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.