Trans and gender nonconforming pregnancy/abortion discourse isn’t new

This is the second of my response posts to Katha Pollitt’s essay criticizing TGNC*-inclusive language in feminist and specifically abortion funding discourse. You can read the first here.

The premise of Pollitt’s essay is that public discourse, especially activist discourse, on pregnancy and abortion is changing to become TGNC-inclusive (and that this is worrying because it minimizes women). There’s a problem with this premise, though. It assumes that the existing public/activist discourse on these issues was cis people’s discourse, and that this TGNC influence on it is new.

Why is this premise wrong? Well, TGNC people already knew that TGNC people with uteruses could get pregnant or get abortions and that some of them did. This has been part of TGNC people’s public/activist discourse for a lot longer than TGNC-inclusive language has been a hot debate in abortion funding or pro-choice slogan-crafting. Dr. Sam Dylan More (who is themselves – I don’t know what their pronouns are so I’ll go with non-gendered – a transmasculine person) studied the experiences of trans men all the way back in 1998, publishing this article in an Australian trans community organization’s magazine in 2000. Yahoo has had a group for TGNC parents and prospective parents since 2004. Patrick Califa-Rice, a trans man partnered with a trans man, wrote an article for the Village Voice about his boyfriend’s experience of pregnancy in 2000. A Montreal trans and feminist organization wrote started a community center course for trans men considering parenting in 2007, and wrote about his experience trying to conceive via fertility clinics in a queer anthology in 2008. This is all stuff that I found with a few Google searches – I am sure that there were a whole lot more conversations going on among TGNC people than this. Notably, something that comes up over and over at these links is TGNC people’s fear – fear that their gender identity won’t be taken seriously because of their pregnancy or abortion, fear of transphobic bigotry in general, fear of not knowing whether any given service would be friendly to them or willing to work with them. When I first joined the EMA Fund as a volunteer case manager in late 2009, it was in the process of making its language TGNC-inclusive (something I’m not aware of any other fund doing until 2012), prompted by some volunteers’ awareness, through having been part of the existing discourse on the subject, that both abortion and fear of exclusion or hostility in reproductive care contexts are real issues for pregnancy-capable TGNC people.

This all makes perfect sense when you think about it. TGNC people with uteruses know that pregnancy and the need for abortions can happen – why wouldn’t it have ever been a topic of discussion before most cis people started noticing TGNC people’s issues?

So what does it imply (intentionally or not) when Pollitt frames the contributions of TGNC activism in this space as recent?

– It implies that the many contributions of TGNC activism to pregnancy and abortion activism, the TGNC conversations on pregnancy and abortion that already used non-cis-woman-centric language, before cis-dominated abortion funds and other feminist organizations started debating inclusiveness, were not important, too marginal to care about, not really part of the discourse. I think the underlying implication that TGNC people’s contributions to the public sphere don’t count becuase TGNC people are such a small, marginalized population, is harmful to all TGNC people, including trans women and assigned-male-at-birth nonbinary people.

– Since her attitude is critical, it implies that it’s bad for TGNC discourse, TGNC language norms, to go mainstream, that it’s harmful to cis women. That’s an unfortunate attitude coming from an esteemed feminist and progressive.

*There are tons of terms out there that people use for “anyone who is not cis, whether they’re transitioning from one binary gender and/or sex to the other, or are nonbinary, or genderfluid, or bigender, or what have you.” I’ve seen trans, trans*, trans+, trans/genderqueer, trans/gender nonconforming, gender variant, gender nonconforming, T/GQ, T/GNC, and TGNC all used in this manner. I’m using TGNC here, but different people, communities, and contexts will have different preferences and usages.

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