Friday, September 18, 2015

Dear U.N. Ambassador: Gender Identity is Not a Sexuality


All around the world, people are being maltreated because they are born intersex, or they are trans, or they have a sexual orientation or identity that is in the minority. And LGBTI+ rights have become a battleground in international law. Representatives of nations including the influential Russia have been fighting at the U.N. against the idea that gender and sexual minorities should be protected, and continue to criminalize same-sex activity, gender transgression, and attempts to gender transition. It's important that the U.S. fight for the rights of sex, gender and sexual minorities.

So I was glad to hear today that the U.S. delegation to the U.N. is going to do this. Deputy U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Richard Erdman announced U.S."support for the rights and dignity of all individuals regardless of their sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity," even where those rights have not been recognized in international law. (Bans on "sodomy" are now against international law, but international law doesn't protect gender identity, nor does it recognize a right to same-gender marriage.)

It's great that the U.S. delegation to the U.N. is taking some action. What's not great at all is the language that has been chosen. The "U.S. government says it will begin using the term 'sexual rights' in discussions of human rights and global development" to refer to the rights of sex, gender and sexually marginalized people, and to the right to protection of "sexual and reproductive health."

I have to say, as an intersex trans person, this is highly problematic. Being trans is not about sexuality. (Neither is being intersex; unfortunately the U.S. government hasn't gotten around to considering the idea that intersex people have a right to physical autonomy.) 

I'm all for sexual and reproductive health. Sexual orientation should be protected. These issues can certainly be linked together under the banner of sexual rights. But sticking trans people in there as a sort of afterthought actually does us damage. It winds up further entrenching damaging beliefs about us: that people gender transition due to some sort of sexual kink, and that how we have sex and thus the status of our genitalia is what defines who we "really are."

We've been explaining for years that gender identity is not a sexuality, but even people who are trying to act as allies seem only to half-hear us. It's good to hear our U.N. deputy ambassador use the phrase "sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity". . . but then that gets collapsed into "sexual rights," which is not good to hear at all.

One more time, people: gender identity and sexuality are different things.

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