Discussions about reproductive rights have played a central role in gender equality movements around the world and through history. With Trump in the office and conservative voices still taking up much space in human rights dialogues everywhere today, with abortion still being illegal in Ireland and other countries around the world, reproductive rights are still a major issue that concerns feminism and its intersections with the LGBT, class, disability, and race movements.
However, discussions about reproductive rights around the world are still quite cisnormative and centered solely around women’s experience. That isn’t to say of course that reproductive rights aren’t a huge issue that affects women, but they aren’t only a women’s issue.
Trans men and other transmasculine and non-binary people who have a reproductive system that can possibly bear a child are not only directly affected by all laws concerning reproduction and choice, but they have also immensely helped in the respective movements through the ages, often going unmentioned and their work unacknowledged.
Trans men very often need to end an unwanted pregnancy literally in order to survive the dysphoria, because they may not be financially able to support a new family, or simply because they are not ready to have a child, same as many cis people. Non-binary people need access to contraception methods just as much as cis women do, and need their insurance to cover the costs, especially considering the high unemployment and poverty rates for trans people. For many trans people, an unwanted pregnancy may be extremely traumatic, and an abortion might save their life.
Trans men, women, and non-binary people, should all have the right to start a family if they chose to, but it remains extremely difficult for a pre-transitioning or transitioning trans person to have sufficient access to information and services that concern fertility and reproductive health. In addition, pro-choice faculties might be essential for a trans person to access hormone replacement therapy.
Indeed, apart from abortion and contraception, fertility and pregnancy are also issues that are extremely important for the lives of many people with the potential to reproduce, but they are not discussions that we are having anywhere near enough. There are many trans people who wish to have children but accurate information and reproductive services, including egg freezing and sperm banking before starting medical transition remain inaccessible, unaffordable and uncovered by insurance, and rendered much more complicated than they are for cis people wishing to reproduce. Having children is a huge dream for many people, and no one should be deprived of the right to start a family. We need to speak up about these issues, if we wish for our reproductive justice movement to be intersectional and inclusive of all identities, bodies and experiences.
Trans people also need access to medical services necessary for maintaining their health, such as ultrasounds and pap smears, as well as proper sexual education. Boycotting the work of pro-choice organizations and services also means boycotting those types of medical services. We need legal, affordable access to healthcare – it’s an issue that affects all of us.
The problem is that almost every action and discussion we have within reproductive rights movements is trans-exclusionary. The public dialogue, no matter which side we’re focusing on, more-often-than-not refers to reproductive rights as an issue that solely concerns women, if we view women as being a monolithic category – cisgender. Reproductive rights are not only a women’s issue. Many women can’t bear a child, and many men and non-binary people can, because of their different anatomies that do not and should not determine their gender identities.
Having our discussions that way, we exclude, erase, and render invisible so many people who have pretty much helped shape this movement from backstage, we fail to acknowledge their voluntary contribution and their needs. What’s more, by equating people who are not women to the term “women” may be a cause of intense dysphoria that negatively affects trans people’s mental health.
It is extremely important to raise awareness so that health providers know how to use the correct pronouns and names for their patients. It is essential that professionals are properly trained, but that can only happen after the activist community itself becomes more inclusive when it comes to representation in its demands, discussions, and projects. It’s vital to include in the discourse the various needs that trans people have added to their reproductive health, including dysphoria, mental health and medical transition. It’s also vital to remember that there are not only two genders, and to include non-binary, as well as binary trans people in our rhetoric and actions.
It’s important to not use the word “women” as an umbrella term to describe all people who need pap smears or abortions, because not all these people are women. It’s very problematic to equate people and their gender identity to their body parts. Adopting gender-neutral language for official paperwork, public speeches, slogans and in the media is also vital. It’s very easy to refer to “pregnant people” instead of “pregnant women”, and no cis women lose any of their rights in the process of doing so. In fact, the quality of health services for cis women will only improve if it becomes more inclusive.
The women’s marches that were tremendously successful and took place after Trump’s inauguration were full of cissexist language and signs that equated women to ovaries and vaginas. This trans-exclusionary type of feminism is not what we need.
The fight for reproductive rights, human equality and bodily autonomy, intersects with the trans movement, class equality movements, and other cultural and social movements, and is a crucial path we need to cross in order to stop the systemic dehumanization of trans people.
We all need to actively include trans people in our reproductive rights rhetoric, simply because it is an issue that affects all of us. The point is not to deny women the focus they deserve in discussions about sexism, but to include everyone who is affected by certain social injustices in a complex discussion about human rights.