Making a Space for Trans People in Reproductive Justice

In sad but unsurprising news, Donald Trump has changed health care policy to allow more employers to opt-out of providing low/no cost contraception to their employees through insurance policies.

More unsurprising news is that the internet exploded in response. Major reproductive justice organizations like Planned Parenthood and NARAL sent out press releases combatting the new policy. The backlash was beautiful.

Beautiful, but completely alienating to me as a nonbinary trans man. Nearly every single tweet, post, email, and message I saw equated “person who uses birth control” with “woman.”

“Defend women.” “Women’s health care.” “Attacks on women.” “Puts women at risk.” “Women are watching.”

I’m not denying that the history of attacks on bodily autonomy, reproductive health care, and family planning are intrinsically tied to rampant misogyny and the lack of women’s voices in policy-making. I believe that women should always be centered in the “debate” about reproductive health care, because the majority of women live with these issues everyday.

But so do people who are not women. I am so tired of being excluded from reproductive justice discourse. When trans men and nonbinary people attempt to talk about our experiences with reproductive health care, we are often excluded or told that we must pretend to be women in order to have our voices heard. Virtually all reproductive health and reproductive justice information that isn’t specifically designed for trans people completely excludes us.

When I go to the gynecologist’s office for a yearly exam, every piece of information I encounter assumes that I am a cisgender woman with a cisgender man partner, which is wrong on both accounts.

If I go on Planned Parenthood’s website to look up information on contraception, its language assumes I am a cisgender woman. Ironically, the disclaimer on the website for Upland Planned Parenthood reads: “Our health center supports and welcomes clients regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, or biological sex, including but not limited to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, and intersex clients.”

I don't doubt that Planned Parenthood and organizations like it strive to "support and welcome" people of all genders and sexualities who seek their services. It's just that their efforts fall short nearly all of the time. 

When it comes to reproductive justice, trans men and nonbinary people face incredible marginalization. Mainstream media organizations hardly ever talk about us. When we are talked about, it is usually in the context of “look how inclusive our organization is,” right before said organization goes right back to ignoring us.

When big organizations like Planned Parenthood pay lip service to people like me, I feel like a lesser person – like my struggles don’t matter as much. I feel like I’m taken for granted – another body in the struggle, with none of the (albeit limited) recognition.

I’m not looking for a gold star or a cookie. I’m just looking for inclusion and support in a movement I'm forced to participate in because of my body.

Trans men and some nonbinary people live with all the reproductive health issues that women do. We may not face the same direct, unbridled misogyny that women do – although misdirected misogyny is a documented phenomenon – but we live with the same health issues, with an unhealthy dose of transphobia to boot.

My endometriosis and premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) didn’t go away when I came out. Since the age of 14, I’ve been on a variety of contraceptive methods because of how severe my symptoms are. I’ve faced misgendering, misnaming, and so many awkward questions whenever I seek out care for my reproductive health issues.

The issue I seek to correct isn’t “women shouldn’t have as much say in reproductive health care,” but rather “people who aren’t women but who still deal with reproductive issues like menstruation and pregnancy shouldn’t be excluded.” Our struggle for reproductive justice isn’t a finite movement. There’s will be just as much room for women if they include trans men and nonbinary people.

I guarantee that the reproductive justice movement will improve itself by welcoming in trans men and nonbinary people. Just like cisgender women, trans men and nonbinary people come from all walks of life. We have our stories to tell and will listen to the stories of others. An inclusive movement is infinitely more powerful than one that ostracizes some of its members.

Donnie TC Denome PZ ’20 is a public health major from the San Francisco Bay Area. They plan to pursue a Master's in Public Health and be a parent to several lizards.