Ophelia Benson recently harassed an abortion doctor who used inclusive language when advocating for abortion rights on Twitter. It’s pretty rich: a supposed champion for women’s rights decided it was far more important to pester an abortion doctor for using the term “pregnant people” than defend her against the howling anti-choice crowd attacking her for providing pregnant women, trans men, and non-binary people with a functional uterus. You can see the whole sordid exchange here.
As a cis woman with a (probably) functional reproductive system: No, Ophelia. You’re not doing a thing to help me avoid being forced to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term. Abortion doctors using inclusive language doesn’t set women’s rights back a bit. Having trans rights included with mine doesn’t hurt me – it helps. If we could see trans people as people with full rights to bodily autonomy, it would be easier for everyone to see women as people with those rights, too. So let’s just get that clear right now.
People like Ophelia do more harm than good. Cis women like me aren’t going to get better and shinier rights by shitting all over trans people. We’re not going to better protect abortion rights by denying a place at the table for trans folk who are in need of reproductive services. All it does is further harms a minority that’s already quite harmed enough. Women have a rough time getting the reproductive care they need, true. Trans men and non-binary people with female-assigned reproductive organs run into the same obstacles we do, and then have to deal with even more barriers to care:
Other transmen [sic] have reported considerable anxiety when seeking gynecological care due to concerns about reactions from both providers and frontline medical staff (Hussey, 2006) and difficulty accessing gynecological care (Xavier et al., 2013), which may reduce their use of cancer screening and therefore increase cancer risk, and that both providers and staff may refuse to refer to them using their preferred name and pronoun (Dutton, Koenig, & Fennie, 2008) or ridicule or shame them (Poteat, German, & Kerrigan, 2013).
We don’t know as much as we should about trans barriers to care because, as a population, they haven’t been well studied. That’s what non-inclusive language does: it makes them completely invisible. Their concerns and needs are ignored. Is that really something we should be doing to marginalized people? It’s really not that hard to include them in our fight for reproductive justice. Women aren’t erased when trans men and non-binary people are recognized as folks also needing abortion rights. We can say “pregnant people,” and include all the women while still including others who don’t identify as women, but can get pregnant and need the same care we cis women do. We can say “pregnant people,” and still not erase the fact that those who are against reproductive rights are aiming at women, driven by sexism and misogyny, and probably aren’t even aware a non-woman pregnant person is possible.
All arguing against inclusive language does is paints a feminist as an anti-trans asshole. It doesn’t help advance women’s rights in the least.
And don’t come to me with this “But saying pregnant people is just like saying all lives matter!” It isn’t. It’s not even remotely close. “All Lives Matter” rhetoric eclipses the black and brown lives that are marginalized. It includes an already powerful majority while erasing the minority whose lives, actually, don’t matter all that much to the majority at all. Saying “pregnant people” or “people with the potential to become pregnant” when talking about abortion and reproductive rights doesn’t include a privileged majority and erase the marginalized folk. It just brings in a marginalized population with the same concerns as fertile cis women. It focuses the conversation on those who need access to reproductive care, and includes those who desperately need it but are even less likely than cis women to get it. That’s a rather glaring difference.
You may think that by winning reproductive rights for women, trans men and non-binary folk will be automatically included. That’s not the case. If I could wave a wand and give women perfect reproductive rights tomorrow, my magic will still have left trans people with substandard care. Wouldn’t it be better if I could fix their issues at the same time I’m solving my own? Is it really so difficult to kill two bigotries with one stone? Is it truly impossible to protect to my right to reproductive care while also advocating for theirs?
I don’t think so.
So, count me on the side of inclusive language, and fuck this trans-exclusionary bullshit. There are too many trans people suffering and dying, too many who have barriers to care that I don’t face, for me to leave them behind. I don’t think feminism can be any better or more successful if we insist on using trans-exclusive language. By all means, we can continue to say things like “trust women” and point out that women are, by far, the majority of the people affected by these horrible right-wing laws against reproductive care. But I refuse to leave my trans brothers and non-binary siblings behind as I fight for better access to birth control, abortion, and other reproductive health services.
Other people have also ably dealt with Ophelia’s recent bullshit. I commend them to your attention.
Almost Diamonds: Can Inclusive Language Exclude Women?
Lousy Canuck: “Woman” is a gender, not a marker of fecundity.
Sinmantyx: Inclusion and Abortion