I mean… wow…
When this whole “war on women/contraception” thing started, my initial reaction was just one of a little bit of anger and frustration and disappointment, but not really outrage or “ARGHY MUST BLOG AND KILL AND STOP THIS ARGHLKJ;k’l;!!!11!!”. The things people were saying like “the best birth control is an aspirin between the knees” and “college girls are going broke buying birth control for all the sex they’re having!” were unimaginably stupid, but it’s not like it was anything particularly new for the religious right and GOP to be sexist, sex-negative, scientifically and medically illiterate, irrational idiots.
Besides, not my problem, right? I’m not cis, I’m not fertile, I’m not interested in partners of the sex with whom I could even hypothetically conceive, and I don’t live in the United States. Also, historically, these kinds of pushbacks against women’s reproductive rights haven’t ended up managing to make it very far. It’s also at least a slightly fair fight… although hetero cis women do not have nearly the amount of wealth and political power in the USA that their hetero cis men do, they aren’t a minority, and they should have enough of a presence in the voting public to put up a decent fight and keep this horrible legislation from moving too far forward.
I figured this was just an electoral strategy designed to distract from other issues, a new appeal to the USA’s “culture war” and division of ideology that could keep the 99% from noticing the economic biases and corruption of the Republican party and keep them focused on “family values”- and an appeal now sorely needed due to how rapidly the demonization of homosexuality is ceasing to be a viable political strategy. I figured this was something that wasn’t really meant to have any substance, and would be over pretty quickly. A week or two, tops.
So my plan was just to keep on doing what I do, focusing and blogging on other issues, on things that most people don’t talk about, on things where the fight isn’t remotely fair… and then go to the Winchester, have a cold pint, and wait for this whole thing to blow over.
As a general rule, my plans are stupid.
First of all, “not my problem” should not be in my lexicon.
Of course it’s my problem. And not just on the basis of the importance of empathy for others, but on the basis of just how interconnected everything always (irritatingly) is.
This thing has not blown over. And clearly it was not meant as a temporary distraction. This is a genuine push, an actual platform being adopted by the Republicans, with which they intend to help win themselves another Presidency. The legislation, like Virginia’s transvaginal ultrasound bill, is being passed, and apparently the American public are swallowing this, and allowing their cultural concepts of sexual and reproductive rights to be pushed backwards.
That scares the living bejeezus out of me. Because at the point that it’s not just some stupid American electoral race noise, and becomes actual regression in North American cultural values, it is very much my problem. Here’s why:
The issue isn’t really about sex. It isn’t really about babies and whether or not a fetus is alive. It isn’t really about cisgender and heterosexual people’s hassles with unwanted pregnancies and all that thingy-shtuff. It is about the subjugated status of women in society, and about the concept of bodily autonomy. Both of which (surprise) are of direct relevance to trans women.
Sad as it is to say, the truth is that I didn’t always really “get” the issue of being pro-choice in regards to abortion, or understand why it was of so much importance to so many people. I spent a decent portion of my life being a bit of a…um… privileged little twit. For a long time, I’d say and think very stupid things like “well I guess the pro-life people have a point, sort of… if you define fetuses as alive then yeah, it is ethical to want to stop them from being killed”. That was making the mistake of thinking the question hinged on what is and isn’t life. Or I’d think stupid things like “well sure, maybe the men’s rights types do have a point… maybe the father’s opinions should have a degree of legal weight in the decision”. That was making the mistake of thinking the question hinged on parenthood and responsibility. Later on, I started being more definitively pro-choice, but even then my position was based on the argument that life is inherently complex and unpredictable, that human beings aren’t rational, that everyone makes mistakes, that sometimes shit just happens, and therefore having options is extremely important. That wasn’t stupid, really, but it was still missing the point.
When I started finally “getting” it was, incidentally, when I began transition. That’s when I became firmly and uncompromisingly pro-choice, and began feeling the same degree of anger towards the pro-lifers that for a long time I had found incomprehensible in the women around me. Because that’s when it clicked, and I understood what it was really about: being able to make our own decisions about what happens to our bodies. How fundamentally important it is to maintain, at the very minimum in terms of human rights, the sense of autonomy and self-possession in regards to your own physical body. How much an absolute violation and affront, an act of violence even, it is to have someone else, particularly an abstracted state, start telling you that your body is going to have to have this or that happen to it, and you don’t get a say in the matter.
Because that issue mattered to me then. Because I started understanding it myself. I began understanding how much it felt like a violation of my rights to have all these ridiculous hoops set in place that I had to jump through in order to make my own decisions about my hormones, or about my genitals. I began feeling angry during the waiting period to acquire hormones that all the testosterone running through me, and continuing unabated in its slow poisoning and deformation of my body, was being permitted to do so by abstract committees and professional associations and “standards of care”. That I was being subjected to that not by my choice, but because of other people, and their hang-ups and their ideas about gender and definitions of it and their concept of what I should and shouldn’t be allowed to do and when. And beyond that, even, there was the sneaking suspicion that the reason it had taken me so long, that the reason all this masculinization had already happened to my body, was not on account of my own decisions (I’d initially wanted to transition at 14) but on account of my culture, and the messages of shame, ridicule, hate and fear that had denied me a fair chance to make that choice for myself. It hadn’t been my choice to go on living as male for so long, and letting this happen to my body… not in any meaningful sense of the word “choice”, anyway. It was imposed through the culture around me. And now that I’d finally found the ability to fight back and claim my body for myself, I was being faced with institutional obstacles, and abstract coalitions of strangers (ashen-faced and gray-suited in my mental image) that I’d never known and would never know but whose decisions were now determining my life and what’s “best” for
me cis people’s comfort levels.
It doesn’t take a whole lot to go from there to understanding the anger women feel about having the State, and committees comprised of men they don’t know and never will know, making decisions about what they should or shouldn’t do with their bodies, what’s going to happen to those bodies, and then they the women (not the men making the decisions) having to live with the physical, medical reality and consequences of those decisions. To not be able to control their periods or acne or cramps or other hormonal issues on account of their access to birth control (or its affordability) being restricted. To be indiscriminately slut-shamed for trying to access this medication, or trying to make a decision about their own reproductive or hormonal health, regardless of whether or not the principal reason for wanting it has anything to do with sex at all. To be blamed simply for having a sexuality, and having the threat of an unwanted pregnancy being inflicted upon them dangled over their heads as a deterrent to keep them in line with someone else’s conception of sexual morality, someone who is himself free from that particular physical threat and its consequences. To have to submit to literally invasive physical procedures just so someone else will feel you’ve “thought through” the decision to their satisfaction (the echoes to transgender gatekeeping being pretty eerie and spot-on in this particular situation… “are you sure you want to make this decision about your body?” “are you sure you’re sure?” “are you really really really sure?” “Nope, I don’t believe you. Jump through these humiliating hoops and submit yourself to our whims first, then MAYBE I’ll be convinced you’ve thought this through to my satisfaction”). And ultimately, most of all, the living nightmare of enduring a pregnancy and childbirth you never asked for and never wanted… the degree to which your autonomy, as a human being, has been so completely stripped that you can’t even feel secure in and in possession of your own physical self. It belongs to the State, to the fetus, to men.
This is what I think men don’t quite grasp about why issues of choice in matters of reproductive health is such an important and emotionally-loaded issue for women… and also why cis people often don’t understand why all the rules and systems and obstacles imposed in the way of pursuing transition are such an important and emotionally-loaded issue for trans people. A man (or at least a cis man) has the luxury to imagine these things in abstract terms, and doesn’t really have any basis on which to imagine his bodily autonomy being taken away. For him, he can just see it as just (literally) disembodied ethics and morals, or imagine a would-be father’s rights to a decision about a pregnancy as comparable to the would-be mother’s. His body is never under threat, nor his ability to make his choices about what happens to it. If laws started to be imposed insisting that a man submit to rectal prostate examinations and fertility screening before being legally permitted to purchase condoms, THEN they would start talking about the right to not have your body be unnecessarily invaded, and the right to make your own decisions about sex, health and family-planning. But currently, they lack any real way of directly understanding the immediate importance of this issue to women.
Likewise, cis people can similarly conceptually divorce themselves from what it’s like to have abstracted committees of “professionals” (who, like the all-male boards making decisions about women’s contraception, are typically all-cis) deciding what you are and are not allowed to do in terms of your gender, your genitals, your hormones. To have them deciding if you’re “really” transsexual or not, what etiology you are, if you deserve treatments x, y and z, what you need to do in order to “prove” the legitimacy of your decision, and condescendingly stating what’s best for you (while, as noted earlier, it’s obviously mostly just about maintaining our society’s general comfort level and “protecting” them from visible gender variance).
When a culture begins leaning towards deciding that the religious morals of men supercede a woman’s rights to her own physiological autonomy, when that kind of fight is won even when who they’re trying to subjugate is nearly 50% of the world’s population, then it would be effortless to assert that the religious morals of these same men supercede the right of a trans person to make hir own decisions in regards to hir physiological autonomy, and having a precedent on which to fight for that autonomy is gone, and the fight itself becomes hopeless. From there it becomes easy to say those religious morals supercede people’s sexual rights, to engage their bodies in whatever form of safe consentual intercourse they choose. And down goes the whole concept of individual rights taking precedence over the moral proclamations of the Church and State.
The point being that this is a universal issue, and is not restricted to women, or to heterosexual women, or to cisgender fertile heterosexual women… it all interconnects, everything has repercussions. The underlying principle is something that needs to be asserted in all situations, regardless of whether we are the party that is immediately being threatened: we have the right to make our own choices about our bodies. The State, and The Church, and other rule-making organizations, have no place whatsoever in those choices.
This is why women’s access to contraception is important for me to defend. And incidentally, why a trans person’s right to access hormones or surgery is important for cis people to defend. Because bodily autonomy is a principle that needs to be universally defended in order to be able to be successfully defended. If we let it be compromised under any circumstance, our ability to fight for it is weakened in all others.