Abortion Rights and Trans Rights Are Two Sides of the Same Coin

Caitlyn Jenner’s run for California governor concluded last month, having earned her a whopping 1 percent of the final votes cast.

Her campaign may have gone the way of her short-lived reality series (of which I was a part). But her equivocating response to the new Texas law nearly outlawing abortion in that state shouldn’t soon be forgotten.

“I am for a woman’s right to choose,” she told CNN in September. “I am also for a state having the ability to make their own laws. So I support Texas in that decision. That’s their decision.”

Ms. Jenner — and other conservative trans women — should understand that restricting abortion rights and blocking transgender people’s access to health care are two sides of the same coin: a movement to give the state the right to limit what you can or cannot do with your own body.

I asked Jules Gill-Peterson, a history professor at Johns Hopkins University and an expert on anti-trans activism, about the connection between these issues. “Anti-abortion and anti-trans legislation are products of the same political coalition, using the same scripts and tactics,” she wrote me. “In both cases, we see the protection of a fantasized imperiled child justifying heavy-handed police state policies that restrict actual women and children’s rights and bodily autonomy. The language of protection, so highly moralized,” she continued, “is the perfect alibi for rationalizing widespread harm.”

Earlier this year, before turning their attention to abortion, Texas legislators attempted to reclassify transgender care for minors as child abuse. In another act, Senate Bill 1311, they tried to prevent physicians from providing gender-affirming care to minors. That act died in the House — but was not the last attempt to limit trans rights in Texas: This very week, the Legislature heard testimony on House Bill 25, a measure that would limit trans athletes in schools from competing on teams aligned with their gender identity.

The author of Senate Bill 1311, Senator Bob Hall, said that his bill “was being done with love.”

Let’s be clear: It is not love to force a trans child to go through a puberty that will scar them for the rest of their life. It is not love to force a woman to bear a child against her will. It is not love to deny anyone autonomy over their own body.

It is not love to enforce your own ideology upon people who are different from you, simply because you do not understand their experience of being human.

Transgender people know this as well as anyone, and not least because of the headwinds we have had to struggle against in our fight to be ourselves.As veterans of this battle, many trans folks are stepping up to advocate abortion rights. The trans athlete Schuyler Bailar, for example, addressed the abortion-rights Women’s March last weekend in Washington, D.C., noting that, “This is about all of us.”

In many ways, the decision to terminate a pregnancy is not unlike the decision to go through transition: It is a fundamentally private choice that can be made only by the individual in question — a person who alone knows the truth of their heart, who alone can understand what the consequences of their choices will be in the years to come.

Mara Keisling, former head of the National Center for Transgender Equality, told me this week that — along with the Veterans Health Administration — Planned Parenthood is one of the top providers for trans people’s health care nationwide. So when conservatives talk about defunding Planned Parenthood, ostensibly because of the abortion services it offers, they’re also talking about denying a major resource for the well being of trans people.

When I read about the seemingly endless efforts to deny people the kind of care they get at these clinics, I wonder what is actually motivating them, at their core. Are anti-abortion activists really driven by a concern for the “unborn?” Is anti-trans sentiment really driven by an understanding of the complex science behind gender variance?

Or is it, as I suspect, a fear of difference, a fear of women, or a fear of sex itself?

It may also be a fear of nonconformity and difference. A direct consequence of this fear is the harrowing experiences pregnant men and nonbinary people can have in seeking health care. Nick Lloyd, a nonbinary trans person, has described the lack of gender-inclusive language when they tried to get an abortion as “dehumanizing.” But being different doesn’t mean that an individual is less deserving of respectful reproductive services — including abortion — than anyone else.

Being different simply means that you are human. The only constant in our experience of sex and gender is variation.

To be sure, the trans rights movement isn’t embraced by all feminists. Over the last decade, a fringe movement of feminists has grown in Britain and the United States, resisting the call for trans rights, claiming that only cisgender women are women. You can call them “gender critical” feminists, some go further and call them TERFs (trans-exclusionary radical feminists), or simply people whose hearts — like the Grinch’s — are two sizes too small.

Regardless, the current moment demands that trans women take their rightful place in American feminism. In this fight, everyone believing in the right of all people to control their own bodies ought to be on the same side. Is it so impossible to suggest that we all might look out for one another?

On one of the episodes of her reality show, I asked Ms. Jenner how she could support a political party that has so consistently opposed rights for people like us. She replied, “Every conservative guy out there believes in everybody’s rights,” an assertion I’ve since had occasion to question in these pages.

But if this statement is true, and conservatives do indeed believe in “everybody’s rights,” then let’s see this belief made visible.

Surely those rights include the right to make our own choices about our own bodies. Surely those rights include the profound, and simple, gift of being allowed to live our lives in peace.

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