No, There Are Not Only Two Genders: Women’s History is Trans History

By Sidney Wegener

The following article addresses transphobia in the medical community as a historic and ongoing threat to transgender folks safety. While there is no discussion of assault or violence, discriminatory language and deadnaming quoted in sources may be triggering for some individuals.

In February of 2021, Marjorie Taylor Greene, republican Rep. for Georgia state, which occupies unceded land historically stewarded by a Mvskoke (Muscogee/Creek) Native Peoples, displayed a large poster outside her office reading “There are TWO genders: MALE & FEMALE, “Trust The Science!” Greene deliberately displayed the transphobic sign across from Illinois democratic rep. Marie Newman, who is the mother of a trasngender daughter. [1] The common misconception that there are only two sexes has done severe injustice to trans, non-binary, intersex, and gender non-conforming folks since the mid-twentieth century when Western science took interest in bodies and identites which defied the sex/gender binary. Unfortunately, the long history of medical maltreatment of intersex and transgender folks has been carried into the twenty-first century through bills such as the 2020 Vulnerable Child Protection Act. This Georgia state bill is backed by republican representatives, such as Ginny Ehrhart, and aims to legally bar doctors from offering transgender-related healthcare. From hormone therapy, gender confirmation procedures, and access to mental health counseling, medical practitioners could be charged with a felony crime based on the claim that providing transgender-affirming healthcare is child abuse. [2]
The VCPA is not the first legal attempt at oppressing, dare I say eradicating, bodies and identities via state and federal law. Criminalization of transgender people and bodies has a long history in the United States, dating back to the late-nineteenth century when instances of “women” dressing as men were discovered and such individuals were incarcerated for petty crimes and found to be “masquerading” as a man. In 1900, Harry Allen (also known by Harry Livingston) was arrested for petty offenses related to sex and alcohol. [3] It was not long before he was discovered to be a “cross-dresser”, and newspapers across the country turned their attention toward Allen/Livingston. The misdemeanor charges inspired headlines such as “In Male Attire; ‘Harry Livingston’ Says She Will Wear Them. A Masquerading Girl Gave the Police a Good Run Last Night. May Go to Nome” [4], and “This Girl Refuses to Wear Skirts; Nellie Pickerell Acts, Talks and Dresses Like a Man, and says She Ought to Have Been One.” [5] The criminalization of gender non-conforming and cross-dressing folks was bolstered by developments in Western medicine and science during the early twentieth century. [6]
I lay no claim to expertise in transgender studies, history, healthcare or experiences as I am a cis-woman lesbian historian with no medical training. Therefore, I would like to allocate this platform to amplify voices of medical practitioners who speak to the truth of the sex and gender spectrum debunking the binary myth. Recently, Dr. Karen Tang, a gynecological surgeon, posted a TikTok explaining why the biological sex binary is a false concept in 28 seconds. [7] A self-proclaimed “health advocate, fighting racism and discrimination”, Dr. Tang breaks down why sex is not a binary, based off of her expertise as a doctor and gynecologist, swiftly discrediting Marjorie Taylor Greene’s ignorant and misinformed statement. [8] She cites biological aspects of sex, such as 5 Alpha Reductase Deficiency, which completely undermines the sex-binary myth. Dr. Tang concludes by directly addressing Taylor’s transphobic claim that science says there is only male and female, stating, “So I would say, please keep ‘science’ out of your mouth, if you’re trying to justify your hateful ignorance.” I don’t think I could say it any better.
I urge you to please watch the 28 second video and lend your ear to a real scientist, a real doctor, and a health advocate for transgender folks and people of color to learn a couple critical facts about biological sex and socially constructed gender. Link: https://www.instagram.com/p/CLx3qC4BrH6/

Please take action to protect transgender children by signing this petition: https://www.change.org/p/kay-ivey-stop-the-vulnerable-child-compassion-and-protection-act-in-alabama

[1] Chandelis Duster, “Marjorie Taylor Greene posts anti-transgender sign across hall from lawmaker with transgender child,” CNN. February 25, 2021. https://www.cnn.com/2021/02/25/politics/marjorie-taylor-greene-anti-transgender-sign/index.html
[2] Jennifer Gerson, “A Georgia lawmaker wants to make treatments for transgender kids a felony, but doctors say that could put lives at risk,” Insider. January 2, 2020. https://www.insider.com/transgender-treatment-felony-under-new-georgia-bill
[3] “Harry Allen (trans man),” Wikipedia. February 23, 2021. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harry_Allen_(trans_man)
[4] “In Male Attire; “Harry Livingston” Says She Will Wear Them. A Masquerading Girl Gave the Police a Good Run Last Night. May Go to Nome.”, Seattle Daily Times, p. 7, April 20, 1900
[5] “This Girl Refuses to Wear Skirts; Nellie Pickerell Acts, Talks and Dresses Like a Man, and says She Ought to Have Been One”, The Boston Post, p. 15, April 30, 1900
[6] For a complete history of U.S. medicine and maltreatment of intersex and transgender folks, see Julian Gill-Peterson, Histories of the Transgender Child (University of Minnesota Press: 2018).
[7] Dr. Karen Tang, “As a Gynecologist who cares for transgender and gender non-binary patients, I had to speak out about politicians trying to invoke “science” to justify their ignorance and bigotry,” Instagram. February 28, 2021. https://www.instagram.com/p/CLx3qC4BrH6/
[8] Dr. Karen Tang, “Karen Tang – Gyn Surgeon,” Instagram. https://www.instagram.com/karentangmd/

sidney is a second year student in the women’s history masters program at sarah lawrence college where they are investigating the role that interracial relationships between incarcerated women in the United States during the early twentieth century played in the historical development and establishment of lesbian (sub)cultures.

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