Thursday, October 08, 2009

My Cis Priviledge & the #ProChoice Movement

One of the pro-choice movement's favorite phrases, which we repeat often on Twitter in the "I am #prochoice because" meme*, is "Men can't get pregnant."

Sometimes we qualify the statement a little, prefacing it with "100% of the men who are anti-choice will never be pregnant." In those cases, we're saying we're referring specifically to men who identify with the anti-choice movement, and it is likely (in my uninformed opinion) that those men are cis men, who will, indeed, never be pregnant.

For those of you who don't know what "cis" means, just like I didn't until a few weeks ago, here's a definition of it courtesy of Arwyn at Raising My Boychick's glossary:

Cis is a Latin prefix meaning “on this side” or “on the same side”; it was purportedly first used in the form “cisgender” by Carl Buijs in 1995 (or 1994). Writer and professor of biology Julia Serano uses all three terms in her book Whipping Girl; she credits first learning of them from Emi at Cisgender and cissexual are adjectives for those who are not transgender or transsexual. Much like we refer to trans persons, we might also refer to cis persons.

These terms mean, simply, that one’s intrinsic or subconscious sex (or gender) is in accord/agreement with one’s external, physical sex/gender, and always has been. Much like the term “heterosexual” (or “straight”) when it was first introduced, some cis individuals are offended by the term; this is a nonsensical, privileged position, however: as Monica Roberts puts it so well, Cisgender is not an insult.

So, cis men will never be pregnant. We need to qualify our statement, because trans men can get pregnant. When we say, "Men can never get pregnant," we are lying, and we are excluding and oppressing trans men.

First, we cannot exclude trans men and their reality from our language and our activism, but we also need to realize that, hello, they deserve the same reproductive rights and protections that we cis women are asking for. We need to include trans men in our language and in the fight itself.

I didn't follow the story when it was breaking and I still don't know much about it now, but remember the pregnant man on Oprah? The headline on this ABC News story pretty much says it all: "It's My Right To Have A Kid, Pregnant Man Tells Oprah." D@mn straight it's your right! That's what the pro-choice movement is about: nobody has a right to tell you what you can and cannot do with your uterus. No matter what your gender is -- if you have the equipment and want to use it, go for it.

Although I have done no research on this, I would wager the majority of trans men is on the other side of the issue. Not looking forward to a wanted pregnancy, but being the victims of rape and staring at an unwanted one, needing to terminate it.

I don't want to say much on this issue because I am so wholly ignorant on it, and I don't want to talk out of my @$$ about stuff I don't know. But this realization has made me ask myself several questions... when we (cis women in the pro-choice movement) raise a ruckus about access to birth control, including emergency contraception, to teens and availability of EC for rape victims at hospitals, are we asking for that same access and availability for trans men? How are trans men treated at the ER after a sexual assault? Do they even seek medical assistance, or do they know how they will be treated by doctors, hospitals, domestic violence shelters, and therefore never get the help they desperately need?

How are we fighting for their rights?

What about trans women? Now, they can't get pregnant, but that doesn't mean they don't have reproductive health needs. The pro-choice movement is about granting women access to basic health care, about giving women control of their bodies. But so far the only issues we have addressed are cis women's reproductive needs and health care. What do trans women need? How can we include them in the fight?

When we talk about domestic violence, and helping women who are victims of DV, are we helping trans women? Or are we, again, looking only at cis women's needs, and only providing help and care to cis women?

How do we fix this?

All this was much simpler when I only looked up. I looked above me, at those that are oppressing me, and boy was I good at pointing fingers at others and pointing out their privilege. The other day, I royally shoved my cissexist foot into my privileged mouth. And for the first time I looked down, at those below me, those I was oppressing.

No, I didn't mean to oppress them. I didn't mean to exclude them. But that doesn't mean I wasn't doing it, and that doesn't mean its effects were not just as damaging as if I had been doing it on purpose.

I'm going to stop doing it. Because it was not a pretty feeling when I realized I was doing to others what others were doing to me. It was not a pretty feeling when I realized I, too, was part of the kyriarchy. And I don't want to be part of a movement that supports it, either.

*please tell me I'm using "meme" correctly. I don't really know what it means and I'm too lazy to look it up, so I'm hoping I've seen it enough times that I've correctly guessed the meaning from context. If I didn't, please don't make fun of me.


  1. Yes, that is the correct use of meme (at least I believe so). ; )

    It's interesting to note my own reaction to learning about all this myself-- how even I have this immediate reaction of "Crap, we have to think about EVERYBODY, and doesn't that just make things way too complicated???" Which I'm not proud of. It's not fun to have to think about many of these very complex issues, and even if the population affected by them is relatively small that doesn't make them any less important.

  2. But then again, is the population actually "relatively small" or have they been marginalized from society so much that we've made them invisible, their voices are silenced, and that's why we think they're a "relatively small" group? After all, it's not like trans people are walking around yelling, "Hey, look at me! I'm trans! (Come commit hate crimes against me!)"

    But, as you said, whatever percentage of the population they are, they are still part of the population and society, especially activist groups, need to realize that.

    It is a little overwhelming to think of all the groups we've ignored and/or abused through the years. So much discriminatory language is a part of our daily lives, and I'd never stopped to think about it. I thought I was doing well because I called students our for using "gay" and "retarded" as insults, and because I had eliminated "lame" from my vocabulary (even though I still have to think about it), but I use "dumb" and "blind" all the time, not giving it a second thought. Or, this morning, I read the expression "don't have a leg to stand on." I'm a writer! I pay attention to words and I know the power of language... and I didn't notice all this ableist language going on around me (and being used by me)? I believe, on Twitter, this would be coded as #feministFAIL and #writerFAIL.

  3. I forgot to comment on this but I found this really informative so thanks.


  4. Anonymous1:55 AM

    Miss cox...

    I would never make fun of you as I consider you to be a very intelligent and caring woman.

    Why am I pro-choice ?

    2 Reasons that while labeled 1 and 2 are still of equal importance to me.

    1 : I grew up the unwanted son of a "mother" who chose to treasure her career and social status more than her family and I dont want any other child to go through what I did.

    2 : Its one of my core beliefs that women have complete say so in what happens to their bodies as well as whether or not to give birth to a child they may or may not want.

    No...Im not a fan of abortions as some might think BUT if a woman is gonna give birth then better it be by her choice than by the law whether secular and/or religious.

    Blessed be.

  5. Anonymous1:59 AM

    As to your use of memes and/or the transgender issue...

    Like you, my knowledge and understanding on those 2 subjects is less than none...

    So in my case...I keep my mouth shut.