Alex Moore discusses the need for the inclusion of Trans voices in our struggles for progress.
The trans community is one of the most disadvantaged and systematically oppressed groups in the North of Ireland, and arguably has a similar position across the world. Our community has one of the highest rates of suicide, and has amongst the highest levels of mental ill health across most demographics – often attributed to the extreme isolation experienced by many members of the community, binarism and biological essentialism within wider society, and other more targeted discrimination and violence.
Lack of access to healthcare is a further prevalent cause of mental ill health within the trans community. Trans people – including trans children – are denied access to vital treatment such as HRT or hormone blockers, often based on arbitrary characteristics such as weight and smoking habits. Further, they’re pathologized and forced to obtain a diagnosis of dysphoria before being given the right to transition how they wish, and are subjected to interrogation by medical professionals who believe they can better ascertain the gender of a trans person than the trans person themselves – these among many other unjust and cruel practices. Some countries, such as Cuba, have drastically improved the quality of healthcare delivered to trans people. While this is a vital step towards the liberation of the trans community, it is imperative that social and societal transphobia and trans exclusion are tackled with similar vigour.
Access to abortion can present specific issues for trans people
More often than not, the issues of denial of access to healthcare and the social exclusion of trans people intersect. Recently, this has been highlighted in campaigns across Ireland calling for the provision of free, safe, and legal reproductive healthcare, namely, access to abortion (on demand). These campaigns often use language which at best passively excludes trans men and non-binary people, and at worst actively refuses to acknowledge their existence. The ability to become pregnant – and therefore the requirement to access reproductive healthcare – is not solely possessed by cis women; many trans men and non-binary people can become pregnant and often require access to abortion.
While having access to abortion is a basic right and requirement for all genders, a lack of abortion access can raise significant specialised issues for many trans folks. Access to abortion is often necessary in order to preserve the mental health of the person seeking it: increased levels of dysphoria may affect some trans people during pregnancy, and the mis-gendering and assumption of womanhood that often comes with pregnancy can have a huge impact on mental health. In areas where abortion is readily accessible (unlike Ireland at present), the gendered dynamics of reproductive healthcare can still be huge issue. Abortion and other reproductive healthcare services are often heavily gendered: this can cause causing discomfort as a result of either passive or active mis-gendering when trans folks seek to access an abortion through the “legal” means within their state.
Recognising misogyny and using gender neutral terminology aren’t mutually exclusive
When we refer to all those who require access to abortions as “women” by default, we as pro-choice campaigners are participating in the structural erasure and oppression of the trans community. However slight the change in language may seem, it is imperative that for the inclusion of all people in our movement, gender neutral terms are used when discussing this. This means replacing “women” with, for instance, “women and others who may get pregnant” or simply “people who can get pregnant”.
One issue that has consistently been raised in response to the request for gender neutrality is this: does this prevent us from discussing the misogynistic nature of these laws, and addressing the structural sexism reflected in them? Absolutely not. Yes, the language we use must be gender neutral for us to best run an inclusive movement, and to show solidarity with marginalised communities which contribute to said movement. However, it is also imperative that we discuss the undeniable fact that in creating these laws, the church and oppressive forces of the time were policing what they believed to be “women’s bodies” – it just so happened that their policies simply had wider implications than this. It is well within our ability as activists to articulate our message using gender neutral language, while simultaneously acknowledging the structural sexism from which these harmful and oppressive policies originated.
In the South of Ireland, the Abortion Rights Campaign set the groundwork for a completely trans inclusive, gender neutral campaign to be run for the repeal of the 8th amendment. Through their use of inclusive language and their platforming of trans and migrant voices, they managed to address the structural sexism which created the Amendment while also showing strong solidarity with all communities affected by the 8th. This style of progressive campaigning was unilaterally dismantled and almost ignored within the Together For Yes campaign. This move appeared to be primarily due to the moaning of armchair centrist commentators who criticised the Yes camp for not appealing to “middle Ireland” to the extent that we should’ve been. Clearly, these armchair activists underestimated the amount of people in “middle Ireland” who have had experiences with or been touched by stories of abortion, while also overestimating the need for using heavily gendered language to appeal to them.
The national campaign for the Yes vote in the May 25th referendum became heavily, binarily, gendered. Trans people who required access to abortion (whether now or in the past) were essentially being mis-gendered in the many debates, posters, pamphlets and literature which littered Ireland in the months leading up to the vote. Many trans people joined in the campaign, myself included, and many local branches such as my own took active measures to maintain the inclusivity of the ARC campaign which came before. This inclusive campaigning proved to be just as effective as the arguably exclusionary messages being pushed at a national level. While messages often need to be modified and mitigated depending on the person who answered the door, an inclusive approach did not hamper our ability to change hearts and minds in favour of repeal.
I understand the all-encompassing need to win. I felt it in the marriage equality referendum and I felt it even more so in the weeks and days before the vote to repeal the 8th amendment. I palpably feel this need in our activism in the North; reproductive rights must be granted as soon as possible, across Ireland and across the world. However, it simply isn’t the case that we must surrender our values, our progressive politics and our radical inclusiveness in order to do so.
Trans inclusion is not optional for a progressive movement. Our activism and our movements shape the society we live in, and the wins we achieve. To exclude trans people from our movement (regardless of intent) is to participate in their exclusion and erasure from wider society. The onus is on us to be inclusive and do precisely the opposite. We must fight structural transphobia wherever and however it manifests itself, and push forward for the liberation of all marginalised communities.