Transgender Utopias

Transgender people are at the forefront of many debates concerning morality and parenting decisions. With the recent media coverage of stories, such as the suicide of Leelah Alcorn and even the controversy surrounding Bruce Jenner, transgender people have started to emerge as a social group to be considered in any proposals concerning the future. It is important to consider the positions of the community that is affected by any futures that are proposed, as they may have insights that other may not have considered as they have no lived experience of the fact. This is why I will be proposing an idea of a transgender utopia that takes into consideration the different positions of people within the transgender community, as well as proposing smaller changes that can be made in smaller communities.

Terminology:

  • Sex: the biological makeup of the individual. This can be chromosomes (XX = female, XY = male), sexual organs (penis = male, vagina = female), and/or secondary sexual characteristics (differences in facial hair, fat distribution, etc.)

  • Gender = the mental state of whether the individual is male, female, both, or neither.

  • Transgender = someone whose gender does not match their sex

  • Cisgender = someone who is not transgender

  • Sexuality = the preferences of an individual with regards to potential partners. This is not the same as gender identity.

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Current statistics are shocking. Transgender people are at higher risks of social exclusion and overall discrimination, with basic human rights like housing and healthcare not being protected by many states and countries. As well as that, they are often left out of the conversation when LGBT rights are brought up, with many important social issues like the protection of jobs and housing for transgender people being passed over for marriage equality or campaigns that only concern same sex relationships. These social aspects only serve to increase the mental strain that is put on transgender individuals through gender dysphoria.

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On the small scale, as an institution, RISD is doing pretty well in terms of providing a safe space for transgender individuals. We have things like the preferred name policy, which allows students to give a preferred name to be used in many places on campus (currently still a flawed system with many departments on campus not reflecting a preferred name), and the bathroom initiative that plans to have a gender neutral bathroom in place in every building on campus. These initiatives are far ahead of other universities, with many places requiring a legal name change to alter any records in their system, as they do not have a preferred name field.

However, there are definitely places in which RISD falls short, the biggest problem being that it requires the student to come forward about their transgender identity and initiate any contact. It assumes people are not transgender, making RISD’s position very cisgender centric, as well as increasing the barriers that transgender people need to deal with in order to feel comfortable in RISD’s community. As well as that, there is still a restriction on housing where students are required to room with someone of their legal sex if they choose to have a roommate. This restriction is one major instance that can result in a transgender status being revealed to others, as it is the only reason why people of different genders would be allowed to room together.

FxDslides.006To fix these problems, I propose the following fixes:

  • There is a no assumptions-based approach. That means anybody coming in is treated as though they may be transgender. They are asked for a preferred name (useful even for those who are not transgender), as well as what gender they would like to be listed as. This policy would not put unnecessary burden on any incoming student who is not transgender, but would give transgender students access to resources that they may not have had access to before. It would also allow people to define what gender roommate they would like, if the gender enforcement in housing is still kept.
  • Confidentiality is made the core of every policy decision concerning transgender students on campus. This results in a need-to-know status concerning all information related to transgender people on campus. Professors would only be given access to the preferred name and gender of the student, and this name would be set as soon as the student submits their preferred name and gender. Similarly, residence life would also only be given information concerning the student’s transgender status with the student’s written consent. This would cover all departments on campus, except for the registrar, which would be in charge of having the student’s file with both their preferred name and their legal name attached.
  • Bathrooms on campus would all be gender neutral. All people of all genders would be allowed to use whichever bathroom they see fit. In the case that this is not allowed, a next best option is to have multiple gender neutral options in every building for people to use. This means that all single stall bathrooms will be converted to gender neutral ones, but some multi-stall bathrooms can also be converted. This provides choice for the transgender student, as well as not just defining single stall bathrooms – bathrooms associated with many other things, such as physical handicap – as gender neutral.
  • Health insurance is to cover all costs related to gender transition. This includes, but is not limited to: gender counseling, hormone replacement therapy, sexual reassignment surgery, prosthetics and clothing associated with physical transition.

But how can we get away from simply influencing the smaller RISD community, or even small communities in general? If we are to provide a safe and welcoming environment for transgender people in the wider world, there must be bigger changes on a much larger scale than just changing things on RISD’s campus. This will be the only solution to drastically changing the statistics of discrimination against transgender people.

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The problem that concerns any large societal changes concerning transgender people is the difference in how people approach the ideal transgender future. The first group is the gender abolishers or the ones that believe in postgenderism. It has its roots in feminism, as a movement that aimed to eradicate sexism through irrelevancy, as sex and gender would not be a reason to discriminate if they did not exist. This group aims to abolish all gender, being a movement that aims to be a liberator from the confines of the gender binary. It sees gender as limiting and arbitrary, especially with the improvements in technology that are serving to erode the impact of biological, social, and psychological gender roles on our society. Transgender people would become a non-issue because gender itself would be a non-issue.

The other group is the trans medicalists, whose core belief is that transgender people would want to transition regardless of societal influences. This is due to the idea of a ‘brain map’ that knows where the individual’s body parts are. When people lose limbs, there is often a phantom limb – the sensation of being able to feel a limb although it is not there – which implies that the brain has a mental map of the body. Trans medicalists believe that this brain map in a transgender individual is of the opposite sex than them, resulting in a mismatch between how the brain perceives the body and the actual physical state of the body. This mismatch causes distress, called gender dysphoria. They do not believe that simply eradicating gender roles and gender associations will cure people who are transgender. Rather, it will simply lessen the stress that comes with being rejected from society, which will indeed have a positive effect but will not cure everything.

Because of the very different views, both must be reconciled in any proposed transgender future in order to make it a true utopia for all transgender people. Both sides agree on changing societal roles, but disagree with what is necessary for a transgender person to feel fully at ease in the world.

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The first changes to be implemented is that all physical transitions should be covered and sponsored by the state. This will be embraced by both sides, as trans medicalists will see it as lowering the barriers for people with dysphoria to transition, while gender abolishers will see it as further improvements in the role of technology in abolishing gender. As well as that, gender and gender identity should be non-essential to any decisions or discussion, resulting in a world that is not concerned about people’s gender expectations and presentations. This would result in a world with no discrimination against those who are transgender because any transition would be normalized, rather than being something that breaks traditional gender roles. Trans medicalists will see this as overall less discrimination and societal impact on the transgender individual, while gender abolishers would see this as the next step towards the eradication of gender and sex as a whole.
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To bring this utopia to its extreme, the most radical changes are as follows:

  • All babies will have no assumptions about their gender made based on their sex at birth. They will be assumed to possibly be transgender when they are born, so no expectations will be placed on them about how their body will end up in the future. This would be celebrated by both gender abolishers (it makes gender expectations irrelevant in society), as well as trans medicalists (it makes it easier for people to transition if they realize that they are transgender)
  • Hormone blockers will be used until they can state their own gender and consent to the sex of their body. This would further degrade the role of gender roles in society, as all people will essentially be sex-less in presentation to other people (unless of course, they take off their pants) until they have come to a decision about their sex. This decision could be to have a male body, a female body, a genderless body, or a mixture of male and female. As they are sexless individuals to start off with, and only change depending on their belief in their gender, it may be met with mixed reaction from gender abolishers, as they would agree with the sexless aspect but would disagree with the idea that people would choose to change their body into a sexed one. This position is more in line with the trans medicalists who believe that such intervention would be absolutely necessary for some people who do not have the right body map to be sexless without causing the individual some distress or gender dysphoria.
  • When the person realizes their gender identity, instant DNA resequencing is to be made available to the individual. This would change the body to fit the gender of the individual, resulting in a change that would cure any dysphoria that the individual would have. Gender abolishers would support this, because it is exactly what they hope would happen – technology taking over and making gender and sex irrelevant to how people live their lives. As well as that, trans medicalists would see this as the ultimate cure for dysphoria.

More Resources

Massachusetts Transgender Coalition Policy Committee 

New York Transgender Student Guidelines

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