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Huffington Post and Autostraddle both ran articles on January 27th, 2014 about the hashtag #protransprochoice and a petition started by three young adults: Beck Martens, Alice Wilder, and Calliope Wong–a transwoman who caused a media flurry in 2013 about being denied application for enrollment at a female-only college while Wong was still legally and anatomically male. The Autostraddle article is entitled #ProTransProChoice: Launching A New Reproductive Rights Movement. That’s right, a whole New Movement to accommodate gender identities! I consider this a particularly disturbing example of conflating ‘gender identity’ with physical sex and a stark reminder of what “sex not gender” means.

The #protransprochoice call for a New Reproductive Rights Movement demands that NARAL and Planned Parenthood spend their precious, limited funds[1] on media campaigns that explicitly cater to the gender identities of trans* people:[2]

The rhetoric of the pro-choice movement is typically based around the assumption that only folks who identify as women are hurt by restrictions on reproductive health care – such as abortion and contraception. #StandWithTexasWomen took the stage in 2013; “Trust Women” has been the mantra of this movement for decades. This language excludes trans* and gender non-conforming (GNC) people and thus, the movement has failed to address our reproductive and sexual health needs.

The offense is that speaking of “women” generally does not affirm or validate the identities of trans* people. Referring to abortion as a “woman’s” issue is unacceptable because, one, it does not include reference to female-born transmen who might need abortions and, two, not all “women” have vaginas. It makes trans* people feel unimportant and left out of the conversation. The #protransprochoice hashtag is just the latest iteration of on-going attempts from the pro-trans lobby to de-sex the way we speak about reproductive rights.[3]

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IDENTITY VERSUS SOCIALIZATION

I want to explore what “woman” means when male-born persons can be “women” just the same as female-born persons.

Most significantly, the term “woman” must be disconnected from the socio-historic context that gives the term coherency in the first place. Without any material or experiential framework “woman’s” origin becomes irrelevant; she can be anything or nothing at all.

When male-born persons can be “women” just the same as female-born persons, the skin-deep veneer of social identity is being substituted for the complex, lifelong process of class-based socialization. This is neoliberal individualist choice-theory masquerading as the politics of liberation.

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Sex Role BoxesI was coercively assigned a sex role at birth. As soon as medical personnel saw that I didn’t have a penis, the process of putting me and keeping me in a very narrowly-defined box began. From then on I was coercively stopped from doing or being things associated with boys and coerced into doing and being things associated with girls. I fought many bitter, painful battles over years of being forced into that box. A handful of those battles I won; most I lost, because the full power of adults was brought to bear to keep me in my proper sex role.

It’s intensely frustrating that in the intervening years experiences like this have continued for girls and boys. But worse, rather than meaningful progress toward simply allowing children to live their lives outside of any box, there is now a very powerful movement that claims that forcing children into the other restrictive sex role box is the solution. The problem, these people claim, is not that the person was coercively assigned a sex role at all, it’s that they were coercively assigned the incorrect sex role, and that (of course!) can be fixed by adopting the other sex role.

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Consistent with common usage of the term “cisgender,” the graphic below explains that “…if you identify with the gender you were assigened [sic] at birth, you are cis.”

Another Trans 101: Cisgender webpage describes cis this way: “For example, if a doctor said “it’s a boy!” when you were born, and you identify as a man, then you could be described as cisgender.” [i] Likewise, girl-born people who identify as women are also considered cisgender. WBW are cis.

Framing gender as a medically determined assignment may seem like a good start to explaining gendered oppression because it purports to make a distinction between physical sex and gender. Feminism similarly understands masculinity and femininity (e.g., gender) as strictly enforced social constructs neither of which are the “normal” or inevitable result of one’s reproductive sex organs. Feminism and trans theory agree that coercive gender assignments are a significant source of oppression.

On closer inspection of the concept of “cisgender,” however, feminism and trans theory quickly diverge. Read More