The larger focus on women's rights in this political season and the action rising around it has been heartening to see. However, it's given rise to many over-simplified discussions of bodies and rights that pose a problem for a movement that intends to include trans women. The image below was recently posted to the Facebook for "A Girl's Guide to Taking Over the World." It's been making its way around the internet for months, but it provides an almost textbook example of how simple ignorance can lead to the creation of anti-trans hostile environments in feminist spaces.
The image is a protester wearing a towel with legs and a penis drawn on it and a sign that asks "Does this dick make my rights look bigger?" It may seem glib and silly, but this is not just a hypothetical question for the plenty of women out there who do have dicks - or at least what other's might interpret as such.
The suggestion that such women gain access to rights because of it is flat out insulting. It is made to sound as if trans women experiencing street harassment or unfair workplace treatment could clear it all up by revealing that they are trans. In reality, trans women are specifically targeted for harassment, discrimination, and violence on top of the harassment, discrimination, and violence we experience as women.
Clearly the woman who originally came up with this protest idea was not actually intending to make a statement against trans women, nor do I expect anyone re-posting the image was. But it's depressing to have seen this image cross my facebook feed a dozen or more times over the past few months, especially by people and organizations that I respect. These are groups and people I would expect to know better, and the fact that they are unable to anticipate the negative impact this will have on trans women in their community makes me feel unsafe and unsure if I want to work with them in the future.
I know plenty of women who refuse to work with feminist groups altogether because of the frequency of things like this. I'm not talking about the hate-filled anti-trans activists who attack trans people in the name of feminism. Micro-aggressions such as these images quietly reinforce assumptions and stereotypes about trans women and can be a real problem, especially when they are so frequent.
I responded the first 2-3 times I saw that image posted, but after that I was too fatigued to do it anymore. It may seem expedient for feminist communities to ignore these problems, but that is at the cost of alienating a significant population of women who desperately need feminism in their lives.
This problem becomes even more pronounced when dealing with women's health and reproductive rights. There is an argument to be made that the discussion of abortion should be limited to those with a functioning and fertile uterus and ovaries. But in most cases that's not what is actually being argued.
Rarely are infertile cis women ever told to "shut up" on the issue of abortion. That's because the issue of choice and a woman's right to do with her body as she pleases affects all women. While trans women are often told (intentionally or unintentionally) that the inability to have need for abortion disqualifies us from the discussion, reproductive rights covers a lot more ground than just abortion.
Women of color feminists have been pointing out for decades that the right to have children is just as much a reproductive right as is the right to not have children. Forced sterilization is an issue with a long and horrific history as well as an often ignored present. This directly impacts trans women as most states still require trans people to be sterilized before being granted legal gender recognition.
This past year access to hormonal birth control has become a major political issue. Many insurance companies exclude birth control from their plans and a large political movement has been fighting to make such discriminatory practices illegal.
Those same insurance companies also discriminatorily exclude access to hormone replacement therapy for trans people, but unfortunately there has been comparatively very little movement to end that discrimination.
As conservatives push towards making hormonal birth control illegal, you can bet such an outcome would impact trans women as well, as the hormone pills we take are made from the same synthesized hormones, just in different doses.
As conservatives seek to defund Planned Parenthood and shut down clinics that offer abortion in the struggle over reproductive rights, it increasingly puts access to basic services at risk. Just as cis women seek services at these clinics unrelated to abortion, so do trans women. In fact, in some areas Planned Parenthood is one of the only service providers willing to prescribe hormones and related care for trans people. (In other areas Planned Parenthood refuses services to us for being trans, but that's another issue).
So it is true that I will never have personal need for an abortion. However, I have relied on Planned Parenthood and other women's clinics. I have lobbied my state legislature for insurance coverage of birth control. I have lobbied city governments to adopt insurance plans for their own employees that cover hormones for trans people. I have personally been sterilized because the government demanded it (a requirement my birth state of California rescinded just this last year). And I continue to fight for access to women's health care - both cis women and trans women.
I would like to see all my sisters, regardless of their genital configuration, do so as well. And for that to happen we need to build a feminist movement for all women.