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Trump’s proposal to make an ‘unchangeable’ definition of sex based on genitals isn’t backed by science — here’s why

Trump’s proposal to make an ‘unchangeable’ definition of sex based on genitals isn’t backed by science — here’s why

A trans woman holds up the flag for Transgender and Gender Noncomforming people at a rally in Washington Square Park on October 21, 2018 in New York City.

A trans woman holds up the flag for Transgender and Gender Noncomforming people at a rally in Washington Square Park on October 21, 2018 in New York City.
Yana Paskova/Getty Images

The Trump administration is considering establishing a legal definition of sex as an unchangeable quality based on a person’s genitals at birth, according to a report published Sunday by the New York Times.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is seeking to establish this definition under Title IX, the civil rights law that bans discrimination on the basis of sex in education programs that receive federal funding, the Times reported.

In a draft memo obtained by the Times, the HHS argued that the government should adopt a definition of sex based, “on a biological basis that is clear, grounded in science, objective and administrable.”

“The agency’s proposed definition would define sex as either male or female, unchangeable, and determined by the genitals that a person is born with … Any dispute about one’s sex would have to be clarified using genetic testing,” the Times report said.

The New York Times report characterized the proposal as an attempt to define gender, too. Defining sex as “unchangeable” could also imply that a person’s gender expression should match their sex that was assigned upon birth.

The proposed definition prompted outrage in the LGBTQ community. It also sparked concerns that such a narrow definition of sex may exclude transgender people – who choose a gender identity different than the sex they were assigned at birth – from federal non-discrimination protections.

An HHS official called the Times report “misleading” but declined to comment on the “alleged, leaked documents” on Monday, according to STAT News. HHS did not immediately respond to INSIDER’s request for comment.

Aside from its legal and political implications, the proposed definition of sex also doesn’t line up with biological realities, as some researchers and doctors have pointed out in the days since the New York Times report.

Here’s a closer look at why.

Not every human being fits into a neat male-female binary when they’re born

Not all infants fit into a male-female binary upon birth.

Not all infants fit into a male-female binary upon birth.
Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Both male and female sex organs start out from the same tissue, according to the Mayo Clinic. Whether an infant ends up with male or female sex organs depends on both sex chromosomes and on the presence (or lack) of male hormones.

Genetically female infants have two X chromosomes, while genetically male infants have one X and one Y chromosome. During gestation, the Y chromosome prompts the growth of testicles, leading to the production of male hormones and the development of male genitals, the Mayo Clinic explains. Fetuses that don’t have a Y chromosome develop female genitals.

But not every infant ends up neatly in one category or the other. Some fall into a category known as “intersex.”

“‘Intersex’ is a term to describe people who have genitalia that’s not exactly female and not exactly male,” Dr. Meera Shah, a family medicine physician specializing in gender affirming care, and a Fellow with Physicians for Reproductive Health, told INSIDER.

Up to 1.7% of babies are born with sex characteristics that aren’t typically male or typically female, making being intersex almost as common as having red hair, according to the United Nations.

There are a number of reasons why this may happen.

A group of conditions known as “intersex conditions” can lead to atypical development of physical sex characteristics, according to the American Psychological Association (APA). These conditions may involve the genitals, reproductive organs, X and Y chromosomes, or sex-related hormones.

One example is Klinefelter syndrome, in which males are born with an extra X chromosome. Another is Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome, in which a person born with an X and Y chromosome but is resistant to male hormones. (As a result, the person develops some or all physical traits of a woman but remains genetically male.) Another is Congenital adrenal hyperplasia, in which an overproduction of hormones causes masculinization of female genitals.

There are more intersex conditions besides these, but the ultimate point is still the same: Not all infants have strictly male or female physical characteristics or strictly male or female sex chromosomes.

“The Trump administration can’t just wave a wand and negate decades of medical science and court decisions,” Dr. Sean Cahill, director of health policy research at The Fenway Institute, a renowned hub for LGBTQ health research, told INSIDER. “Most people fall into the male-female binary but not all people. Transgender people exist, intersex people exist.”

Transgender people don’t identify with the sex they were assigned at birth

Not everyone identifies with the sex they were assigned at birth.

Not everyone identifies with the sex they were assigned at birth.
Mark Makela/Getty Images

Legally defining sex as unchangeable at birth may also further stigmatize transgender people, whose gender identity does not conform to the sex they were assigned when they were born.

“We think this policy is problematic because it really negates the identity of a significant group of people,” Cahill said. An estimated 1.4 million people in the US are transgender, according to the Williams Institute.

While sex is associated with physical attributes like anatomy, gender “refers to the socially constructed roles, behaviors, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for boys and men or girls and women,” according to the APA. The two don’t match up in every individual.

“Medical science has recognized for decades that, for transgender people, birth sex does not match current gender identity. There is a difference between gender identity and birth sex,” Cahill said.

Shah stressed that a person’s gender is self-determined.

“It’s not up to a politician, it’s not up to a doctor, it’s not up to a parent. It’s up to the individual. That’s really the core of the matter here,” she said. “I want transgender and gender diverse people to know that the medical community stands by them. And we as physicians as scientists know what the definition of gender is and we will stick to that.”

Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more.

A top VC stopped a board meeting with a cultured meat startup over a slide she hadn’t seen in her entire career, and it offers a lesson to other companies

A top VC stopped a board meeting with a cultured meat startup over a slide she hadn’t seen in her entire career, and it offers a lesson to other companies

Memphis Meats founder Uma Valeti and Chef Derek Sarno present some of their first meals made from cultured meat.

Memphis Meats founder Uma Valeti and Chef Derek Sarno present some of their first meals made from cultured meat.
Memphis Meats/Facebok
  • Heidi Roizen, a partner at Silicon Valley venture capital firm DFJ, had to stop a board meeting with cultured meat startup Memphis Meats when the founder showed a slide of five recent hires, all of whom were women.
  • That kind of commitment to inclusion is rare in Silicon Valley.
  • At Memphis Meats, more than half of the company’s team identify as women; 40% of them are in leadership roles.

The moment Heidi Roizen knew she’d backed the right startup happened in the middle of a board room meeting. After 20 years working as a venture capitalist, she had never seen a slide like the one presented to her by Uma Valeti, the founder of cultured meat startup Memphis Meats.

Before her were photos of five of the company’s most recent hires – all of whom were scientists or managers by training, and all of whom also happened to be women.

“I stopped [him] right at that moment to tell him I had never seen a slide like that,” Roizen wrote on her blog this week. “And that in turn surprised him, which probably explains in part why Memphis Meats is such a leader when it comes to diversity.”

Based in Silicon Valley, Memphis Meats kicked off with funding from leading biotech hub IndieBio in 2015. Today, it’s backed by investors like Bill Gates, Richard Branson, Twitch cofounder Kyle Vogt, and Kimbal Musk (Elon Musk’s brother). Two food giants – Tyson Foods and Cargill – are other notable investors.

Like a handful of other enterprising startups in the meat alternative space, Memphis Meats’ mission is to grow real meat from animal cells to minimize the environmental waste and ethical problems linked with factory farming.

But unlike the majority of the startup world, more than half of the company’s team identify as women; 40% of them are in leadership roles.

The reason that is significant isn’t merely because it’s novel. It’s also a key indicator of the company’s core values, Roizen said.

‘Great resumes are the price of admission, not the focus of our hiring process’

Memphis Meats is committed to hiring a diverse team of people who hail from a variety of backgrounds, Megan Pittman, Memphis Meats’ director of people operations, told Roizen in an interview for her post.

To do that, they look beyond traditional hiring practices that focus exclusively on things like resumes, which can be biased toward white men because of institutional racism and sexism. For decades, policies like redlining (the process by which banks refuse loans or insurance to people of color because an area is determined to be too financially risky) and immigration practices favoring European countries have limited the resources available to women and people of color.

The Memphis Meats team.

The Memphis Meats team.
Courtesy of Memphis Meats

Those policies and behaviors also contribute to limiting the amount of money that goes to women and people of color. Last year, all-female startup teams got just 2% of all venture capital investment dollars. Fewer than 1% of American venture capital-backed founders are black.

Instead of sitting down to a traditional interview, hiring managers at Memphis Meats ask all job candidates to begin by giving a 30-minute talk focused on an accomplishment or a topic they’re familiar with.

Hiring managers at Memphis do other things that help to make diversity an entrenched part of the process. They all ask one question, for example, when looking for a new hire: “What do we need our next person to bring that our team doesn’t already have?,” Pittman said.

That question assumes that what they need at the company is not more of the same, but instead a variety of perspectives from a variety of backgrounds. The practice has paid off, Pittman said.

“We’ve seen plenty of data showing that companies that hire based on resumes and checkboxes end up with homogenous workforces,” said Pittman. “Don’t get me wrong – great resumes and hard skills are requirements at Memphis Meats, but they’re the price of admission and not the focus of our hiring process.”

Pakistani female motorcyclists wage a revolution against patriarchy

Pakistani female motorcyclists wage a revolution against patriarchy

One morning recently, 28-year-old Rahila Qaisar donned a pink helmet, balanced her handbag on her lap and revved her new pink Honda motorcycle, so fresh from the factory that the passenger seat was still covered in plastic.

Rahila is one of hundreds of newly minted motorcycle riders zipping around eastern Pakistan under a government initiative to help women navigate the country’s notoriously male-dominated roads.

The Women on Wheels campaign has trained more than 3,500 female motorcycle riders in Punjab province – the country’s largest – and plans to furnish more than 700 subsidised bikes to licensed riders from low- and middle-income families.

The programme represents a small revolution for women such as Rahila, a bubbly preschool teacher who said that running even the most mundane errands – shuttling her father to appointments and zipping through the narrow lanes of busy shopping areas – has given her newfound self-confidence.

“It helps us economically and it helps us emotionally,” Rahila said. “When I first started riding, I felt like I was flying high in the sky.”

A few years ago, when her parents were bedridden after a road accident, Rahila wished she hadn’t been born a girl.

“I could have done more for my family as a son,” said Rahila, the youngest of three daughters and the last one still living at home. To fetch medicines and household supplies, she crisscrossed this sprawling city alone in buses and motorised rickshaws, braving heat, traffic delays and unwanted attention from strange men.

Her father’s motorcycle – the preferred conveyance for Lahore’s harried working class – sat idle in the garage. It wasn’t considered proper for a woman in Pakistan to ride one.

While women in Saudi Arabia made headlines this summer for earning the right to drive for the first time, Pakistani women face a different struggle on the roads. Few families can afford cars. In Lahore, a provincial capital of 11 million people with an extensive road network but inadequate mass transit, riding public buses often means long wait times and crowded compartments where men can grope and harass female riders with impunity.

In Pakistan’s deeply patriarchal society – where fathers, brothers and husbands often dictate women’s movements – surveys show men strongly oppose female family members taking most forms of public transport. The Center for Economic Research in Pakistan has found that these restrictions constrain women from working, pursuing higher education and venturing beyond their neighbourhoods.

“Economic empowerment is dependent on mobility, and this was the cheapest way we could give women mobility,” said Salman Sufi, head of the province’s Strategic Reforms Unit, which implemented the programme. The bikes were painted pink to stand out, and discourage male relatives from using them.

When Qudsia Abbas received her bike – it retails for about US$650 (RM2,640), but the programme offers a 40% discount – it was the most exciting development in her family in years. Her younger sisters, who had to beg their father to drop them off at tutoring sessions and school events on his motorbike, now rely on her for rides.

“I became a brother to my sisters,” said Qudsia, 20, who has no male siblings. “My father is a lot more relaxed now.”

Aroosa, one of the few female traffic cops in Lahore, Pakistan, is teaching women to ride motorbikes. Photo: TNS

Kate Vyborny, a Duke University researcher who studies transportation in Pakistan, said Women on Wheels could help “shift the norms around women in public spaces” and fight the conservative stereotype that a woman straddling a motorcycle is somehow indecent.

But with initiatives such as women-only buses having had limited success, Vyborny said that officials should closely monitor the impact of such a significant cultural change.

“Generally it’s been taboo for women to ride motorbikes,” Vyborny said. “If the government is successful in increasing acceptance of that, it’s a really major thing.”

Since the programme was launched in 2016, hundreds of women in Lahore have earned their licenses after a week or more of lessons at the city’s traffic department. Most are taught by Aroosa Hussain, one of Lahore’s few female traffic cops, who patrols the city on a 250-cc motorbike.

“Some girls are students who want to get to their classes,” she said. “Some are divorced and need to be independent. They used to wait for buses and people would look at them with pity. Now they face a different reaction. It’s like, ‘Oh my God, what is she doing, why is she on a bike?’ People are impressed.”

In a potholed parking lot at the traffic department’s offices, Aroosa, dressed in a blue uniform and veil, demonstrated to half a dozen women how to steady themselves before starting the engine.

“Balance is everything,” she said. “With balance comes confidence. If I learned it, so can you.”

Maira Beg nodded slowly. The 34-year-old teacher had received her subsidised bike a few days earlier, but on her first solo ride outside her house, got spooked by a child running onto the road and drove into a parked car.

She fell to the ground and bruised her hand. The handlebars were dented and so was her poise.

“I came here to practise,” she said. “I’m not disheartened. I’ll keep trying.”

Also in the class were Humaira Imran, 53, and her 18-year-old daughter Simal, who was preparing to enroll in college. Simal was tired of asking her older brother for rides, and her mother was tired of hearing about it.

“Always fighting,” Humaira said. Her brother taught her to ride before she was married, though she hasn’t driven a motorbike since.

“I’m rusty, but I want to do this with my daughter, and hopefully we can share the bike,” she said, adding that the men in their family supported the move. “We shouldn’t worry about what anyone else says.”

Before zipping off on her motorbike, Rahila said having more women on the roads would actually make them safer.

“I think we have better road sense than men,” she said. “Men think driving is their birthright and they don’t need any rules. We as women have had to work for it. So we consider everything when we are behind the wheel.” – Los Angeles Times/Tribune News Service

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