gay hate crime in late January, actor Jussie Smollett spoke to Essence about the commonplaceness of anti-Black and anti-LGBTQ+ violence, noting that the attack was far from an “isolated incident.” While many supporters of Smollett’s message have since retweeted his words, they have simultaneously neglected to apply them practically.
As Raquel Willis pointed out in a recent article for Out Magazine, while Smollett’s attack was appropriately met with outrage in the mainstream media, near-radio silence has followed news of the late-January attack on Candice Elease Pinky, a Black trans woman, and her subsequent flagrant misgendering by the cops and media.
Initially identifying Pinky as a woman, cops on the case later referred to her as a “man” based on her driver’s license. News outlets such as the Houston Chronicle followed suit, while others refused to refer to Pinky’s gender altogether. In response to the very public insistence that Pinky be referred to as a “man,” the Transgender Education Network of Texas delivered a Facebook post which read, in part:
Due to the complicated process and financial barriers that our community face when changing our identification to match who we truly are many of us do not have the means or access to be able to have a state issued license or ID that identifies us correctly as who we are.
Though Pinky was attacked brutally—having been shot five times in a gas station parking lot in broad daylight—the period for outrage over the brazen violence done to her must be, at least partly, overshadowed by exhausting debates with those who pigheadedly insist her personhood is either abject, mythical, or both. (You can find a link to donate to Candice Elease Pinky’s recovery here.)
Of course, when it comes to identifying as TGNC, being misgendered on one’s birth certificate and subsequent legal identification can easily translate to being routinely inundated with systemic disadvantages and mistreatment which, while not typically bearing the same physically violent nature as the attack on Pinky, are egregiously harmful to those forced to endure them.
For example, a binary trans woman attempting to acquire proper, non-transition-related health care in the U.S. might be subjected to providers and other medical personnel who, either out of ignorance or outright contempt, continually force her to justify her requests to be addressed in a way that does not match her identification. For those navigating transition—especially on top of other health concerns—being forced to routinely assert one’s personhood can be an emotionally exhausting endeavor, particularly when they are also faced with trans-antagonism. Such experiences would likely be mitigated, at least partially, by an initial gender-neutral identification on one’s birth certificate.
Being systemically misgendered is not a phenomenon that has to remain largely invisible to all but those who identify as TGNC, and keeping aware of and spreading word about issues that affect TGNC people in the U.S. is not a difficult task. It may even do some good, because in this case, active erasure and invisibility in the media and under the law have thus far done far more harm than good to trans and gender-nonconforming communities.
The issues we champion—or don’t—are purely a matter of choice. The rights of and news about TGNC people are not niche; they are not difficult to stay abreast of—certainly no more than was the attack against Jussie Smollett. This is not a matter of fault; it is about conscious awareness.
If you are a person to whom the ability to live with dignity is an indisputable human right, but you find that you aren’t often up-to-date on topics where this concept is at issue—at least where it doesn’t directly affect your livelihood—the remedy is simple. Keeping apprised of what’s going on with other marginalized folks in the U.S. is as easy as curating your news and social media feeds to receive updates and learn about communities neither you nor the people you choose to surround yourself with belong to.
Using social media is also an easy way to spread meaningful awareness and combat processes like active erasure and misrepresentation. By making a concentrated effort to improve the social narrative about TGNC folks, even those who don’t vote can help sway policymakers—a feat that certainly isn’t meaningless, especially in a time when trans rights are continually under attack. And, if you’re like me and aren’t planning on raising children, these digital-based efforts are the least you can make.
If, on the other hand, you believe parenthood is your calling, and your city or state permits it, please, for the love of all that is good and holy, sincerely consider giving your child the chance to be free to be.