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.
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.