There’s one science-backed method to reduce anti-transgender prejudice. See for yourself how it works.
By Brian Resnick
Oct 22, 2018
Though they are often conflated by many Americans, and particularly Republicans, sex is not the same thing as gender.
Sex is determined by the biological configuration of chromosomes. Gender is our individual identity: one that can be fluid or fixed. Respecting and honoring this difference is key to respecting the rights of transgender people.
The Trump administration is hoping to erase these distinctions, via changing the Department of Health and Human service’s interpretation of Title IX. As the New York Times reported over the weekend, the administration “is considering narrowly defining gender as a biological, immutable condition determined by genitalia at birth,” and that “any dispute about one’s sex would have to be clarified using genetic testing.”
But as Jack Turban, a resident physician in psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital who researches gender identity, told me in an email, “There is no ‘scientific definition’ of gender. Things like anatomy and chromosomes just don’t cut it. The only way to know someone’s gender is to ask them.”
The administration’s insistence on using genitalia to define gender, he adds, also doesn’t make sense for people born with genitalia that are “not clearly defined as male or female.” It’s possible for some people to have XY sex chromosomes, but their bodies neither respond to testosterone nor develop into that of a typical male (known as androgen insensitivity).
So, the Trump administration’s proposal is not grounded in science, or reality. And if the government conflates sex with gender, it could mean that civil rights protections will no longer apply to the 1.4 million Americans who are trans, and that discrimination against them could increase.
They already experience a lot of prejudice: A 2017 NPR/Harvard poll found that 38 percent of transgender Americans have experience slurs, and 22 percent said they “have been told or felt they would be unwelcome in a neighborhood or building because they are transgender.” Transgender people are often targets for violence.
I don’t want to understate how painful the HHS policy changes would be. But there is some hope that the discrimination they face doesn’t have to go on forever.
It’s worth to revisit a small glimmer of hope from psychological research on changes in attitudes toward transgender people. These insights may not change the mind of the president. But they can help change the minds of our neighbors.
What it takes to reduce anti-trans prejudice
In 2016, the journal Science published a remarkable bit of insight: It’s possible to reduce prejudice and sway opinions on anti-transgender legislation with one 10-minute conversation. What’s more, the researchers found that the change of heart can last at least three months and is resistant to anti-transgender attack ads.
The study is titled ”Durably reducing transphobia: A field experiment on door-to-door canvassing,” and it was the first large-scale, real-world experimental effort that shows lasting opinion change is possible.