Why I’m pro trans and pro choice

I’ll start by owning a mistake I’ve made more than once in the past, and am trying not to make again: I once thought the pro-choice position only applied to cis women. In fact, at the peak of my making this silly mistake over and over, I didn’t even know the word “cis”, so I kept thinking it was all about “women”–for a certain, cissexist construction of woman. Then I opened my eyes.

Curating the Dear Nadine Dorries project* helped a fair bit, as letters came in from people who were not cis women. Sitting the fuck down and listening helped a hell of a lot more. My understanding developed a lot, and began to coalesce into a more coherent, and more inclusive pro-choice stance.

At its core, pro-choice is all about bodily autonomy. It’s about the freedom to do what you want with your body, and to ensure access to, and safety within medical procedures to achieve these goals. These aims dovetail incredibly neatly with the struggle against cissexism. For example, access to necessary healthcare for trans people is often impeded: sadly, feminism has a lot to do with that, which is why it’s our mess to clean up. This trend of denying access to healthcare translates into some very real consequences for reproductive freedom: there are still 24 countries in Europe which require trans people to be sterilised. Even if one adopts the position that pro-choice is only about reproductive rights, compulsory sterilisation of trans people is definitely a pro-choice issue.

And if we narrow our focus further, and decide that being pro-choice is only about abortion rights, then it’s still necessary to care about trans people. It’s not just (some) cis women who have uteruses, and the sooner we recognise that, the better. Intrinsically linking the capacity to get pregnant with womanhood is not just cissexist, but it’s actually quite misogynistic. Biological essentialism is the rhetoric which has been keeping a hell of a lot of people down for millennia. Biological essentialism is the root of misogynistic bullshit from the concept of “hysteria”, for the enforcement of social roles, for the way preventative healthcare often treats cis women of a certain age as “pre-pregnant”, for every time a sexist asks if you’re cross because you’re on the rag. Biological essentialism is the fuel that feeds cissexism and the fuel that feeds misogyny, and drives the two to interact and smack down some people. Truly, it would be liberating for those of us who get fucked over by cissexist patriarchy if we freed ourselves from the notion that woman and womb are anything to do with each other.**

The more inclusive we are as a movement, the more of us there are. And the more of us there are, the stronger we are as a force to be able to achieve our intrinsically-related goals, and ultimately overthrow the system that has been keeping us down. However, all of this hinges on inclusivity as a movement.

Trans and genderqueer activists have presented a very simple request, asking to improve the language we use when advocating on pro-choice issues. What needs to happen is to avoid equating uteruses with women. The fiddly bit here is the aforementioned millennia of social conditioning under capitalist patriarchy, which has unfortunately shaped the way we talk about such things. But this is nothing that cannot be cured without a bit of thoughtfulness. For example, instead of saying “woman”, think about to whom you’re referring. Are you talking about an issue that affects pregnant people? Why not go with “pregnant people”? That level of specificity is important both for challenging cissexism (it’s not only women who can get pregnant) and also misogyny (because fucking hell, we’re not always pregnant). Think about what you mean–what you actually mean. And get creative. Challenge it where you see it, and advocate for providers to use more inclusive language (there’s a petition you can sign). Oh, and if you ever see me slip up, call me the fuck out. Please.

Being pro choice and pro trans is a win-win situation. In developing solidarity between related struggles, we only become stronger, and better able to fight the constant stream of assaults on bodily autonomy.

Further reading:

Commit to being #ProTransProChoice

The fight for bodily autonomy is on multiple fronts! (trans is not a noun)

_

*This is still open, and will be open forever, and please submit if you feel like it!

**Apart from sharing a few letters, and the latter being  a character shorter than the former. This is literally why my email address has “womb” rather than “woman” in it, and I now look at it with the faint embarrassment as I do with all of the Hotmail addresses containing Nirvana lyrics I had when I was 14.


17 responses to “Why I’m pro trans and pro choice

  • Mechalith

    Personally I’m pro-choice for two main reasons:

    1) It’s not my body, so really I shouldn’t get a vote on what you want to do with it.

    and

    2) I don’t think a hypothetical-eventual-person trumps the rights and needs of the actual person who is gestating it.

    The second point is only really relevant because I can understand the views of people who are against elective abortion on the basis that they feel it is homicide/murder. I disagree vehemently with their position, but I can sympathize with it a bit.

    To the degree I am pro-trans (it’s a difficult issue for me): ‘It’s not my body, so really I shouldn’t get a vote on what you want to do with it.’ I’ve got no right to dictate to someone else’s identity to them, nor to decide what they do with their own body.

    I have trouble with a lot of the social trappings and processes surrounding gender issues, but that’s my personal baggage and I do my best to be an asshole.

    • Nancyblackett13

      “Trans” is an umbrella label which was invented by Press for change and includes “transvestite, transsexual trangender”.
      This is a form of psychological rape for those of us who knew we were female as small children

      • Nancyblackett13

        Furthermore, in my experience this has noting to do with “gender” or wanting to play a particular “female role”. The shrinks still go on about this. What is the female role?

        • Nancyblackett13

          Thank you for approving my comments. I get very upset & angry

          about this as thirty years ago the objective was to overcome the problem & simply be oneself amongst other women. I had personally sorted out the kind of girl I wanted to be wheb I was seven after reading Swallows and Amazons: Nancy Blackett, female pirate.

          I wonder if that what the shrinks mean by the “female role”?

          • Nancyblackett13

            I also get upset because I know this is a physical problem in my case and many others. There are all kinds of conditions like Kleinfelters and AIS which affect people.

            There are real issues that we have in common with other women such as abuse by male shrinks and doctors.

            They have no understanding of us at all. I got into a twitter battle with David Batty last year because I said I wanted to be dealt with by a woman rather than a gay man. He accused me of being “homophobic much”. This is rubbish. I would try to understand a gay man but would never have as much insight as another gay man would

  • Anne

    {Mod note: this post contains biological essentialist language. Feel free to skip reading it if you want. I approved it only so I could answer it}
    I’m curious to know your theory about the causes of patriarchy and societal misogyny, if you don’t think these are in some way rooted in a fear of, and a need to control, female biology.

    The people who are arguing that things like abortion and reproductive freedom should be understood as women’s issues are not reducing women to their reproductive functions. They are not saying that reproduction is all that women are about. But what they are saying is that if you are going to properly understand woman-hating, you’ve got to recognise the roots this has in female biology, and the need felt by individual men as well as patriarchal society more broadly to control this. Indeed, much of the hatred levelled at trans women has its roots in a hatred of femaleness, which explains why trans women often experience greater oppression and stigmatisation than trans men experience.

    I’m interested to know how you conceptualise misogyny and patriarchy, if not in this way.

    • stavvers

      OK, so you’re using some hella essentialist language, which is linked in with a patriarchal (and often very west-centric) view of an “ancestral environment”.

      Let’s start by pointing out that “female biology” is a nonsense that even science is moving away from. What you’re talking about here, I presume, is having a functional uterus and vagina. So let’s look at it that way, instead.

      Now let’s dispel the notion that the desire to control based on this and this alone. We could look in the direction of other cultures at the dawn of humanity who revered those who gave birth. Or we could look at how this control doesn’t just happen to those who reproduce: elderly women, little girls, and so on. Misogyny hits women of all ages. It’s related to reproduction, perhaps, but to declare that the root of everything is to ignore the many interlinking issues.

      Hope that helps!

      • Anne

        I’m not really sure which parts of my language is essentialist. Yes, I believe there is such thing as “female biology”, but I’m not sure how that constitutes essentialism, since I haven’t made any claims about how that biology determines behaviour. I’m also surprised by the idea that to talk of female biology is nonsense. Perhaps you could point me to some of the science that has moved away from that idea? I had assumed that it was accurate to speak of male and female biology because human beings are not special in this regard. Certainly all mammals are divided into two sex categories, based on reproductive function.

        As for your latter point, I didn’t suggest that the desire to control female reproduction was the sole cause of misogyny, only that it is a pivotal part in it, and I think it’s very difficult to make sense of patriarchy without it. You might disagree, but in that case you presumably have an alternative account of the roots of this. That’s what I was hoping you could tell me, but you didn’t answer that.

        • stavvers

          That’s because I don’t believe in evolutionary just-so stories.

          • Anne

            I wasn’t asking for an evolutionary story. I was asking for any theory of patriarchy at all. If you don’t think it’s rooted in the need to control female biology, where does it come from?

        • Nancyblackett13

          Actually, you are quite wrong about mammals being divided into two sex categories based on biological function.

          As Lord Winston pointed out during the readings of the Gender Recognition Mess 2004, the definition of sex is very complicated and it is possibel to be born with a condition like Complete Androgen Insenstivity Syndrome when you are born with a vagina and testes in the place of ovaries.

          Quite a few models have that as the women tend to be tall and slim.

          • Nancyblackett13

            I personally knew at the age of eleven that there was something odd about my central nervous system and something in my brain made me instinctually expect to have female bits and be penetrated. It was horrific and torture.

            When I hear these people going on about how they think they are women because they like washing up and cooking it makes me cringe. Its just a stereotype; I hate washing up and housework.

    • mhairi

      The assumption of having a functional uterus is to my mind the basis on which females are assigned at birth and gendered as (pre-) women. I think someone (who I cant remember off hand) called this being “natally pinked”. I agree with Anne that this assumption is the basis of patriarchy, although I wouldnt classify it as hatred but the desire to control the production of future labour units.

      People are sexed as female on the basis of the assumption of a functional uterus, gendered as girls/women on the basis of that sex-assignation, and then demanded on that gendering to fulfil the patriarchal purpose of producing future labour units.

      If you look through history, women who cant or wont fulfil their natal sexing as the producers of future labour have been targetted heavily. “Barren” women were killed as witches and slave women who refused to reproduce were murdered. IMHO a lot of the hostility to trans women is based on this, in that they are useless for the patriarchal purpose that has been assigned to women – that is to conceive, gestate and birth future labour units.

      You are right to some extent that pro-choice extends beyond cis women (or alternatively people with a functional uterus) as part of wider reproductive rights and extending further to bodily autonomy, but I do think that there is a core there which is a cis women issue.

      I suspect (although I don’t know and I may be wrong) that trans men are likely to find it easier to obtain an abortion if they need one (and are also more likely to be pressurised into an abortion that they do not want) as men having babies doesn’t fit with patriarchal expectations. Infertile cis women are also socially pressured into intrusive and expensive interventions to “fix” them, while fertile cis women are routinely refused sterilisation.

      Techological developments I suspect tho, will bring trans issues more into the fore with reproductive rights – I note that 9 swedish cis women have recently been given womb transplants. Although all have functioning ovaries, as far as I can see there this isn’t a necessary requirement as the transplanted womb is not connected to the fallopian tubes (conception is done with IVF), so I suspect that womb implants for trans women may become a possibility in the near future.

      http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-25716446

  • bette

    Just a footnote to the current debate to ask you a serious question: why are you accepting a platform from Feminist Times when they are in bed with notorious transphobe Julie Burchill (sister in law of Raven the ‘editor’) and have taken her money to stay afloat? Didn’t she also say recently that sex workers should be shot?

  • aliw40

    There is (perhaps) another reason why the pro-choice fight absolutely has to be trans* inclusive, and I raise this point because I have seen (white cis) feminists talk about how anti-choice rhetoric is essentially an attack on women, and that regardless of how anti-choice laws – or potential laws – affect abortion/reproductive rights, that’s the most important thing.

    Which is frankly bollocks (and which I know won’t be a popular view). As a youngster (late teens/early twenties) I was briefly involved with the SPUC (the reasons for which I won’t go in to here). One of the things that caused me to move away from, and eventually abandon both that group and ‘pro-life’ views was one single, solitary, unspoken view: they *simply do not care* about the person carrying the baby. The personhood of the pregnant individual is utterly irrelevant because they *only* see the argument in terms of ‘killing babies’. (And my apologies if that phrase is triggering – if you need to amend it, not a problem).

    Yes, I am talking about the most virulent, spittle flecked, anti-choice extremist for the most part, but frankly that attitude permeates anti-choicer’s views, whether they admit to it or not.

    Anti-choicer’s couldn’t give a rat’s arse if the person carrying the baby is cis, or trans* because they only see them as a vessel. Nothing more, and nothing less.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: