The people in charge of our country right now have an understanding of science that does not go much beyond that of a middle schooler. As a result, we get the implementation of policies that not only have the potential to violate basic human rights, but also do not make scientific sense. We see this in the Trump administration’s plans to create what James Hamblin of The Atlantic calls a “Federal Registry of Genitals.”
According to a New York Times article (Oct 21, 2018), the Trump administration is planning to solidify a legal definition of sex as a “biological, immutable condition determined by genitalia at birth.” This is, on the face of it, so they can roll back protections for transgender people under Title IX, which prohibits discrimination based on sex in federally funded programs.
If a person’s “sex” is defined as the discrete category of male or the discrete category of female, then people who find themselves anywhere else in the spectrum will not have protections.
Are people actually distributed along a spectrum of being male and female? Yes. And aside from the very important concept of gender identity, there are medical reasons why this may be the case.
In our bodies, cholesterol goes through a cascade of changes through which it can end up as testosterone or one of the estrogens (estradiol, estriol, estrone). In fact, testosterone is a precursor to estrogen; it’s basically a pitstop along the way. Too much testosterone gives you more estrogen. (Think about what happens to men who take too many anabolic steroids in an effort to gain muscle—testicular shrinkage, development of breast tissue, decreased sperm count). The amount of estrogen or testosterone we have governs how our sex organs develop. This amount is not the same in everyone and is determined by our genetic make up. Some people have more of one sex hormone and some have more of another.
Simplified Pathway for Steroid Hormone Synthesis
Physically, we all start out essentially female. The androgens (testosterone and the estrogens) determine if we remain female or if the organ precursors turn into those identifiable as male. (For example, the ovaries might descend and become testicles.)
But what happens if someone who is genetically male with XY chromosomes has an error in the signaling pathway that turns cholesterol into an androgen? Say the enzyme that regulates how much testosterone turns into estrogen is a little too active or not active enough? That person may have ambiguous genitalia. What then? Does this person not get protection against sex discrimination? Not exactly. For the Trump administration, that’s when you move on to genetic testing.
Here’s the thing, though. There are people who do not have XX chromosomes or XY chromosomes. Some humans come with XXY chromosomes (Klinefelter Syndrome), XYY chromosomes, XXX chromosomes, and XO chromosomes (Turner Syndrome). Would those people not be worthy of protection against sex discrimination under this administration?
So I have a question for you: How do you feel about this administration’s plans to get into your genitals?