Behind the backlash: what’s so scary about deconstructing the gender binary?

A lot of people were upset about my post on why I won’t be talking about abortion as a “women’s issue”‘ anymore, which was based on the discussion of a panel I attended on Transfeminism featuring our very own Jos Truitt.

The basic idea was that to truly be a trans ally and achieve reproductive justice, we should all stop saying and stop thinking that abortion is a women’s issue, since it’s not just cis women that have abortions, but also trans men, gender queer people, and many more people who may not fit into the box of ‘woman’. Understandably, this concept generated a lot of debate.

There was constructive criticism (which I always appreciate), like that offered by commenter alex myn:

I’m not sure if I agree entirely. I too am working to become more trans-inclusive in my politics, but I don’t know if ceasing to conceptualize of abortion as a women’s issue is entirely productive. It is not just women who get abortions, but predominantly that is the case. And I know that healthcare access is a huge issue in the trans-community, but anti-abortion healthcare politics predominantly affect women. I would argue that anti-abortion politics are a direct attack on women and their bodies. Yes, transpersons are affected by this as well, but they are not necessarily the target.

But commenter gabe pushed back on this idea:

It’s true — and important to remember — that a lot of anti-abortion rhetoric and activity is based in sexism and thus targets women. But that’s no excuse to label as a “women’s issue” something that profoundly affects plenty of people who aren’t women. That framing (and any framing that relies on the idea that “most” people are cisgender) is cissexist and perpetuates cisgender identity as a norm.

And Jemma Howitzer found it downright transphobic:

“Alex Myn, you are not a trans ally, stop kidding yourself. People like YOU actively reinforce cissexual privilege.When you refer to abortion issues as women’s issues, you are stating to all the trans people reading your comment that trans men (who need access to abortions) are women, and trans women (who do not need access to abortions) are therefore, not women. So your speech is broken.”

Gina Morvay pointed out another potentially problematic aspect of my post

“While I truly do appreciate the gist of what this post is saying and that you’re giving props to the transfeminism panel… I really find it troubling that you mention seeing a panel of trans women and then follow that by “abortion is no longer just a women’s issue.

Comments like those from alex, gabe, Jemma, and Gina made me feel overwhelmed with gratitude to be part of such an engaged community. They also pushed me rethink and reevaluate my position. If I could write the post all over again, I would probably frame it a bit differently. Perhaps as getting beyond the concept of abortion as a cisgender women’s issue.

Unfortunately, but perhaps predictably, not all the responses were as…constructive. Fox News, ever the fair and balanced news team, eagerly hopped on the “defending the gender binary at all cost” bandwagon by tackling the issue in their usual mature fashion: they assembled a panel of old white dudes, constructed a straw man argument that failed to accurately represent my post, called me a “moron”, said I should “disappear”, mocked the term reproductive justice, and giggled like small children.

Rather than freaking out, I’m thrilled that such sexist bigots find my ideas about the gender binary threatening. That means I’m doing something right. These reactions also make me wonder: what’s so terrifying about deconstructing the gender binary? Why does it touch such a nerve, not only from those within our movement who are committed to finding the most comprehensive strategy for achieving reproductive justice, but to conservatives who have seemingly less at stake in such a conversation? Why does it make them feel threatened, to the point of deeming it necessary to take on the issue head on via a televised (albeit 3am) “gender essentialist” panel?

It seems to me like we would all benefit from getting rid of these wretched, rigid rules about who to love and how to live. I genuinely don’t understand the resistance. But I do know one thing- when Fox News says me and people like me who believe in rethinking the current model for gender should “disappear”, that’s just wishful thinking. Giggle and mock all you want, but we’re not going anywhere.

Brooklyn, NY

Lori Adelman started blogging with Feministing in 2008, and now runs partnerships and strategy as a co-Executive Director. She is also the Director of Youth Engagement at Women Deliver, where she promotes meaningful youth engagement in international development efforts, including through running the award-winning Women Deliver Young Leaders Program. Lori was formerly the Director of Global Communications at Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and has also worked at the United Nations Foundation on the Secretary-General's flagship Every Woman Every Child initiative, and at the International Women’s Health Coalition and Human Rights Watch. As a leading voice on women’s rights issues, Lori frequently consults, speaks and publishes on feminism, activism and movement-building. A graduate of Harvard University, Lori has been named to The Root 100 list of the most influential African Americans in the United States, and to Forbes Magazine‘s list of the “30 Under 30” successful mediamakers. She lives in Brooklyn, NY.

Lori Adelman is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Partnerships.

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