The New York Times cites a memo sent out from the Health and Human Services to the government departments of Education, Justice, and Labor to officially classify gender: “The sex listed on a person's birth certificate, as originally issued, shall constitute definitive proof of a person's sex unless rebutted by reliable genetic evidence.” This classification is expected to go into effect by year's end – the upshot being that a reported 1.4 million transgender Americans will not be protected from bias in federal programs such as health care and education.

Unequal under the law

Reacting to the directive, Catherine E. Lhamon, who helped formulate transgender protections in the Obama administration, told the Times, “This takes a position that what the medical community understands about their patients — what people understand about themselves — is irrelevant because the government disagrees.” Certainly, Attorney General Jeff Sessions does. According to the Times, he noted in a memo last October that civil rights laws that ban job discrimination don't cover ”gender identity, per se.”

Gender fluidity is an old story

The way the Trump team is moving to undo the Obama administration's transgender protections - especially making it known two weeks before the midterms - you'd think that it sees gender identity issues as a creation of liberals.

In that case, they should read some art history. Such Issues are at least as old as the Seven Hills of Rome, dating back to 1st century B.C. Consider the life-size marble sculpture on view at the Louvre known as Sleeping Hermaphroditos. Copies can also be seen in the Vatican, the Uffizi in Florence and the Hermitage in Russia.

A myth that transcends reality

According to Greek myth, the figure was born the son of Hermes and Aphrodite who sought to ward off the advances of the nymph Salmacis by asking Zeus to merge their bodies. This is a little like the Bible story of Eve being formed with a part of Adam. The sight of a curvaceous female with male genitalia in the sculpture was commonplace in ancient Rome.

And when unearthed in 1608, it was so coveted by Cardinal Scipione Borghese that he reserved a room for it in his villa and commissioned sculptor great Gian Lorenzo Bernini to carve a mattress for it on which to lay. The sculpture was so meaningful to the cognoscenti that art historian Kenneth Clark's claimed in his 1956 “Study of Ideal Form” that it inspired Diego Velasquez' celebrated painting Rokeby Venus.

Facts of life

More art world greats got into the act when Spain's leading painter of the 17th-century, Jusepe de Ribera, pictured the full-length The Bearded Woman (Magdalena Ventura with her husband and infant) in 1639. While both the male and female figures are bearded, one clearly is suckling an infant.

Magdalena Ventura was an actual person in Ribera's day who bore three sons. Clearly, the artist respected his subject by portraying her looking forthrightly at viewers with solemn dignity. The painting currently hangs at the Hospital de Tavera in Toledo. When the Trump team aims to overlook 1.4 million Americans, ignoring all of human history seems a bridge too far even for him.

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