What is happening in the US right now is a travesty. Trump is coming after trans people’s human rights all over the place; trying to define a person’s gender based on their genitals. WTF, USA?! Obviously, that is a patently inaccurate way to classify people, and it is downright insulting for everyone with a modicum of critical thinking skills. The fact that the state wants to creep inside people’s underwear and make note of what’s there is horrifying. That fact that the Republicans are going along with with is awful, though unsurprising.
Although we are now facing some fresh right wing hell, the religious right’s obsession with genitals is nothing new. Here is a brief and horrible history of the US religious right’s obsession with genitals:
1. The AIDS Crisis
Jumping back in time to the Reagan years, when the HIV virus was discovered in the US. This is the first time folks used the term “Religious Right” to refer to Christianity’s influence in American politics. Because HIV was linked with homosexuality, and because homosexuality was a sin, the Religious Right under Reagan (try saying that ten times fast!) decided not to research this human rights epidemic. HIV rates only started declining by the mid-1990’s, once the Dems booted Bush (the 1st) in 1992. When health public policy divorced itself from religious ideology, medical researchers could actually start to research and prevent this devastating epidemic. Because of politicians sitting on their asses, hundreds of thousands of gay men died of this awful disease because, you know, butt sex is icky. And because Jesus.
2. Reproductive (In)Justice
People with uteruses have always wanted means to control their own reproductive potential. But the right-wing state always forces itself into vaginas and uteruses, so that human right hasn’t been realised in the States. You may remember when, in 2014, the US Supreme Court ruled that the Hobby Lobby could deny its (female) workers access to oral birth control, based on religious principals. Thanks to Reagan- and Bush-appointed justices, the court ruled that a company could have a religious principal that would deny its workers birth control.
Obama attemted some reproductive justice for folks with uteruses with free birth control under the ACA, but guess what Trump’s repubs are working day and night to repeal? You guessed it. Many American women now need to pay for birth control, if they can access it at all under their company’s health insurance plan. And of course Trump is trying to defund Planned Parenthood (which provides free birth control and abortions, as well as sexuality counseling). Without access to birth control and legal, safe abortions, pregnant folks have attempted illegal abortions to end pregnancies. Thousands of people die each year (the exact number is difficult to calculate, for obvious reasons) from trying to end a pregnancy in an illegal way. In the United-fucking-States. Let that sink in.
3. Republicans Try To Redefine Rape
If you don’t remember this particularly awful chapter of US political history, you should be glad. It was borne (see what I did there?) from the war on vaginas and uteruses from the George H. W. Bush’s Republicans. Their argument is that people should not get access to abortions to terminate pregnancies that originate from rape, because rape doesn’t cause pregnancy (somehow…). Obviously, this is complete nonsense. But this old chestnut is a handy rhetorical device when reasonable people argue that a uterus should not be forced to bear a pregnancy caused by having been assaulted in the first place. This Republican subterfuge made its way into the wide open in 2012 when Rep. Todd Akin (Republican, natch) claimed that in cases of “legitimate rape,” the uterus has a way of “shutting that whole thing down.”
First off, obviously nitpicking the different types of “rape” is hella offensive to anyone with a vagina or with a non-binary or trans presentation (the groups most likely to be sexually assaulted). But then there’s this sort of witchy feminine mysticism that Republicans believe can “shut down” a potential pregnancy. Generally, people who are not gynecologists do not feel competent to speak about the vagina or uterus, but these gosh-darn Religious Right-ers just can’t help themselves. They feel the need to regularly make pronouncements about the uterus (including a ridiculous suggestion that a woman swallow a camera so that her doctors know whether or not she is pregnant). This would all be very amusing if not for the fact that all of these arguments are made with the intention of taking away essential rights. When they make it a conversation about genitals, it distracts from the main point that this is a discussion of bodily autonomy, and not about genitals at all.
4. Trans People And Bathrooms
In 2016, Republican-controlled North Carolina passed HB2, which limits an individual’s access to the public bathroom that corresponds with the sex on the birth certificates. Now, I don’t know many people who carry around their birth certificates in order to prove that they’re in the correct bathroom, so that pretty much leaves… genitalia. In a truly Orwellian moment in US politics, politicians are actually saying that penises go into the boys’ room and vaginas go in the girls’ room.
The official rhetoric around it was sort of half-assedly related to preventing rape (despite zero evidence that a male-presenting person would transition into a female-presenting person in order to rape women in a women’s public bathroom). Because trans people have begun to transition, many present as another gender, so they are in a weird gender-genital limbo. Genitals are the last thing trans people (or anyone!) want to talk about, especially as trans women are the most at-risk group for murder and sexual assault. But if we’re talking about genitals, we’re not talking about murders, especially since all that talk about genitals has contributed to a hostile and violent environment toward trans people.
5. Trump Is Trying To Erase Trans & Intersex People
So here we are, in October, 2018,and Trump’s administration is trying to define a person’s gender based on their sex at birth. Which leaves the rest of the world asking, “Why are you still discussing this in fucking 2018?!” Obviously, that is not even scientifically sound. But science doesn’t matter when you have religion on your side.
So now that this recent Trump horribleness has the world wondering why the Republicans have become obsessed with genitalia. The real answer is that, for as long as discussing genitals has worked as a smoke-screen for removing essential human rights, the Republicans haven’t stopped.