Yes, Trans People Need to be Included in Abortion Discussions

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.

Image shows a transgender flag flying, rippled in the breeze. Above, in dark blue, is a quote by Flavia Dzodan: "My feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit."
Flag image by torbakhopper (CC BY 2.0). Quote added by me.

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

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Yes, Trans People Need to be Included in Abortion Discussions
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12 thoughts on “Yes, Trans People Need to be Included in Abortion Discussions

  1. 3

    Everything you said
    And additionally, it’s telling how two months ago the question “are trans women women” was unanswerable because of nuance and critical interrogation of the category of “women” and what have you not, but as soon as a uterus is present it’s really a simple term…
    To echo Lesbian CAtnip: Nothing say “radical feminism destroying gender” quite like defining women as “baby making machines.”

    I mean, nobody denies that the oppression of women is historically based on their presumed reproductive capability, and nobody denies that the current attacks on reproductive healthcare are based on misogyny and target cis women, if only because those attacking deny the existence of trans people. But that doesn’t mean that they’re not affected and that they are lower on the social ladder than cis women and therefore need special consideration unlike white folks when talking about police brutality. It’S actually the other way round. Insisting on “women” is like saying “all lives matter”. Apart from the fact that it’s the shittiest of shitty behaviours to harass an abortion provider who’s debating forced birthers. You’re not “pro women” when you’re attacking the very person who is offering them life-saving medical treatment.

  2. 4

    I am so frustrated by the argument that Benson uses. Saying “pregnant people” is not like saying “all lives matter,” it is like saying “black lives matter,” because of the implied “too.” inherent to BLM. BLM is adding the category “black lives” to the preexisting category of “lives which matter” that is presently reserved for white people in the same way that “pregnant people” is adding gender minorities to the category presently reserved for cis women: people who need abortion and contraceptive services.

    Shorter: Neither BLM nor pregnant people is exclusionary. They are both inclusionary. They are both adding an erased and oppressed minority group to a category of “people who deserve [rights].” I don’t understand how people can’t see that without it being willful on their part.

  3. rq
    5

    The moment ‘people’ are defined as ‘pregnant’, I’m pretty sure the vast majority of us realize that the vast majority of those people will be cis women (because women are people too!). Not much confusion there, I don’t think – I don’t feel that the women who are pregnant are being overshadowed by all those cis men who aren’t even capable of getting pregnant. I don’t see why it’s an issue to include those who do not identify as women, yet are still capable of becoming pregnant and being in need of abortion. The automatic assumption, with ‘pregnant’, is still that women are involved due to the nature of the issue – the ‘people’ part simply emphasizes that people other than cis women can also be pregnant. Sort of smashing through that gender binary, just a little bit. Which, I thought, was important.

    And if the use of ‘people’ really makes you believe that the narrative is being hijacked by (trans) men (par exemple) – or, not hijacked, but deleterious to cis women… perhaps consider that trans people in general have their True Personhood questioned. And that to call trans men (again, a par exemple in this case) people on the same footing as cis women is quite inclusive and (sadly) radical on its own… and when you take issue with that… well. I believe that, in the label ‘trans men’, it’s not the ‘men’ part that is important in determining their privilege (or lack thereof), but rather the ‘trans’ part.
    Sorry for the slight ramblous comment. A lot of people have been saying what I think much better than me, and your summary, Dana, is one of the clearer, to-the-point versions.
    And yes, the All Lives Matter argument just doesn’t hold any water in this case. I think the third link of the OP (the one by Sinmantyx) explains it quite well.

    So, women are people, too, but not all people are women, even in pregnancy.

  4. AMM
    7

    What’s weird is that “pregnant people” is actually not so much more inclusive as more precise. Ms. Benson is demanding that Dr. Torres drop the phrase that accurately describes the people she is talking about and use a different term that excludes some of them and includes a lot of people who she isn’t talking about.

    If you’re not pregnant, then there isn’t any fetus to override your bodily autonomy, and Dr. Torres’ tweet isn’t talking about you (thought it might apply in the future or past.) It doesn’t matter what gender or sex you are. And if you are pregnant, then it does, again regardless of gender or sex.

    If you’re not able to get pregnant — and that includes not only almost all men but also a lot of cis women (I suspect it includes Ms. Benson, too) — then you don’t have to worry about the possibility that a fetus will override your bodily autonomy even in the future, so Dr. Torres’ tweet definitely isn’t talking about you.

  5. 8

    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.

    Thank you – that’s the most clear and succinct explanation of that category error that I’ve seen.

  6. AMM
    9

    rq @5:

    And that to call trans men (again, a par exemple in this case) people on the same footing as cis women is quite inclusive and (sadly) radical on its own…

    That is the crux of what they are objecting to. It’s the same objection as when cis people take offense at being called “cis” — what they are offended by is the idea that they should be considered comparable with “those people.” They want to be seen as “normal” and natural and trans people as non-human freaks who should be grateful if the True Humans let them hang around the service entrance hoping for a few table scraps.

  7. 10

    Please don’t say “harass” when her tweets dont rise above pestering and/or scolding. I agree that OB is not serving women or trans or non binary people here. In fact, I am pretty astounded the energy she has put into taking this divisive stance.

    However, the term “harass” is waaaaay beyond whatever she has written or said. It’s also a legal term meaning behavior with intent to be found threatening. We need to take the high ground of criticizing actual issues, not exaggerating beyond the facts. Please revise your post to remove this word.

  8. 11

    sezit @10,
    To suggest that we need to more carefully parse whether Ophelia Benson harassed this person or merely pestered/scolded them is to miss the point. Seems like just picking nits.

    But since you opened the door… According to Black’s Law Dictionary (9th) harassment is defined as:

    words, conduct, or action (usu. repeated or persistent) that, being directed at a specific person, annoys, alarms, or causes substantial emotional distress in that person and serves no legitimate purpose. Harassment is actionable in some circumstances, as when a creditor uses threatening or abusive tactics to collect a debt.

    The term harassment seems accurate enough given the definition posted above. Whereas you claimed that:

    It’s also a legal term meaning behavior with intent to be found threatening.

    Citation needed please.

  9. rq
    12

    So the fact that the doctor felt the need to block her is a sure sign that Ophelia Benson wasn’t harassing her, just scolding or pestering her. I’m not sure how the word ‘pester’ is milder or less invasive, since it still implies unwanted attention. Which is kind of like harassment, actually.
    Oh, harassment. Hmm, nothing about intent to be found threatening there. “… the act of systematic and/or continued unwanted and annoying actions of one party or a group…” (which qualifies, since the doctor obviously found Ophelia Benson’s tweets annoying and unwanted enough to block her).
    Let’s take a look at a legal definition, because you brought it up, though we use many words on a day-to-day basis without giving second thought to their legal definition: Harassment is governed by state laws, which vary by state, but is generally defined as a course of conduct which annoys, threatens, intimidates, alarms, or puts a person in fear of their safety. Oh look – no mention of intent to be threatening, and simply being ‘annoying’ qualifies as harassment.
    So there you go, Ophelia Benson’s actions in this specific case can certainly be defined as harassment, especially in the often-used colloquial meaning of the word (“… the act or an instance of harassing, or disturbing, pestering, or troubling repeatedly; persecution…”. I did not see anything in Dana’s post that might point to this being some sort of legal parsing of Ophelia Benson’s actions, therefore – that pestering and scolding, which became annoying? It’s harassment.
    No revision necessary.

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