Decoupled from anatomy

Well…I guess Alice Dreger is more of a believer than I had any idea of. From 2006:

On Tuesday, the New York Times reported that New York City “is moving forward with a plan to let people alter the sex on their birth certificates even if they have not had sex-change surgery.” Under the new plan “being considered by the city’s Board of Health… people born in the city would be able to change the documented sex on their birth certificates by providing affidavits from a doctor and a mental health professional laying out why their patients should be considered members of the opposite sex, and asserting that their proposed change would be permanent.” No more need to get surgery or even hormone treatments to get the legal gender you feel is right for you.

What could possibly go wrong?

This was sixteen years ago, so we didn’t know as much about what could go wrong as we do now, but still, it seems a little rash.

Quite a progressive move, this. And nicely in keeping with the long history of liberal democracy, wherein social and political identities have been increasingly decoupled from anatomy. Think about it: your social identity and legal rights depend a lot less on your body type now than they did fifty years ago, and much less than they did a hundred or five hundred years ago. Most of the major civil rights movements have been about just this: arguing against body-based discrimination, whether it be race-based, sex-based, or ability-based.

Well, no, or yes and no, or sort of and no. They weren’t about “just this” – they didn’t put it that way. They didn’t talk about bodies to the exclusion of everything else, and they didn’t think it was about bodies to the exclusion of everything else. They were right. It’s not just bodies, it’s what the people on top think about the bodies (and minds and actions and duties and so on).

And even if it were just a matter of “bodies,” what good would it do women for some men to pretend to have women’s bodies? Zilch.

Why should a person have to go through expensive and dangerous transsexual surgeries – many of which she might not want or be able to afford – to get people to recognize her as the gender she says she is?

That’s the wrong question. The real question is why should a man think he has a right to “get” people to agree with him that he’s a woman?

At a deeper level, what’s with the idea that health care providers should be the ones certifying who is what gender?

What’s with the idea that people should be able to call themselves the other sex and expect everyone to agree?

The Times article quotes the city’s health commissioner, Thomas R. Frieden, as saying “It’s the permanence of the transition that matters most.” And therein lies the conservatism of the move. Okay, we’ll let you change legal sex, but only once. You have to make sure you claim that we just got it wrong in the first place; you were always the gender you say you are now. This way we don’t end up with the crazy idea that people really might be able to change their sexes! We couldn’t take that.

Sure, people should be able to change their sexes every day – every hour if they’re really committed. Why not? What possible reason could anyone ever have for knowing what someone’s actual sex is?

Some people really are born male by all conventional standards and really do end up with the gender identities of women. And vice versa. And some people’s gender identities really do seem to change over time.

And some pigs really do have wings.

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