Wednesday, November 8, 2006

Really Changing Sex

What would it take to get the government to worry less about our genders?

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.

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.

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?

But even for a gender progressive, the New York city approach raises a host of questions.

Thursday, June 8, 2006

The Federal Marriage Amendment and the New 'One Drop of Blood' Rule

Intersex messes with the opponents of gay marriage.

As anti-miscegenation laws took hold in an effort to stop blacks and whites from marrying, by necessity courts had to start deciding who counted as white or black. The standard that ultimately emerged – namely the “one drop of blood” rule of blackness – dictated that any trace of black heritage, no matter how remote or invisible, made you black.

Although a legal necessity, the rule amounted to a biological and social absurdity, one that thrust upon many people an identity that made no sense in terms of their bodily appearances and their lives. For example, Susie Phipps grew up, lived, and married twice as a white woman, but was informed in 1983 by the Louisiana courts (in response to a passport application dispute) that she was really “colored” because she had had one black ancestor six generations back.

As conservatives continue to push the Federal Marriage Amendment and similar state-level same-sex marriage prohibitions, there are signs that a new one drop of blood rule is about to emerge – but this time it will be about sex instead of race. Soon, the way this sort of legislation is going, against their will some men will legally become women, and vice versa. It’s already happening in Texas.

Let me back up a bit.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Proof that I Like Penises

Why circumcize perfectly healthy penises?

So, a new randomized control trial comes out showing that circumcision in adult males can dramatically reduce HIV infection rates, and all my friends who opted for circumcising their baby boys are holding up the dozens of national news accounts of this saying to me, "See?! See?!" Like I just condemned my son to die of AIDS because I let him keep his foreskin.

Meanwhile, the subset of those friends who are Jewish keep hinting I might be anti-Semitic for suggesting that the Jewish ritual of neonatal male circumcision probably ought to end. Oy!

First things first: