Explaining Gender

Image result for gender rolesThis video, written and produced by Sophia Brown, William Dykema, Ben Khaghani, Chloe McNamee, and Grace Tumavicus in FG110 Introduction to Feminist & Gender Studies at Colorado College with Professor Heidi R. Lewis during Block 3 2019, explains gender identity and gender roles to middle school students.




FGS Faculty Statement on the Transgender Memo

Photo courtesy Sean M. Haffey. Members of the TransLatin@ Coalition, an LA based non-profit protested Trump’s Trans memo with this Trans Pride flag banner drop at the World Series at Dodger Stadium this past weekend.Trans Flag at World Series.png

Photo courtesy Sean M. Haffey. Members of the TransLatin@ Coalition, an LA based non-profit protested Trump’s Trans memo with this Trans Pride flag banner drop at the World Series at Dodger Stadium this past weekend.


On October 21st, the New York Times released a memo containing the Trump administration’s plans to roll back civil rights and anti-discrimination protections for transgender and intersex people. The memo declared that it would adopt a definition of gender that is biologically determined by genitalia at birth under Title IX – the federal civil rights law that forbids discrimination in schools receiving government funds, as well as other contexts. It thereby threatens to write out the existence of transgender and intersex people from the policies and statutes implemented by the departments of Health and Human Services, Education, Justice, and Labor, allegedly for the sake of greater consistency and administrability.

Far from just another impulsive twitter tirade from Trump, this memo comes in a series of strategic anti-trans administrative moves, such as pushbacks on transgender inclusion in the military, denial of recognition for public school students’ gender identity and the right to use the bathroom of one’s choice, and so on. To be clear, the attack on transgender and intersex people is grave and ongoing. Here are a few possible implications of the memo on trans and intersex peoples’ lives –

  • The Department of Education’s redefinition of sex and gender as genitalia based and immutable allows for an erasure of trans and intersex people from education and public policy overall. This means, in addition to an increased susceptibility to trans antagonism, gender-based violence, and discrimination, trans and intersex people will face additional bureaucratic hurdles around ID documentation for admissions and financial aid.
  • If the Department of Education adopts this definition, it will become the basis for other agencies’ implementations. Once accepted by the Health Department, insurance companies will no longer be obligated to perform gender affirming procedures and treatments.
  • Coupled with Trump’s Religious Liberty guidance, Right-leaning corporations and businesses will be further empowered to deny trans and intersex people employment. This, much like all points listed above, will exacerbate the economic precarity of trans women of color, specifically Black trans women.

Although the enormity of the impact of this Memo cannot be overstated, we might find some relief in the fact that the administration cannot undo decades of case law protecting transgender people from workplace discrimination, hate crimes, and so on. In addition, a number of States, including Colorado, have already passed laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex, gender identity and sexuality, that can serve as stop gap measures.

We, the faculty at Feminist & Gender Studies, outright condemn the Trump administration’s use of trans and intersex people’s lives as pawns to consolidate a conservative agenda, and mobilize popular anti-trans sentiments to dismantle broader liberties. We acknowledge the ways in which such weaponization of “science” and “objectivity” in defining sex and gender emboldens the everyday erasure, transphobia, and hate crimes targeting transgender, intersex and gender nonconforming people. We understand the deep sense of vulnerability and fear that this memo has inspired among transgender, intersex, and gender nonconforming people on and off campus.

We are committed to building our capacity as faculty and mentors to hold ourselves and Colorado College accountable to trans, intersex, and nonbinary students, faculty, and staff. We would like to offer the ID House as a space for students to gather in community, strategize, mourn, hold each other and hold space in the wake of the multiple white supremacist attacks on historically marginalized people this past week. And for the long term, we consider it our responsibility as feminist educators to amplify the work and voices of BIPOC (black, indigenous, and people of color) transgender activists, revolutionaries, and intellectuals in our classrooms and beyond.

Transgender, intersex, and gender nonconforming people will not be erased at FGS.

With love and solidarity,

Dr. Rushaan Kumar, on behalf of FGS faculty.

The RNC’s Transphobia and Cissexism

all-gender-restroom-tactiletouch-sign-se-6060By Meredith Bower (FGS Minor ’18)

In a recent resolution, the Republican National Committee (RNC) called on the Department of Education “to rescind its interpretation of Title IX that wrongly includes facility use issues by transgender students.” The RNC further claims that the gender assigned at birth is one’s only “true” gender, thus implying that trans people do not exist. The Committee believes that the Obama administration’s attempt to protect the rights of trans students by providing them with equal access to bathrooms is an example of “governmental overreach.” Their claim is that the current interpretation of Title IX is a violation of the privacy to those using the bathroom that is “correct” for “members of that sex.” Through a postmodern feminist theoretical lens, it becomes clear that the RNC’s interpretation of these bathroom bills is incredibly harmful to trans people and demonstrates clear discrimination towards bodies that do not fit societal norms.

It is incredibly disheartening to know that the RNC is so backwards in their collective thinking that they would view a move to protect student safety as “overreach.” Unfortunately, this is not surprising. Bathrooms continue to be a constant source of anxiety for many trans people, including both those forced to use the bathroom that does not match their gender identity and those whose identity and/or presentation is ambiguous. For the latter group, there is no appropriate bathroom, as the two male-female options do not acknowledge an existence outside the binary. As Jack Halberstam explains, “Those of us who present in some ambiguous way are routinely questioned and challenged about our presence in the ‘wrong’ bathroom” (332). Halberstam further illustrates this problem in summarizing the narrative of “he-she factory worker, Jess Goldberg” who must “make crucial decisions about whether she can afford to use the women’s restroom” (333). Thus, the bathroom becomes a representation of the “limit to her ability to move around in the public sphere” (333). Unfortunately, even if the RNC’s resolution were to be denied, the issues illustrated by Jess Goldberg would still be very real for many trans people. Very few institutions have “all gender” bathrooms, and while buildings often have single bathroom options, there are usually very few, and they can require long treks across the premises to find.

18bi4m0on0ttijpgThe RNC is so ingrained in their archaic understandings of gender that they take no issue with the fact that their condemnation of trans bathroom rights could force people to everyday experience systematic oppression whenever they need to pee. As Julia Serano explains, “Transphobia is an irrational fear of, aversion to, or discrimination against people whose gendered identities, appearances, or behaviors deviate from societal norms” (349). Thus, what is causing the RNC so much uneasiness is the fact that people exist who do not remain within the status quo. Serano further defines cissexism as “the belief that transsexuals’ identified genders are inferior to, or less authentic than, those of cissexuals,” and then notes that “the most common expression of cissexism occurs when people attempt to deny trans people the basic privileges that are associated with the gender the trans person self-identifies with” (350). The RNC, then, is both transphobic and cissexist in their denial of appropriate bathroom rights. Were the RNC to reify the existence of trans people, they would be subsequently giving up some of their power that is built into the current cissexist system of society. By accepting the performative nature of gender, the patriarchy’s survival begins to crumble by default. Unfortunately, though, the RNC’s uneasiness comes at the cost of trans students’ basic rights and daily sense of wellbeing.

Thus, the RNC’s condemnation of trans bathroom rights reveals their deeply rooted insecurity surrounding gender. Riki Wilchins comments on this phenomenon by explaining, “In fact, the United States may be the only country in the world where we are so insecure about gender that the words man and woman have no meaning unless they are preceded by real” (341). The RNC epitomizes this statement in their insistence that trans people are not expressing their “real” gender. The fact that trans people are able to transcend patriarchal boundaries is incredibly frightening for men desperate to uphold their power that is built into a strictly static binary. Riki Wilchins also explains binaries as “the black holes of knowledge. Nothing is allowed to escape, so we get the same answers every time” (341). Those that do escape are labeled the deviants of society who need to be put back into line. In order to punish those who are rejecting our society’s static binary, organizations such as the RNC begin to methodically remove basic rights from trans people. The message they are sending is that if you want to exist in this society as a human, you must also conform to the system of control that is currently in place.