If U.S. History Should Be Required For History Majors, Basic Biology Should Be Required For Law School Graduates

The other day The Washington Post reported on a report from the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) that 53 of 76 major U.S. universities, including three of my almae matres, do not require history majors to take a course in U.S. history. Of course, on further examination, it turns out that virtually all such majors at these schools do, indeed, take such courses, so the "requirement" is unnecessary. Still, it makes for a good story and right-wing sound bite.

I can safely report, in a similar vein, that as I reported last month, major law schools, including Harvard and Georgetown, do not require any understanding of science for their graduates. The latest persons of note include Roger Severino of the Heritage Foundation and a Harvard Law grad, his colleague, Kyle Duncan who studied law at Columbia, and now represents the North Carolina legislature (a dream job, I'm sure), and Texas Attorney General, Ken Paxton, a graduate of the University of Virginia School of Law. They recently spoke at the Heritage Foundation.

Severino said at the conference,

Things have moved so far, so fast and so surprisingly, and not in a good way. We're at an inflection point in America, and it's all related to the idea of sexual identity, sexual morality and the role of faith in the public square.

Since I, a physician, have learned enough about the law to be able to intelligently opine on the legal aspects of sex and gender, I will now run a short tutorial for those lawyers who opine on sex and gender but are unaware of their profound ignorance of biology. If I could learn some law, they can learn some biology.

The importance of language is also evident in the new ad from the LGBT community, the first since the Trans United ad from the early days of HB2. It's one thing that we have to constantly challenge the right-wing framing; it's another when we internalize and promote it ourselves.

I will discuss the ad in my next column.

So to begin with the Heritage conference -

The administration's guidance is the same they've been following throughout the eight years of the Obama presidency, and follows upon federal court rulings which have been consistently pro-trans since the 2004 Smith v. City of Salem case in the 6th Circuit. Twelve years can hardly be considered "so far, so fast."

Kyle Duncan said,

The whole concept of sex has been turned on its head.

And Paxton added,

Congress has understood sex to be biological and gender to be cultural. But the president has a habit of going it alone when Congress fails to do what he wants. True to form, his agencies have done just that.

No, Congress has not been holding symposia on the meaning of "sex" over the last five decades, so it's hard to know what Congress (which Congress?) thinks "sex" means. Nor has Congress passed any federal laws (other than the Violence Against Women Act) that deal specifically with gender identity and sexual orientation. Although, based on the VAWA vote, one could argue they have a very modern conception of the meaning of "sex."

I also want to point out that when Congress passed VAWA it did so in a bipartisan fashion. When the EEOC ruled in Macy it did so unanimously, with two Republican Commissioners, and when the federal courts have ruled, they have done so with judges appointed by both Democrats and Republicans. Most famously, Judge William Pryor of the 11th Circuit in Atlanta, long viewed as extremely homophobic, supported the decision in the Glenn v. Brumby case, covering trans persons under the Equal Protection clause as well as recognizing the Title VII coverage "because of sex."

The most insulting comments come from the Attorney General of Texas, mimicking those of his Lieutenant Governor, subsumed in a profound ignorance.

Paxton says,

The federal government's guidance letter in May relies on Title IX's prohibition on sex discrimination to conclude that students can use the bathroom or shower of the gender they feel like. In short, Obama thinks that sex is the same as gender.

No, it does not say that students can use the bathroom that they feel like. The only boys who might identify as trans because they "feel like it" would be those related to former Governor Mike Huckabee. Trans girls don't "feel like it;" they are it. They always feel it, because it is rooted in their brains. "Biological sex" includes human brains, which take precedence over genitalia. While Paxton clearly of the prudish crowd that can't say "genitals," let alone "penis" or "vagina," and retreat to euphemisms, he might be interested in knowing that it is not a disembodied penis that some14 year old girls fear, but that same penis attached to a boy. It's probably true given the sad degree of science teaching in much of the country that many such girls will never have heard of intersex kids or girls with penises or boys with vaginas, but they would be much more likely to accept such fellow students if acceptance was reflected in their teachers and administrators.

Another recent example of basic misunderstanding of biology came from Iowa, where the Fort Des Moines Church of Christ had filed a federal lawsuit against the state of Iowa in response to a poorly worded document (subsequently promptly edited) from the Iowa Civil Rights Commission, claiming,

The church says it teaches that "maleness or femaleness is designed by God and is tied to biology, chromosomes, physiology, and anatomy."

I don't know about God, but I agree -- maleness and femaleness is tied to biology, chromosomes, physiology and anatomy (and histones, genes, gonads, genitals, hormones, hormone receptors, etc. -- all part of human biology, along with that most mysterious organ, the brain).

Paxton also said,

There are a host of reasons why allowing 14-year-old boys into girls' locker rooms is a bad idea.

There are, indeed, sir, but you might find that the girls aren't quite as twisted up about it as you. That being said, and the feelings of 14 year old girls vary from place to place, I can agree that we shouldn't allow 14 year old boys into girls' locker rooms. You not only missed Human Sexual Development 101, you missed AAG Gupta's succinct definition on May 9:

Transgender men are men . . . ; transgender women are women.

Paxton, the AG for a state that idolizes guns above most everything else, closed, in a horrific foreshadowing of events that would transpire later that night in Dallas,

Over 18 percent of our Texas education budget is composed of federal funds. That is clearly a gun to the head.

Following up on the statement about Title IX's guidance, Paxton concludes,

In short, Obama thinks that sex is the same as gender.

Paxton impugns the president's legal knowledge, but as a constitutional lawyer the president is fully aware, as Paxton is not, that the courts routinely use both "sex" and "gender" to mean the same thing. Maybe they shouldn't, since "gender" was devised to provide a useful academic distinction between the biological and sociocultural. Again, it doesn't matter, because being trans is a biological phenomenon. It would behoove the chief law enforcement officer of a rather large state to learn that simple fact.

I know it's hard to wrap one's mind around the biology of sex and gender, since so many have spent most of their lives thinking about genitals and sexual behavior in very crude and ultimately demeaning terms. It's hard to step back from the crude language of the men's locker room and to think seriously about human sexual development and then what it must be like being trans. Make the effort, please. Imagine what it would be like to be castrated and still insist that you're a man, or to be born with a penis while knowing you're a woman. It takes a little effort, but it's well worth it. Millions of Americans have done so, having watched as the parents of trans children have struggled and come to learn about their child's sexual development and ended up accepting the child, and becoming better people in the process.

One day you will all look back at your words and wonder how you could have been so ignorant and proud of it, just as many of the racist officials in the Deep South lived to regret their bigotry. Like Spencer Cox, the Lieutenant Governor of Utah, however, you, too, can change.

You should give him a call. I hear it's quite pleasant in Park City this time of year.