Temple Professor Pens Book on Gender Identity

BY: ALEX WEAVER

With an undergraduate degree from Harvard and a PhD from Princeton, Temple Professor Heath Fogg Davis holds all the credentials needed to be a respected scholar.

Davis’s soon-to-be published book, “Beyond Trans: Does Gender Matter?,” looks at sex classification laws and policies, and their relevance in today’s society. Not only does Davis have the academic experience required for this research; he also holds a personal connection.

Davis is a transgender man who made his transition around 2008. He says his personal identity gives him a little more insight into his research. Davis considers himself a part of a broader spectrum when it comes to transgender issues.

“The questions of personal identity have to do with individuals and their own kind of narrative,” Davis said. “I don’t think there’s one specific narrative that goes along with being trans.”

With this philosophy in mind, Davis’s book doesn’t take any extreme stances. Rather than advocate for a genderless society, Davis questions whether gender is relevant in certain situations.

“We should get rid of a lot of our gender policies, and when we deem it fit to institute such policies, I think that businesses, schools, and organizations need to do a much better job of explaining to people why they’re asking people to check a gender box,” Davis said.

In his book, Davis analyzes four case studies where he believes gender does not play a relevant role: government issued identification documents (such as driver’s licenses and passports), the use of public restrooms, single sex colleges, and sex segregation in sports.

This is the second book Davis has written. His 2002 piece, “The Ethics of Transracial Adoption,” looked at the issue of white people adopting African American children from an anti-discrimination law perspective.

Similar to his research, Davis’s teaching focuses on anti-discrimination law, along with policies having to do with anti-racism and sexism. He taught at the University of Wisconsin-Madison for six years before coming to Temple.

“The Temple job opportunity came along and I jumped at it because I love Philadelphia and I wanted to be back at the east coast,” Davis said.   

Davis’s involvement with the transgender narrative goes beyond his research and teaching. He was recently selected to serve on the Philadelphia Mayor’s Commission on LGBT Affairs. Davis is one of 23 members who will “advise the mayor on policies that support the lives of LGBT individuals in the city and support and amplify the work of the Office of LGBT Affairs.”

The commission was recently formed and has only met twice, but its members are working on sorting their priorities and reaching out to the community.

Davis is optimistic about the future of trans rights, emphasizing that an act of congress is not required to create change.