About 40 students attended a lecture about gender and identity verification Wednesday night, presented by Dean Spade, a Law Teaching Fellow at the UCLA Law School Williams Institute.
The lecturer discussed the rules and laws governing gender classification in the U.S. and how the basis of a “legal gender” can be a significant hurdle and discrimination against transgender or transsexual individuals.
“The discrimination people face around identification in regard to security is massive,” Spade said.
Spade explained that gender matching and identification first became more scrutinized when identity theft became more frequent, and it exploded after the Sept. 11 attacks.
If a mismatch is found between genders in a person’s records, such as in birth certificates or driver’s licenses, an employer can legally fire the employee within 90 days if the mismatch isn’t resolved.
“There is no common sense of gender,” Spade said. “In reality, gender markers are totally unstable.”
Spade explained how the careful scrutiny associated with identification systems in the U.S. evolved with birth certificates and the advent of Social Security cards.
Birth certificates used to be required for families seeking rations during times of war. When Social Security cards were created, citizens of the country were told their number would only be used to give them old-age benefits.
Instead, these means of identification have cast aside the consideration of what gender actually means, by using physical anatomy as a marker of a person’s true identity.
Spade explained that in some states, a person must change their birth certificate before they can change their driver’s license, which means a doctor or medical authority has to designate that the transgender person has undergone surgery to alter their genitalia.
“It’s not your day-to-day gender expression. It’s your hairstyle, your glasses and your jewelry and your clothing, all that stuff, and most transgender people use mostly those things to express those genders, just like non-transgender people,” Spade said.
“These policies are so concerned about that when in reality if you really want to socially order people, you’d use social characteristics that are more physical,” Spade said.
Transgender people often have to deal with both name changes and classification of their own gender, which leads to rigor in maintaining simple things, such as the right to vote, receive medical care, maintain eligibility for housing and financial assistance.
“There are intersex children and there is controversy over what’s on the birth certificate in terms of gender. And so, people who are enforcing these policies and are making them are aware of how unstable gender and sex are,” Spade said.
Spade said. “More people can identify with something when it’s less dangerous to do so. Right now, we see that transgender murder rates are 10 times higher than non-trans people. That’s a pretty good reason to not be trans, no matter how good you feel about yourself. And that’s another good reason not to fill out surveys or forms.”
Spade proposed challenging the government to work on ways to reclassify its citizens without using gender or sex as a basis for identification.
Scott Cher, a senior urban studies and planning major, said the lecture “approached things people take for granted and it focused on fundamental ways of identifying ourselves.”
C. Jacob Hale, the director of the Center for Sex and Gender Research at CSUN, said, “If you ask people individually, what does the ‘m’ or ‘f’ on your driver’s license mean, you’d get a variety of answers.”
“I think people simply assume that the gender or classification they have on their legal documents makes sense,” Hale said.
Spade summarized during his lecture how today’s forms of identification are used as data that’s ultimately used as a means to watch people.
“The desire for the data becomes surveillance, and it’s a time to be thinking deeply about what we think about surveillance,” Spade said.
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