Pro-Choice but Trans-Exclusionary
The news from Georgia this morning is sickening. A back-door abortion ban has been passed, and those seeking abortions face new, unfair punishment for travelling for one or even miscarrying. It is anxiety inducing to the privileged, and life threatening to the marginalized. While we may all feel we have had the air knocked out of us by the headlines, a second punch awaits those of us who are transgender, gender non-conforming, and nonbinary: the wave of terf talk that inevitably follows.
Speaking and writing about reproductive rights as an advocate against the gender binary is challenging and risky—it seems impossible to avoid stepping on some toes. Is now the right time to start policing cis women’s language, when so many of them are already feeling threatened and marginalized? I am not the first or last person to feel erased by the discourse surrounding reproductive rights, and I am certainly not the most disadvantaged person in this situation. I’ve had the privilege of studying gender and women’s issues in an academic environment, and I also have the privilege of being transgender, nonbinary, and living in a body that can (probably) get pregnant. I am writing and thinking from a place of privilege; I am in college, able-bodied, white, and cis-passing to name a few.
Yet, I am also marginalized; when people speak about “women’s reproductive rights” and “women’s bodily autonomy,” they are often including and gendering me without my consent. Worse, they are often ignoring the existence and activism of trans women. I am dragged into this conversation against my will, but trans women are locked out despite the fact that they too are denied reproductive and sexual healthcare at alarming rates on the basis of gender. The complication is exposed: I do not need to take up space in a conversation about women’s experiences whereas trans women and femmes desperately do, yet I am forced in and they are forced out.
But since I am here, I have to say for the billionth time: Having a uterus does not make someone a woman. Not all women have uteruses, and not all people with uteruses are women. There are too many of us to be ignored. Women are not the only people who get abortions; abortions are not just for women.
As a former young terf myself, I understand that the fighting women vs clueless, controlling, lawmaking men narrative is easy and satisfying to promote and accept. Certainly, there is some truth in it: many lawmakers do seem clueless as to how some reproductive systems work. They understand that forcing people to carry pregnancy to term and care for children is a way to control them. But there is more nuance to the situation - the lawmakers in question today are more than just men. They are cis and white, among other things, which can not be ignored in this conversation. Viewing the battle for reproductive rights through the narrow lens of cis, mostly white women’s suffering is ignorant in the most literal sense, because they make up a minority of the people impacted by this legislation. What abortion bans actually do is further empower those already in control.
When something like yesterday’s news happens, it sets off a long domino effect of punching down. (For those unfamiliar with the term, “punching up” is being aggressive to or taking a jab at someone with more privilege than you, while “punching down” is doing the same to someone with less privilege than yourself) The tsunami of transphobic language that many cis women often unknowingly resort to when discussing abortion and reproductive rights is crushing and emotionally draining trans folks like myself, who have little representation and very few with political power to fight for us, let alone acknowledge us in their vocabulary.
The grand irony of the entire situation is that the bioessentialist gender binary is what got us into this mess in the first place. This is not to place the blame on all cis women—I believe it rests quite soundly on the shoulders of our lawmakers—but to suggest that perpetuating the binary will not get us out of this. Yes, it must be acknowledged that the reason reproductive rights are at risk is because they are largely seen as a women’s issue, and women are undervalued and underestimated by our society. The layer beyond that, though, is that both the legislation and its opposition are still playing by a set of rules and narrative that abide by the biology based binary, ultimately upholding the foundation of the initial problem. This is a gender-based issue, but framing it in a binary and bioessentialist way only creates and compounds other gender-based issues.
To all people I see using this terf talk: we cannot help you or join you until you choose to see and include us. Not because we won’t, but because you aren’t letting us. I need you to let go of the future being female, and to consider that the future could instead be free from the constructs of assigned sex and predetermined gender. This is not to say that I want a bland and genderless future, but that I want, as badly as you do, a future where we are not defined or limited by our biology.