by Sara Onitsuka
AFO Content Writer
CW: abortion, trans/non-binary/intersex erasure & exclusionary messages
This year, after the appointment of Brett Kavanaugh added another conservative to the Supreme Court, a massive wave of anti-abortion laws hit multiple states. These states included Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Ohio, Georgia, Missouri, Kentucky, Arkansas, Utah, and Iowa. Though these states are all at different stages of passing and enforcing their respective bills, they nevertheless endanger folks within those states, and threaten to overturn Roe v. Wade in the Supreme Court.
Initially, it was hopeful to see that people took notice. Celebrities such as Rihanna, Alyssa Milano, Lady Gaga, and countless private citizens immediately took to social media to speak out against these new laws. Across multiple platforms, at least on my timelines, these posts were impossible to miss. Folks sharing posts for awareness and donating to organizations like The Yellowhammer Fund and other abortion fund organizations associated with the National Network of Abortion Funds were well-intentioned, important, and necessary.
But there was a real problem with many of the posts being shared - most messages were centered solely on cis women. "Women should have the right to choose;" "women's rights are human rights;" "men shouldn't be making laws about women's bodies" - it was obvious that other genders were being forgotten in this issue. This is not a new issue with abortion, but rather reflects the failure of the mainstream reproductive justice movement to be inclusive and remember that transgender, non-binary, and intersex people exist.
But I'm here to say that transgender, non-binary, and intersex folks MUST be included in abortion and reproductive justice discussions. Not merely as an afterthought, but as a focus.
I know this statement is not new, and I am not the first one to say it. I am often hesitant to write on current events for this reason, because I feel that everyone else is already making the point better than I could, and that I don't have anything meaningful to add to the conversation. But I am trying to push my self-doubt to the side, because my current frustration and urge to be heard is louder than the voice telling me it's already been said before. People need to hear it, as many times as necessary, until it sinks in.
So let me repeat: Transgender, non-binary, and intersex folks MUST be included in abortion and reproductive justice discussions.
And let me explain why, because it was clear to me after scrolling through weeks of exclusionary posts that this viewpoint is not as widely accepted as it should be. I won't go as far to say this is a plea, but I am asking folks to see me.
First, from my personal perspective as a non-binary/genderqueer person who can get pregnant, I don't think cis people posting solely about women understand just how jarring and awful it feels to everyone else who is affected by this issue. Abortion discourse that only includes women is erasure, yes, but it is more than that. It feels heavier than that. When I read things about abortion and women, I am certainly sad that I am not included. But the worst feeling comes when the assumption is made by cis people that I should fit myself back into the identity of woman, which I am not comfortable doing. It feels not merely like a passive erasure, but an active misgendering. Over and over and over. It's like they're saying, "if you relate to this post, you must be a woman."
I really struggle with my identity and in being firm with the people in my life and the language they use. I am not comfortable correcting people yet. Many days I don't feel valid or non-binary enough. But this time has been doubly traumatic for me and other folks who can get pregnant and don't identify as women. Not only do we have to process the horrific anti-abortion news, but we also have to expend so much energy and time telling people that we exist and we are not women, and that hurts.
Secondly, I think people generally believe that because transgender, non-binary, and intersex folks are a small minority compared to cis women, it's acceptable to forget them in these conversations. Issues within reproductive justice are often labeled "women's issues," and sure, statistically the rest of us are a smaller population than cis women. But that doesn't matter. The percentage of people doesn't matter. Movements must, must center the most marginalized people within them, to continue fighting for everyone in the community and not settle for basic rights for the most privileged. Otherwise, incremental progress is made, but the progress does not reach the folks on the bottom. An example of this is that in the queer community, cis white gays celebrate the right to marry, while Black trans women face such high rates of violence that it is a national crisis. In the fight for the right to an abortion, this includes other marginalized genders, people of color, and poor and disabled folks as well. All of these communities have been enduring near constant attacks by the Trump administration, with much less publicity than when cis white women are attacked. But the full liberation of cis white women, and all groups of people, is dependent on the liberation of marginalized groups - we will not be free until the most marginalized among us are free, a perspective shared and repeated by Fannie Lou Hamer, Martin Luther King Jr., Aboriginal activist groups, and many others. And these tiny bits of progress make people complacent. After even a small win, people are comforted into thinking that they don't need to fight as hard anymore. This is dangerous, because it allows those in power to give us the barest scraps of freedom and still maintain control. As we have now seen, they can take it away just like that.
Perhaps this is harsh. Perhaps many people don't want to hear this. Some may wonder, why can't I just suck it up and join the cause? Why can't I simply go along with the crowd and use the term "women" to describe myself this once, for the sake of a united community?
The concept of unity is flawed in itself. It is often just erasure that forces marginalized people to cater to dominant narratives. In this scenario, the only people sacrificing anything are those who are erased. It is cis women, and others who subscribe to this ideology, demanding that other marginalized genders contort themselves to meet them, and it should be the other way around. Whoever has the privilege should put in the effort.
I realize it is an inconvenience to have to use language like "people who can get pregnant," "pregnant people," "people with a uterus," etc, which I admit is a little clunky and definitely not as easy as "women." It is also easy to forget people who you don't see very often, who you don't interact with, who are a minority. But liberation will not come at the expense of the marginalized. Liberation work is not convenient. And I will not fit myself in the box of "women" in the name of so-called unity. Neither should anyone else. No one should expect us to.