“No so-called sex-change has ever begged for a uterus-and-ovaries transplant; if uterus-and-ovaries transplants were made mandatory for wannabe women they would disappear overnight.”
Germaine Greer, ‘The Whole Woman’ (1999)
I’ve seen this argument be made many times, and it’s always darkly amusing, because it’s so blatantly wrong. The first recorded case of sex reassignment surgery in the modern sense was that of Lili Elbe, who died in 1931 following complications after an ovaries transplant. Since then, plenty of trans women (but by no means all) have longed to have functional ovaries, wombs, and all that would allow. Certainly I know many trans women personally who are distraught that they may never be able to carry a child to term, and I myself spent several hours in tears when this sunk in for me early in transition (thankfully, my ex was there to comfort me, but it still hurt like hell).
Don’t get me wrong. I’d not immediate rush to impregnate myself the second a hypothetical uterus transplant occurred. It’s more like that I’d like the option to be there. Of course, said option would also present the risk of getting pregnant accidentally, or even being impregnated against my own will. That’s why this whole issue is tied in so deeply to reproductive and abortion rights, and I’ll get into this later.
There’s also the menstruation issue, which is a bit of a complicated one. It’s not uncommon for trans women to be told by cis female friends that they are lucky for being able to dodge that one, but this isn’t so simple. It’s not that trans women desire the bloody underwear, the painful cramps, the migraines, and so on, but it’s what menstruation itself means. For one thing, it can feel very othering, reinforcing a difference between trans women and cis women that trans women cannot do anything about. For another, menstruation is part of fertility, and there are plenty of trans women who would love to have the chance to become pregnant. But, yeah, at least we don’t get the cramps.
Science is slowly advancing so that uterus transplants may one day be possible, although with the potential risks it could have to both mother and child, and the low importance of any trans application of medical breakthroughs, it’s unlikely to be anytime soon.
The painful truth is this: at the current time, trans women cannot menstruate, get pregnant, or give birth.
But trans men can.
Trans guys, or anyone trans who was assigned female at birth, do possess wombs, at least to begin with. This means they can get pregnant – willingly (in which case, the media will have another field day with ‘Pregnant Man‘ stories), or otherwise.
So trans men naturally deserve a say when it comes to issues of reproductive rights – especially that around the topic of abortions. Cis men are lambasted for trying to dictate the terms of the debate and tell (cis) women what they are allowed to do with their own bodies, and rightly so (I’ve been horrified at what Gov Perry has been doing over in Texas, and fully support the fight against it), but this obviously doesn’t apply to trans men, who can be (or could have been) affected by the very issues in question.
But you can’t have it both ways. Because if trans men deserve a say when it comes to abortion laws because of the parts they were born with, then by the same logic, trans women do not. And this is where another problem arises. Now, as I said earlier, I would love to be able to get pregnant myself, but it’s just not going to happen as medicine currently stands, and I’ve got to accept that. If I don’t menstruate myself, if I can’t get pregnant myself, then I shouldn’t get to tell those who do what to do about it.
But many trans women do anyway, even with the support of cis women and others, but it makes me uncomfortable to be honest. Arguments of “we’re all women, and this is a women’s issue” exclude trans men and FAAB people, and that’s really dangerous when there’s already a great deal of pressure on trans guys not to talk about it. I certainly wouldn’t want a trans dude to be told he can’t talk about abortion rights when he himself may be in need in one, just to validate my own sense of womanhood (and if your sense of womanhood is centered on someone’s ability to become pregnant, you are primarily viewing women as baby-carriers above all else, which is…problematic, to say the least).
This isn’t to say we can’t talk about it at all. We just shouldn’t get to the set the terms. I’m personally pro-choice and have taken part in protests against religious lobby groups who harass women outside abortion clinics. I’ll challenge anti-choice arguments, but it’s not like I can have an accidental pregnancy, so there’s a degree of understanding that I will be lacking.
I don’t think it’s quite the same as with cis men. Many trans women do experience misogyny at the hands of the patriarchy, and so have a large amount of common ground with cis women. The categorisation of abortion and pregnancy as a women’s issue also means that many trans women will typically hear a lot more about it, and be more aware of the specifics, than cis men. However, there’s still that thing that it doesn’t personally affect us.
I’m aware that there are cis women who do not have ovaries and/or wombs, or who can’t menstruate, or get pregnant. Do I believe they shouldn’t have a say, following that same logic as for trans women? This is a hard one for me, because I don’t feel they should be excluded, even though they themselves are not personally affected. I think background plays a part here – something similar to what I mentioned with shared experience under the patriarchy, but to a possibly greater extent, and furthermore, infertile cis women are typically less visible as a group than trans women. Trans women demanding a say in abortion rights comes across very badly – and rightly so.
There’s certainly an argument to made that (cis) men taking control of (cis) women’s reproductive rights is part of a wider attack on women, a patriarchal backlash against women who increasingly are unwilling to be objectified and denied their own agency. And that is true, so to some extent, it does affect us, but that’s not the main issue.
And again, it’s so easy to erase trans men and FAAB trans* people in this whole debate. Trans men are men, but they’re involved in this too. It all ties in with how trans men experience misogyny from a patriarchy that rejects their identities, either deliberately or otherwise, and that this does not in any way invalidate their gender. This is something I hope to touch on in a future blog post, although I can only say so much given my own position (that said, a number of quite prominent trans women do have a damaging tendency to ignore the fact that this occurs).
Maybe someday womb transplants could be an option presented to trans women who desire one (and there shouldn’t be any pressure either way). At that point, then a lot of this post no longer applies. I’d certainly like the chance – especially given I’ve had dreams about having babies of my own – but I’m not holding my breath. Until then, it’s not my issue. But I’ll still support everyone’s right to have agency over their own body. That’s not a man/woman thing. That’s being a decent human being.
(Throughout this blog post, I’ve not been mentioning any MAAB trans people who do not identify as women who may also wish to give birth. Many similar arguments apply as with trans women, including the key point that, as things currently stand, they cannot (give birth).)