On the importance of Trans-Inclusivity in reproductive justice campaigns

As the media zooms in on ‘trans visibility’, trans issues and trans people are discussed in the public domain more openly than ever. The so-called transgender ‘tipping point’ and the media’s zooming in on trans celebrities conceals major challenges and restrictions to the fundamental rights of trans people across the world, which the mainstream media tends to summarily ignore.

The issue of reproductive justice is an area in which the rights of trans people have been (and in a majority of cases continue to be) categorically denied across the world, even in countries where trans visibility and regulations on legal gender recognition have been introduced. The Irish Republic is a case in point. Since 2015, the Gender Recognition Act enables a relatively hassle-free process of changing one’s gender legally, and in securing identity and travel documentation that corresponds to one’s gender identity. However, the entire issue of reproductive justice remains to be addressed, with a rigidly draconian policy on the right to access terminations. As for the reproductive issues of trans people, the state practices a policy of disregard. The situation is only starting to improve in several other EU member states. It was only in 2014 that Denmark abolished a regulation that stipulated compulsory sterilisation for trans people, and Sweden did away with a similar law in 2013. Compulsory sterilisation continues to be a key criterion for ‘transitioning’ some EU countries such as France.

To open parentheses, it is crucial to make a much-needed clarification about the use of the term ‘transition’. In the English language, it is a term commonly used to refer to trans people who are taking steps towards gender self-determination and self-affirmation, of openly ‘affirming’ who they really are, and have always been. The term ‘transition’ does not render justice to this process.

Reproductive justice: major hurdle for trans people

Reproductive justice is one of the most excruciating dilemmas faced by people dealing with gender self-determination. The reproductive rights of trans people continue to be summarily ignored and denied across the world, even when there is an otherwise ‘accommodative’ stance on trans visibility and equality. A great deal of stigma is associated with trans people’s reproductive rights. It is as if being ‘trans’ takes off the right of a human being to have a family and become a parent. Even when there is a slight recognition of trans-parenting, the emphasis, more often than not, is limited to adoption.

Trans identities and parenting: perfectly compatible

As mentioned above, the reproductive rights of trans people are anathema to many governments and legal systems. This pervasive attitude towards trans reproductive justice requires increased attention from reproductive justice and transgender equality activists. It is crucial that struggles to consolidate reproductive justice include trans issues, highlighting the trans-exclusionary nature of reproductive justice-related discourses. Trans people, if they so wish, have every right to have children. Being trans does not prevent one from being a good parent. Equally, and as someone with first-hand experience, this writer can confirm the appalling extent to which trans and gender-non-conforming people are stigmatised and looked down upon in medical facilities specialised in childbirth, parenting, antenatal and post-natal care, and also in child-care-related structures, including nurseries and schools. Unfortunately, even in this second half of the 21st century’s second decade (and even in countries where Equal Marriage has existed for some time), many professionals in medicine, nursing and childcare are yet to come to terms with the reality that a ‘family’ is not always a cisgender hetero-normative heterosexual family. A family can very well be transgender, a mixture of transgender and cisgender, non-cis-and non-heteronormative. Being non-heteronormative in no way devalues a family, except in bigoted and discriminatory minds.

The trans/non-conforming family: near-non-existent media exposure

It it also absolutely vital for trans writers, activists, artists and poets to focus more on children’s and young adults’ literature that include more trans, gender-non-conforming, non-binary, and non-cis-heteronormative characters. This is also a crucial need in television. Children’s programmes by major television companies which are household names in countries they are aired, often tend to transmit the message to children that a family can only be cis-heteronormative. Take the popular British cartoons Peppa Pig, or the totality of Cbbies productions, for example. The emphasis is constantly on ‘mums and dads’, ‘girls and boys’, in an exclusively cisgender and heteronormative world.

What about families where there are two mums and two dads? What about families where there is only one mum or dad? What about families in which some kids do not want to abide by the dictates of a cis-hetero-normative world, and families with children who are trans? There are laudable initiatives by some writers to propagate children’s stories that focus on gender diversity, but next to none of them have entered the mainstream media, especially television, which reaches out to the largest audiences.

Trans people can have kids too!

Even when parenting by trans people and family lives involving transgender parents are discussed somewhat favourably, the focus most often tends to centre on the issue of adoption and adoption-related legalities. This, once again, is pervasive in its clearly discriminatory undertones. These views tend to reinforce the stereotype that trans people and reproductive rights are not, cannot be, if not ought not to be, interconnected.

The realities of this issue are much more complex and diverse. Being trans does not and should in no way prevent someone from becoming a parent and if they so wish, have their own children.

Inclusive reproductive justice: the keyword of our times

To reiterate a timeless reality, it is absolutely vital for reproductive justice activists across the world to make their activism and discourses trans and gender-plural-inclusive. In the absence of trans-inclusion, existing struggles for reproductive justice remain simply cis-normative, and find themselves in the contradictory situation in which activists are fighting against the draconian-sexist dictates of a cis-hetero-normative lobby, while themselves being cis-normative (and thereby not fully deconstructing, if not challenging the extremisms of their opponents). No reproductive justice movement, be it on either side of the Irish border, in the USA or anywhere else in the world, can claim to be comprehensive, consistent and inclusive in the absence of an emphasis on trans-inclusion. In the specific context of Ireland, it is very important for campaigners who focus on extending the 1967 Abortion Act to Northern Ireland and in repealing the 8th amendment, to strongly uphold a discourse of inclusivity, constantly and consistently focusing on reproductive justice.

If activists are to present themselves as only focused on ‘abortion’, it is of tremendous advantage to misogynist and conservative anti-choice/anti-reproductive justice lobbies. The term ‘abortion’, in Ireland and elsewhere, has been demonised, and is used as a term to convince people (even those who are otherwise progressive-minded) to support restricting fundamental rights, by withholding the right of a person who is pregnant to seek a termination.

In this context, if pro-choice campaigners are to succeed in their mission, it is crucial for ‘pro-choice’ activists to a) orient their campaigns along a reproductive justice paradigm and b) make their campaigns fully ‘inclusive’. The latter involves going beyond the common cis-normative focus on cis women, and including trans men, gender-non-conforming and non-binary people, thereby making their discourses and activism one that profoundly challenges and deconstructs the opinions of cis-hetero-normative and hetero-patriarchal extremists who assume that they have the right to make decisions on the bodily autonomy of cis women, trans men and gender-plural people. This also facilitates the development of a stronger case, which amalgamates pro-choice campaigns with strong campaigns against the inclination of cis-heteronormative legislative and healthcare lobbies to control the reproductive prerogatives of people, simply because of their gender identities.

Intersectionality in #reprojustice campaigns?

It is also vitally important to make discourses on reproductive justice not only trans inclusive but also profoundly intersectional. In the Irish contexts (north and south), this involves taking stock of and emphasising the challenges faced by members of the Irish Traveller community, ethnic minorities, people with non-EU citizenships living in Ireland (north and south) etc. who risk facing added stigma and challenges when accessing reproductive justice-related support. It is also crucially important to recognise the invariable reproductive justice component of gender self-determination, and specific challenges faced by people from minorities simultaneously grappling with reproductive justice and gender self-determination issues.

Inclusive reproductive justice is the keyword, and inclusivity essentially needs to involve cis, trans and gender-plural people. It is crucial to raise awareness in pro-choice lobbies on the vital importance of inclusivity and intersectionality, which go hand-in-hand.