What’s the Harm in “Female-Bodied”?

Guest post by America Yamaguchi

[CN: sexual assault]


“Female-bodied” is a term that is endlessly harmful.

It reduces cisgender women to their uterus. While childbearing is a massively important component of patriarchal harm, it goes far beyond that. It is also harmful to insist that childbearing or a uterus is what makes a woman a woman, both to trans people of all genders, and to cisgender women who are infertile for any reason. It compounds a major source of psychological distress to cis women who cannot have children. By the standards of “female-bodied” to mean the uterine body plan, a cisgender woman who is missing any aspect or has a dysfunction by any part, is bound to feel like less of a woman. Thus, this term directly attacks the womanhood of a variety of cis women as well as trans women.

“Female-bodied” harms nonbinary people endlessly. I have a uterus. However, I am not a woman. To have the term “female-bodied” forced on me forces a lot of mental and emotional distress on me. A lot. It causes physical and mental pain. I’ve had panic attacks, asthma attacks, episodes of intense nausea or other digestive distress. It has triggered migraines and agoraphobia episodes where I can’t even leave my bedroom to pee, so I hold it. For 12 hours or more. This, one might be aware, is really bad for a uterine person’s very short urethra. Being called “female-bodied” takes sex off the table for me and my partner for at least a day or two. Being told that childbearing and infertility is a woman’s issue erases my current struggle of deciding if I can handle my PMDD by going off the pill in order to get pregnant. I wonder if I can handle pregnancy physically because of my disabilities. I may not be a woman, or female, but I have a uterus, and a right to use it. While some doctors need to know I have a uterus, not all of them do. And, honestly, only being allowed to check “male” or “female” at the office hurts; “Uterus or Testes or Other” would be far more appropriate pieces of information to a doctor who needs that information anyways if one actually needs, especially since biological variation among what you are calling “male” and “female” is often great enough to make those terms useless. Consider people born without a uterus (link uses cissexist language), or intersex people, or people born with testicles that remain in the body, requiring treatment. Dozens of realities of human bodies demonstrate that “male-bodied” and “female-bodied” are artificial categories that impose a construct on nature, rather than reading from it.

Furthermore, nobody who is trans is trying to claim abortion is a “man’s issue.” It is a human issue. Men are also affected by opposition to abortion, but it is absolutely true that the people hardest hit by opposition to abortion are people capable of pregnancy. But let’s think about the major groups that this comprises:

  • Cisgender women
  • Transgender men
  • Nonbinary uterine people

While trans men and nonbinary people make up a distinct minority, they still exist. I know a trans man who was raped, and became pregnant. He was forced to carry the child to term, and while he loves the child, he cannot bear to be around the child.

Transgender people are the single most targeted group for sexual assault, meaning my friend is not a rare story among the demographic. But if you were to call him female-bodied at that point, consider how intensely horrible that is. Consider how that erases the cause of his assault by denying his gender. We do not want to erase the experience of any sexual assault victim.

And yet, by using the word “female-bodied,” we erase his.

Chances are, if you defend the term “female-bodied,” you won’t care what I have said to you. I’ve seen how people who defend “female-bodied” react to hearing about the trans experience, and you’ve already effectively told trans women that their value in a conversation that is quite honestly about protecting their lives (Reminder: trans women of color are the most likely to be raped, are extremely likely to be murdered, have an attempted suicide rate of 50%, and have an average life expectancy of 35) is nothing to you.

Feminism, back before gender broke out of the binary, back before it was even possible to transition medically, started as a movement to be heard.

“Hear us,” cis women said. “Listen to us. Our experiences, not how men view our experiences.”

That’s all trans people want. We want cisgender people to stop telling us what does and what does not oppress us, just like early cis women feminists wanted men to stop telling them to be happy with what they had, that their roles were set to somehow be good for them.

After all, women are only “useful” as mothers and homemakers.

And “female-bodied” is useful in the same way.

AKA: it’s not.

What’s the Harm in “Female-Bodied”?