This past weekend

So everyone I knew was grieving something, and in all that, I only saw one acknowledgment that our grief might be connected: An article by Kathleen Stock, one of her generation’s pre-eminent TERFs, arguing against abortion. The article is infuriating (I barely got through it) and I’d like to spare you the experience, so I’ll just give you the most relevant quote:

“In response to the jailing of Carla Foster — the British woman who used mail-order abortion pills to terminate her viable baby at around 33 weeks — feminist barrister Charlotte Proudman argued on Good Morning Britain last week that “abortion needs to be decriminalised and treated like any other healthcare procedure”. This familiar construction — that every abortion must automatically count only as fairly benign “healthcare” for the woman concerned, no matter what the surrounding circumstances or who else is affected — is surely a grossly over-simplified extension of the term.”

This is exactly the same playbook that the right is currently using to ban gender transition in the United States. First you say that you don’t believe people should be criminalized (“there is a separate discussion to be had about whether imprisonment for Foster was counterproductive,” Stock adds primly). You say that the science isn’t settled (it is). You say that you only object to certain, “controversial” forms of the procedure (youth transition in that case, late term abortion in this one), and you say that while you are all for transition or abortion in theory, when it’s appropriate, in those very rare cases where it is absolutely necessary, these specific abortions or transitions are ethically dicey and elective and maybe even dangerous to your physical or mental health (the science isn’t settled!) and so, while you are not a bigot, and in fact you are quite liberal, and you totally support abortion and/or transition, maybe we should ban these transitions and/or abortions — just the ones you are talking about, no others, only the ones that might be bad, and again, no-one’s going to prison here — until we know more.

It always ends in banning all abortion.

It always ends in banning all transitions. It always ends in people going to jail, or prison, or the grave, and it always starts here: With the idea that a procedure we’ve been calling “healthcare” isn’t actually healthcare, that the state can and should countermand decisions made between doctors and patients, and that someone else’s bodily integrity and autonomy are less important than whether their choices make you feel icky.

I have been banging this drum for some time, and unfortunately, I can’t bang it without sharing some of my more polarizing opinions, so I’ll make this quick: I think that feminism has been an overall force for good in society. I think we are currently in the midst of an anti-feminist backlash that risks losing most of the gains made in the 20th century. I think that “dirtbag leftism” was just the brand name used to sell that anti-feminist backlash to the left, as evidenced by the fact that so many of its early advocates have openly embraced the right wing in recent years, and I think that rebranding campaign largely succeeded in normalizing misogyny and encouraging younger leftists to distance themselves from feminist thinking. I think that, by embracing the idea that there is or should be a rift between trans activism and feminist activism, we have done tremendous damage to our ability to talk about gender overall.

Trying to understand transphobia separately from misogyny is like treating your heart and your lungs as two totally separate systems: Sure, they’re specialized, but they work in concert, and they both do the same job, which is to keep your body alive. The body, in this case, is patriarchy — or, if you prefer, the Western Christian patriarchal gender binary — and if you want to kill it, you’ve got to know where to aim. It matters that so much of the current anti-trans panic was sparked by fearmongering about “young women” (read: young transmasculine people) losing their “fertility,” for the same reason that it matters that TERFs — who have successfully co-opted second- and third-wave feminism’s style, if not their substance — can pivot seamlessly to campaigning against abortion rights.

Abortion and transition both disrupt the same system: The reproductive hegemony that says some people are “naturally” made to give birth and others are “naturally” made to hold dominion over them. That hierarchy is central to Western thought. It’s the first order of business God outlines after kicking Adam and Eve out of the garden: “And to the woman He said, ‘I will make most severe Your pangs in childbearing; In pain shall you bear children. Yet your urge shall be for your husband, And he shall rule over you.’”

Patriarchal gender started as a curse

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Patriarchal gender started as a curse and became a source of injustice. Believing that gender can be anything else — let alone a source of pleasure and liberation, which is the implicit promise of every statement about “gender euphoria” and “trans joy” — is profoundly radical. Feminism holds one strand of that insight, queer activism holds another thread, and trans activism, the branch most explicitly devoted to pointing out the artificial and constructed nature of the binary, holds a third.

All of them converge on the body: Our right to live in our bodies as we wish, to modify them if we choose, to look how we want to look, to seek pleasure and fulfillment and, yes, healthcare, on the implicit understanding that we are our own best authorities. It’s the idea that our bodies belong to us — that they are not just tools used to reproduce and maintain the existing social order — that is so disruptive. Plenty of people would like to see us hollowed out. Plenty of people will only tolerate our bodies when they are under someone else’s control. I don’t have an easy answer for how to repair the seeming rifts between trans and queer and feminist movements, but I know that when we claim our bodies and live in them on our own terms, we do the work of all three at once. That won’t solve everything, but it’s a good place to begin.

There is no separation

There is no separation between our causes in the eyes of our enemies. There are times — as a trans person, as a queer person, as a feminist — when I do feel that all is lost. But I find hope here, as well as sorrow: Simply by being who I am, standing here, in my skin, I am undermining millennia of domination. Every time I claim myself for myself, the engine built to destroy me shudders. I want us all to find our power and shake the world with it. If we’re all sad about the same thing, in the same moment, without knowing it, then I want to believe that one day we will all feel the same joy, too.

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