When New York City moved in 2006 to make it easier for transgender people to revise the gender on their birth certificates, the proposal was widely expected to pass.
But the anti-discrimination measure failed. As a study from the University of Chicago reveals, “In part, this is because of public opposition to removing the requirement that individuals have genital surgery before claiming a different gender.
“The backlash was intense,” said Kristen Schilt, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Chicago. “There was such a fervor over taking the surgery requirement out, a sense of, ‘Absolutely not. There’s going to be chaos.’”
“Schilt calls this public reaction “gender panic,” a concept that she and co-author Laurel Westbrook explore in their study, “Doing Gender, Determining Gender,” published in the October issue of the journal Gender and Society. The authors examined mainstream news coverage of transgender-related news and policy issues, and found trends that reflect entrenched views about transgender people and broader gender issues. Like the terms “moral panic” and “sex panic,” Schilt describes gender panic as a deep, cultural fear, set off in this case when the “naturalness” of a male-female gender binary is challenged. When such challenges affect public policy, Schilt said, “that’s when the panic starts to get really hot.”
“Since the 1960s, American society has tended to uphold values of autonomy and equality, including gender self-identity, Schilt said. Transgender people typically are accepted in “non-sexual” spaces like the workplace. But acceptance hits a wall when it comes to places reserved for women. In the case of New York birth certificates, the “panic” centered on how such a policy could lead to granting access to women’s bathrooms and locker rooms for individuals who identify as women but have male anatomies. Continue reading “Transgender panics”