Bodily Autonomy

Agency and autonomy. Many can agree that these are basic rights for individuals within a community and society. We also tend to agree that there are lines where If you cross them, you can be punished, including by denying you your agency and autonomy.

Where the line gets drawn, though, is possibly the most controversial and contentious part of the whole process. Many are simple enough: you cannot deprive someone of their life. And others are much more complicated. Sometimes, we contradict ourselves in our behavior. The most notable example of such a contradiction in my mind is the US Constitution, which laid out inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. A Constitution that also intentionally made accommodations for slavery.

Today, we still have these problems, and are in what can only be described as a political scrum for possession over being able to define these lines. The problem I see is that the people fighting in the scrum aren’t even representative of the individuals who are most impacted, disconnecting them from the motivation that drives all this in the first place. And with each individual issue, you see groups wind up on different sides of the debate, despite them all boiling down to very similar principles.

A woman has the right to bodily autonomy. She has the right to conduct her reproduction as she sees fit. This is the basic premise. But the argument gets dragged down into a sea of “but”s. But the potential child is also a result of the father. But my religion conflicts with the beliefs of my employees. But the potential child is a person and must be protected at all costs. I’m only going to briefly deal with these topics, so we can tackle something else as well:

  1. Placing a burden on the mother for the desires of the father, and enforcing it by law is denying agency of the mother. Period. If the two cannot come to an agreement on their own around the situation, in my view, the mother has final say. You cannot place a undue burden on an individual without their consent and assume it is righteous in any sense of the word.
  2. As far as I’m concerned, a religious employer explicitly denying access to certain medical preventative care on religious grounds is a form of religious discrimination, against the employee. The employer is not being discriminated against when being told they can’t do this. They are not the ones with the lack of power in the interaction. But the employer here, with an uneven interaction, can deny agency to their employees by denying access to this sort of preventative care.
  3. We have plenty of situations where two competing interests must be resolved. Some of them very dire and can include a situation where one/some live, and one/some die. This argument has never sat well with me, since we have no problem making that trade and justifying it when it comes to military conflict. Are we making the justification that the woman is inherently less valuable than any unborn child in any situation? Such absolutism is rubbish right off the bat. And for me, the only reasonable way out is to take a stance similar to that of free speech: You will have to accept the potential for bad, for the greater good. Fear is not a reason to deny access to medical care, or institute Jim Crow-style laws to regulate it out of existence. Again, it is preemptively denying agency, out of the fear of abuse and the assumption that women cannot be trusted to make these decisions.

But this isn’t all, I want to attack an issue just as close to me, which is the agency of trans individuals. I bring up women’s fights for agency and reproductive rights, because it is very similar to the fight that the trans community faces. At the heart of it, is agency. The agency to transition, access medical care, use an appropriate bathroom, and travel unencumbered. But the politics at play is making a very big argument against the agency of the trans community, the women’s community, and the gay/lesbian/bisexual community. In many ways, we are sisters and brothers in arms. We do have a shared fight, and that is the right to autonomy and agency. The right to decide what is right for us, and to prove that we are not inherently less valuable than another because of our sex, attractions, or expression of sex and gender. That we should not be weighed against another and found lacking as a person.

But I still feel like I had to write this. To remind folks what it is that we are really fighting for. Because when I’m willing to get into a political scrum for women’s rights, for LGB rights, I do it gladly. I see our similarities (and my many overlaps), and get disheartened when those same people whose side I am supposedly on, are opposite me in the Transgender scrum, siding with the very people they are fighting against elsewhere. They are outing people (and ousting them from their communities), destroying careers, and making spaces less safe for trans people. And then some of them even have the gall to point fingers elsewhere as if these things don’t contribute to the harm dealt to trans people around the world.

These are supposedly the people who are most likely to understand our struggle. People facing one so eerily similar, yet subtle in its differences. But it is obvious that they don’t. And maybe they won’t ever understand, too focused on the minutiae of the differences to see the similarities. Too absorbed in their disgust to find empathy. Too fearful to open themselves up and learn.

This attitude is a burden by itself. If I were to present myself authentically in public, I would be seen as a member of many of these groups. Groups whose vocal members would fight against me, drum me out, and deny me the same agency they fight to have for themselves. To be authentic is to be made low by the very groups I identify with. Left exposed to those who would do the worst harm.

This is not righteous. This is not ethical. This must change.