I’m noticing a really exciting trend in the tenor of discussions about reproductive rights: The acknowledgement that women aren’t the only people who need access to abortion services, and that not all women have the capability to get pregnant. These things are interrelated and they’re powerful statements about how we’re finally starting to shift social attitudes about gender, and they’re a sign that mainstream feminism is edging closer and closer towards actually accepting trans people, rather than just paying lip service to trans issues and claiming that it cares about the trans community.
Cis women are by far the largest social group who need reproductive health services related to pregnancy prevention and abortion. But not all women can get pregnant, and people who aren’t women can get pregnant too. Some men can and do get pregnant, intentionally and otherwise, and some nonbinary people are also perfectly capable of getting pregnant. They belong in any discussion about abortion because while anti-choice people are very focused on conservative notions of gender and femininity, and it’s important to discuss that, we also need to contextualise who is affected by such legislation, and the fact that it’s incredibly harmful to swaths of society who remain largely invisible.
Let’s be clear, here: If cis men were capable of getting pregnant, the right wouldn’t be so viciously opposed to abortion rights. If cis men were capable of getting pregnant, there would be an outcry about how they deserve to be able to control their bodies and make informed decisions about how, when, where, and whether they get pregnant, and there would be staunch social support for abortion on demand and without explanation or apology. Because that’s how society works. Society is sexist.
But society is also cissexist, and it’s very bound up in notions about gender that simply aren’t true — and it’s very specifically wrapped up in genital essentialism. Woman=vagina and man=penis, and women are fertile because they have eggs, while men are fertile because they have sperm. People don’t exist outside this binaristic framing. When we reduce abortion to an issue that just affects women, we do get at a huge swath of people who are targeted by anti-abortion legislation, and we also confront the fact that such legislation is rooted in misogyny.
But when we erase the fact that other people also can and do get pregnant, we’re perpetuating transphobia. And this is a huge, huge problem. Because lack of abortion protections harms people of all genders, and additionally makes it even harder for people who aren’t cis women to access abortion services. Trans-competent health care is extremely hard to find in the United States, particularly outside urban environments, particularly for people of colour. This means that some extremely vulnerable populations, like transgender men of colour, cannot access the basic reproductive health services they need — not just abortion care but paps and screenings, as well as discussions about managing pregnancy risks, depending on where they are in transition and where they’re going with transition.
To fight for abortion rights should perforce be about fighting for all people with the capacity for carrying a pregnancy to be able to get an abortion. And that includes a larger discussion about trans-competent health care. In states where only a handful of abortion clinics still exist, it’s really difficult for trans clients to get care. For those with more robust abortion options, it’s still hard for trans clients to seek services — medical transphobia is a very real problem and it’s one with potentially very serious consequences. We need to talk about the issue, and those consequences, when we’re fighting for abortion rights.
Historically, I saw a lot of very reductionist discussion about abortion, with cissexist definitions of who might need abortions. Then, as trans people pushed to broaden the discussion and incorporate discussions about trans-competent health care and the need for everyone to be able to access abortion, there was a lot of pushback. When feminists were asked to stop using gendered terms to refer to abortion and reproductive justice, they were furious, and many made hateful, transphobic comments to bring that home for their critics — these kinds of attitudes are exactly why I’m not a feminist. The persistent denial of people demanding an intersectional approach to reproductive justice was vile and stomach-churning.
But in recent months, I’m seeing a radical shift. It’s not just the feminists working in solidarity with other communities who are starting to change their language. It’s starting to be more and more common for people to use less gendered terms to talk about reproductive justice. It’s starting to be an acknowledgement that ‘yes all genders, including men,’ when it comes to challenging notions about reproductive rights and fighting for bodily autonomy.
This heartens me, because it shows that when enough people fight — sometimes seeing the fight through, sometimes handing off the baton, but always keeping up pressure — sometimes it does make a difference. Some try to argue that these kinds of discussions are just internecine fighting that damage the larger movement and draw focus away from ‘the bigger picture,’ but on the contrary, they force shifts that lead to a better movement overall, and to a bigger picture that benefits everyone, because liberation for some is justice for none. To admit that abortion isn’t just a ‘women’s issue’ is to admit that trans people are human beings, and is to build solidarity with the trans community. We’ve been waiting for you to treat us as equals, and we’re still waiting, but this is one small piece of a very large and important puzzle.
Image: Rally against the CCBR’s anti-abortion caravan at the Vancouver Art Gallery, Sylvia McFadden, Flickr