So memorably (to me anyway) I once gave a speech at a small but influential gathering in defense of the Lovejoy Surgicenter clinic in Portland, Oregon. The so-called “Lovejoy clinic” provided abortions to women and others in need for fifty goddamn years, starting before Roe guaranteed abortion rights at the federal level. It was not a Planned Parenthood clinic, though it did frequently work closely with Planned Parenthood Columbia Willamette. This did not happen without attacks and certainly not without protest. So you can imagine that supportive rallies were needed there on many occasions.
At the rally I attended, and where I spoke, a number of people from the board of PP-CW and the Lovejoy clinic and Oregon NARAL also attended, and they were listening. I briefly spoke about the state of trans freedom and trans health care and the political attacks on both. Few people if anyone seemed aware of any of this, but that was kinda my point. I said that the attempt to assert public control over individuals’ genitals and health care and especially health care having anything to do with genitals was all of a piece. For that reason, I argued, trans people must stand up and count themselves among the fighters for abortion rights whether or not we are people who are able to become pregnant. After the rally I was approached by a number of heavy hitters in Oregon’s reproductive rights community and we spoke for maybe an hour, certainly much longer than I had planned to be at the rally. I remember being quite late to get home.
Within two years support for abortion rights among trans people in Portland had increased and PPCW had begun providing a small amount of trans health care. Now, I have no idea whether or not showing up that day had anything to do with the beginning of PPCW’s slow shift into providing more and more care to trans patients. And if I affected the trans community’s willingness to take on abortion access as a trans issue it was more from general haranguing over years in personal conversations than it was that rally where few if any other trans people joined up and no others spoke. But it’s clear that something was happening around then, and that I was a part of it, and that a community was opening up that had felt besieged and often had little time for issues like anti-domestic violence or reproductive rights work that didn’t seem to fit into the narrow definition of trans issues that then existed.
And look, if you don’t know what it’s like to be besieged, just try being an out trans person thirty years ago, whoo, sibling.
The point of all this is that there’s a right way and a wrong way to expand your issues. When you see your issues linked with issues that are historically not your issues a good approach to this might be to say, “Hey, I notice this link, and because I care about my issues, I care about yours.” This is not only good ally work, but it also can be the start of something special, as in Portland 25 years ago where we went further. As trans people and people fighting for reproductive rights, we held hands like Marcie and goddamned Peppermint Patty and told each other, “Because I care about my issues, your issues are my issues.” Trans people gave more money to reproductive rights organizations than they had previously and out trans people began working in reproductive rights organizations. At the same time reproductive rights organizations started offering care to trans people right there in their clinics.
It was a beautiful thing to witness (and none of my doing, since I did not work in those organizations and I have never provided abortions or trans health care or health care of any kind besides bandaids and such for kids) and I will always love Portland for it.
More often though, we fall short of that. Humans gonna human, right? I have limits on my expertise and I can’t always talk about Black women, chemical hair straighteners, racism, and cancer (though that’s an article I’ve been wanting to write for two weeks now) because white MtF person touching on Black women’s hair? That can get tangled and uncomfortable real quick, and as necessary as it is that white people talk about how racism is giving Black women cancer, it’s not entirely unreasonable to be afraid of fucking up on the topic and that can make writing about it a little more fraught, a little more draining, and a little more time consuming than writing about other topics. We’re human, and this is mostly okay.
But mostly okay is not ALL okay. When we get complacent, or when we seem to get complacent, it becomes necessary for one asshole to speak up and ask if we’re really doing our best here. It doesn’t feel great, usually, but it’s often necessary for the overall effort of getting better over time.
It is in this spirit that I’m gonna take some shots at Christina Cauterucci’s recent Slate article Abortion Is So Popular Republicans Are Inventing Conspiracy Theories to Trick Americans Into Voting Against It. Since this article appeared on Slate and was linked in the Wonkette TABS! roundup, I am sure all good liberals have read it. And if you know it then you know that a huge part of it is summed up here:
Abortion bans are unpopular. So unpopular that Republican extremists seem to have to invent conspiracy theories to trick Americans into voting for them.
That’s the major takeaway from recent political battles in Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin. In all three states, abortion-related ballot initiatives and elections were framed by right-wing groups as the only thing standing between parents and “trans ideology” in the classroom. …
This is the new playbook. Using the specter of child corruption and social contagion, Republicans are attempting to manipulate parents, scapegoat trans and queer people, and erode multiple axes of bodily autonomy, all in one fell swoop.
Cauterucci brings the receipts. The article is, indeed a great summation of “the new playbook”.
What it is not, however, is any kind of call for trans advocates and feminist reproductive rights advocates to work together. The existence of trans people is portrayed as a chink in abortion defenders’ armour:
These groups believe that by agitating conservatives and uniting voters against a trans boogeyman, they can get people to ignore their own support for (or indifference to) abortion rights and eagerly line up to give those rights away.
And sure, we are that I guess. Cauterucci quotes a Republican scare-ad saying that we are
Malicious entities from out of state [that] are arriving in sheep’s clothing to “encourage sex changes for kids” and sneak “trans ideology” into schoolrooms
Fortunately Cauterucci has a more reassuring message. In her telling, cissexist scaremongering and the demonization of trans people is bad, but it’s also nothing to worry about:
It’s no surprise that GOP operatives are trying to divert the focus to literally any other issue where they perceive themselves to have the upper hand, though it is horrifying to see that they believe virulent transphobia is a winning enough position that it may convince voters to sign away their access to legal abortion. The only silver lining, in Ohio as in Wisconsin as in Michigan, is that the bait-and-switch doesn’t seem to be working.
In this article trans people aren’t the enemy. Instead, trans people are the helpless tools of the enemy. But we can be hopeful because trans people’s issues aren’t our issues, they are “other issues” and no one thinks that they’re protecting trans people when they vote for reproductive freedom.
And again, because I’m about to be THAT ASSHOLE, this is an article written by Cauterucci, not Cauterucci’s whole life and philosophy. For all I know, Cauterucci is trans. And lord knows I’ve had a piece or two of my own edited to say something that I didn’t want the piece to say, so let’s get together and agree here that no one is interested in demonizing Cauterucci.
And also, too, there’s room in the wide world for some articles that are single-issue. It’s popular to say in trendy living rooms within a ten foot radius of my fat ass that my feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit, but sometimes the question for the day really is nothing more than, “What is the current GOP strategy?” with no room for any sidetracks into whether it’s good or bad or how best to fight it.
And, of course, we’re human beings with limited space in a brains and in our hearts for all the issues that matter. If you’re doing your best and you just don’t get trans issues and don’t have room in your whatever for trans people or trans advocacy, I would much rather you embrace and create positive momentum towards resolution on issues you do have the time and energy to address, whether that’s climate change or voting rights or abortion, than give up on everything because it’s not in you to do something intersectionally.
But there is a problem if pieces like’s Cauterucci’s work for Slate become common, and in my opinion they have become common enough to reach this threshold. However much you would like to give zero points to the theocratic right on any and every question, they’re not actually wrong to think that trans rights and reproductive rights are related. In many cases this is direct and explicit: governments often have and often still do require proof of sterilization before changes to legal sex can be made. FtM people can and do get pregnant, can and do access abortion. Trans people of all flavours use condoms and lube and antibiotics for our STDs. In other cases, it is more indirect. Indeed whether you believe (as I do and any reasonable person does) that the political right’s attacks on trans people during recent reproductive rights ballot campaigns have been deceptive to mendacious red herrings and demonization, it is certainly true that the theocrats are creating ever more links between the issues.
I said 25 years ago in that after-demo discussion that the desire to control others’ reproductive systems is related in the theocrats’ own minds, and if I tolerate fascistic reproductive control so long as there’s a special exception for me, I am tolerating the existence of an ideology that would destroy me the moment it had the chance. This is equally true for trans people who tolerate anti-abortion attacks and for reproductive rights advocates who tolerate anti-trans attacks.
I said at the time that I fight for reproductive rights for many reasons, but not least because it is in my enlightened self-interest. And so it is for people whose primary issue is reproductive rights: if the general lefty public went all in on fighting for trans rights thirty years ago, could the theocrats use trans people as a wedge to split (or threaten to split) support for abortion rights today? Well, of course not.
So it pains me to see the mistakes born of near-universal ignorance repeated in a time of near-universal access to information about trans lives. Take the passage in Cauterucci’s article that addresses the 2022 campaign for a reproductive rights amendment in Michigan. The amendment found in Michigan Proposal 3 read, in part:
Every individual has a fundamental right to reproductive freedom, which entails the right to make and effectuate decisions about all matters relating to pregnancy, including but not limited to prenatal care, childbirth, postpartum care, contraception, sterilization, abortion care, miscarriage management, and infertility care.
The right wing opponents were going to try to make this about trans people, and the most convenient portion of the amendment for their purposes was the right to make decisions related to “sterilization”. Cauterucci explains:
Conservatives spent the months before the election trying to convince voters that the inclusion of the term “sterilization” was a sneaky admission, by Democrats, that they would be legalizing secret gender-affirming surgeries for children.
Now, Proposal 3 was not a secret effort to hack up children’s bodies, much less an admission of our dastardly plan to do so. Cauterucci goes on to explain that at some length, citing the fact that puberty blockers do not cause sterilization and that
[l]egal analysts who responded in the Detroit Free Press said the abortion rights amendment in Michigan was not written to legalize clandestine procedures for children, nor could it be reasonably interpreted as such by a judge.
None of this is wrong, of course, but there’s a really odd element to all this. Cauterucci quotes a theocratic opponent of human rights thus:
“A constitutional right to ‘sterilization’ surely includes a right to be sterilized to align one’s sex and gender identity,” wrote a spokesperson for Citizens to Support MI Women & Children, the PAC that funded the ads, in an email to the Detroit Free Press. “The majority of voters do not support a 12-year-old girl’s right to sterilization without her parent’s notice or consent.”
And while she does an admirable job attacking scaremongering about trans kids getting access to surgery without parental notice or consent, never once does her piece even acknowledge, much less find importance in, the fact that the first part of this terrible statement is actually correct: sterilization is a normal and expected result for most gender confirmation surgeries that alter the reproductive organs. Thus Michigan’s Proposal 3 is a constitutional amendment with provisions of special importance to trans people.
Now as I said, not every piece of journalism needs be intersectional, but Cauterucci in this piece does everything possible to convince readers that trans lives have nothing at all to do with reproductive rights and there is nothing related to trans persons or trans health care on the ballot in the measures the article analyzes. Sure, the focus is on countering myths about trans health care for children, but when the quotes an author brings in explicitly raise a valid connection (trans people have a health care interest in a right to sterilization), it is up to the author to address that. By remaining silent on the issue Cauterucci gives the impression of believing that not only is the connection to trans children scare mongering that should not (and did not) prevent people from voting for reproductive rights, but also that any connection to trans adults is illusory. As a result, trans people are being given the impression (rightly or wrongly) that we are unimportant to Cauterucci and her fellow travellers, at least in a reproductive rights context, beyond the extent to which we are useful weapons of the Right.
This is, of course, wrong. I was denied health care in the early 90s specifically because the treatment path I sought included surgical removal of the gonads, and doctors wanted to prevent me from “suffering” sterilization. Nor was I alone in that experience. Other trans people around the world in cultures as disparate as Iran and Sweden have been forced or coerced into sterilization by government law or policy. The trans struggle for the right to self-determination on health care which includes sterilization (even when that is not the primary goal) has been waged for decades.
The inclusion of sterilization in Michigan’s Proposal 3 was therefore a huge win for trans people who had been both denied sterilizing procedures and forcibly sterilized. (It was also, by the by, a huge win for black women, women with certain disabilities, and poor women on government assistance because all of these are groups that have been targeted for sterilization without consent throughout the twentieth century and into the twenty-first.) While the Proposal 3 vote had concluded before Cauterucci began writing the article, it is an odd choice to omit any notion that the much-contested sterilization right might have been a point of attack for the theocrats, but it also served as an opportunity for diversifying and expanding support among people with disabilities, poor people, trans people, and Black women.
It is hard not to come to the conclusion that trans people and trans advocates being spoken of as if an irrelevant distraction to issues of reproductive rights rather than a vital constituency and natural coalition partners was not accidental. This was almost certainly an intentional framing for this article (possibly by Cauterucci, possibly by an editor). And to my dismay, this is far from the only article to be written in such a way. Cauterucci’s piece is not uniquely guilty, but it was reading it that it become clear that now is time to push back.
If you are a reproductive rights advocate, I want to first say thank you. But then I want to tell you that it’s fucking time you stood up (if you haven’t been already and for years the way Planned Parenthood Columiba Willamette has been) and interrupted the framing that portrays trans rights and abortion rights as separate issues unfortunately and erroneously connected only by the actions of a mendacious and theocratic right wing.
If nothing else, do it for your own fucking self-interest. If trans people weren’t societies’ demons, then the existence of trans people and the protection of trans rights could not be used against the efforts to protect reproductive rights. If our demonic status didn’t make letters about us such good fundraising material, the enemies of reproductive rights would have less cash on hand with which to work mischief. And while trans people are society’s demons, we are also natural allies you should be targeting for recruitment. You should be aware of how the fight for the right to self-determine access to sterilizing or potentially sterilizing health care gives racial justice advocates, disability rights advocates, economic justice advocates and, yes, trans advocates a huge stake in this fight. It motivates us. It causes us to join with people that have not been historically welcoming of us prior to the 1990s and in many areas are still not. You should know how to rally your allies, to bring people together, to forge a movement. You should know this even if you don’t actually give a fuck about trans people or Black women or folks with Down Syndrome. You should know this because it will make you more successful in fighting for the cause you hold most dear to your own heart.
But I’m hoping that at least some of you will challenge articles like this one in Slate because my issues are your issues. I would like you to see that Cauterucci’s attempt to divorce trans rights from reproductive rights bisects actual human beings, people you care about, people you might even love if you got to know them.
Abortion is a trans rights issue. Trans rights are reproductive rights. Just because people who lie about adolescent trans health care say that our issues are linked doesn’t actually mean that they aren’t. Nor do we suddenly have to avert our eyes from our common interests.
So when you’re speaking or writing about reproductive rights, don’t use the framing that trans rights aren’t reproductive rights. Don’t let the trans people unafraid to be associated with baby killers be braver than reproductive rights advocates that risk being associated with child molesting mutilators. We can counter the harmful myths about child predation without throwing each other out of our purer organizations.
In short: be my goddamned Peppermint Patty and I will be your Marcie and the world can be a whole lot better than if we each ignore the other’s issues as irrelevant distractions from our own, at best worthy but unrelated causes wrongfully conflated by the Right and at worst frustrating vulnerabilities which we must disavow, even excise from our movement.
We’re in this together. Let’s act like it.