The Invention of Gender

Trans History You Never Learned in School

The story of trans people is as old as time — so why have we been written out of history books?

Thomas Page McBee
10 min readMar 8, 2021

--

When TIME magazine put Laverne Cox on their cover in 2014, (somewhat infamously) declaring that year “the transgender tipping point,” the notion that visibility itself leads to social change sparked a debate that’s, frankly, never stopped.

And for good reason: According to the HRC, 2020 was the deadliest year on record for violent deaths of trans people, with Black trans women disproportionately targeted. Meanwhile, anti-trans rhetoric has been increasingly normalized in “debates” in the US and the UK about the legal right of trans people to exist in public space and life, whether it’s a public bathroom or a playing field. This year a nationwide campaign of state bills with identical anti-trans language has been seen by many advocates as, in fact, a “coordinated attack” by conservative groups on the trans community.

All of this activity around a population that, according to GLAAD, makes up less than 3% of the US across age groups (earlier polling by the Williams Institute suggests an even lower number: .6%). Regardless, there is clearly a desperate panic driving the legislative violence against trans bodies, especially given the lack of evidence that trans people are disrupting the spaces we’re meant to be barred from (in fact, a 2018 UCLA study showed no link between trans-inclusion policies and increased bathroom safety risks).

Why? Because awareness — and, relatedly, “acceptance” — of trans life is on the rise, especially among younger people.

Why does this make some people so angry? Because we have labored under the false notion that binary gender identity based on genitalia is scientifically valid and “innate,” despite a rich history that tells us otherwise, for centuries.

Young people, liberated from that notion by the rise of trans visibility, are reflecting more gender diversity than any other generation in modern history. New

--

--

Thomas Page McBee

Writer exploring the relationship between gender, culture, and history. Most recent book: Amateur (Scribner). Essays/reporting: NYT, The Atlantic, GQ, more.