A memo obtained by the New York Times suggests that President Trump’s Department of Health and Human Services will seek to document the genitalia of newborn babies in order to create a permanent record of birth sex. The move is broadly understood as a means to an end: limiting the rights of transgender persons. The genitalia documentation system, which ignores the fact that many children are born with ambiguous genitalia, would remove gender discrimination protection under Title IX for the estimated 1.4 million Americans who identify as a gender other than the one they were born with, a population that is particularly prone to suicide as teenagers. In other words, the President is launching an assault on a vulnerable group of children for poorly political reasons.
What are the political reasons? That’s easy to figure out. Trump wants a national conversation about transgender rights because those issues are often seen as fringe and leftist — it is not a coincidence the suicide rate is high among transgender youths. And he wants that conversation on the verge of mid-term elections in which his party is set to lose ground. It is, in short, an attempt to get liberals to trip on their own morality. It’s a bully’s cheap trick — hardly an act of political cunning. It also demonstrates a willingness to hurt children. Better put, it demonstrates Trump’s willingness to hurt children again. (Frequent listeners will remember child separation at the border, food stamp work requirements, a proposal to rescind Child Health Insurance Program funding, and cuts to public school funding.)
Understand that the assertion kids will perish due to the DHHS gender definition fight is not hyperbole. It’s a fact. Consider a study in the journal Pediatrics that found 50.8 percent of transgender boys (born as girls but identifying as male) have attempted suicide. That’s four times the rate of non-transgender boys, only 9 percent of whom reported attempting suicide. Moreover, 41 percent of adolescents who did not identify as either gender reported suicide attempts, followed by 29 percent of transgender girls and 27 percent of adolescents who were questioning their gender identity. Allowing institutions to persecute these children will lead to self-harm. It is inevitable.
The problem here is that these political fights over identity are largely abstract when they’re presented from the stump. It’s quite easy for a conservative politician (or faux conservative politician) to tell his base that transgender people don’t deserve civil rights protection. Bigots are easily riled up and, for complicated reasons having to do largely with insecurity, seem to be particularly eager to hear harmful rhetoric about gender dysmorphia. It’s an abstract issue because most people don’t have trans friends — or friends that openly identify as trans.
But none of this is abstract to trans kids, who are receiving a clear message that something is wrong with them. Hearing a full-throated dismissal of their experience in the media, from the party in power, is damaging.
And make no mistake, politicians engaging in the debate about gender definitions don’t want to better understand the experience of transgender people. They don’t really even want to understand science, which suggests that gender bifurcation is simplistic if not dumb. There are thousands of infants born every year with “ambiguous genitalia” and chromosomal traits that change the way sex hormones interact with their body. Life is not as simple as penis equals boy and vulva equals girl. People who say it is don’t know what they’re talking about or — and this is more likely — don’t care.
This is what bullies do. They discount the feelings of others. Trump is a bully and his shamelessness should appall parents and frighten those who aren’t sure of their children’s gender identification (read: all of them).
Sadly, trans kids who are the subject of bullying from their peers and breathless fear from their neighbors now face the world’s biggest bully, who wants to push them in the dirt to make some other kids laugh. That’s not just predatory behavior. It’s appalling behavior. And anyone who supports it must reckon with the reality of what that support suggests: That they’re fine with hurting kids.