Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Parsley, Tarragon, Vitamin C - On Choice, Gender, and Not Throwing Trans Women Under the Bus

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I was fortunate to have a partner who was calm and able to offer uncomplicated emotional support; I think this can be difficult in relationships, regardless of our broader political beliefs. As a polyamorous person with a tendency toward jealousy and insecurity, I find that despite my desire for every person to have sovereignty over their own body and sexuality I have a hard time with my partners having total sexual autonomy. Along the same lines, I think it’s understandable that a person might fully support the right of pregnant people in general to make decisions about their bodies, but have more complex feelings about their partners’ choices.

But the experience of being a female-assigned person and feeling that your right to abortion is fully supported by a trans woman – or by a whole lot of trans women – is not an exceptional one. In struggles for reproductive freedom trans women are always present; always showing up at pro-choice rallies, posting and reposting all those articles and petitions, making patches and t-shirts, bringing a fierce heart-and-soul energy to reproductive justice activism. This brings me to the third reason I am writing this. I have grown up to be a mostly-cis woman, and there is something I need to say to predominately cis female communities: female assigned people have a tendency to see trans women as background singers in struggles for reproductive justice, as allies who aren’t really affected because they don’t have uteruses. This is something we are doing very, very wrong.

It isn’t surprising that trans women tend to bring it for choice in a seriously hard core way. Trans women know about having one’s reproduction and sexuality tossed around as political footballs and entertainment sensations. Trans women know about being slammed with the harshest judgements and stereotypes of women as stupid, as evil, as people who can’t be trusted. Trans women know about slut-shaming and objectification. Trans women know about victim-blaming. Trans women know about being told that your innate understanding of your body is incorrect, and that those decisions about your body are going to be given to an outside authority who doesn’t understand your experiences and or value as a human being. Even if those decisions lead to trauma. Even if they lead to death. Trans women know all of these things far, far better than anybody should have to.

The specific ways that reproductive and sexual control play out for trans women is not placed in the forefront of feminist activism. Forced sterilization, which typically impacts trans women, women of color, and women with disabilities far more than it impacts white temporarily able-bodied cisgender women, rarely gathers the fight that denial of abortion and birth control do. Trans women’s needs in reproductive and sexual health care are shoved to the back burner over and over again in feminist health care projects, while (ironically) many feminist health care providers work hard to include trans men. Cis-dominated feminist communities might spend a day feeling sad that trans women are murdered by both strangers and intimate partners at a staggering rate, perhaps even realizing that trans women are disproportionately incarcerated and disproportionately affected by HIV. They might even spend a few days or a week on this, perhaps even with speakers and visual aids. But what we’re missing is an everyday attitude that issues affecting trans women are part of feminism to the exact same degree that issues affecting cis women are. We’re missing fury that any woman’s body-sovereignty would be denied because of the way her body is shaped and misinterpreted by patriarchal authorities. We’re missing rage that any woman’s identity as a woman is ever called into question for the same reason.

And instead, we’re drawing battle lines that slice viciously through our communities. I’ve lost count of how many pro-choice essays, slogans and graphics I’ve seen over the past several months that equate womanhood with vaginas and uteruses. As Tobi Hill-Meyer explains, while these are typically thoughtless rather than malicious, they cause harm and spread misinformation. I think we’re building walls because we’re scared and threatened, and I think this makes sense. We want to envelope our communities and keep them safe. What this type of rhetoric does, though, is build a wall that leaves some of us outside, thrown away, exiled into enemy territory. This is wrong. It is not feminism.

It also isn’t going to work. Trickle-down doesn’t work in activism any more than it does in economics. As long as transmisogyny is allowed to flourish, attacks on femininity and gender variance will have a breeding ground. This affects everyone who is female, feminine, or gender variant. We need to start trying to make activism that floods up, that soaks and cradles and lifts up every one of us.

The reproductive rights crisis that we’re in right now is not just about uteruses and people who have them. Many of the specific tactics are pregnancy-focused, but at the root of the matter are cisgender men who think they have the right to control other people’s bodies. They think they should be able to control women’s bodies because women are too stupid, or too evil, or both, to be trusted with a choice. They think that trans people barely deserve basic healthcare and definitely don’t deserve respectful, choice-based care. They think that even when an organism is part of someone else’s body, built of their cells and energy, that somehow that other person’s knowledge and understanding of what is going on and what needs to happen next is up for debate and in need of their opinions. They think we don’t know what to do with our own fucking bodies.

We have a lot of work to do: stop slut-shaming, break down the barriers to reproductive choice, demand and defend body-sovereignty for every person regardless of their gender and their trans status. And it’s time to fully include transfeminism and trans women at the center of feminist activism. This means fully including trans women and their partners in sexual and reproductive healthcare and education. It means showing up when trans women are fighting laws that require trading reproductive capacity for gender recognition, and showing up when trans women are being denied transition-related care because some authority figure thinks that preserving their reproductive potential is more important than the care they know they need. It means fully including trans women in projects that support survivors of violence. It means being aware of the huge swaths of harm that transmisogyny causes, and addressing both the harm and its root causes as crucial projects of feminism. It means recognizing that trans women are women to the exact same degree that cis women are – and, of course, that trans female spectrum female-ish genderqueer people are as female-ish genderqueer people to the exact same degree that female-assigned female-ish genderqueer people are. It means knowing that feminism belongs to all of us equally. It means not leaving anyone behind.

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Source: Midnight Lyric

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