Stop Killing Us: Reflections on Trans, Intersex, and Disabled Eugenics
By Noor Pervez
One afternoon, I was attempting to balance a small package of stim toys in one hand and my cane in the other (and failing) at the corner post office. A white, middle aged man leaned down to grab my parcel. As he returned it, he asked, “What’s that for?” while gesturing at my cane.
“Limping,” I said, quietly. He immediately looked concerned. “You’re dealing with that so young. And is that—“ he gestured to my wrist brace — “for carpal tunnel?”
“Sure.” I said. I held my package with my chin and forearm, now. The woman in front of me was angled towards me, clearly watching us. I clenched my jaw. He tells me, “I’ve seen other young ladies get that cured in thirty seconds, if you like.”
There’s a sort of instinct that comes about when the world was designed to kill you. It tells me when I’m up against someone who doesn’t believe I exist.
I felt this sensation curling in the pit of my stomach that day at the post office, about a week after the Trump administration announced a potential rule demanding gender be defined by chromosomes.
I tightened my headphones, stared straight ahead and made no eye contact. He didn’t stop. “I hope you don’t mind me talking to you like this! I just want to see you healed.” My cane grip tightened. Finally, I hit the front of the line, and then bolted. I knew this feeling.
I knew the sinking, twisting sensation that this wasn’t my world. I breathed slowly and deeply. In that moment, I felt the weight of my history crashing down on me. Colonization, forced medical testing and sterilization, and coercive surgeries at birth-the constant policing of bodies like mine weighted heavy on my heart. That same week, I’d screamed my heart out about how I #WontBeErased, but in that moment it felt like so much of me was actively being fought.
Earlier that week, the administration announced a potential change to Title IX that would define away trans and intersex people. Gender markers would only be assigned by chromosomes. This idea isn’t based on objective science, as the administration would have us believe, but rather in a eugenics-era shaping of science to ignore what doesn’t fit ideals set by the government.
Eugenics has many roots, but within the U.S., the most common starting point is defined in the 1920s, where eugenics-supportive clinics aimed to create the “perfect” person through sterilization and medical experiments on disabled people and people of color. This was also the case with intersex patients, who, even prior to the 1920s, were being given nonconsensual genital surgeries with the intention of making them appear more like a traditional vagina or penis. To this day, intersex people face nonconsensual surgeries and exams.
The idea of “curing” deviant bodies, and particularly disabled people, has its roots in the culture of institutions. These places were designed to keep us away from the people society respected-the “real” people, the ones with thoughts and feelings. The ones who aren’t freaks.
When I hear the idea that we must “enforce” gender, the history of people like me comes flooding back. If I can’t perform gender the way in the way that they deem my gender marker says-if I go outside and show my mastectomy scars, if I wear a skirt into the men’s room, if I tell a doctor that I am neither a woman nor a man-I am to be genetically tested. If my chromosomes don’t line up with their idea of a woman, I am to be penalized, and possibly put in prison. Prison is designed to be isolating-it’s designed to keep people deemed harmful away from the world.
People like me. People whose lived experiences differ so vastly from those of so many. I hear the sound of my ancestors’ history echoing as the same shoe drops, once again, and it occurs to me that I have never and will never be entirely allowed to be as I am, in a world built like this.
When I think about who this rule will hurt, I think of the ancestors of the trans movement. I think about women like Miss Major, Sylvia Rivera, and always especially of Marsha P Johnson. She was a black trans woman with a disability, and her sacrifices are so much of the reason I’ve been able to show who I am. I think of testing for rouge on their lips at bars, to see if they were “really” men trying to cross dress, which was grounds for prison. I think of their brawls-but more than anything, I think of Marsha’s death, a suicide thought to be brought on by a psychotic episode.
There are people who sacrificed themselves to give me my ability to live freely in the community, both from the queer community, the disability community, the racial justice community. These freedoms are lost far more easily than they are gained.
The healthcare, education, and community protections I live with as an intersex, disabled trans person are at risk if gender is redefined. My body is a battleground whose rules are constantly being moved by other people. It must end.
So, you must be thinking, where do we go from here? It starts with listening to trans, intersex, and disabled folks. Follow us on social media. Follow organizations that are by and for us, not our parents or people speaking for us. Interact Youth, Intersex Justice Project, Masjid Al Rabia and TSER are a great place to start.
From there, we need you in the pulpits, online, and in the streets advocating for us. Speak out when you see injustice. Voters did so during this year’s midterms by voting yes to keeping trans protections in Massachusetts, and by voting in our first transgender governor.
Tell your elected officials that you say NO to policies that are dangerous to us, including this one. Don’t let the intergenerational cycle of monitoring and policing our bodies continue. This doesn’t end until we make it.
Noor Pervez is a community organizer who works on disability, racial, trans, queer and religious justice. He has given presentations on everything from trans folks with eating disorders to how to support queer Muslims all over the US.
He is the Accessibility Director on the board of Masjid Al Rabia, on the Muslim Youth Leadership Council, and a board member for the Trans Student Educational Resource.