Are Caribbean feminisms trans* inclusive?

The conversation below is reproduced from WOMANTRA with the permission of the participants. It represents an attempt by participants to process, dialogue, negotiate and learn about trans* inclusive reproductive justice movements. It is perverse to debate into abstraction what are literally matters of life and death for some. It is healthy to admit the need to think in community and for spaces where you can share, learn and grow.

@Mod_Charissa:

What do you think of the idea that it’s offensive/transphobic to say reproductive rights is a woman’s issue?And that ‘uterus havers’ is the only appropriate term.
While I fully understand the intentions of inclusion with this term, I’m not comfortable with terms that seem to divorce womanhood/femininity away from issues that are decidedly due to women’s oppression.
If uteri were perceived as a masculine trait, the rights of “uterus havers” would not be under attack. Lack of reproductive access has everything to do with the devaluing/control of femininity.
So while various genders stand to benefit from reproductive access, I don’t think it’s inappropriate to call reproductive rights a “woman’s issue”. Reproductive rights are not being denied because some people have uteri. They’re being denied because uteri is associated with womanhood.

@battymamzelle:

I don’t know that it’s “offensive” so much as (intentionally?) not as inclusive as it could be. Reproductive rights ARE a women’s issue, but they’re not ONLY a woman’s issue, and in the quest to secure them, we are generally speaking about people who have uteri, not just people who identify as women. Not all cis women have a uterus. That doesn’t mean that they don’t get a say in the discussion.

I think it’s fine for cis women to want to talk about reproductive experiences that they specifically face, but I also don’t think it means they should have free reign to speak over or exclude other people who have uteri in all venues. Because when we talk about reproductive rights, we have been basically saying that “women should the right to decide what happens to their own bodies” but as with everything else in the feminist movement, our understanding of who needs access to those rights has expanded and when we use language that isn’t inclusive we imply that only women with uteri deserve these rights. It’s a very TERF argument to make that a small semantic change is too much of a burden imo. Unless of course, the stated goal is reproductive rights for cis women only.

@battymamzelle:

Also this. I guess you can sub in “abortion” for “reproductive rights.”

http://everydayfeminism.com/…/gender-inclusive…/

@Mod_Charissa:

A Woman’s Right to Choose,” “Women’s Health,” and “Women’s Access” are all phrases that erase me and others like me.”

Well I’ve been told it’s inherently offensive and transphobic to say reproductive rights is a “women’s” issue rather than “uterus haver” issue.

I don’t understand why the semantic change is “small” and “not a burden” when pushing to exclude the term woman. But “erasure” when including it. Do semantics matter or not? If it does matter, how do we choose which to go with? Why do we have to choose one. anyway?

Sorry, I think “uterus havers” is a fine term for someone to use in conjunction with any other term but to say it’s inappropriate to mention specifically women when speaking about reproductive rights is silly. As I said, people aren’t discriminating against women because they have uteri. The main problem transmen and other non-binary people have right now is that their uteri is associated with womanhood and femininity. Arguably if that association were to cease, so would their struggle for reproductive rights.

The “uterus haver” term does not encapsulate that reality. The devaluing of womanhood/femininity is at the center of lack of access to reproductive health imo.

I understand how it validates someone’s identity, but it is short sighted and careless to dogmatically enforce that term and only that term.

@battymamzelle:

I personally think “uterus haver” is a weird and clunky phrase but it doesn’t “erase women” it includes people who don’t identify as women who also have a stake in these issues because women are not the only people whose rights are being threatened here.

And I disagree that our oppression isn’t related to us having a uterus. Historically the withholding of rights to women has specifically been about the possession of a uterus. Whether it was “hysteria,” thought to be a case of the uterus wandering about the body, menstrual cycles that make us hormonal and too emotional to make rational decisions surrounding enfranchisement, or infertility that rendered a woman incapable of producing the requisite “heir and a spare” how are these prejudices not things that would also apply to trans and non-binary people who also have a uterus? Women have historically been thought to be the weaker, fairer sex BECAUSE we have a uterus, but women were also historically DEFINED as being any person in possession of a uterus. If one definition can change, why can’t the other? Why is this the one time when it’s okay to define womanhood by our physical bodies when we’ve worked long and hard to divorce the idea that sex and gender are correlated?

I don’t think anyone is saying we should ban the word women, but as I said before, our understanding of feminism has grown, and now we see that not just women have a stake in reproductive rights. And it just strikes me as really exclusive to ask trans and non-binary people to “just assume” that they are included in a struggle that refuses to name them. Isn’t that the same issue that black feminism had with white feminism? Why should we expect solidarity from people we refuse to acknowledge? And if the issue is the symbolic removal of the word “women” then why not simply phrase it to include both? “women and other people with uteri” is longer sure, but it satisfies both complaints, so it’s really up to everyone to decide which battle is more important. A knowingly exclusive name? Or the actual fight for reproductive rights?

Cis people have a very specific privilege over trans and non-binary people and the fact that we are also women does not prevent us from engaging in oppressive behaviors towards them. It’s our duty to help and protect THEM from the discrimination that they face because we are the ones with more privilege, not whine because they aren’t centering us, or demand semantic solidarity. Either we’re breaking the gender binary or we’re not.

@Mod_Charissa:

“Women have historically been thought to be the weaker, fairer sex BECAUSE we have a uterus”

I do not agree with this analysis of the root cause of terms like “hysteria” to describe women. As you so rightly put it, at the time only women were deemed to have uteri. Women were not called crazy and mentally weak because they have uteri.They were called so because they were women. The hysteria diagnoses was just one of many medically spurious justifications for women’s mental and physical inferiority. The pathologizing of anything associated with femininity was rampant. The association with womanhood is what made people suspect uteri make people crazy, not the anatomical part itself.

It does not make sense to me to apply that analysis in 2015 to people who have chosen indentities away from womanhood. Any prejudice trans or non-binary people face because of their uteri is specifically due to it’s association with womanhood.

“Why should we expect solidarity from people we refuse to acknowledge?”

See, the problem is in many trans-activists circles is that it’s increasingly not good enough to merely acknowledge a RANGE of experiences. One is acceptable. And that choice must be gender neutral. I’m not against the term uterus haver. I’m against it being the only acceptable term. Womanhood being divorced from female biological experiences is necessary in their definition of inclusion. I think that should be challenged because there is merit in keeping women associated with biological prejudices that stem from their womanhood.

Shari Inniss-Grant

@Mod_Charissa, I see what you’re saying about the need for a taxonomy that’s more incisive, but I think we’re seeing an intersection of prejudices. And the experience of trans and gender nonconforming people in relation to reproductive rights will help us better understand that intersection.

While reproductive rights is rooted in women’s historical (and ongoing) struggle for self-autonomy and agency, I think we’re going to see a range of ways in which that struggle affects others at the margins. The denial of access to reproductive rights is just one manifestation of an oppressive system’s control; control it will seek to maintain and exercise over every body it can–whether that body has a uterus, desires to have a uterus (I honestly wonder where science can go) or doesn’t have a uterus.
And I think women’s experience of that as a group has had manifestations that is specific to them as women, but also stems from stereotypes and expectations around gender. I disagree when you say “It does not make sense to me to apply that analysis in 2015 to people who have chosen identities away from womanhood. Any prejudice trans or non-binary people face because of their uteri is specifically due to it’s association with womanhood.” I actually think they can face a range of prejudices based on association with their womanhood, being seen as transgressing manhood or masculinity and something that’s uniquely at the intersection.

I agree with @battymamazelle that we need to listen to them when they raise issues like these, in the same way I want white or straight allies to listen to the truths my experiences have helped me to discern. This is an instance where, whether I feel uncomfortable or unsure, I’m not the expert. And if we discover later on there’s a better term, I think that will come as a result of listening and becoming invested in trans and gender variant individual’s perspective. Now, if only I knew how to put in paragraphs.

@redforgender:

I know i’m on dangerous ground here but it is also worth mentioning that trans* identities in the region do not map easily on to the dominant understanding of being transgender that circulates in and is exported from the US. Many persons who may be read as trans* in that context are often using other terms to describe themselves and have worked to organise and build coalitions with groups other than traditional women’s organisations in the region which often are ethno and class-centric and view their constituency as heterosexual (non-transgender) women who have children. So while many forms of feminist organizing have not done enough to unpack “woman” as a category, it is also important to acknowledge the organising of trans* and gender non-conforming people where their perspectives and concerns are centred. Trans people are not just on the margins of some forms of feminist organising but at the centre of some of the most dynamic thought and action!

The way how terms like cisgender and transgender get deployed often suggest that these are easily read off the body or are easily available identity categories or binary opposites. There seems to be a failure to acknowledge the history, geography and class (and racial) privilege that inhere in some identities like “genderqueer”. They are many ways of being transgender and gender non-conforming. They are many reasons why people are neither as “out” or visible as these binary oppositions suggests.  And there is also a racist exclusion of black people from the human, which recognises black femaleness but not black womanhood.

The fact is that coalitions are not built by linguistic abracadabra where some feminists seek to one-up each other regarding who is the most progressive but by difficult work across difference. A lot of what has painted us into tiny boxes is the way how organising for legislative and policy change has often meant satisficing, scaling back on vision or sacrificing the freedom and full humanity of one group at the expense of another. We have multiple experiences of this in the Caribbean. Tracy Robinson, Jacqui Alexander and Gabrielle Hosein are excellent scholarly and activist sources on this.

“Women’s rights” has a history in the exclusion and discrimination of women, biologically defined and socially constructed, not in feminist cissexism [at least not exclusively or primarily]. The women from the Global South whom I’ve met and who are working on sexual and reproductive rights are concerned about maternal mortality, 12-year-old incest survivors with no access to safe abortion, poor women imprisoned after miscarriages, women in need of their husband’s signed consent for health services, and the lack of comprehensive sexuality education in schools. We’re talking about women and girls here.

And with all the misogynist oppression that woman has come to mean, it is more than an identity category. Feminists politicised that category because it was difficult to talk about the issues women faced otherwise. I remember Peggy Antrobus saying that before 1975 nobody talked about violence against women. Now it’s all we talk about in the region. But the point is that there are particular histories to be acknowledged and critiqued even as we move beyond them. So yes, SRHR organising needs to be more trans inclusive and feminist visions and strategies need to be bolder, more radical and more inclusive. That is the difficult work of coalition building out of which the “right” language of that particular moment will emerge.

IMHO, it is neither transphobic nor cissexist to recognise that reproductive rights are a women’s issue and a trans* issue too. I have done some work with a colleague that seeks to demonstrate the way how oppressive norms around gender and sexuality dehumanise trans and gender non-conforming people, non-trans women and girls as well as other gender and sexual minorities. It is an attempt to challenge heteronormativity and transphobia within some forms of women’s/feminist organising in the region. Anyway, the fact that you are asking this question suggests openness and you’ve gotten great responses from @battymamzelle & Shari Inniss-Grant. Be well.

@battymamzelle:

“And there is also a racist exclusion of black people from the human, which recognises black femaleness but not black womanhood. ”

@redforgender, I don’t really want to jump back into this, but I wanted to say that the above was very poignant. Well said.

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