Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Transgender Rights & Power Dynamics

The issue is?

Policies and issues surrounding transgender rights have been on the rise in the last few months. Issues both on the state and federal level involving laws surrounding participation in sports and most recently enlisting in the military. On March 31st President Biden overturned Trump-era legislation that limited individuals to enlisting in the military under their “birth-gender.” Additionally, the policy banned anyone from enlisting in the military if they had undergone gender transition surgery. The last day of March was Trans Visibility Day and was a day of celebration for transgender individuals. The current policy also prohibits any type of discrimination based on gender identity. 

        What does power look like? 

Power is often associated with force and control, but as we break down the concept of power it’s clear that acquiring and holding onto power is much more nuanced. We can look at power in three different dimensions. The first and the second ways in which we look at power are more obvious, controlled by force and indicating clear winners and losers. The third dimension of power is less about physical or verbal force or control and has more to do with ideology and socialization. In more detail, the first dimension of power is what comes to mind when we hear the term power.  With the first view of power there are objective interests and the group wanting power is usually in open conflict with another, or multiple other groups. The conflict results in clear winners and losers. The winners have control over the losers and have the power to force the losing group to do what they want. 

The second view of power is more nuanced, but again still has clear winners and losers, as in the first view of power. The second view of power focuses on how the decisions being made or the issues being talked about allow the group or person in power to maintain control over others. Power is maintained by constraining the decisions that can be made. The group or person in power also has control over non-decision making. A non-decision is a decision that results in the suppression of an issue that challenges the value of the decision-maker, thus giving the power to decide what’s talked about and what is not talked about to the people in power. Power is maintained through controlling what the agenda is. The third view of power is the most nuanced and least straightforward to understand. The first two views of power had to do with a conflict of interests, however the third view of power has more to do with the interests themselves. The third view of power shapes to influence the ideology of other groups for the dominating group to maintain power. This third view means that the group in power avoids the conflict of interests completely, and do not have to deal with suppressing decisions they disagree with because they have control over what the issues are in the first place. The modeling of ideologies and interests usually results from different forms of socialization over time. These three views of power are reflected in many parts of our society and are particularly evident in different levels of government. 

        Transgender Power? 

Although the actual turnover of the policy that prohibits transgender men or women from enlisting the military is not directly related to the views of power, how the decision came to be is. President Joe Biden’s cabinet is composed of twenty three different members. The group is made up of a diverse group of leaders from a variety of different backgrounds, genders, races and ethnicities.  However, there is no place in agenda setting for transgender individuals, so they’re not even apart of the decision making process. Although the policy that was overturned caused celebration for the transgender community, there still exist difficult power dynamics that influenced how the decision was made. There is no one at the table who has life experience as a transgender individual, thus limiting the issues that are brought to the table to those with only cisgender perspectives. Control over agenda setting is reflective of the second view of power. 

However, it seems that issues surrounding transgender rights seem to stem more from the third view of power. Our society has been socialized to believe in the gender binary, there only exist two types of genders: women and men. Additionally, socialization has taught us that whatever biological sex organs we have at birth determine how our gender should be performed. If you are a female at birth you act like a woman, if you are a male at birth you should act like a man. These socialized concepts mean that females acting like women and males acting like men is the norm and the expected behavior of individuals. Media, advertising, marketing, product design, it is all geared towards gender binary and cisgender individuals. Creating a norm isolates those who decide to make choices that differ from the norm. This results in policies being made in an ideological context that assumes a norm, and in the case of policies surrounding gender that ideology is a gender binary and cisgender category. The third view of power is at play as socialization took a strong role in shaping an ideology that leaves out individuals and certain life experiences. Although challenging power dynamics are always at play, the democratic system attempts to combat them so that all voices will be heard and listened to, emphasis on attempts.


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