Book chapter

Transgender Law and Policy in the United States (2020)

in: Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics

Abstract

Transgender people have a complicated history in U.S. law and policy. Once thought of as a symptom of homosexuality, gender nonconformity has long been the subject of social disapprobation and legal sanction, including criminalization. Beginning in the 1950s, an emergent interest by the medical community in individuals suffering from "gender dysphoria" precipitated an identity politics primarily organized around a goal of access to competent medical care and treatment for transsexual individuals. In ways both significant and ironic, this medicalization both promoted a binary ideology of gender, most obvious in concepts like male-to-female or female-to-male transsexualism, and created space for more transformative concepts of gender fluidity and transgender identity to emerge. Long conceptualized as a kind of subsidiary of the gay and lesbian rights movement in the United States, a status that entailed considerable turmoil, the transgender movement, especially since the 1990s, has emerged as a vocal and relatively effective rights lobby in its own right. The advent of the Trump administration presents a pivotal moment that will likely test not only the durability of recent policy gains but also whether those gains can be expanded in any significant measure.