Threats to “Women’s Rights” Step on Trans Toes

The recent legislative and funding threats to abortion rights, sexual assault, and sexual health (aka Planned Parenthood) have been described as an attack on women’s health. I do not agree with this… at least not in full. I have been getting a surge of petition and action emails from the sexual health organizations I work with, and I’ve been working hard to get the word out. The problem is that in order for me to spread the word I have to change the word being spread – one word in particular, the word woman.

I am a survivor of sexual assault. I need health care specific to a female assigned sex. I am also not a woman. I can’t help but find it frustrating when issues that affect me are, pretty much without exception, stated to be only for women. To be clear, I do not feel any discomfort being associated with women in any sense due to some masculine hang up or personal insecurity. Its just the simple reality that I am not a woman, and therefore I feel I should not be considered one in order to be included in legislation, or in this case, activist work. I wanted to re-blog an activist call from an inclusive femme blog about sexual health that, in theory, spoke to my experience. However I soon realized that the caption only discussed women.  I felt really invalidated and as I replaced each “women” with “people” I felt even less included and more alone. Its like showing up to a rally for your rights only to be met a the door and told, “This doesn’t involve you.” No, I am not a woman, but these are my rights too and I’m willing to fight for them.

I continue to struggle to understand the opacity of people’s though processes when it comes to sexual assault work. Women are not the only survivors out there. And if I, a guy, need sexual assault resources, where do I go? Everything is focused on women’s health, provided by Women’s Centers, and is advertised as a women’s space (my city’s rape crisis center is called “Women Helping Women”). What if I’m a guy who also has a female assigned body? What if a woman does not have a female assigned body? What about people who are outside the social, sexual, or gender identity binary? According to our culture, not only do resources for these survivors not exist, we, the survivors ourselves, don’t exist. You might be thinking, “Ok, but abortion is still a women’s issue.” Or is it? Some trans guys and genderqueers can and do get pregnant, which means that sometimes they may need abortion related care and emergency contraceptives.  Transguys and genderqueer folks also need to go to the gynecologist or may need birth control – things associated with “women’s health” but none of us are women.

Its not that I don’t understand and appreciate woman-focused language; women are a primary population here and historically activism surrounding these issues has been lead by and focused on women. But the reality is that while women are super important, transfolks, genderqueers, and (respective to sexual assault only) non-trans men are equally important. It affects our bodies just as much as the bodies of women. I am not saying that there are not challenges specific to women or that “women’s rights” should never be used. I just think it should be used when its appropriate, and it this is not one of those times. MoveOn.org wrote a nice break down of various proposed legislation oddly titled “Top 10 Shocking Attacks from the GOP’s War on Women.” I say oddly titled because most of the list is about the greater community, not just women. I realize that this is a spin to get readers, but this spin is highly problematic. Yes, I see the correlation of the gendered concept of women and children, but doesn’t that further reinforce the cultural expectations this article is arguing against? At one point it lists sexual violence as a “gendered crime.”

What is a “gendered crime?” Is this saying that rape is an attack on cultural womanhood? Because womanhood cannot be defined outside of they very stereotypes and cultural expectations we are battling. And not only women are sexually assaulted so it can’t be solely a “crime” on the woman gender. Perhaps the language they are looking for is “sexualized” not “gendered,” in other words assuming gender identity based on sex stereotypes. But rape isn’t about sex drives it is about power via sexualized weaponry so… gah, my brain is exploding trying to make sense of this! I guess its just that people who wrote this think that rape = attacked woman, and that = problem.

Sexual health, sexual assault, children, elders, education; these are not only women’s issues. These are human issues. There is a big difference between the phrase “women’s rights” and “human rights” and that difference is inclusion. I don’t think that saying “human rights” negates women’s involvement or autonomy. Granted, I am not a woman, but I am a fellow oppressed minority and a fellow human being. Women’s rights are equally as important to me as my own therefore I do not feel the need to differentiate between their rights and mine. I am not naive about the anthropomorphic system we live in but by limiting ourselves with gendered language we are promoting yet another form of oppression, except this time instead of a boys club its a girls club. Gendering political issues about our bodies feeds cultural expectations creating major obstacles to accessing health care, obtaining research, and founding/protecting legislation. I’m glad that people are talking about these topics but if we are only talking about women then we are missing a big chunk of the conversation. By de-gendering our language we can easily be inclusive and fight for everyone’s rights. My body does not define my identity any more than one word changes the reality of what my body needs or has experienced. I am a man, I am a survivor. I am in need of female assigned sexual health care. I am a human being who deserves rights. And I am not the only one.

15 comments

  • Thank you for this post JAC!
    When I heard about the Planned Parenthood issue earlier this week I was also very upset. And it’s true that this is not just a financial assault to women’s health, but the health of all sexually active people, especially those with not as many monetary resources to begin with! Rape does happen to guys, and not just from other guys, (an old friend of mine’s ex girl friend raped him,) and everyone can benefit from the STD and pregnancy testing that planned parenthood provides, instead of thousands of young people getting sick and/or unwanted pregnancies.

    I’m not sure what to do about all this, but if it means that preventing a total dearth of affordable sexual health care in U.S. communities will require more volunteers than employees because of budget cuts or losses of funding, I’d be willing to help. Because It’s just not right to give up and let the other side (the ones that take this stuff away) win, causing future generations of queer and sexually active or assaulted people to be made an example of, wallowing in the misery (unplanned pregnancies, HIV/AIDS, other problems) of a lack of access to basic safe sex and abortion necessities.

    Sexual health and reproductive rights are for everyone, even those off the gender binary. And those who think abstinence only education, and taking funding away from planned parenthood is the proper thing to do are definitely shooting this country in the foot.

  • I think we risk erasing the gendered reality of our society (and of the world for the most part) by using gender neutral terminology, even if it is to counter erasure. Let’s face it, while men, and trans-folk are sexually assaulted, and sometimes that assault is perpetrated by women, it is a crime mostly perpetuated by men on those deemed not man enough. This fact is what makes it a “gendered crime” (although I agree that when rape was labeled such, it was not done with the trans community in mind). The solution isn’t to defund (and in essence punish women (particularly women of color)) women’s health issues because they exclude those of us who are trans, or men who have also been the victims of orafice and space abuse (as I like to call it). The solution is to produce legislation, and push for centers that address the needs of men and trans-folk, while offering support for a community (women) who have historically supported, and continue to support, the LGBTIA community. I don’t hear much talk about this when men bring up their domestic violence, rapes, or lack of contraception options. And while some local members of my trans community wanted to fight for medical options, they did not say anything about reproduction, rape, or sexual health, just access to consultations to transition and recieve hormones.

    Our foremothers worked their butts off to gain funding in these areas because when the institutions were neutral they were not being served. These attacks seem very much like an attempt to return to this error, and as always those among that gender category who need the most assistance will suffer the most from a lack of funding.

    • I think you raised some good points here, Lib. First I would like to clarify that I do not agree with defunding these programs, I’m absolutely the opposite. What I am saying is that in the fight to retain it we need to use inclusive language that is all gender inclusive, not gender neutral (which is very different). And as you said, do the same in creating legislation. Women have played a very important part in this fight and recognition is deserved. My point is that women are not the only ones involved here, therefore overarching language stating that is a problem that is liable to alienate active members of this fight. If others do it in their organizing, two wrongs don’t make a right. I think that all movements, no matter what community is initially at the head, need to be inclusive to all involved. How else would we grow and get stronger? That cannot be accomplished if we are leaving people out.

      And, for the sake of fun debate, historically ALL women have not always been allies to queers. Both women’s sufferage and the women’s rights movement frequently counted out queer women for the sake of image and political power moves, hence no laws about lesbianism were included – something many women wanted. The result was the creation of many queer woman focused organizations which did not receive the same attentions or funds and thus struggled.

  • That was bad wording on my part, Jac, wasn’t suggesting you were on the side of those trying to defund the legislation, and obviously I am not suggesting inclusivity is somehow bad. That’s ridiculous. However, when we include, without actually addressing the root of trans exclusion, it becomes tokenism, not inclusivity. This is what I have been experiencing, unfortunantly, and as much as I would like to think this was some isolated issue, similar experiences have been presented to me as of late, leading me to believe that this is infecting our politics.

    Additionally, I will confess that I am seeing quite abit of the trans community online (I have not experienced this from you) who is insisting that another oppressed group accomidate. What I mean by this, is that the attitude has been women (or insert another marginalized group) have X, I should be able to get X like them, not this group fought for X, We should work with this group to also acquire X, because as you noted, these problems are all of ours to face, and let’s be straight, the group negatively effected cannot end their oppression on their own.

    As for debating [which I actually don’t like doing, it’s an addiction I am trying to kick… BLAST YOU FOR FEEDING ME, :)], I never said ALL women, that would just be a ridiculous claim, ecspecially considering that not all women support an equitable society even to their own benefit. Additionally, let’s not make the mistake of equating mainstream Western white middle to upperclass lead women’s movements with activism done by women, as, like all folk (my new fav word for people), women are predominantly none of those classifications.

    • ooo there is so many interesting points here! haha, sorry to feed your addiction more, but my brain is thoroughly stimulated and I love it.

      The issue of tokenism is definitely one I struggle with, and admittedly I can start to feel a little defensive when I think I am being tokenized and not utilized. Exactly as you said, so often people don’t think about the bigger picture and essentially just throw communities into their messaging without actually knowing the whats, whys, and hows of it all. I find a hard time understanding the mentalities behind it. Is is really because people don’t know any better or is because people are privileged and/or down right lazy? I would be interested in hearing more of your thoughts from the incidents you’ve experienced.

      I agree that the mentality of “well you have this, I want it too” is not productive. I think what happens in those situations is people forgetting to 1) check their own privilege and 2) people not recognizing that while all oppressions reinforce each other, all oppressions are not experienced the same way or come from the exact same systematic influences. I think it is easy for us to get ahead of ourselves and start to think we are the only ones having a hard time, when in reality we’re all in this together.

      And dittos on your thoughts about women’s activism.

  • That should say, “women have X, I should be able to get X from them” in my really bad example of accomodation.

  • Hey Jac, or should I be writing JAC? I will send you a private message in regards to my experiences with trans tokenizm. Although I do discuss some issues in regards to my local trans-community (if you can call it that) on my blog, this is something I haven’t covered publically.

  • Being genderqueer myself, I understand where you are coming from, but what you don’t realise, as a man, is that there is such thing as a “minority space” or “safe place” for oppressed minorities and YES women DO feel threatened by men enough to need their own exclusive place. Do not use your privilege to begrudge them this. As I understand you are not a transwoman and merely genderqueer. That would mean that a women’s only space is definitely not your domain.
    There are sexual health safe places and shelters that include men as well. Seek those out.
    You should blame your fellow biological sex and not the women for this.

    To me, this would be like me wondering why the aboriginal students’ centre at my university doesn’t reserve special places for white folks as well… and thinking it unfair. I see no difference…and those who DO see a difference between race and sex, you need to get your head out of your asses.

    If these women have been abused bad enough to be afraid of males, of ANY gender and affliation, they STILL see a male. They are socialised to see it, and fear it. This is NOT their fault. Not saying it is yours either but this post really smacks of “I wanna be special too” without respecting the narratives and experiences of the oppressed which has involved millenia of abuse, pain and even death on a wide scale.
    This is not an issue to throw your remarks around flippantly and expect to be instantly validated. Sorry you feel the way you do.

    • Ok, K. You have made A LOT of assumptions about me, and not one of them was anywhere near accurate. First, I am not a man. I am not a transwoman. I am not “biologically male” nor have I ever been. I was born xx in a female assigned body and lived as a woman for most of my life thus far. And as a woman I was a very outspoken feminist activist and fought for women only safe spaces. Years ago I came out as a transguy, and as a transguy I STILL am a feminist activist advocating for women only spaces, -a space that I no longer enter because I am not a woman. I do not usually pass as a man, nor do many people commonly see me as one, so the male privilege you referenced is something I have never experienced nor am I likely to. Nowhere in my post did I say anything about not having closed safe spaces for anyone, especially survivors, because I am one. And I find my own safe spaces elsewhere, I don’t feel the need to leech off women, as you seem to suggest. I recommend re-reading this post and see that the only message in it is one of safety, resources, and justice for everyone as they need it fit for them.

      I also highly object to the phrasing “merely genderqueer.” Is being genderqueer somehow less of an identity than any other? This is especially off putting considering that you identified yourself as genderqueer. Please correct me if I am wrong. What it sounds like you are suggesting is that there is a hierarchy of legitimacy and “real” trans people have a better qualified identity than a genderqueer person. I do not know if that is what you meant, but that is how it sounds. I invite you to clarify because unlike the actions of some, I will not assume anything about you.

      I do my best to avoid accusatory “you” statements, but I at this point I am going to make an exception. If anyone needs to check themselves and pull their head out of their ass, it is you. This is what makes people think badly of activists, people screaming angry accusations about privilege and safety when that is the opposite of what they themselves make. I would like to suggest that before you start outright attacking people that 1) you know who you are talking to 2) know what you are talking about and 3) realize that your aggression is not a solution nor is it liable to encourage anyone to listen to you, work with you, or help create change. And I’ll additionally suggest 4) you learn how to read, because again, nothing you said in your comment can in any way be aligned to what I wrote.

      Thanks for reading. In solidarity.

  • As someone who follows this blog on the regular, I had to laugh at how incredibly off base you are, K. I won’t even get into the really cringe worthy meat of your message since I don’t have time. And not that it really matters at all, but I am under the impression that JAC is no bio-male. No?

  • wow, k, where the hell did you pull that from? did we read the same blog?? because wow. i think you’re dealing with some demons of your own. jac is talking about how people aren’t inclusive in their language when they are organizing, and how counting out trans people is a common mistake because cisgender people don’t include them. he never said anything about complaining about not having a safe space like you make it out. your comment is not only completely unrelated to the blog, its offensive!

  • @JAC, you were a lot nicer than I would have been to this K person. I think your message is clear here, that what matters is working for spaces for everyone, sometimes the same space, sometimes not. Language that is inclusive is really important. And I have NO IDEA how someone would interpret this post as you being a non-transguy who was born male. WTF?

    @K, you made a total fool of yourself. And thanks for making genderqueer sound like some fake identity that is lesser than other identities. I don’t even care why you said it because its clear to me you’re just trying to sound big spouting some womens studies 101 crap when you don’t know up from down. deal with your issues and stop putting them on others.

  • While I think we can all agree that K misunderstood JAC’s position on this matter, I find it a little unsettling that respondents are so quick to berate K, criticizing K for making assumptions and then turning around and making assumptions of their own (i/r/t K’s emotional health and intelligence).

    We’re speaking from/for/within marginalized groups, so what kind of solidarity are we generating by lashing out and accusing each other?

    Calling someone a “fool” isn’t helpful, even if you feel their interpretation of the issue was misguided. Advocacy and education are meant to help people understand things differently. None of that happens when we resort to name calling or questioning someone’s knowledge construction.

    • I agree, Coco. We all must strive to understand each other, even when we disagree, and try to autonomously assert ourselves while working towards a mutual solution. It can be hard sometimes, lol, oh how i know that. :) But even when people go off, I try to think they have good intentions, even if they bruise you with them.

Leave a Reply