Trans rights are reproductive rights

This is a guest post by Katherine Cross for our partnership with the Civil Liberties and Public Policy Conference happening this weekend. Cross is President of the Hunter College Women’s Rights Coalition and a Core Collective member of the Sylvia Rivera Law Project.

Count me among the legions of women who never thought our nation would be revisiting Griswold v. Connecticut in 2012. The spirit of the landmark 1965 case, establishing American citizens’ right to use contraception legally, is now publicly under attack from the political right. In the midst of this has arisen one of the most amazing groundswells of women’s activism in a generation. We have a lot to be proud of, even as the fight for reproductive justice grinds on. We are not ceding the field.

But as a woman of trans experience I also have to say that we need to summon more courage as feminists; we need to cultivate a far wider vision of “reproductive justice” than we have hitherto. Even as I raised my voice in defence of Sandra Fluke and in defence of women’s right to choose, even as I opened my wallet to Planned Parenthood, I felt something was amiss. As we argued valiantly for the right to have health care plans cover contraception we glossed over the fact that transgender people still lack a meaningful right to choose in this country.

When I came out, one of the first things my father lamented was the loss of his grandchildren, the loss of progeny who would—by blood—carry his name and his “legacy.” Then came the recriminations about what my body was “for” and what “God put us on this earth to do.” Interwoven in all of this is an ideology about what bodies are for. It is precisely the same ideology that has seen women coerced into having children, that has seen people of colour brutalised under eugenics programs that sterilised them, and that has created a byzantine web of regulations regarding what trans people can and cannot do with their bodies.

It is the ideology behind laws in many countries that require trans people to be sterilised before our gender markers can be changed on various IDs and the ideology that still sees too many psychiatrists enforcing gender norms on their trans patients as a pre-requisite of trans healthcare. We all have different medical needs as trans people, but for those of us who require hormones and surgery we are often spiritually blackmailed for them (“wear this skirt and makeup or I won’t see you as a serious woman”), charged heavily for them and then laughed at if we suggest such things should be covered by either public or private insurance. We may also be denied transition altogether.

At the heart of much of this is the idea that trans bodies should not exist because we defy some mandate about human reproduction. The idea of a man giving birth or a woman donating sperm strikes some people as aberrant. The idea that we would surgically alter our “god-given/natural-born genitalia” is considered heretical. Reproductive justice means standing against those ideas, standing against them firmly, proudly, and forthrightly. It means fighting for trans people’s right to choose, and it means recognising that a right to choose is meaningless is access is denied on the basis of income. If a woman—cis or trans—has a right to reproductive health, it will only be a theoretical right unless a measure of economic justice is part of the package. The same goes for trans people of all genders.

We often find ourselves unable to pay, and at the mercy of a small number of service providers or adversarial doctors. Our bodies are public property, up for every cis person’s debate and scrutiny, owned by everyone but ourselves.

If that isn’t a reproductive rights issue — if that isn’t about “my body, my choice” — then I don’t know what is.

This is one of many issues I’ll be raising at the upcoming Civil Liberties and Public Policy conference From Abortion Rights to Social Justice: Building the Movement for Reproductive Freedom at Hampshire College this weekend. Our focus will be on how to roll back the swelling anti-choice tide, and how to build a truly holistic justice movement around that very issue. Hopefully I’ll see some of you there!


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