A new transphobic bill in the Utah state legislature claims a “female” is an individual with ovaries who appears to be able to perform “the natural reproductive function of providing eggs and receiving sperm from a male donor.”
The Utah Vital Statistics Act Amendments, or H.B. 153, is spearheaded by two Republicans: Utah state Rep. Merrill F. Nelson and state Sen. Ralph Okerlund. If the bill becomes a law, it would amend provisions for issuing and updating birth certificates in the state. In particular, it would change the gender marker “female” to claim a “female” is a cisgender woman who appears able to conceive a child with a cisgender man.
The bill also lists the term “male” as “an individual with testes who is confirmed before or at birth to have external anatomical characteristics that appear to have the purpose of performing the natural reproductive function of providing and delivering sperm to a female recipient.” Furthermore, the bill takes a cisnormative and binarist focus on one’s sex, arguing that physical sex is either “male or “female” and cannot be changed or listed as anything other than “undetermined.”
“‘Sex’ means male or female, the innate and immutable characteristics established at conception and that can be confirmed before or at birth,” the bill argues.
The legislation also strikes out a section on changing a Utah resident’s name or sex, instead saying Utah citizens may only change their name by either an “order of a Utah district court or a court of competent jurisdiction” in another state or Canadian province, or “as otherwise provided by statute.” Otherwise, the birth certificate can only be updated to correct “a mistake of fact that occurred at the time the birth certificate was completed or issued, as determined by the court.”
No new provision exists for updating one’s sex, meaning it can’t be changed on a transgender citizen’s birth certificate. Any gender marker would not just equate sex with gender, it would also equate one’s sex with their anatomical “purpose” to engage in reproductive sex. That imposes a heteronormative view onto every Utah citizen, as if women exist solely in relation to their sex organs and ability to become pregnant by a cisgender man’s penis.
The bill quickly went viral after ACLU LGBT & HIV Project Staff Attorney Chase Strangio tweeted about the legislation. Strangio brought up an important point: Because anti-transgender legislation relies on narrow, patriarchal depictions of womanhood, anti-trans bills simultaneously erase trans women, stigmatize queer women, and thrust cis women into misogynistic gender roles.
“Hey cis women—is this how you want to be defined by law?” Strangio tweeted. “Just curious because this is how anti-trans bill language reads.”
— Chase Strangio (@chasestrangio) January 28, 2019
This is the direct result of the "both sides" do trans people really exist discourse. If we cede a biological deterministic binary notion of sex to the state for definition, we build patriarchy & white supremacy. Be careful not to throw yrself under the bus you throw trans folks. https://t.co/Q4sEXHpTN5
— Chase Strangio (@chasestrangio) January 28, 2019
Twitter users were quick to respond.
This, AND, it should not take being personally impacted for cis women to take action against transphobia.
Violence against and polices attacking trans women (and trans women alone) are in and of themselves incentive enough to speak out against and actively resist transphobia.
— Women's March (@womensmarch) January 29, 2019
Drafted by two mormon republicans. Why am I not surprised by this language
— LIBERAL HACK TRAN (@larissaeglasser) January 29, 2019
Wow, it's almost like transphobia is your garden variety patriarchy with a mask on.
— Fiona, Les Tieferables (@GayestTiefling) January 29, 2019
That is some of the most godawful drafting I have ever seen. Under their definition, my mother (who is nothing if not a cis-woman) is not female. I am also curious about who does the birth-confirming.
— Gina Roccanova (@GRoccanova) January 29, 2019
Thousands of cis women will be excluded using this kind of language.
Oppressing trans women harms all women https://t.co/V0nT2iqLlt
— Mia Mulder (@Potatopolitics) January 28, 2019
"(22) "Sex" means male or female, the innate and immutable characteristics established at conception and that can be confirmed before or at birth," BUT "female" & "male" individuals are defined by the presence of ovaries or testes, which are NOT established at conception.
— Depauw (@Depauw07054111) January 28, 2019
Not to mention, the bill has an extremely ableist and narrow-minded approach to what “male” and “female” bodies should look like. Technically, cis women born without ovaries or the appearance of being able to conceive would not be able to be declared “female.” Similarly, the bill outright erases non-binary and intersex folks, as if they don’t even exist.
This literally excludes my intersex cousin. Probably not their intention, but it does. She wasn't born with ovaries, and though she was born with a vagina, she required quite a bit of medical intervention to make it possible for her to have PiV type sex.
Transphobia is bullshit.
— Silent Snerk (@SilentSnerk) January 29, 2019
So a woman is no longer female if she has to have her ovaries removed? I mean, that's not the most offensive part of this, but I'm sure there are even evangelicals that this would eliminate so it's an odd choice.
— Susie (@Mulysa) January 29, 2019
Speaking for myself, I'd rather be occasionally referred as a "person who menstruates" than be legally classed as some sort of defective incubator. https://t.co/7ZBYFRWWO0
— Dr Victoria Stiles (@ViolettaCrisis) January 29, 2019
Gross. And surprise!, a lot of women who think this doesn’t apply to them could find out that they wouldn’t qualify as women. https://t.co/iBVSdFEg0A
— Jemal Cole (@jemaleddin) January 29, 2019
Oh, and ovaries aren’t on the outside of a cisgender woman.
Then again, no one ever said transphobia had to make sense. It just has to uphold the status quo.
H/T Chase Strangio
Editor’s note: This piece has been updated throughout to clarify that the bill defines a “female” as someone with anatomical characteristics that “appear” to have the purpose of performing “natural” reproduction.