by Jonah Mix, Deep Green Resistance
Earlier this month, transgender activist Trevor MacDonald published two opinion pieces on the Huffington Post, each to attack the feminist organization Woman-Centered Midwifery. Woman-Centered Midwifery has earned the ire of the transgender movement for their open letter to the Midwives Alliance of North America, protesting MANA’s decision to remove all mention of the word “mother” or “woman” from most of their literature. Woman-Centered Midwifery made a simple request, signed by over a hundred prominent birth experts, activists, and feminists – that an organization devoted to promoting and organizing midwives shouldn’t deny the link between womanhood and birth. This was, of course, enough to bring down a torrent of condemnation, harassment, and threats by transgender activists.
Woman-Centered Midwifery is led in part by Mary Lou Singleton, whose Facebook comment is also the subject of the second hit piece. Full disclosure: Mary Lou is a friend of mine, and someone I respect greatly. Her work with Stop Patriarchy’s Abortion Freedom Ride, Deep Green Resistance,the Women’s Liberation Front, and other radical feminist and environmentalist resistance efforts have inspired, encouraged, and even facilitated my own activism. But these ridiculous smears would be inappropriate when aimed at any woman, not just one who has so clearly demonstrated her commitment to women’s reproductive justice.
MANA and other groups that support the removal of “woman” from a discussion of midwifery believe that such language is offensive, due to the existence of a small minority of those who identify as men. As the logic goes, the obvious connection between pregnancy, birth, and womanhood must be excised so as to not invalidate their identities; instead of discussing mothers or women, the millions of adult human females who birth children across the globe will have their identities stripped and be relabeled “pregnant persons,” in deference to a handful of transgender activists.
As I attempted to follow this logic, I was brought back to 2013, after the acquittal of George Zimmerman for his lynching of Trayvon Martin. As black anti-violence activists began rallying around the cry of Black Lives Matter, the pushback from white supremacists was immediate – and their foremost response was the formation of their counter-slogan, All Lives Matter.
For those who are unclear, it must be said that All Lives Matter is a vicious expression of white supremacy hidden behind a façade of egalitarianism. Of course all lives do matter in a moral sense. But as many black activists have pointed out, we currently live in a system where the value of white life is affirmed in a way black life is not. To the police, courts, and prisons, white lives – especially rich, male white lives – have recognized importance. The growing piles of broken brown bodies across this nation make it clear that the same is clearly untrue for those who live outside whiteness– and that those inside it have shown little dedication to making their insistence on All Lives Matter a reality.
Luckily, it seems as if most liberals and leftists are on board with rejecting “All Lives Matter” as a slogan – yet they ape its logic when they berate activists who center midwifery, abortion rights, and other reproductive justice issues on women as a class. Some white people do suffer state violence, but we all see “Hey, not everyone killed by police is black!” as an insincere distraction. So why does the existence of a small minority of transgender parents turn “Hey, not everyone who has an abortion is a woman!” into a meaningful critique?
Black activists have repeatedly explained that saying Black Lives Matter doesn’t mean others don’t, and only the most disingenuous white folks disagree. But clearly MANA and others who want to remove any mention of womanhood from a discussion of birth believe the statement “Women give birth” does unjustly exclude anyone who might not identify as a woman. This double standard makes no sense; if the use of “mother” in a discussion of pregnancy is a violent act of erasure, then Black lives Matter is no more justifiable. Do we really want to travel down that road?
Police violence actually affects white people at a far greater rate than restrictions on abortion or access to childcare affect those who identify as transgender. But in both cases, that doesn’t change the obvious fact that these groups are not the intended victims. Cops are militarized into hypermasculine violence because a white supremacist state requires soldiers willing to do violence against black and brown citizens. White folks – especially poor white folks – are sometimes caught in the crossfire, but the bullets and batons are aimed directly at people of color.
In the exact same way, abortion restrictions are put in place specifically because women are seen as incubators. Their bodies are such that men can fuck them, wait nine months, and remove a (hopefully male) child. Female human beings who don’t want to identify as women still possess those bodies, and they inherit the violence that has been constructed to keep those bodies down – a violence that is specifically tied to misogyny. As Ophelia Benson writes on her blog:
It doesn’t help [pregnant people who don’t identify as women] to try to obscure the fact that attacks on abortion rights are highly political in a particular way – a sexist way, a misogynist way, an anti-women way. A trans man who needs an abortion is caught in a system that was organized to thwart women’s autonomy.
Gloria Steinem (or perhaps an elderly Irish cab driver!) famously said, “If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.” The reason transgender folks are refused abortion services, as well as any other reproductive care, has everything to do with the fact that they are seen as woman, treated like women, and navigate a structure of policy and law imbued with intentional anti-woman violence. Sacrificing those obvious connections in the name of inclusion is a victory for right-wing fascists.
Inclusion has become the ultimate liberal fetish. Unfortunately, the uncritical expansion of categories to protect feelings is less inclusion than dilution. “All Lives Matter” is, after all, a demand for inclusion, specifically the inclusion of white trauma into the narrative of black resistance. The classic line used by men’s rights activists – “Sometimes men get beat up by women too!” – is a demand that efforts against domestic violence be “inclusive” as well. But none of these discussions are improved in the least solely by making language less precise.
The whole project of politics is placing the complex web of human interaction into a formula of power: Who does what to whom? And when we say white cops use violence against black civilians, the First World extracts resources from the Third World, or men restrict reproductive healthcare for women, we aren’t claiming that other individual experiences are impossible; we’re saying that, beyond those individual experiences an organizing structure exists that shapes how groups of people interact.
If your goal is to despecify language to the point where all possible experiences are represented equally, then yes, by all means replace woman with “pregnant person.” And while you’re at it, replace “Black Lives Matter” with “All Lives Matter.” Demand justice for “incarcerated persons,” not people of color. Set up shelters open to “the battered,” not abused women. Raise awareness for “colonized individuals,” not the Third World. Combat “discrimination based on orientation,” not homophobia. Then sit back, relax, and feel really, really great about just how inclusive you are.
But if your goal is a political analysis that actually confronts power, do just the opposite: Identify the white supremacy at the heart of police brutality, pinpoint the specific victims and perpetrators of domestic violence, name the agents of global empire, and, yes, be honest about who bears the brunt of reproductive oppression. At the heart of Black Lives Matter is the belief that oppressed populations have the right to narratives that center their experience of oppression, even if others who suffer from their peripheral effects may feel momentarily excluded. Reject this or accept it – but don’t apply it selectively. Victims of abortion restrictions and overmedicalized birth may indeed be “pregnant persons,” but only in the sense that those left bleeding, battered, and dead in our streets by psychopathic cops are “policed persons.”
Republished from Gender Detective, September 27, 2015