Gender Does not Equal Sex: In Support of Transgender Folx

by: Tanya Cook

Like many of you, I was dismayed to read the NYT article on Sunday which broke the news that the Trump administration is proposing limiting the definition of gender to sex assigned at birth. If the Department of Health and Human services restricts the legal definition of gender to the binary sex categories we are ascribed at birth, institutions that receive Title IX funding would no longer have to ensure they protect against gender-based discrimination. With a single policy act, we could regress on Obama-era protections for transgender people and the 1.4 million Americans who identify as transgender would have their identity invalidated.

First of all, biological sex is not a binary variable as Anne Fausto-Sterling has demonstrated over decades of research. Furthermore, defining sex as equaling gender sticks a big middle finger in the face of decades of social science research that consistently demonstrates gender is a social construct. This policy could literally reify gender as a binary. For more on sociologists’ critical commentary on this proposal, read the Sociologists for Women in Society’s official statement.

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But when has this administration demonstrated care or concern for those not in the most privileged statuses in society? When has this administration let pesky things like a validated body of scientific literature influence their decision making (cough, cough global warming)? If actions speak louder than words, what this administration is saying time and time again is they do not care to protect the vulnerable in our nation. As others have argued, denial of data-based conclusions is not only foolish, it’s dangerous.

Based on the erroneous assumption that crime rates and other social problems are increasing due to undocumented immigrants, the Trump administration decided the best place to fight this battle was by incarcerating children. Instead of being fostered or homed with their families, children are “detained” in facilities across the U.S. Research studies like this one, co-authored by University of Wisconsin-Madison criminologist Michael Light, repeatedly show that increases in undocumented immigration are not associated with increases in either violent or non-violent crimes. The consequence of ignoring this information is the egregious treatment of children by our government.

Where does fandom fit into this blog post? Well, fans are increasingly leading the way on social justice initiatives. Through fan activism and leadership by people I call “Starticipants” — stars or celebrities who are also participants in fandom-based activism — I see important and encouraging conversations and action. Starticipants like Felicia Day are talking, tweeting, and fundraising to help detained children. Over the summer, Day hosted a live stream on Twitch and raised over $250,000 for Raices, an organization that provides free or low cost legal defense for families facing deportation.

Image credit: Felicia Day’s Twitter Account

Alyssa Milano has been extremely vocal in her support of the Me Too movement and encouraging get out the vote efforts. Finally, actor Misha Collins (the person that inspired the concept of Starticipant), has campaigned for New Hampshire gubernatorial candidate Molly Kelly, among others, and generally done everything possible to make this midterm election historic in voter turnout rates.

Image Credit: Misha Collins’ Twitter Account

As I write this, my teenaged, transgender son is practicing martial arts. He has taken up this hobby for a variety of reasons — improved physical fitness, mental clarity and balance, and, increasingly, self-preservation. The idea that sex equals gender not only contradicts scientific evidence for me, it contradicts my very personal experience as a parent. My son is a healthy, beautiful human who has become more fully himself since transitioning. All he wants to do is use his talents to bring joy to people and to simply live his life. He should not have to face discrimination for his gender identity any more than I as a cisgender woman should. He exists. He not only exists, he fucking rocks. He makes the world a better place. You can’t deny his existence any more than you could the sun’s. He’s why I get up in the morning and he’s why I will always keep fighting.

Image Credit: National Center for Transgender Equality;

We (Tanya and Kaela) are two fans and academics who study how fans help and support each other and their communities.