Tag Archives: Sexuality

Happy Bi Visibility Day!

Bi FlagEvery September 23rd bisexuals the world over shed our cloaks of invisibility in favor of something more suited to the human race- community. Bi Visibility Day lands in the middle of Bisexual Awareness Week so today I’ll share with you some ways you can educate yourself about bi+ folk. Bi+ refers to the whole spectrum of non-monosexual people of any gender identity (transwomen, ciswomen, genderqueer, non-binary, genderfluid, transmen, cismen, etc.) who love/are attracted (romantically and/or sexually) to more than one gender, or for whom the gender of their partner is unimportant. Many people in the Bi Family identify as Queer, polysexual, pansexual, or fluid, amongst myriad other personal identifiers. Research suggests that roughly 52% of non-heterosexual people (and 29% of all people under 30!) identify as bisexual which means bisexuals come in all colors, races, religions, abilities, nationalities and ages. Bisexual individuals, no matter the gender(s) of their partners, come in three exciting flavors: single, monogamously partnered, and poly partnered. Below Sir Cumming are some ways you can celebrate (your own?) love for more than one kind of person.

Alan Cumming


I know the infographic isn’t very celebratory, but if you share it, this post, and all the things you learn during Bisexual Awareness Week you will greatly be contributing to the visibility of the Bi community, which is always something to celebrate!

10 Uterus-Having Folks On Not Having Kids

More people than ever in the US are choosing not to have children–for a wide variety of reasons. After my (and the internet’s) overwhelmed reaction to this piece I knew that I had to see how the uterus-having non-breeders around me felt about (not) having children. I would have liked to have heard from more people of color, more people on the trans spectrum and from people of different ages… I guess it’s time to make more friends! *Some folks have chosen to remain anonymous.

blue dotMW: Female, straight, single, 33, white, live in San Francisco, from San Luis Obispo, CA, able-bodied, atheist/least religious person, Bachelors in Art, US citizen, employed full-time.

1. When did you first realize, know, or accept that you do not want to have children? What makes you not want to parent?
I can not remember a time that I ever wanted my own children. I’m very selfish with my time and money, and like doing whatever I want, almost all the time. This sounds immature but I’m extremely grossed out by childbirth, c-sections, and the recovery from both (and ‘the business of being born,’ and how people in the US collect disability when taking maternity leave). I think the population is too large already, I am a ZPG proponent, and world resources are strained so in my eyes, it’s a selfish act (especially having like 4, 8, 19 children). I swear I’m not a huge pessimist but I don’t like the idea of bringing a sweet little innocent baby into a pretty fucked up world.

2. How have close friends or family reacted when they learned you do not want to parent?
I have received close to zero pressure from my parents about having kids, including my mom who wanted not much more for herself than to be a mother. My maternal grandma will point at a young family at a restaurant and say things like “Now doesn’t that look fun?” and will inquire about my dating life. Fortunately younger cousins have gotten married and taken some pressure off of me.
Some acquaintances will say “Never? Never ever?” but people generally understand that everyone is different and has their reasons either way. Now that I’m 33, and in a pretty child-free city, the window of time is closing and I don’t think I’ll be asked too much. Close friends are married or coupled but none of them are rushing to have kids.

3. What is the most interesting or offensive reaction you’ve received?

4. How would you feel about being a surrogate?
Money talks but I personally would never do it. I feel like it’d ravage your body and I’d get too attached to the baby growing in me to give it up.

5. What has your experience with reproductive healthcare been like? Have you ever had pushback from a healthcare provider over your reproductive healthcare choices or concerns?
I went to Planned Parenthood a few times in college, and other locally run health providers as a teen having secret (from parents) sex. Having free access was key (check-ups and prescriptions). I’ve never had any pushback and the thought of that makes my blood boil. I get happy when I read about free birth control for people.

6. How has your decision not to procreate affected your romantic relationships, if at all? How do you think it could affect future relationships, if at all?
One boyfriend broke up with me (among other reasons) because he said he wanted to eventually have a family and knew that I wasn’t interested. I know other guys pressure girls into the idea but come on, there are billions of other women who want babies, be with them. There is definitely the thought in my mind, during the very early stages with a new partner, that the no-child thing could be a “deal-breaker” for him.

7. What kind of stigma do you feel US society has created for people who could get pregnant but don’t want to? What do you think would help reduce the stigma for folks who don’t want to get pregnant/have children?
Reading about things like Japan’s birth rate drastically dropping off, I think people might be scared of society coming to a halt (obviously not soon). People are little money-makers for a society. I know that most people do genuinely adore their children and want others to feel that same all-consuming love for a kid too. It does seem frowned upon to not have kids, but I think people are seeing what a true liability a child is, that it’s a huge time suck and of course expensive. It’s one of the most selfless things you can do and most people I’ve encountered in my generation and younger are not selfless. Seeing more people as carefree and focusing energy on careers or travel or other family members seems to help destigmatize lack of desire to parent.
I sincerely love children, (am the eldest grandchild on both sides, did lots of babysitting, have considered teaching young children, am attracted to adults with child-like enthusiasm) but also hand babies back to their parent when it starts crying or poops. A roommate said he’s not ready for something that he can’t control the volume on.
I feel like oftentimes people who “shouldn’t” have babies, do.
I’m incredibly responsible, stable, good at saving money, I’m a candidate for “should,” but have no interest. And, it sucks that the family name will die out with me. The whole point of life is to create more life so I feel like something is wrong with me. But I don’t care.
People think they have to, or think they should have children. Or they think having a baby will salvage their own bad relationship with their partner. Eek.

8. What is one thing people get wrong about folks who choose not to get pregnant/have children?
People think it’s selfish to NOT have kids. I think it is selfish to have kids.

9. Do you think there is anything that would make you *want* to have children, whether through your body or adoption?
Highly highly doubt it but if I met a partner that reallllly wanted kids and put zero pressure on me to do so, I might consider adoption. (That’s a whole other thing: “selecting” a kid is strange…)

11258974_10153192545376480_1870465006_nNicole Loschke: I am a 28-year-old, Caucasian, heterosexual female. I am currently in a relationship. I am originally from Parachute, Colorado and currently live in Silt, Colorado. I am spiritual and not religious, although I was raised Catholic and have been exposed to and studied as a Baptist as well as Buddhism and Islam. I have a BA in Journalism and a Master’s in Media, Peace, and Conflict Studies. I am a U.S. citizen and I currently work as a paralegal for an immigration attorney. I focus on victims of crime and hardship waivers. I have a large, loud red-nosed pitbull and I love spending time outdoors hiking, fishing, camping, and playing my djembe.

1. When did you first realize, know, or accept that you do not want to have children? What makes you not want to parent?
I never really had an “ah-hah” moment where I realized I didn’t want children, I just never wanted children. As I child, I never dreamed or imagined my wedding day or being a mother. As the years have passed, it hasn’t changed. That being said, the same answer can be applied to the second part of this question. It’s not necessarily that I don’t WANT to parent. I have about 11 god children and “nieces and nephews” (all children of very close friends) and I love them with all my heart. I love spending time with them and watching their minds expand. I value the time I spend with them and it teaches me a lot. I even worked in a preschool in the past. It’s not really a matter of NOT wanting to parent, but more a matter of wanting to be kid-free, if that makes any sense.

2. How have close friends or family reacted when they learned you do not want to parent? 
The first time I had to come out and say it, I was at lunch with my mom, my cousin, and her daughter. My cousin lives in CA and we live in CO, so they came to visit. We never really got to know each other before this visit. While eating lunch, my cousin asks me, “So Niki, do you want kids?” I was stunned. I knew I didn’t, but I had never told my mom and I knew it would break her heart. I looked at my cousin straight in the eye and told her that I didn’t really want kids. I could see my mom’s heartbroken face out of the corner of my eye. When I broke eye contact with my cousin and finally looked at my mom, she was completely devastated. Since then, it hasn’t really been brought up. I only have one sibling: an older brother, who also doesn’t have kids, so the pressure is really intense right now. My brother is 31 and I am 28. Neither of us have the best track record with stable relationships, so my parents (who would be amazing grandparents) have been putting the pressure on us to give them grandchildren. We all just kind of brush it off without really talking about it. My friends reactions vary. Some of them tell me that I would be a great mother and some of them agree that I shouldn’t have children. Most are ultimately supportive of my decision and they know that I have a free spirit and I am terrified of commitment, so it is best for everyone.

3. What is the most interesting or offensive reaction you’ve received?
I’ve never really been offended by someone’s reaction. It is still pretty taboo in our society to talk about fertile women choosing not to reproduce, so I have grown a thick skin. I do have a coworker that hears me make my subtle (sometimes not-so-subtle) comments about not having children. Every time, she approaches me, caresses my shoulder, and tells me something like “Oh Nicole, one day you will find the love of your life and God will bless you with the fruit of your love in a child and you will be the greatest mother and feel the love only a mother can feel.” I usually give her a half smile and walk away. I don’t disagree that this is probably true for her and could be true for many people, but it is not my ideal future or is necessary for my happiness.

4. How would you feel about being a surrogate?
I don’t think I could be a surrogate. I think that if I was pregnant, I would grow too attached to the baby to ultimately give it up for someone else to raise.

5. What has your experience with reproductive healthcare been like? Have you ever had pushback from a healthcare provider over your reproductive healthcare choices or concerns?
My reproductive health was fine until I was about 22 years old. I contracted HPV and the doctors found abnormal cells after a routine exam. I was living in Costa Rica at the time and it was horrible because my mom had to open the letter from the doctor and read it to me over the phone. I had to have my cervix frozen and eventually about half of my cervix was cut out. I have spoken to doctors who tell me that I shouldn’t experience any problems if I chose to reproduce, but I have my doubts.

6. How has your decision not to procreate affected your romantic relationships, if at all? How do you think it could affect future relationships, if at all?
I didn’t really talk about it with my boyfriends until a couple years ago. I was in a serious relationship; we were living together and had been together for almost a year. He wanted kids, and I didn’t tell him how I really felt. We actually tried to get pregnant for a couple months, and then our relationship ended abruptly. For three months after we broke up, I didn’t menstruate. I was terrified. I knew that I would be okay, because I was capable of raising a child, I had a stable home and a stable job, but the last thing I wanted was to be a single mother. Turns out I probably didn’t menstruate because of excess stress; it was a vicious cycle. My current partner also wants kids. At first when he mentioned it, I just changed the subject or passively agreed. It was weighing me down, so I finally told him how I felt. He was very sad at first, but then he decided that it didn’t matter because he loves me, so that’s the only thing that mattered to him. I think he still hopes that I will change my mind with time, and I feel horrible that he is having to sacrifice something that he has always wanted for me. I appreciate his stance and I have so much respect for him, but I still feel bad and I think it may be an issue in the future.

7. What kind of stigma do you feel US society has created for people who could get pregnant but don’t want to? What do you think would help reduce the stigma for folks who don’t want to get pregnant/have children?
I think since the beginning of time, the ultimate goal of society has been to reproduce. People want to feel like they have a purpose and that their legacy will live on. If you have a child, you can fulfill these things. Societal norms have always been questioned, but those doing the questioning are usually silenced, shunned, or deemed mentally unstable. I don’t know if it is just me getting older and maybe having conversations with like-minded people, but I would like to think that our society (at least the generations my age or younger) is shifting to embrace change and accept that the norms once accepted at face value should be questioned and deviated from. Still, a fertile woman choosing not to reproduce is taboo, especially in the older generations. I do have a couple aunts/uncles that are married and have not reproduced, and I admire them and look up to them. I can only imagine how hard that must have been for them during those years. I don’t really think that older generations will change. I also understand how an infertile woman could be mad or disappointed with a fertile woman consciously choosing not to have children, so I don’t think that will change either. However, I do think that the taboo is becoming less and less prevalent. As far as campaigns to reduce the stigma. I think that if climate change and overpopulation hasn’t convinced society, nothing will.

8. What is one thing people get wrong about folks who choose not to get pregnant/have children?
People think that because I don’t want kids, I hate kids. This is completely false. Like I said before, I have around 11 godchildren/”nieces and nephews” so I am around children a lot. I love interacting with them and watching them grow. Their brains amaze me and I love taking them on even the littlest adventure and teaching them something (they usually teach me something too). I do enjoy children. Just because I don’t want children of my own, does not make me some child-hating monster.

9. Do you think there is anything that would make you *want* to have children, whether through your body or adoption?
I am never going to say that I will never have kids. I have never wanted to, but I realize that things could change. I am not sure of anything specific that would change my mind.

260160_10100207872793180_7757028_nLeslie Gordon: Female, hetero, single (never been married), 30 y.o., white non-Hispanic, currently live in Washington DC but from Cincinnati, OH.  Able bodied, not a veteran, agnostic beliefs, Master’s degree, US citizen and full-time employed.

1. When did you first realize, know, or accept that you do not want to have children? What makes you not want to parent?
I don’t think there was ever a single time when I decided that I didn’t want to parent, rather a decline in the number of kids I wanted.  Around 21/22 y.o. I was set on having 3, then over the years after learning about the cost of having kids and how much time it takes, it decreased to 1.  Now, I’m at 0.  I don’t want to parent because I generally have disinterest in it.  I’m also selfish, I want to spend the money I earn on myself, I want to spend my free time with my friends/family, I want to spend time making myself feel good (through working out, shopping, nails done etc.).  Travel is also a big part of why I don’t want kids.  I don’t want my vacation to be spent at Disney World or at a kid-friendly location.  As cliché as it is, I want to see the world and the best way I’ve found to do that is alone or with a small group of other adults.

2. How have close friends or family reacted when they learned you do not want to parent? 
I recently told my mother that I didn’t want kids.  Luckily my parents don’t care, although I’m sure a part of them was disappointed they couldn’t tell their friends they were going to be grandparents.  I’m still holding out hope that my sister will want to parent…

3. What is the most interesting or offensive reaction you’ve received?
None, yet

4. How would you feel about being a surrogate?
No way

5. What has your experience with reproductive healthcare been like? Have you ever had pushback from a healthcare provider over your reproductive healthcare choices or concerns?

6. How has your decision not to procreate affected your romantic relationships, if at all? How do you think it could affect future relationships, if at all?
I think it definitely affects romantic relationships because our society puts so much pressure on having kids and a family.  I’m still in search of that person who won’t care either way.

7. What kind of stigma do you feel US society has created for people who could get pregnant but don’t want to? What do you think would help reduce the stigma for folks who don’t want to get pregnant/have children?
I just think it’s expected, it’s expected that you will want to take on the identity of a mother.  For me, talking with others about their experience and choice to not parent has been the most beneficial.  It brings a sense of normalcy to the choice and it’s fun to chat about what fun activities people are doing with their free time and money.

8. What is one thing people get wrong about folks who choose not to get pregnant/have children?
That they hate kids!  I like to play with kids and think they do some really cute things, I just don’t want to deal with all of the un-fun stuff.

9. Do you think there is anything that would make you *want* to have children, whether through your body or adoption?
I’ve considered adopting an older child (like maybe 3, 4, 5).  I know for a fact that I don’t want to birth a child out of my body and that I don’t want to feel pressured by a biological clock to have a baby.  So this sounds like a good alternative (plus I don’t want to potty train or have to deal with excessive amount of crying at night).


Briar Maverick: I’m a radical, poly, trans, queer non-binary. I share my life with four amazing partners, and I’m currently working on building a trans queer poly commune and learning ASL.

1. When did you first realize, know, or accept that you do not want to have children? What makes you not want to parent?
I’ve gone back and forth on having children most of my life. As a trans person, I’ve actively tried to distance myself from anything “maternal” or “motherly” and the idea of carrying a pregnancy to term makes me physically ill, but sometimes the idea of raising children in a queer and trans setting appealed to me. In college, I worked at a chain baby store, and I realized how draining children are on emotional and material resources, but I thought that I could have kids one day if I had enough money. As my future plans develop, I’ve realized that there’s probably never going to be a point in my life when I have the material or emotional resources to provide for a child, and I don’t have enough urge to procreate to overcome that lack.

2. How have close friends or family reacted when they learned you do not want to parent? 
Most of my social group is fellow trans queer radicals, so even those who do want kids understand and respect the fact that I don’t see children in my future. My mom has alternated over the years from “oh, I was hoping I’d get a chance to have grandchildren” to “yes, good, don’t have kids.” Growing up Queer and Feminist, most everyone else in my family probably wrote me off for continuing the family line long ago.

3. What is the most interesting or offensive reaction you’ve received?
I distinctly remember being about 6 years old, talking to a family friend about how I didn’t want to have kids, and her telling me that my feelings about children would change some day, and how frustrated I got even then.

4. How would you feel about being a surrogate?
The money is appealing to be a surrogate, but the idea of being pregnant, even if I don’t keep the child, makes me physically ill and incredibly dysphoric.

5. What has your experience with reproductive healthcare been like? Have you ever had pushback from a healthcare provider over your reproductive healthcare choices or concerns?
I’ve had a lot of problems finding a service provider that I feel comfortable with because I and the majority of my partners are trans. Any time I try to talk to someone about different forms of birth control, I or my partners end up getting misgendered directly or indirectly.

6. How has your decision not to procreate affected your romantic relationships, if at all? How do you think it could affect future relationships, if at all?
At this point in my life, and for the foreseeable future, I’m only in polyamorous relationships, so if one of my partners want children, that’s fine, they can find another partner to have children with.

7. What kind of stigma do you feel US society has created for people who could get pregnant but don’t want to? What do you think would help reduce the stigma for folks who don’t want to get pregnant/have children?
The connection between womanhood, nurturing, and reproduction is a disservice to cis and trans women alike, regardless of reproductive capability. There are lots of different ways to create meaning in one’s life and women’s value goes beyond their ability and willingness to reproduce.

8. What is one thing people get wrong about folks who choose not to get pregnant/have children?
That this is an issue that only affects cis women pursuing careers.

9. Do you think there is anything that would make you *want* to have children, whether through your body or adoption? 
I could see myself being part of a household/commune with someone who is raising children, and taking an uncle-type role, but I don’t think I’ll ever want to have a direct parenting relationship with a child.

HB headshotHeather Busby: I’m a straight, cis married white woman in my early 40’s. A native Texan by many generations, I was born in Houston, raised in Victoria and have lived in Austin, TX for a couple of decades, off and on. I’m a licensed attorney and currently director of a statewide reproductive rights advocacy organization. I’m happily married and we have two dog “children” that are ridiculously spoiled and our great loves.

1. When did you first realize, know, or accept that you do not want to have children? What makes you not want to parent? 
I don’t remember exactly when I first realized I didn’t want kids. When I was a teen, I remember saying this, but I also assumed I would have children because that’s just what happens: you meet a prince charming, fall in love, get married, have kids, live happily ever after. I had a very unrealistic and idealized vision of relationships and life, basically.
When I was in my mid-20s and married for the first time, that assumption was always there, but my desire wasn’t. It was something I figured maybe one day we’d get to, but we had plenty of time. And the marriage was short-lived. After that I had a couple of brief and turbulent relationships and as I approached 30, I started facing the possibility that maybe my life wouldn’t follow the mold of love-marriage-kids and I realized that was okay. Then it really dawned on me that not only was it okay, but I really didn’t want to have kids at all, ever. Still, I thought maybe there was something that could change – like I thought maybe I’d adopt or be a foster parent – but the thought of pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding was horrifying to me. I had no desire to procreate. None.

2. How have close friends or family reacted when they learned you do not want to parent? 
Until maybe my mid-30’s, some family members would say, “Well, don’t you want a little Heather?” It was mostly my grandmother and a little bit my parents. One day I explained to my dad how I just didn’t have the biological desire to have kids and after that, it seems like the comments and questions stopped.

3. What is the most interesting or offensive reaction you’ve received? 
Nothing really sticks out. I guess I wasn’t overly outspoken about how I didn’t want to have kids, especially when I was younger (when people are more likely to pull out the “you’ll change your mind when you get older” line).

4. How would you feel about being a surrogate? 
No. Freaking. Way. I do not want to be pregnant, ever. Do not want to give birth. No way.

5. What has your experience with reproductive healthcare been like? Have you ever had pushback from a healthcare provider over your reproductive healthcare choices or concerns? 
Mostly my ob/gyn experiences have been fairly positive. When I thought I might be experiencing perimenopause, my ob/gyn seemed to brush it off and just recommended I stay on the pill because I didn’t want to get pregnant, so it wasn’t an issue. Despite my disinterest in my fertility, I still wanted to know what was happening with my body and I dwelled on that visit until the following annual visit, when I insisted that I wanted to know. This time the doctor took the time to talk about the symptoms I was experiencing and she actually recommended I think about getting off the pill, which, as it turns out, was causing my issues.

6. How has your decision not to procreate affected your romantic relationships, if at all? How do you think it could affect future relationships, if at all? 
I think there were bigger issues in my previous relationships, but all my long-term boyfriends are married with kids now. In my mid-30’s, I was concerned about dating and being able to find someone who was on the same page as me about no kids. I was somewhat okay with dating someone with kids from another relationship, as long as they didn’t want any with me. Fortunately, I met my husband and he wants kids even less than I do.

7. What kind of stigma do you feel US society has created for people who could get pregnant but don’t want to? What do you think would help reduce the stigma for folks who don’t want to get pregnant/have children? 
Although I haven’t gotten the pushback some others have gotten, it’s still been difficult. And I think that stigma is specific to those with uteruses – I don’t think men get the same pressure. But I think there’s still this nuclear family ideal, regardless of the genders of the parents. US society is definitely geared toward settling into a monogamous relationship and then rearing children. And those of us who choose a different path – especially females – are viewed as unnatural.
I don’t have the answer to what we could do to reduce that stigma. Maybe when someone gets married, don’t start asking them right away when they’re going to have kids or don’t ask women, regardless of marital status, when they’re going to have kids. It’s always “when,” not “if.” Don’t assume.
Also don’t assume that people who don’t want to have their own children won’t love and be wonderful with your own. Sometimes I feel like some of my friends just assume I wouldn’t be interested in being around them with their kids or that I’m not happy going to the playground or their child’s activities or birthday parties. I feel like I’m often written off, even if I express that I want to see them at a time and place that’s convenient for them. But still, the only invites I get from many of my friends with kids are on the rare occasion they actually make it out to a bar. I don’t expect them to conform to my life and only do “adults-only” activities with me, but they also don’t hear me when I say, “Hey, I want to be in your AND your children’s lives and I’ll come do your family thing.” I’m not in the club. I’m like a remnant of their pre-kids life. And it stings sometimes.

8. What is one thing people get wrong about folks who choose not to get pregnant/have children? 
That we’ll change our mind.

9. Do you think there is anything that would make you *want* to have children, whether through your body or adoption? 
I would consider adopting a gay or trans youth one day. And if something were to happen to a member of my family, I would take care of their children if asked.

Axe-WomanNT: Heterosexual, 31, First-American-born African, raised as Greek Orthodox Christian, California raised, college educated and works for a crisis hotline.

1. When did you first realize, know, or accept that you do not want to have children? What makes you not want to parent?
Probably when I was a kid. I didn’t like how toys and games were gender biased/stereotypes. I didn’t want to play house and hated being assigned to be a “housewife and mommy”. Yo, I want to cut down the tree and make dining table or something. Plus, I’m the only girl (all brothers) and the baby of the family (over-protected/spoiled?).

2. How have close friends or family reacted when they learned you do not want to parent? 
They didn’t seem to care nor strongly encouraged me to reconsider. My mom is the only person that wants to see me have children, “At least one.” I respond back by telling her that my eggs are all dried up. She did not like that, ha.

3. What is the most interesting or offensive reaction you’ve received?
Them: “Do you have children?” Me: “No.” Them: (grasp) “Why not? You’re beautiful, God wouldn’t make you a woman if he didn’t want you to have children.” Me: “You’re right, my body is a complete waste.” Them: (Puzzled face). Me: (walk away).

4. How would you feel about being a surrogate?
I have several friends that want to have children (they have gone through unsuccessful IVF, adoption didn’t go through, dealing with health problems, etc). There is this one great friend of mine, when I see how much it means to her and her husband to have children, it makes me want to become one for them just to see them happy and give them to chance to experience parenthood because I know they will make great parents.

5. What has your experience with reproductive healthcare been like? Have you ever had pushback from a healthcare provider over your reproductive healthcare choices or concerns?
I am not sure what you are asking here… My experiences have been positive overall. The only time the discussion of becoming pregnant/preventing pregnancy comes up is when discussing birth control methods. I had to ask them about it by bringing it up otherwise they wouldn’t mention anything.

6. How has your decision not to procreate affected your romantic relationships, if at all? How do you think it could affect future relationships, if at all?
I don’t like the pressure of having to be with someone just so we could have a family together. I’m okay not living in a house with white fence, having a dog name Spot, being an active PTA member at a school, baking cookies (I do like baking cookies though), etc. See #9

7. What kind of stigma do you feel US society has created for people who could get pregnant but don’t want to? What do you think would help reduce the stigma for folks who don’t want to get pregnant/have children?
I want to say leave us alone but that won’t work. Let us be. 🙂 I would say the focus should not be about having your own children to fit that “American Dream” concept. You can still be part of it in a non-traditional way.

8. What is one thing people get wrong about folks who choose not to get pregnant/have children?
They think we’re selfish and do not want to carry on our family legacy.

9. Do you think there is anything that would make you *want* to have children, whether through your body or adoption?
I am not sure, I haven’t really given that much thought until you mentioned it. I’m already an aunt to 5 nieces and nephew and a godmother to three kids. No matter what happens, I know I will always have kids in my life.

jackalope1Lauren: I am a cis lesbian woman in my mid twenties and hanging out in Texas. I am white and had the privilege of going to school for Women’s and Gender Studies. Currently I work as a domestic violence advocate and hope to go back to school for a Master’s in Social Work. I dream of traveling, getting an amazing Texas/Ray Wylie Hubbard tattoo, and one day being the mother of the most amazing garden in Texas.

1. When did you first realize, know, or accept that you do not want to have children? What makes you not want to parent?
In my last year of college I started realizing that it wasn’t a priority and became indifferent to the idea of having children. The two years following college I found myself not wanting children. I think that supporting myself and seeing what having a child costs just seemed too much. It wasn’t so much the financial cost as the emotional cost. I am a fan of lazy mornings, doing what I want when I want, and being able to freely move through life. I do not think I would be a great mom because the baby would take away lazy mornings, always being able to do what I want, and would make adventures more complex. Although I know I would love a kid if I had one, I think I would resent it. I want to have a life where I can travel and go on random day trips without having to worry about another human.

2. How have close friends or family reacted when they learned you do not want to parent? 
I haven’t had much push back from friends. I have been told by one person that as a woman I need to be a mother. That is just the nature of woman and men are the ones that can choose to have children or not. Obviously I disagreed with him. I have had a few friends say that I would be a great mother if I did want them. I have been told by older family members that they can hear my biological clock and that I am running out of time to have children. They want me to have babies within the next few years which is not going to happen.

3. What is the most interesting or offensive reaction you’ve received?
My friend telling me that women have babies and that men are the only ones that can decide not to have children. That is just sexism.

4. How would you feel about being a surrogate?
I am not cool with the idea of being pregnant and I am repulsed by the idea of carrying any baby. I just feel that is for someone else. With that said, I would do it for my sister if she needed it but that is family so it’s different.

5. What has your experience with reproductive healthcare been like? Have you ever had pushback from a healthcare provider over your reproductive healthcare choices or concerns?
Since I do not use birth control and I am a lesbian, I haven’t had any interactions with doctors and nurses about it.

6. How has your decision not to procreate affected your romantic relationships, if at all? How do you think it could affect future relationships, if at all?
So far, it hasn’t impacted me. I have only had one long-term relationship and we were both indifferent to children. I wouldn’t get in a long-term relationship with someone who really wanted kids because it wouldn’t be right for both of us in the long run.

7. What kind of stigma do you feel US society has created for people who could get pregnant but don’t want to? What do you think would help reduce the stigma for folks who don’t want to get pregnant/have children?
I think a lot of the stigma has come from tradition. Women didn’t traditionally have the option to choose not to have children for the most part. As culture shifts to treat women as whole individuals capable of contributing to society outside of family life, I think the stigma will start to dissipate. I have read really great feminist blog posts discussing why some choose not to have kids. As more women speak up and more discussion takes place, I think it will become more accepted.

8. What is one thing people get wrong about folks who choose not to get pregnant/have children?
That we are being selfish by only thinking about what is right for us and what we want. We are also thinking about what it would be like too for our potential new children. Whether our lives wouldn’t allow us to provide the proper care or the sacrifices that come with being a parent would cause us to resent having children, the child would suffer.

9. Do you think there is anything that would make you *want* to have children, whether through your body or adoption?
If something happened to my sister and I needed to adopt her kids, I would. Other than that, nope.


Heath Davis: I am a 39 year old, genderqueer woman. I strongly identify as poly and queer, and I am in a committed poly relationship with my anchor (female, femme-identified) partner. I am also great friends with and dynamically supported by her female, femme-identified partner and her genderqueer partner. I am white, fat, able-bodied, non-Veteran, U.S. citizen, and have two Masters degrees (with zero intent of pursuing any more education). I work full-time as a librarian at a technical college in Kirkland, Washington. I grew up in a Baptist household in Southern Maryland and have run as far away from religion as possible. I have not identified a religion that resonates with me, but I do think of living in the city as its very own religion. I currently live in Seattle, Washington in the Columbia City neighborhood and Seattle is a place I can call home. I have a ten-pound Chihuahua/Min Pin mix and share my house with a lady queer couple, one is a massage therapist and the other is a plumber.

1. When did you first realize, know, or accept that you do not want to have children? What makes you not want to parent?
I realized I did not want to have children when I was in high school. I was routinely humiliated and bullied for being fat and having facial hair by various classmates and on the bus to/from school. I made a conscious decision at that time that did not want to bring a child into this world because I could not handle the emotional pain of watching my child go through anything even remotely similar. I didn’t feel like I was strong enough to be there for my children if/when this were to happen. I really wanted to have children when I was much younger, played with dolls, treated my dolls like they were actual babies, sat with and held the babies of other people in my Family of Origin. Another realization for me was that I didn’t want to have babies unless I was financially and emotionally stable to do so. I also wanted to be free to do whatever I wanted and go wherever I wanted, and having children seemed like a barrier to that.

2. How have close friends or family reacted when they learned you do not want to parent?
Mostly it has been a non-issue since I have surrounded myself (mostly) with other queer folks who don’t want to have children. When I came out to my parents my mother said something to the effect of: “Well that makes sense because you don’t want to have kids.” This was really damaging to hear, but corresponded to my own assumptions that I COULD NOT have children because I was queer. Among my friends they usually get that I don’t want to have kids. My family of origin has sort of given up and I usually get exoticized as the “weird one” or the person no one bothers to really get to know because my life is so strange to them and outside of the traditional layout of family.

3. What is the most interesting or offensive reaction you’ve received?
The response I got from my mother when I came out to my parents as queer: “Well that makes sense because you don’t want to have kids.” Well before this and when I was newly navigating the GLBTQ community in Washington, D.C. I attended a women’s group in Dupont Circle neighborhood and there was a question or someone brought up something about having children and I shared, “I’m queer because I don’t want to have children.” One of the facilitators for the group pointed out that those two things were not mutually exclusive and not all LGBTQ folks feel that way, in fact quite the opposite. That was a bit of a revelation for me.

4. How would you feel about being a surrogate?
I have thought about that in the past. I think if a friend or family of choice/origin person was not able to have children I would serve as a surrogate. I’ve thought about this in terms of my family of choice as well, where if one of them could not have children I would offer to carry the child, but that is a moot point since adoption would be the next available option.

5. What has your experience with reproductive healthcare been like? Have you ever had pushback from a healthcare provider over your reproductive healthcare choices or concerns?
I haven’t had any issues in my healthcare history. The one thing that has been HUGELY frustrating is discontinuing the conversation about reproductive and sexual health when I inform a medical professional that I am sexually active with women and queer folks. This has changed somewhat, and sometimes I’m not entirely sure if concerns for my medical treatment aren’t flagrantly disregarded because I am a fat woman (whereas I have heard stories from women with more normed body size and femme presenting detailing how medical professionals hound them about STDs and pregnancy when they tell them they are only sleeping with women). I was on birth control pills off and on for a few years throughout my 30s (mostly to regulate my very erratic periods) and I switched to an IUD in August 2012. There has never been any pushback on this and has been supported by the medical professionals with whom I have worked. I have thought about, but have never sought to have tubal ligation, but it is something I am thinking about. At my age (39 years old) I don’t anticipate I would have a problem getting this done.

6. How has your decision not to procreate affected your romantic relationships, if at all? How do you think it could affect future relationships, if at all?
As far as past romantic relationships my decision to not procreate has had little to no impact on my romantic relationships. I was in committed relationships with two women who were not interested in having children at all. Pursuing relationships with other folks once I began poly dating served as a bit of a challenge, because it seemed like (at the time) too much to take on at one time (along with a relationship). All of that said, at this time I am in a poly relationship/family structure where there is committed desire to building a large family that will include up to three children. How this will roll out is still in discussion, but there is talk of my partner carrying a child and/or adopting children. My decision to not have children did impact this relationship with my partner greatly since this is something she and her partner wanted and didn’t know how I would fit into that. I’ve flexed on my resolve to not have children because I feel like the family of choice I am in with my partner and her partner and her partner’s partner is committed to working through hard things and is deeply committed to each other and all of the members of that unit. It gets more and more solid everyday and my fears around stability and security for co-parenting and raising a child are mitigated by the love and solidity each of these people brings.

7. What kind of stigma do you feel US society has created for people who could get pregnant but don’t want to? What do you think would help reduce the stigma for folks who don’t want to get pregnant/have children?
One thing that has been truly damaging is the discourse in US society that myself and others who actively choose not to become pregnant or have children are somehow self-centered/selfish. The idea is that I’m so overly focused on myself and my own needs, material wants, desire for a child-free life, independence, freedom, sexual autonomy, you name it. I think this kind of thinking/stigma in US society is extremely sexist and the same concerns are not lobbed at men. No one thinks twice when a man doesn’t want to have children (or at the very least there is not as much of an extreme focus on it). The self-centered/selfish piece that I have been privy too in family conversations is particularly harmful because there seems to be a disconnect (for me) between making absolutely certain I can function and take care of myself before I bring another life into this world. As well, I view the choice to have children as just as self-centered/selfish as choosing to not have them. A child is (or will be) imprinted with your image and world view, and will be brought up to carry the same values and principles as the parent(s). There are lots of aspects of pregnancy and having children that is deeply inspiring and promotes growth and deepening commitments (to family, to the world), but I give a lot of side eye to anyone who tells me I am selfish for not wanting to have children. I think the only way to erase the stigma against women who don’t want to have children (and some women physically can’t have children and there is so much stigma and feelings around this) is to burn down the patriarchy and end sexism, allow women to be whatever the fuck they want. If they want to be mothers: GREAT! If they want to not have children and pursue their careers: YOU DO YOU.

8. What is one thing people get wrong about folks who choose not to get pregnant/have children?
See selfish/self-centered statement above. I would add that it is someone’s responsibility to have children (and this is disproportionately the burden of women). Thinking this about me and other women flattens their experience and the richness of women making empowering choices for themselves. Many women are perfectly happy to not have children.
Note: I recognize my perspective on this is deeply rooted in my own privileges and comes from a very white, able-bodied, high socioeconomic class.

9. Do you think there is anything that would make you *want* to have children, whether through your body or adoption?
See answer to question 6. I love my partner and my family of choice and I am relaxing my decision to not have children because there will be a family of (at least) four to support and lend hands in the raising of children. This alone makes me want to have children because there are multiple levels of support (and doesn’t even take into consideration very close friends who will also be a part of this support). The possibility doesn’t seem daunting to me and if my child comes home from school and has been bullied for one reason or another if I’m not emotionally ready or stable for that interaction there are at least three other people who are. This is the children/babies/pregnancy I’d like to see and am excited to contribute to.

11292902_10155628670165066_1725876614_nPatricia Sánchez: I am a woman who does not feel comfortable with identifying in an exclusive sexual orientation, since I believe that it should be me who defines my sexuality, according to what I decide to feel in the moment, rather than to be defined by my sexuality instead. I am 37 years old, Latin American, able, living in Colima, Mexico. I’ve been an atheist for about ten years now. I have a Master of Arts in Gender and Peace Building and work as a journalist in my country. I’m currently living in Mexico and visiting Houston, Texas as an occasional tourist.

1. When did you first realize, know, or accept that you do not want to have children? What makes you not want to parent?
I realized I didn’t want to have children about a year ago. The reason I don’t want to parent is because I don’t find a reason why I should. I don’t feel a maternal urge to have children, and have no problem with being with myself and my partner in solitude for the rest of our/my life. Having children would complicate my life so much that this would stop being mine and be completely of them, and this is something that I don’t wish to give up.

2. How have close friends or family reacted when they learned you do not want to parent?
My parents respect whatever I choose to do with my life or my body, but some distant relatives still bring the question up every now and then.

3. What is the most interesting or offensive reaction you’ve received?
Offers of sex, or even semen, from some male friends that believe that my decision originates from not having a boyfriend. They never saw their offerings as an offense, but as a heartfelt gift.

4. How would you feel about being a surrogate?
I don’t have any interest in going through motherhood in any way, but I respect women who would do it for someone else. What I have problems with is with the fact that most women who would be surrogates are from undeveloped countries, that have huge necessities and are used as cheap vessels for couples from developed countries.

5. What has your experience with reproductive healthcare been like? Have you ever had pushback from a healthcare provider over your reproductive healthcare choices or concerns?
I’ve been suggested to preserve my eggs by some reproductive healthcare providers, to have the option if I change my mind later in life.

6. How has your decision not to procreate affected your romantic relationships, if at all? How do you think it could affect future relationships, if at all?
It didn’t have any effect, but I believe this should be a conversation couples should have from the beginning of their relationship, so they know they are in the same boat together.

7. What kind of stigma do you feel US society has created for people who could get pregnant but don’t want to? What do you think would help reduce the stigma for folks who don’t want to get pregnant/have children?
I don’t have enough experience living in the U.S. to have an opinion on what Americans feel like about people who don’t want to have children, but I think that any stigma created about women who don’t want to have children is originated from the social construction of women as mothers, not as people with the option to become mothers or not. As Françoise Héritier mentioned in one of her books, “to use mother in the place of woman, implies assigning her a single function that nullifies the person within her.”

8. What is one thing people get wrong about folks who choose not to get pregnant/have children?
That they are making a mistake that will regret later in life, because our role in the society is to reproduce. This actually is a religious construction that is putting too much pressure over the world’s natural resources.

9. Do you think there is anything that would make you *want* to have children, whether through your body or adoption?
I don’t think so.

DSC00373Feminist Activist (aka Heather): I am a 30 year-old white, polyamorous, bisexual, currently nondisabled, atheist cis-woman from a small town in Northern California. I live in Austin, Texas with my monogamous cis-male partner of… gosh, 7? years and am employed full-time. I’ve never been married or in the military. I have a BA in Women’s Studies, Spanish and Linguistics and an MA in Gender & Peacebuilding… and I might be ready for more school soon. I LOVE to travel, learn languages and talk to people.

1. When did you first realize, know, or accept that you do not want to have children? What makes you not want to parent?
I never played will dolls as a kid and once my sister was born when I was five I begrudgingly played “house” with her, but aside from a few times when my partners’ half-desires to have children of their own clouded my judgement, I have never truly wanted to parent. I love the idea of naming a child, and have talked about how “if I was gonna do it” I would want twins, a boy and a girl, so I could raise them as gender-neutrally as humanly possible. But it’s totally unfair to have children for a sociology experiment. And even though I would be a great mother, it would be super unfair for me and the children if they started out life unwanted. There are so, so many things that make me not want to parent, I don’t think seeing how the experiment would turn out could ever outweigh the emotional, physical, financial, temporal and especially environmental factors that have shaped my decision.

2. How have close friends or family reacted when they learned you do not want to parent?
Most of the people I choose to surround myself with accept that I’m extremely liberal and feminist, and respect my right to choose if and when to procreate or not. I haven’t actually told my grandparents I don’t want kids–they may be too old to handle the shock. I’m the only woman in my family who has never been pregnant though, so there are lots of babies around. My partner though is his mother’s only child, and his grandmother’s only grandchild, so I think they still hope he’ll have kids. My dad still holds out hope that I’ll pass on his genes, telling me I have a responsibility to reproduce even though he waited until his late 30s to start. I told my mom I don’t want kids in a really roundabout way, hemming and hawing about how hard and expensive it is to raise kids, how I’ve seen what she and my grandparents and my sister have had to sacrifice, etc. until she said to me “Honey, you don’t have to have kids if you don’t want to,” and the whole weight of the world lifted from my shoulders.

3. What is the most interesting or offensive reaction you’ve received?
Now that I’m “past my prime” baby-making years I don’t get told as often that I’m going to change my mind, which is nice. When my 15 year-old sister had my incredible nephew when I was 20 and I was holding him for the first time my grandfather chuckled at me “Practicing, eh?” and I remember my stomach dropping. My partner’s mother, when I called her this year to wish her a Happy Mother’s Day, told me she hoped she could say the same to me soon–yikes! Most reactions I’ve had so far haven’t been offensive so much as people have been sad for me or lamented the fact that people who would be awesome parents choose not to have kids, but the women who tell younger women “When you’re X years old your clock is going to start ticking, you’ll change your mind,” infuriate me.

4. How would you feel about being a surrogate?
I included this question mostly to see how other uterus-owners feel about it, because I am entirely torn. One one hand I am completely fascinated by the idea of carrying a pregnancy to term and going through childbirth as a physio-social connection to all women throughout time who have carried on the human race. I would do the whole natural, midwife/doula childbirth thing, if possible. But I would have to be sure I was handing the kid off to someone/people who would raise it as gender-neutrally as possible, so there’s that. On the other hand all of the women in my family have hellacious all-day every day of pregnancy “morning” sickness, and I hate to vomit, so it’s unlikely.

5. What has your experience with reproductive healthcare been like? Have you ever had pushback from a healthcare provider over your reproductive healthcare choices or concerns?
Having been a reproductive healthcare provider for years I had the privilege of being able to pull my Nurse Practitioner aside whenever I wanted to ask questions about birth control. I’ve been the proud owner of three Nexplanon and will probably get another one next year. Before then Planned Parenthood was always where it was at, and just like any other franchise service, some experiences were better than others. I will say this, no matter how many times your provider rolls their eyes or tells you it’s unnecessary, if you want STI testing of any kind done, demand it. You are the one who has to live in your body so don’t be afraid to push for what you need.

6. How has your decision not to procreate affected your romantic relationships, if at all? How do you think it could affect future relationships, if at all?
It’s funny, my partner is one of the reasons I ever considered having kids, because when we got together he said one day he’d like to have his own offspring. I was totally against it at the time. As time went on I was more open to the idea but the pendulum swung and HE was the one who didn’t want kids. My partner is the last male with his surname, so I do feel a twinge of can’t-let-that-history/heritage-die, but he doesn’t at all, so I guess I’m off the hook. If his sister decides to procreate I may encourage her to give the kid their last name so I won’t have to worry about it. Luckily now my partner and I are on the same page that parenting is not for us.

7. What kind of stigma do you feel US society has created for people who could get pregnant but don’t want to? What do you think would help reduce the stigma for folks who don’t want to get pregnant/have children?
I think the stigma of being fertile and not having children is really closely linked to slut-shaming. Women are still berated for controlling our own bodies, sexuality and fertility. But the stigma is gradually reducing, and the more we all share our explanations of why we don’t want children I think the more society will understand. What I want to hear more of is people of color who have uteri and don’t want to procreate because, like this piece unfortunately, most of what we hear is from college educated white women. For me even if there was paid maternity leave, affordable childcare, excellent schools and socialized healthcare, I still don’t think I would want to parent, but those things would give people who do want to parent a chance to be the kind of parents children deserve.

8. What is one thing people get wrong about folks who choose not to get pregnant/have children?
What I always find missing from the conversation is that having a child is not a selfless act. People choose to have children for all kinds of awful reasons, and their motives are rarely questioned. The biggest factor for me in choosing not to have children is I don’t believe humanity can sustain life on this planet with how destructive we are, and I wouldn’t want my offspring (no matter how many generations down the line it may be) to bear the brunt of the end of the world as we know it. And as scared of death as I am for myself I can’t imagine the overwhelming fear or reality of losing a child.

9. Do you think there is anything that would make you *want* to have children, whether through your body or adoption?
I can’t think of anything specific that would make me want to have french fries in my backseat and to wipe snot and/or vomit off of every article of clothing I own. And even though genetics is supposed to take the “best genes” from both parents, what if the kid is a combination of our worst genes–illnesses, physical attributes, personality flaws? Plus you can be an awesome parent and still have your kid turn out to be a murderer…. Fostering and/or adopting an older kid isn’t 100% out of the question though, in the unlikely event I ever feel like settling down. And like Lauren and Heather if my sister’s kids needed a home I would absolutely change my life for them.

Hungry for more? Check out these 25 famous women on being child-free.

Day 15 of 16 Days of Activism: The Bahamas

#Day15 of #16Days focuses on another Caribbean country, the islands of The Bahamas. Shockingly 45% of all homicides in the 20 years leading up to 2012 could be attributed to domestic violence in the islands. The government, under the Ministry of Social Services, does operate the Bureau of Women’s Affairs which presumably handles the Assistance for Persons Experiencing Domestic Violence where assistance is free to those who are willing to comply with the eligibility requirements: willingness to attend and participate in counseling and “willingness to share information.”

The government also offers community development like support groups and classes for the disabled in Braille and sign language, counseling, rehab and welfare services including rent assistance and discounted daycare. A two-day Symposium on Gender Equality and the Law in The Bahamas was held in September of this year, yet a constitutional referendum has been ongoing since 2002 to try to make citizenship laws and gender equality in The Bahamas more in line with the 21st Century. You can find a document outlining laws in The Bahamas regarding sexual assault and domestic violence here.

Men too

Of note is the legal definition of spousal rape: “Any person who has sexual intercourse with his spouse without the consent of the spouse —
(a) where there is in existence in relation to them — (i) a decree nisi of divorce; (ii) a decree of judicial separation; (iii) a separation agreement; or (iv) an order of a court for the person not to molest or co-habit with his spouse, or any other order made under Part II; or
(b) where the person has notice that a petition for judicial separation, divorce or nullity of marriage has been presented to a court, is guilty of the offence of sexual assault by spouse and liable to imprisonment for a term of fifteen years.” Yet the sentence for “unnatural connection with any animal” is twenty years….

According to the US Department of State 2013 Country Report on Human Rights Practices in The Bahamas “The law does not provide women with the same right as men to transmit citizenship to their foreign-born spouses. The law also makes it easier for men with foreign spouses than for women with foreign spouses to transmit citizenship to their children but more difficult for unmarried men (even if able to prove paternity). The law does not include gender as a basis for protection from discrimination. Women were generally free of economic discrimination, and the law provides for equal pay for equal work.” Additionally, pregnant girls in state-run schools are removed and put into special programs until after they give birth, and “The legal minimum age for marriage is 18, although girls may marry at 16 and boys at 17 with parental permission.”

There is no specific law protecting persons with physical or mental disabilities from discrimination in employment, education, access to health care, or the provision of other state services. Provisions in other legislation address the rights of persons with disabilities, including a prohibition of discrimination on the basis of disability. Although the law mandates access for persons with physical disabilities in new public buildings, authorities rarely enforced this requirement, and very few buildings and public facilities were accessible to persons with disabilities. Advocates for persons with disabilities complained of widespread job discrimination and general apathy on the part of private employers and political leaders toward the need for training and equal opportunity. In one case authorities denied access to public educational facilities for a mentally sound child with only physical limitations confining him to a wheelchair.

Societal discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals occurred, with some persons reporting job and housing discrimination based upon sexual orientation. Although same-sex sexual activity between consenting adults is legal, the law defines the age of consent for same-sex couples as 18, compared with 16 for heterosexual couples. No domestic legislation addresses the human rights concerns of LGBT persons. LGBT NGOs can openly operate in the country. The 2006 Constitutional Review Commission found that sexual orientation did not deserve protection against discrimination. LGBT NGOs reported that LGBT persons faced some discrimination in employment, and victims were frustrated at the lack of legal recourse.

Stigma and employment discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS were high, but there were no reports of violence against persons with HIV/AIDS. Children with HIV/AIDS also faced discrimination, and authorities often did not tell teachers that a child was HIV-positive for fear of verbal abuse from both educators and peers. The government maintained a home for orphaned children infected with HIV/AIDS.

All Saints Camp claims to be a refuge for those affected by HIV/AIDS in The Bahamas but the US Human Rights Report cited deplorable conditions and extremely substandard care. Their Facebook page argues that they do not have access to government funding but through the generosity of donors “the daily life at ASC has become worth living on a very very basic level – to maintain this goal is a constant and revolving challenge for all involved.”

Bahamas Crisis Centre

The Bahamas Crisis Centre is not easy to find online, and their Facebook page doesn’t offer a lot of insight either, but they do operate a 24/7 hotline at 242-328-0922. It’s difficult to gauge how active they are currently but it looks like they have participated in a number of community events from toy drives for children at Christmas, to their Silent Witness Campaign to Take Back the Night. They and others throughout the Caribbean are listed here under Caribbean Crisis Centres and Women’s NGOs. Similarly elusive is the Bahamas LGBT Equality Advocates, or BLEA, but it is unclear what their role is or how they go about advancing equality.

Silent Witness

Unfortunately for a country facing incredible amounts of gender-based violence and general inequality there are few organizations or resources there to help. Let’s hope the situation in Nigeria–for the last day of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence–is less bleak.

International Day Against Homophobia & Transphobia

Today is the International Day Against Homophobia/Biphobia & Transphobia – IDAHO. It is an annual event commemorated by millions of people from Ireland to Fiji and in dozens of other countries around the world to take action against homophobia. Started in 2004, the day incorporated transphobia into the title in 2009. Last year alone more than 80 countries held events to speak out against homophobia and transphobia.

May 17 was chosen to commemorate the 1990 decision of the World Health Organization to remove homosexuality from its list of mental disorders. Care2 has a number of stories related to IDAHO available today. You can “like” IDAHO on Facebook and follow anti-homophobia actions all year round. You can also follow Ampliphy’s IDAHO Blogathon and read about others’ take on the day too.

This informative piece by Sexuality and Disability answers some of the questions many people have about sexuality, including what it means to be transgender. Many issues faced by the LGBTQI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex) community have been all over the international news lately, from marriage equality and other human rights to issues of personal safety like bullying and rape. Let’s start with the good news.

Argentina has set a new world standard in human rights for transgender people by enacting a law that allows any citizen to change his/her gender identity just because they want to! No longer do Argentinians have to undergo mental health screenings, hormone therapy or permanent body altering surgery (read: sterilization) to change their legal or physical gender. “But, if trans Argentinians do want to change their bodies, thanks to the new law, insurance companies–both public and private–will now have to provide them with surgery or hormone therapy at no additional cost.” The first country to legalize marriage equality in Latin America is now an inspiration and symbol of hope for transgender people everywhere.

Other countries are working towards equality and inclusion for transgender people in other ways. India’s largest transgender festival has been going on for the past two weeks. Kenya’s Human Rights Commission has produced a 62 page PDF file The Outlawed Among Us available for download that explores the human rights violations of the LGBTQI community there. Activists in Nepal are joining researchers in asking “Can proper ID save the lives of transgender people in emergencies?” Any recommendations for resources or contacts in that regard can be sent here. Finally, Sweden is leading the way in gender neutral language by introducing a gender neutral pronoun for those who do not wish to use gender labels.

Even in the US there is good news on the sexuality rights front. Shocking I know! Barack Obama made history this month by becoming the first President in US history to voice his support for marriage equality. Many prominent black men, including Reverend Jesse Jackson, actor Will Smith, and rapper Jay-Z, have spoken out supporting the President’s “evolution” regarding marriage equality. Some polls show that more than 50% of Americans are in favor of marriage equality, while in Minnesota 52% of those polled agreed that “same-sex couples should be able to get married.”

President Obama has, in addition to repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and speaking in favor of marriage equality, clarified to Congress that DOMA is a “bad idea.” He has also threatened to veto the House of Representative’s Republican Violence Against Women Act because it gutted protections for lesbian, bisexual, transgender, Native American and undocumented women and would put victims of domestic violence in severe danger by informing abusers that they have been accused of violence.

Now for the bad news– bullying. Bullying takes many, many forms and is an issue faced by millions of people around the world but members of the LGBTQI community around the world (and those perceived to be) are especially likely to suffer. One example is the infamous Westboro Baptist Church that protests with sign saying “God hates fags.” One 9 year-old is protesting back with a sign of his own saying “God hates no one.” He joins the good company of other Americans who are fed up with WBC’s hatred.

The Pan American Health Organization has joined the outcry against dangerous and hateful homophobia and declared that “treatments” intended to “cure” people of homosexuality are not medically sound and should have sanctions levied against them by governments and academic institutions. So-called “conversion” therapy, or pray-away-the-gay only serves to further shame, isolate and belittle vulnerable individuals who are already facing discrimination in myriad other forms from society. In many places homosexual acts are punishable by law, and in some cases, like Iran, men are being hanged to death for sodomy.

This article explores how South Africa has become the rape capital of the world, including hundreds, if not thousands of incidences of “corrective rape” occurring every year. But the US is not immune to the idiotic idea that raping a lesbian will make her straight. Just last week a Cleveland DJ told a listener who was worried his daughter might be a lesbian to have her “screwed straight.” Such thinking underlines the War on Women being waged in the US and the hugely false Republican belief that women are not to be trusted to make their own decisions, especially regarding sex.

Bullying is a life-threatening issue today. Students who identify as LGBT are five times more likely to miss school out of fear for their safety. A new documentary, Bully, explores bullying in America while the film Teach Your Children Well looks specifically at anti-gay bullying. The Gay Lesbian & Straight Education Network, GLSEN, offers anti-bullying resources here. The government also offers tips on creating a safe environment for LGBT youth but acknowledges that federal laws (shamefully) do not protect against harassment based on sexual orientation. This look at how bullying affects children’s and teens’ mental health shows that LGB youth are two to three times more likely to attempt suicide than straight kids. But homophobic bullying in schools is not limited to the US; Ireland’s bullying is also “widespread.” The Day of Silence, which takes place every year on April 20, is a way for students to show their support for an end to bullying and to represent all the voices that have been silenced because of violence.

Yet transgender voices are still being silenced in schools, including universities in the US. And the real, day-to-day violence faced by transgender people is often dismissed by the mainstream media, or ignored all together. The New York Times recently ran an article chock-full of transphobic and victim-blaming rhetoric after a transgender woman died in a suspicious fire. The dehumanizing picture they paint is of a deceptive sex worker who deserved what came to her while including unnecessary and disrespectful sexualized comments about her appearance.

The state of North Carolina and its voters asserted themselves as bullies this week when Amendment One altered the state’s Constitution to define marriage as one man and one woman. Don’t worry though, dwellers of the Tar Heel State can still marry their cousins. And, lest we forget, the last time NC amended their Constitution was in 1875 to ban interracial marriage. And while the bigots who voted for Amendment One were clamoring about “traditional marriage” (see below), this badass woman employed strategic nonviolent action to demand her right to marry her female partner. It ultimately got her arrested and I heart her for that! And “to the queer kids of the United States: Amendment One is a form of bullying.”

Other US states are a mix of flat out shame like Colorado which didn’t vote on civil unions and confusion, like Rhode Island, where other state’s same-sex marriages will be recognized but it is still not legal for its own residents to do so.

This awesomely interactive and informative state-by-state guide shows just how difficult it is to keep track of the laws when the states are not at all united. It explores marriage, hospital visits, adoption, employment, housing, hate crimes and schools. Also check out this video of the 2012 Essential Bi Reading List for other resources.

My best friend (who is in law school at the moment) has reminded me time and again that one day marriage equality will be a reality in the US, because it’s not that long ago that interracial marriage was illegal. Seeing as how she and I are both in interracial relationships and I am bisexual, it’s a painful yet poignant reminder of America’s recent history. As Rachel Maddow explained, rights are not supposed to be voted on. Rights are inherent and should be respected as such.

To help fight for equal rights for all people regardless of gender, gender identity, sex, sexual orientation, or any other damn thing, get involved! Human Rights Watch is an awesome international organization working everyday on all kinds of human rights issues. The Human Rights Campaign is a more focused group, fighting specifically for the equal rights of the LGBT community. Amnesty International is another group working around the world to guarantee all people’s human rights. And the American Civil Liberties Union also speaks out for marriage equality and numerous other human rights issues in the US. Oh, and the five tips below are a great start too. Have an equal day!

Women’s History Month 2012

Today kicks off Women’s History Month 2012. As Mark LeVine said in this piece about Black History Month, if a people has a past worth learning about, they also must have a future worth caring about. Over the next 30 days you can look forward to interviews with women who have made or are making history. If you fall into that category and would like to share your story here, feel free! I come from a long line of feisty women, including my paternal great-grandmother, “Mrs. J.U. Gartin” who, in 1937 as President of the Women’s Progressive Club was helping to raise money for disabled children. Her daughter, my father’s mother Dorothy Gartin, graduated from Stanford University in 1938. Unfortunately I was very young when my grandmother died but obviously I come by the feminist genes honestly, and being raised by a single mother who had five older brothers and took auto shop instead of home economics in high school in 1977 doesn’t hurt either.

The news today is full of stories about women and women’s progress (or lack thereof). Each case requires careful study and swift action so that the violence, hatred, poverty and shame that are heaped on women are eliminated. Laws can help or hurt, as we will see, but strategic nonviolent action continues to prove effective.

Dr. Tina Strobos, left, in 1941 with Abraham Pais and Dr. Strobos's mother, Marie Schotte. Copyright New York Times.

A living legend has left us recently, with the passing of Dr. Tina Strobos. She and her mother successfully hid more than 100 Jews from the Nazi Gestapo in Amsterdam during WWII. With the help of the extensive Dutch Resistance Movement she utilized many different methods of nonviolent action because, as she said, “It’s the right thing to do.”

Another important woman passed this week, Dr. Anna Lou Dehavenon, an urban anthropologist whose research on hunger shed light on and advocated for the rights of the homeless. A talented pianist, Dr. Dehavenon’s focus on homelessness lead to the New York State Supreme Court ruling that the homeless must be provided shelter.

Homelessness is a problem in India too, especially for that country’s widows. Today another issue emerged in the news, an average of one woman every 90 minutes is burned alive for not bringing enough dowry into her new marital home. 8391 dowry deaths were reported in 2010 in India but hundreds of burning deaths go unreported, despite stricter laws on the books meant to protect women from being treated as property. These changes only occurred because of human rights activists’ backlash against a legal system that put women at a severe disadvantage until the late 1980s. Obviously there is still much work to be done in this campaign and many others, including illiteracy, sex-selective abortion and infanticide, domestic violence, sexual harassment, etc.

Back in the US sexual harassment, even in public is still rampant but the structural violence that supports latent violence against women is gaining an even stronger foundation as the GOP is desperately trying to convince the American voters that women should not use and/or do not need contraception. From attacks on Planned Parenthood by various politicians, and the Susan B. Komen breast cancer fund, to an astounding 92 pieces of legislation aiming to restrict women’s right to choose, including the Oklahoma personhood bill that spurred the photo to the right, today’s news in the War on Women is no surprise.

When Republicans barred women from speaking at a Congressional hearing about contraception, Georgetown Law student Sandra Fluke took to the airwaves and let everyone know she is an “appropriate witness” with the I Have a Say campaign. Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney said “Of course” he’s for the Blunt Amendment, up for vote today, which would allow employers to deny women the right to contraceptive coverage if it “conflicts with their beliefs,” nevermind that there are zero other services employers can opt out of covering if they feel like it… like Viagra. Talking head Rush Limbaugh called Fluke a “slut” for wanting medical coverage of contraception, just another in a long line of slut shaming that only divides women and belittles them for being human. In some cases the bullying can lead to death.

But you can fight back! Click here to add your name to show support for the Democratic Senators who have voiced strong and consistent opposition to reducing women’s rights. You can also add your name to this Women’s Media Center petition telling politicians that My Health is Not Up for Debate! And if you’re faced with street harassment be sure to Hollaback! to name and shame abusers. Check back often for more actions and more information all throughout Women’s History Month… and give ’em hell!

Misogyny and Masculinity in the US Military by Jacob Steele

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell has been repealed. So we are now allowed to be as misogynist and violent as they are. Well, good job. We can now hate women and outside cultures as good as the next man. Just don’t call me “fag,” or I’ll kick your fuckin’ ass.

We’re now allowed to serve the military machine, the clearest and finest example of patriarchy our country has to offer. Is this really a step forward? African-American men were allowed to serve in all specializations some time ago. Women of all races could serve fully in 1981 (just not in combat, because women can’t kick ass or take names like a man can). And now women and men of whatever sexual orientation, in 2011. Have those oppressed groups that went before us, integrating into the military, changed the institution from the inside? Have they made it a less oppressive, less violent expression of the hegemonic masculinity? Or have those souls who have already been admitted only been subverted into that masculinity themselves?

Fully a third of military women will be sexually assaulted or raped during their time on active duty. Of those, a mere 8% of their assailants will be brought up on charges, and basically none of those that are actually charged will be convicted or face penalties stronger than a short-term pay cut. And this is how we treat our own soldiers! Imagine what happens to those that are labeled “enemy.”

But this is the institution that we can now serve, outly and proudly. As this bill—the culmination of years, even lifetimes of work on the parts of many of us—goes into effect, it’s past time to think about what we’re asking for when we ask to be part of the old boys’ club. What exactly will membership get us? And what, precisely, is the price of that membership card?

The answer already seems clear. From the personage of Lt. Dan Choi, who was the de facto figurehead of the movement until the bill was passed earlier this year, to the ongoing efforts of Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the main thrust of the movement has been to prove that gay men and lesbians are just as good, just as hard, just as military, as their heterosexual counterparts. Lt. Choi, for example, once challenged a friend of mine to a push-up contest at a speaking event—but the self-styled leaders of our movement lack a critical lens at much deeper levels than this sort of machista bravado.

The masculinity that dominates the military and seeps into every aspect of our culture is itself pathological and destructive. This is borne out statistically, as above, and anecdotally, by thousands of stories of men soldiers’ violence against their wives and girlfriends, against women soldiers, and against other men. By pushing so hard to have the same rights that those straight white men take for granted, we have underplayed our hand. The question has not been and should not be “How can we get the same rights as them?” but “How did they ever get the right to rape, to batter, to destroy?”

Hopefully, the LGBTQ movement entering openly into the military will shed light on the fact that, right now, military men (and many non-military men) have those rights—rights which no one should ever have or want. Hopefully, our serving in the military will change the masculinity displayed by so many military men into one that is less violent, less misogynistic and (more obviously) less homophobic.

I fear, however, that our military service will only make those that are serving more violent, while the institutions we serve gain an air of “tolerance” and openness. I fear that gay men and lesbians will come to be seen as “normal” not because of an embracement of diverse sexuality in the public sphere, but because gay men and lesbians serving in the military will become closer to the norm—that is, violent and misogynistic. It’s up to us to not let the repeal of Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell (and, soon, Defense of Marriage Act) be the end.

It’s up to us to keep living and discovering and activisting a new masculinity, to keep calling out, in the streets and in the courts and in our homes, the pathology of the dominant masculinity. And it’s up to us to explore, become, and teach ways of being men that exclude violence as a legitimate way of interacting with our world in the day-to-day, and certainly, at the least, exclude perpetrating sexual violence in any of its myriad forms. It’s up to us.

Jacob discussing life with una vieja in a 'retirement home' in Nicaragua as a member of the NGO Project HOPE, where he a group of sailors from the hospital ship USNS Comfort and other civilians were doing maintenance to the infrastructure of the retirement home

Jacob Steele is a former Navy Officer and veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom. He holds a Master’s degree in Media, Peace and Conflict studies from University for Peace, Costa Rica, and is currently rediscovering his native United States by motorcycle, bus, and car. He is 29.

Day 31- Connecting the Dots

As Women’s History Month wraps up today I want to express my deep gratitude for all of the support I have felt from readers over the past 31 days. I hope that you have enjoyed the discussions and have learned something. I also hope that you can see how interconnected every individual’s struggle for justice is with everyone else’s. I welcomed you all to Feminist Activism with this quote by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” As I conclude my personal goal of writing everyday, I want to focus on the overarching ideas of justice and equality.

In the web of humanity everyone’s fate is intertwined with everyone else’s, so even if we personally are not facing injustice or persecution, we must stand up for those who are. Fighting to secure basic rights and freedoms for everyone will someday protect you, or someone you love. This statement by Pastor Martin Niemöller comes to mind.

Human rights covers a huge range of things, from women’s rights to access to education to the rights of the disabled to access to health care, etc. Merely fighting for each individual human being to have equal access and opportunity will not fix what is wrong with our world though. Environmental issues and the rights of other species to not only exist but to thrive need to be priorities as well, for even the most equal of societies will fall if the planet cannot sustain it.

A look into one individual’s life will clearly illustrate how dependent all living beings are on each other. Let’s look at an average white American woman: 30s-40s, two teenagers and a shelter rescue dog, one expensive abortion, Christian with no time for church, divorced because her alcoholic ex-husband broke too many of her ribs, high school graduate, working class–living paycheck to paycheck, no retirement fund to speak of, paying a mortgage, lives in the suburbs downwind from her job, tries to help take care of her disabled mother who lives in a run-down nursing home, health insurance only covers cervical cancer screenings every two years instead of the recommended annual screenings, her gay brother lives with her because he was forced out of his home when his partner passed away and their home was automatically given to the legal “next of kin,” her mid-90s car has tons of miles on it and is just as hard on her wallet as it is on the environment, and her best friend is the Mexican woman with whom she can barely communicate who is charged with her mother’s care. This story of “middle America” could go on and on.

Every aspect of an individual’s life–sex, race, sexual orientation, gender identity, education, class, religion, ability, language, environment, legal status, criminal record, and age–affects her/his reality. Each of these factors individually can be cause for discrimination but when more than one factor is “abnormal” the individual can feel hopeless. The norm for American society is male, white, straight, man, some college, middle-upper class, Christian, nondisabled, English-speaking, suburban, US citizen, non-convict, 30s-40s. Imagine how harsh someone’s reality is if these are the facts: female, Latino, bisexual, transgender FTM, some high school, working class, atheist, disabled, Spanish-speaking, urban, undocumented, ex-convict, 60s. Obviously this is an extreme case of being at the bottom of the food chain but this man does exist, many times over!

Let’s go back to our “average” American woman. Her Christian upbringing lead her to get married at age 20 and have children by age 22. After her youngest child went to school she tried to get back into receptionist work but found she had been out of the game too long and no one would hire her. The family couldn’t survive on her husband’s paycheck alone so she took an entry-level job at a manufacturing plant where she was often sexually harassed for being a woman and doing a “man’s job.” Despite missing work for three weeks because her husband put her in the hospital, she worked her way up in the union and, since she left her husband, luckily makes enough money to get by every month. Her brother helps with some of the bills but his employers give him just enough hours to qualify for health insurance, out of pity, because they know if he ever lost his health insurance his HIV status would make him “uninsurable.” Her children, whom she would sacrifice anything for, are in high school, sexually active, average students, mildly involved in extra-curricular activities. She’s straight but sometimes wonders what it would be like to be with a woman. Her mother’s illnesses are taking a toll on her and the Mexican caretaker at the nursing home is the only person she feels comfortable being honest with, partly because she believes the caretaker can’t understand her. She’s been having some pains in her stomach lately which could be attributed to cervical cancer or could be a result of years of inhaling pollution, but she can’t afford to take the time off work to see a doctor during normal business hours, and couldn’t afford her co-payment anyway.

We must all fight each other’s battles. My only word of caution is not to fight for what we think someone else wants, but to fight for what she says she wants, otherwise we’re repeating colonialism all over again. If you are interested in fighting injustice in any (or all) of its many forms, get involved in your community. The old feminist adage to “think globally and act locally” is still true. Always consider what effect your actions will have on the global community and start to make changes in your life and at the local level. This explanation may help.

Some organizations with whom you can explore the birdcage of oppression include The Connect the Dots Movement focused on human, animal and environmental well-being, The Connect the Dots Network which teaches green/sustainable environmental practices to social justice non-profits, 100% Renewable Energy that explains the folly in ageist discrimination in relation to the environmental movement, Counter Quo which examines how a multitude of factors compound oppression and sexual violence, Advocates for Environmental Human Rights that is a legal service that understands how race and security issues affect environmental issues, and L.O.V.E. Living Opposed to Violence and Exploitation which explores the necessary links between veganism and feminism, and on combating speciesism, racism, sexism and rape culture.

Tomorrow is April 1st and the start of Sexual Assault Awareness Month. I will not be writing everyday but hope to be able to post at least 2-3 times per week, so check back often for new discussions, or subscribe so you’ll automatically be notified when I post something new. As always, any ideas, links, information, etc. is more than welcome. Thanks y’all. Keep fighting the good fight!

Day 30- Indigenous Rights

Indigenous women all over the world face discrimination on multiple levels on a daily basis and historically were systematically targeted for extinction through rape and slaughter. Indigenous women may utilize many labels to identify themselves such as Native, First Peoples, First Nations, Aboriginal, etc. but for continuity’s sake I will use the label Indigenous throughout this post. I was unaware that March 21 is celebrated as the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, but it is, and was celebrated by Dialogue Between Nations, “an interactive global communications network and an educational forum….”

Earlier this month we have seen examples of Indigenous women’s activism in the US, Peru, and Oceania. While the challenges of each individual woman across the globe are specific to her life and circumstances, some issues almost universally affect Indigenous women. According to Wikipedia some 300-350 million Indigenous people, making up roughly 6% of the total population, inhabit more than 70 countries around the world and represent more than 5,000 distinct peoples. Climate change, gender-based violence, poverty, legal obstacles, and linguistic discrimination are the most common issues affecting Indigenous women worldwide.

Linguistic discrimination: As a linguist the rate of extinction of Indigenous languages physically pains me; as a humanitarian the loss of the worldviews associated with these languages is traumatizing. Many, if not most Indigenous peoples are denied their right to speak their native languages, and this fact plays a role in all other forms of discrimination against Indigenous women from housing and education to health care and democratic representation. The amazing group Cultural Survival is one of many that focuses on linguistic justice, among other issues, in the fight for Indigenous rights.

Climate change and environmental issues: This 1995 declaration by Indigenous women at the UN Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing explores the effects of biocolonialism on Indigenous women. There is a long history of discrimination against the Igorot peoples of Cordillera in the Philippines, especially with regard to land rights, unsustainable farming, and soil erosion. This article discusses the potential impact of REDD+ on Indigenous women. United Nations Radio has aired this piece about deforestation and property rights of Indigenous women. In honor of the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day the Asian Indigenous Women’s Network issued this statement underscoring the needs of Indigenous women in relation to the environment.

Gender-based violence: For all its positive traits, Canada’s dirty little secret are the disappearances of Indigenous women that are chronicled by Amnesty International and many other organizations. The ongoing saga of the murder of Native American activist Anna Mae Aquash is chronicled by Indigenous Women for JusticeWomen’s Campaign International explains the violence that Arhuaco and other indigenous women of Colombia face due to internal conflict here. Amnesty International also speaks out against sexualized violence against Indigenous women in the US.

Poverty: Also in 1995, in Guatemala, this Agreement on the Identity and Rights of Indigenous Peoples was drawn up. The New York-based Indigenous Women’s Fund of the International Indigenous Women’s Forum has a concise and thoughtful plan of action for helping Indigenous women from around the world overcome the poverty that has been imposed on them. International Funders for Indigenous Peoples is also an international funding organization working for Indigenous peoples’ rights. This concise article from genderaction.org highlights the problems Indigenous women face as a result of “gender-blind” approaches to finance from International Financial Institutes. From here you can download Indigenous & Tribal People’s Rights in Practice produced by the International Labor Organization.

Health issues: The UN Population Fund, UNFPA, has produced this report on empowering Indigenous women with regard to reproductive rights. Another group dealing with reproductive justice for Indigenous women is the Native American Women’s Health Education Resource Center. The Indigenous Portal is one group that recognizes the interconnection of Indigenous peoples’ land degradation and lack of reproductive justice.

Human Rights and legal obstacles: Native Planet is one of many NGOs working for the socio-political rights of all the world’s Indigenous peoples. The UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues will hold its 10th session May 16-27 2011 in New York. From 2002, this paper highlights some of the issues faced by Indigenous women in Africa, and has recommendations for ways to improve Indigenous women’s rights. Here is a Guide to Indigenous Women’s Rights Under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), published in 2004. A 2005 factsheet on the rights of Indigenous Canadian women on- and off-reservation can be found here. Many groups in Canada, including the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, participated in the first National Aboriginal Women’s Summit NAWS I in 2007. The International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs recommends the now out-of-printIndigenous Women: The Right to a Voice edited by Diana Vinding. Here is a list of articles dealing with Indigenous women’s rights in Canada. This project of the UN Development Program addressed Indigenous women’s rights in Asia. Oxfam also works for the rights of Indigenous women, like Calel from Guatemala. The Aotearoa Indigenous Rights Trust works for the rights of Indigenous Maori people in New Zealand. The Indigenous Peoples of Africa Co-ordinating Committee works across the African continent for the rights of Indigenous peoples there. Finally, the Society for Threatened Peoples (Gesellschft für bedrohte Völker in the original German) tackles everything from political imprisonment and land rights to slavery and environmental degradation.

Day 28- (Dis)ability

I apologize for the lateness of my post; I have been traveling today. Although it’s still the 28th in the US, here in Turkey it is the 29th and so I have failed in my attempt to write everyday, but I will write again tomorrow (today) and everyday until the end of the month. Thank you for your continued support!

“Tomorrow I am going to rewrite the English Language.
I will discard all those striving ambulist metaphors
of power and success
And construct new ways to describe my strength.
My new, different strength.

Then I won’t have to feel dependent
Because I can’t stand on my own two feet.
And I’ll refuse to feel a failure
When I don’t stay one step ahead.
I won’t feel inadequate if I can’t
Stand up for myself
Or illogical when I don’t
Take it one step at a time.

I will make them understand that it is a very male way
To describe the world.
All this walking tall
And making great strides.

Yes, tomorrow I am going to rewrite the English Language
Creating the world in my own image.
Mine will be a gentler, more womanly way
To describe my progress.
I will wheel, cover and encircle.
Somehow I will learn to say it all.”
Tomorrow I’m Going to Rewrite the English Language by Lois Keith[1]

“Disability is a physical, social, mental or emotional condition which may or may not be handicapping.”[2] Many women who identify as disabled would agree that “people’s attitudes… are most disabling.”[3]

Maura Kelly explains how people’s assumptions about women with disabilities can be damaging “…what if I said I believed that prejudice expressed in subtle acts of misguided, uninformed “kindness” was not only equal to [hateful attitudes towards those of a particular race, religion or sexual orientation], but potentially more damaging and probably more difficult to change? …People can be so focused on my being in a wheelchair that they don’t even hear me saying I don’t need any assistance. This is the part that is so demoralizing…. I resent the people who feel the need to help me so much–though I am clearly not struggling–that I must wait and allow them to assist me, just to make them feel better…. Many of the people I come into brief contact with–it is clearly written on their faces–put me in an altogether different category than they do other people.”[4]

Kelly’s feelings clearly illustrate the need for women to be able to name their own identities and to group or separate themselves as they see fit. Judgments and assumptions based on physical traits–ability, skin color and sex–and not on merit or actions, have no place in an American society that touts democracy and freedom, yet they happen everyday.

The concept of passing, usually used with regard to race or sometimes sexuality, is based on these visual assumptions of physical aspects and can also be an issue in the disabled community. Kelly says, “Recently I was asked if I had trouble ‘passing’ since, other than being in a wheelchair, I don’t seem disabled…. I always associated [passing] with race or sexual orientation…. Usually the trouble is in getting people not to make assumptions about how little I can do.”[5]

Often women with disabilities are seen as doubly vulnerable because they are women and because they are disabled but many have proven their strength by organizing with the disability rights movement and by bringing information and support to others with disabilities.

Activist Anna Sullivan, after having her house blown up, was questioned by the police, “I tell them what I think, that it’s the work of the fascists…. Because of my anti-racist activity the fascists have threatened to kill me many times, now they have destroyed a part of me.”[6] While the blast did not physically harm her at the time, the trauma and stress of the event contributed to her condition- Myalgic Encephalomyelitis- making her vulnerable later in life to viruses and psychological illnesses.

Vulnerability, though not always present, can be a reality for women with disabilities as author Lois Keith shares, “I’m always nervous about going somewhere new. This anxiety is rarely a social one, it isn’t about meeting new people or feeling shy. I had thirty-five standing up years to deal with that one. This ‘normal’ anxiety is displaced for me by the sheer physical concern of going to a place I haven’t been before. Of finding a place to park, worrying about whether I can get out of the car straight on to the pavement, whether there will be kerbs [sic]. It’s anxiety about asking a total stranger (if there is a stranger to ask) to help me in some way. It’s the fear that there will be some obstacle no one has told me about – a step, a bollard, a pothole, a locked door.”[7]

Some women defy the vulnerable disabled woman stereotype, like Janice Pink, “When I was sixteen, nearly six feet tall, and still in pain, I went to another doctor…. Obviously, if you’re disabled, you should look fragile, which I didn’t then and never will now.”[8]

Other women who were involved in strategic nonviolent action when they were nondisabled may find it difficult to participate in the same way after becoming disabled but groups like the Disability Caucus of the National Women’s Studies Association can help ease the transition.

Lizard Johnson explains, “I had thought everything was possible, right down to nonviolent revolution. In moments of enthusiasm, I thought I could start the revolution by myself. Now I think: can’t do that by myself, can’t do this by myself. Certainly can’t start the revolution by myself.”[9] Relearning how to participate in activities that previously did not have to be given any thought can be very challenging for people who become disabled later in life.

These challenges can be exacerbated by other aspects of women’s identities as well. Carol Anne Roberson navigates the complex paths of disability, gender and race everyday as a white, quadriplegic woman with mixed-race (black and white) children. Hermina Jackson is another example of the intersection of gender, race, class and ability and proves that even though sexism, racism, classism and ableism are still in place, with hard work they will eventually be eradicated. She is working to do just that as a black, quadriplegic woman. As a member of a number of organizations in her local community that deal with the issues faced by women, black people, and disabled people, she shows that one person can be all of these things, and overcome the isms she faces daily.

“As a member of the Black United Front, Hermina is interested in the issues and needs of women, especially women with disabilities. She aims not only to get information for women with disabilities… but to educate the community about disabled women and what they need and how they feel.”[10]

Civil rights investigator Adrienne Asch, a blind woman who helped write legislation in New York to include protection from discrimination against disability in hiring practices, explains how her role as an activist helped to change her role as a disabled woman, “Had I not had a history of political activism, in civil rights for blacks and in opposition to the Vietnam War, I might not have been so ready to fight for my rights as a person with a disability. I realized I would have to take the energy I had put into social change for other people’s benefit and use it to benefit myself or other disabled people.”

Asch goes on to explain how her disability relates to other aspects of her life, “Disability is neither at the center or the periphery of my life. It’s just sort of there. I’m not saying blindness isn’t an important fact about me or that it doesn’t affect a lot of things, but it’s not part of my self-definition. If it’s part of the world’s definition of me, that’s the world’s issue.” [11]

The overwhelming message disabled women have for young women and girls who are facing a disability is not to ignore it or dwell on it, and to be realistic about how it will affect what kind of work one wants to do, but not let it be the only consideration. Anna Sullivan admits, “The rise of fascism again, and the many terrible things that are happening in the world, make me feel that I should be out and about organizing, but I know that I can’t do it any more.”[12]

It is true that some things are more difficult for disabled people to do but the kind of disability a person has greatly influences the ease or difficulty of a particular task. A common assumption about physically disabled people is that they are also mentally disabled and so infantilized as if they are not capable of thinking for themselves. Part of the work feminist groups must do in organizing any kind of event, from a rally to a phone bank, is to make sure that the venue is accessible for all kinds of women and to properly value the identities of all the women (and men) who will participate.

Not Dead Yet is one such group of disabled and nondisabled people that utilizes “shouting slogans, singing songs, blockading doorways, [and] being rude to cops” to protest physician-assisted suicide. Another activist group is riot grrrl, which awakens many young women to “the interconnectedness of all forms of oppression.”[13]

One of feminism’s greatest virtues is that it does value every woman’s experience, and thus should learn from every woman about how to make society more inclusive. Teacher Kate Bromfield, after battling Multiple Sclerosis for years, found hope, “I’m beginning to feel again that I can function as a responsible adult, in spite of illness, that my lifestyle can be as viable as anyone else’s.”[14] And lifestyle greatly depends on one’s ability or disability; deaf women may have no problem navigating a flight of stairs but it may be nearly impossible for someone with arthritis. A woman in a wheelchair may be able to read to her child at night but a woman with a learning disability may not be able to.

The one universal thing that disabled women are assumed not to be able (or have any desire) to do is have sex. That disabled people in general, and disabled women in particular, are often seen as asexual beings[15] may seem surprising at first, but makes total sense in the hierarchy of patriarchy: disabled women may not be able to function in some ways as nondisabled women do and therefore are demoted from the “normal” status of women in American society of sex object to something even more passive.

Author of Disabled, Female, and Proud! Harilyn Rousso explains, “One of the myths in our society about disabled women is that we are asexual, incapable of leading socially and sexually fulfilling lives. When I was growing up my parents and I accepted this myth without question. We simply assumed that because I had a disability, I could not date, find a partner, or have children.”[16]

Oddly, the possibility that disabled women may be physically weaker than nondisabled women is often cited as a reason they should not be mothers (even though the reality is that this bias is an extension of seeing disability as a barrier to sexuality and taking away agency from those who have a disability), yet being physically weak (compared to the able male norm of reference) is expected of all women.

See this story and previous posts regarding sexuality and violence for more information on the imposed horrors disabled women face at the hands of cruel people.

Gohar Kordi, a blind Iranian immigrant, tells of feeling her son’s pain at her disability, “He wants me to be like other mothers in his school, sighted, English.”[17] She is one example of the intersection of ethnicity and ability. Suna Polio exemplifies another intersection, “To the public eye I looked an unlikely candidate for motherhood. The wheelchair disqualified me.” She goes on to explain how her lesbianism and her disability intersect to unnecessarily complicate her life even further.[18]

Some disabled lesbians explain that where their lesbianism and their disability activism meet is to see “that the whole is really greater than the sum of its parts and that a better situation for everyone is possible if we see our interdependence.”[19] Not until April 15, 2010 was this interdependence starting to be recognized by the federal government. That is when same-sex partners earned the right in the United States to visit their partner in the hospital.

President Barack Obama issued a memorandum stating, “…gay and lesbian Americans… are often barred from the bedsides of the partners with whom they may have spent decades of their lives — unable to be there for the person they love, and unable to act as a legal surrogate if their partner is incapacitated. For all of these Americans, the failure to have their wishes respected concerning who may visit them or make medical decisions on their behalf has real consequences.”[20]

While corrective rape for lesbians seeking treatment for mental illness is no longer practiced in psychology in the United States,[21] disabled lesbians in the United States still face difficulties unique to their situation. Many women who identify as lesbian feminists, like Lizard Jones, have fought for the better part of their adult lives for economic and social independence, but adding disability to their identities makes life entirely more complicated.

Jones poses, “Maybe the struggle for lesbians with disabilities is categorically different from many other disability struggles because we have to convince our chosen families not to let us out, but to take us in.”[22] Social worker Joyce Peltzer admits, “It took me longer to deal with my feelings about being a lesbian than about having a disability….. All ‘isms’ are alike and you have to struggle with the internal attitudes developed by living in our culture. To be an integrated person, you have to accept your wholeness. We cannot be compartmentalized people. I had to integrate everything. I am a person who happens to be a lesbian, who happens to have a disability, but most importantly, I am a whole person.[23]

Vicky D’aoust, a deaf lesbian activist who uses a wheelchair, summarizes the disability and LGBTQAI rights arguments nicely: “I want to be who I am without fighting every step of the way…. We need actual change in how communities think, behave and act. Perhaps the biggest obstacle of all is that… attitudes are what prevent us from being whole.”[24]

[1] What Happened to You? Writing by Disabled Women Ed. Lois Keith. The New Press: New York. 1996.

[2] Restricted Access: Lesbians on Disability Eds. Victoria A. Brownworth and Susan Raffo. 1999. Seal Press

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Keith, 1996.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Brownworth and Raffo, 1999.

[10] Disabled, Female, and Proud! Stories of Ten Women with Disabilities Harilyn Rousso. Exceptional Parent Press: Boston, MA. 1991

[11] Ibid

[12] Keith, 1996.

[13] Brownworth and Raffo, 1999.

[14] Ibid.

[15] See “Loss” by Anne Macfarlane in Keith, 1996.

[16] Rousso, 1991.

[17] Keith, 1996.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Brownworth and Raffo, 1999.

[20] Obama, Barack. 15 April 2010. “Memorandum for the Secretary of Health and Human Services.” Federal Register. Office of the Press Secretary, The White House: Washington, D.C. 9 June 2010. http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/04/15/2010rightspatients.mem.final.rel.pdf

[21] Until the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV was published in 1973, homosexuality was considered a mental disorder by the American Psychiatric Association and women who were diagnosed as lesbians were sometimes raped to “cure” them of their homosexuality. This practice is still common in some parts of the world, especially South Africa.

[22] Brownworth and Raffo, 1999.

[23] Brownworth and Raffo, 1999.

[24] Ibid.

Day 27- Sexuality in the US

Disability is one of the few factors in women’s lives that can overcome racist assumptions about their sex lives. Nondisabled black women are very often compared to or pictured with animals in advertising[1] and this idea that black women will be wild, animalistic lovers is in the back of many people’s minds. But, if a black woman is in a wheelchair, most people will see the chair and assume asexuality before they make any association to her skin color. Neither assumption is correct but it is interesting how one aspect of a person’s identity can overshadow everything else.

Physical appearance is extremely important to American society and the superficiality of the media directly affects all people but has the direst consequences for women. In the hierarchy of patriarchy the closest women can get to the top is when they are young, thin, nondisabled, white (blond), straight and pretty looking. To be clear, women do not actually have to be any of these things but to be successful, especially in the media,they must appear to be all of these things.

Visibly disabled women are automatically excluded from this cult of beauty, as are women of color, normal-sized and heavy women, transgender and lesbian women, and older women. The male/female dichotomy has such a stranglehold on aesthetics in the United States that even when someone who does fit this description, like actress Julia Roberts, forgets to change something natural about her body (shave her armpits) she is publicly chastised and ridiculed for not conforming to the beauty ideals of Hollywood.

The four Killing Us Softly documentaries with Jean Kilbourne best explain how dangerous being bombarded by these images can be for women. American women are expected to be nearly hairless, have flawless skin, long, silky hair, no fat or cellulite, a small waist and big breasts. The beauty industry in the U.S. is a multi-billion dollar per year business and has a big interest in challenging women to be flawless, knowing they will never achieve perfection but will spend lots of money trying.

Even women who have slightly masculine features can be discriminated against and face violence, especially if they are assumed to be lesbian. Obviously the male/female dichotomy is most dangerous for transgender and intersexed individuals who have the courage to confound gender stereotypes and live according to the aspects of their gender identity that they are most comfortable with, but even internationally acclaimed athletes are facing the consequences of being accused of not being feminine enough.

Caster Semenya, a world-record-holding Olympic runner, was forced to undergo sex testing to see if she is “female enough” to compete against other women. In accusing female athletes of not being entirely female the The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) are not concerned about fairness to all involved but rather about their own public images.

The co-founder of the IOC’s Olympic Science Academy and of the Sports Science Institute in Cape Town, South Africa, Tim Noakes, claims “As many as eight ‘intersex’ women may have been expelled from athletics in the past and I gather that they were warned that if they made a fuss, they would be exposed. So it seems it’s not about athletic advantage, it’s about keeping the Olympics free of ‘intersex’ athletes, free of unwanted complications. It sends the message that women must do what men say and if the eight previous athletes had to be sacrificed, so be it….”[2]

Noakes contends that athletes suspected of being intersexed are not treated with respect. Whether or not Semenya is found to be intersexed or not, he feels she should be allowed to compete stating, “You can’t exclude ‘intersex’ athletes and there is growing consensus… that whatever gender you were assigned at birth, that is your gender…. There is no single test that will show whether you are more male than female.” He goes on to argue that “some genetic variants” are allowed in sports and if they are “linked to gender, so be it.” Because the implications for forcing gender conformity are so widespread the LGBTQI community must come together to fight against discrimination on the basis of sex.

“As long as dependence is seen as a personality flaw in the lesbian community, our ability to be a truly diverse and inclusive force to be reckoned with is nonexistent…. As long as we think some of us are going it alone and others aren’t, we are ignoring the very real facts of social structure. The possibility of going it alone is just an illusion that distracts us from organizing. You are either successful on someone else’s back, or arm in arm with her. Your choice.”[3]

In a similar way that Asian-Americans are pointed at as being “model minorities” so too are lesbians singled out of the larger LGBTQAI movement. Well, not lesbians, per se, but actions that traditionally would have been classified as lesbian. And it is not because American culture suddenly woke up and decided to be more inclusive; it is precisely to continue dividing minorities and to pit them against each other so that they cannot fight together.“That’s the capitalist stake in keeping us divided. If we’re tied up fighting each other, we won’t be struggling together against the real enemy.”[4]

More and more heterosexual women are engaging in activities that twenty years ago would have had them classified as dykes: publicly kissing, touching and fondling other women. Some would argue that this shows a greater acceptance of gay culture in the United States. While acceptance of homo- and bisexuality has grown greatly over the past decades these straight-but-seem-bi women are using the heterosexual male lesbian fantasy to their advantage while simultaneously reinforcing gender inequality. Katy Perry, a popular U.S. performing artist, took this advantage to the extreme with her multi-million dollar record deal showcasing her not-really-lesbian behavior. Again, the labels one chooses to use to identify herself are extremely important personally, and politically.

Sexual relationships between women in the United States are generally seen in one of four ways: as an arousal tool for heterosexual men, as harmless (i.e. not cheating for a woman in a monogamous heterosexual relationship), as a threat or an abomination against God, or less often, as legitimate loving relationships.

The first two analyses of lesbian relationships are closely linked; they assume that women loving women poses no threat to the heterosexist patriarchal machine because women are valued less than men. The “joke” is still made that some women are only lesbians because they have not yet had sex with the “right” man.[5] This patronizing of women’s sexuality takes away agency and shows that often women’s opinions and feelings are not respected even when they are clearly voiced. The other side of this coin is that many men feel that if their monogamous female sexual partner engages in sexual activity with another woman it is not cheating, while if she were with another man it would be, once again showing how little value is placed on women owning their own sexuality.

This criticism should in no way be seen as a disapproval of polyamory, or love between multiple consenting adults, but rather as a critique of the sexist and misogynistic way in which women’s sexuality is viewed by the American culture at large.

The third view of lesbian relationships is the most overtly harmful because people who view women loving women as a threat to their way of life are more likely to act out against it by pushing for discriminatory legislation or in the form of hate crimes. Real opposition to lesbianism often comes from the Religious Right in the United States that has a strong interest in maintaining the patriarchal hierarchy. Because lesbians generally operate outside the normal sphere of “woman depending on man” this weakens men’s power over women, something the Church sees clearly. The lesbian community has often been an example of the strength of women and many heterosexual women have learned from lesbian communities that there are alternatives to depending on men.

Bisexualwomen, while they face some of the same discrimination as lesbians, also face discrimination that is unique to their situation. Biphobia–the fear or hatred of people who identify as bisexual–exists both in the heterosexual community and the homosexual community.

Everyone in America is brought up seeing the world through dichotomies: black/white, male/female, good/bad, straight/gay, etc. This socialization is just as effective on homosexuals as on heterosexuals and is often responsible for the polarizing of butches and femmes in the lesbian community. People who see the world only in pairs of opposites lack imagination and are made uncomfortable by anything or anyone who does not neatly fit into the good box or the bad box, as dichotomies always result in one side being clearly more valued than the other.

Bisexuals are discriminated against by heterosexuals who can only see that they love people of the same sex. They are further discriminated against by the homosexual community who see them as traitors to the cause for loving people of the opposite sex. Bisexuals are often seen as indecisive, confused, oversexed and/or dangerous. This exclusion can lead to both physical and psychological health problems; a recent survey found that bisexual women have the poorest health of all women. The LGBTQI community has poor overall health in general–a direct result of being marginalized by society.

“Compared to heterosexuals, gays, lesbians, and bisexuals…were more likely to be tense or worried, to smoke, have asthma, abuse drugs, or be victims of sexual abuse. Bisexual men and women were also more likely than heterosexuals to say they faced barriers to getting health care, had higher cardiovascular risk, felt sad, and had contemplated suicide in the past year. Binge drinking was more common among bisexual women than heterosexuals.”[6]

Bisexuals were also more likely to be poor and bisexual women reported the highest rate of sexual assault among all sexuality groups. Most bisexuals do favor one sex more than the other but are openly attracted to both men and women. Some bisexuals explain that they are attracted to certain qualities in people and it does not matter what sex the person possessing those qualities is. While bisexual is the most commonly used term for people who are attracted to more than one gender, other terms may be more appropriate to individuals’ situations such as pansexual, fluid, or omnisexual, as these terms do away with the male/female dichotomy that the term bisexual reinforces. Again, naming one’s own identity is an important step in political action.

Slowly bisexuals are becoming more accepted within the LGBTQAI movement, as is apparent that people rarely forget the ‘B’ in the alphabet soup, but the people behind the letter are still rarely visible. Women of all sexualities must be included in the campaign for gender equality in the United States and around the world.

The LGBTQAI movement has long been visible in the United States and has paved the way for Pride Movements around the world. The determination of the politically active sexual minorities within the U.S. can be felt all the way to the White House. Only last year, in 2010, did LGBTQAI individuals earn the right to visit their partners in the hospital and make medical decisions for them if they are the appointed guardians. Nation-wide legalization of same-sex marriage is still a ways off, at least until California’s ban on same-sex marriage, Proposition 8, gets to the Supreme Court.

“It’s not possible to know whether the final ruling in this case will broadly confront the overarching denial of equal protection and due process created by prohibiting one segment of society from entering into marriage. The Supreme Court has, in different cases, called marriage ‘essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men’ and a ‘basic civil right.’”[7]

Other legislation is also in the works to guarantee civil rights for the LGBTQAI community. On May 20, 2010 Senator Al Franken introduced the Student Non-Discrimination Act to the Senate, the bill “would prohibit discrimination in schools on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity/expression.” According to the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) more than 85% of LGBT students have been harassed and more than 60% feel unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation.

Moreover, one-third of LGBT students “missed a day of school in the past month because of feeling unsafe, five times higher than a national sample of students.”[8]Despite the advancement of rights with this legislation LGBTQAI students in New Jersey will still not be able to find books in their school library with which they can identify. The school board took the liberty of banning “gay-theme books” from a local high school.[9]

Just days before Senator Franken introduced the Student Non-Discrimination Act, the Human Rights Campaign reported that the Minnesota governor had vetoed a bill that would have given same-sex couples the right to take charge of their partners’ remains after death and also to sue in cases of wrongful death.[10]

In many ways laws regarding the rights of same-sex couples, or sexual minority individuals, follow the “two steps forward, one step back” rule. The most visible battle currently is to reform the United States Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which the Obama administration historically has decided not to defend.

And very recently the US finally overturned the military’s policy of “Don’t ask, don’t tell” (DADT) regarding sexual orientation of service members. Under this policy those service members who were found to be homo- or bisexual or who disclosed their sexual orientation to anyone could be discharged from the military. Even though this policy was supposed to apply equally to all serving in the military those serving who filled a difficult position, or were much needed by the military, were generally overlooked in the witch-hunt. “In 1994 Col. Margarethe Cammermeyer, winner of a bronze star in Vietnam, won reinstatement in the Army Nurse Corps after being discharged for admitted homosexuality.”[11]

The ban disproportionately affected minorities and women. The latest data, compiled by the gay rights group Servicemembers United from Defense Department numbers, showed that in 2008, 45% of troops discharged under ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ were minorities, while minorities were 30% of the service. Women accounted for 34% of the discharges but were 14% of the military.[12]

Highly vocal spokesperson for the repeal of DADT, Lt. Daniel Choi, an openly gay Korean-American man whose skills as an Arabic translator made him too valuable for the Army to let go, was reinstated while DADT was still ineffect, after being discharged because of his sexual orientation. He and other military activists took direct action to overturn DADT, including handcuffing themselves to the White House fence, and fasting.

Autumn Sandeen, a disabled transgender Navy veteran who handcuffed herself to the White House fence, was disrespected and harassed while in custody because of her gender identity. Federal law enforcement officers referred her to as an “impersonator,” “shim,” and “it,” degrading and dehumanizing terms that do not reflect the federal government’s duty to protect and honor all American citizens.

In an eloquent and telling letter to President Barack Obama she wrote, “I personally approached this civil disobedience action with honor, courage, and commitment — the core values of the U.S. Navy — and my honor, courage, and commitment was met with disrespectful and dehumanizing epithets by your representatives in the Park Police and U.S. Marshals.”[13]

Inclusion of a clause disallowing discrimination based on sex or gender in the Constitution would provide grounds on which Sandeen’s case could be taken to the federal level. As has been seen with legislation regarding homosexuality, individual laws are not striking forcefully enough at the inequalities faced on a daily basis by a considerable number of Americans.

Unfortunately, it is not uncommon in American society for women in general to be disrespected or dehumanized. One of the cruelest examples of this is the lack of Reproductive Justice (RJ) available to so many women in the United States. Because women’s opinions are not valued their autonomy and decision-making abilities are frequently called into question while men’s decisions are considered sound and logical.

In the Catholic Church priests are not punished for sexually abusing children over decades while one nun was excommunicated for allowing doctors to perform a life-saving abortion on a woman in a Catholic hospital.[14]When women make the choice to terminate a pregnancy they are vilified by right-wing conservatives who only proclaim to be pro-life until they themselves need an abortion.

One blogger explains, “Women are talked about, and legislated upon, as though having the organs in question disqualifies women from the discussion.”[15]But abortion, and legal, geographical and financial access to it, is not the only concern of the RJ movement.

SisterSong explains that Reproductive Justice “is the complete physical, mental, spiritual, political, economic, and social well-being of women and girls, and will be achieved when women and girls have the economic, social and political power and resources to make healthy decisions about our bodies, sexuality and reproduction for ourselves, our families and our communities in all areas of our lives.”[16]

Demands for RJ can include accurate sex education for all women, including disabled women and lesbian women; economic and legal access to birth control and emergency contraception; the right to choose and form a legal commitment to one or more partners; and the right to become pregnant and adopt. Some of these ideas, especially recognizing same-sex marriage and the right to become pregnant, are still fairly radical but are imperative to ensuring that all women in the United States have equal rights.

Sexologist Bianca Laureano of Reproductive Health Reality Check questions the medicalization of women’s sexuality (and the “selling” of female sexual dysfunction) in the United States from a RJ perspective:

“When people discuss “comprehensive sexuality education” what do they really mean? Because when I discuss it I’m not just talking about sharing options in contraception, birth control, consent, etc. but I also include race, class, national origin, dis/ability, immigration status, and the criminalization of certain communities. Who decides what “comprehensive” means and includes/excludes?
Why is the U.S. sexuality and sexual health field so racially White, able-bodied, English-speaking, doctorate degree having, and older…still?!…
Why not mention the big elephant in the room: that FSD is focused on people whose sex assigned at birth is female and does not include transgender people or people who identify as intersex? How do we continue to “Other” and medicalize bodies that do not conform to what medical professionals have classified as “normal”?
How does a disability framework complicate, challenge, or affirm the medicalization of sexual dysfunctions?
What about working class and working poor people? Is sexual dysfunction just a illness of the middle and elite class who may have health insurance to cover such medications, procedures, access to entering into a trial, or the time to seek out specialized care?”[17]

As Laureano’s questions show, there is much work to be done to ensure that women are not discriminated against just for being women. All American women, LBTQAI, straight, disabled, nondisabled, Arab, Asian, black, Latina, Native, mixed-race, immigrant, and white of all classes, religions and ages must work together in strategic nonviolent action to include women in the Constitution and make sure discrimination on the basis of sex is no longer legal.

[1]Kilbourne, Jean (Producer). (2010). Killing Us Softly 4: Advertising’s Image of Women [Motion picture]. Northampton, MA: Media Education Foundation.

[2] Borland, Ken. 19 May 2010. “Eight athletes secretly banned over gender doubt.” National Post. Johannesburg, South Africa. 10 June 2010 http://www.nationalpost.com/sports/story.html?id=3047610

[3] Brownworth and Raffo, 1999.

[4] Alaniz and Wong, 1999.

[5] An idea that springs from “corrective rape.”

[6] Cooney, Elizabeth. 10 June 2010. “Survey: Bisexual women in poorest health.” White Coat Notes. Boston, MA.

[7] “Marriage, a Basic Civil Right.” 11 June 2010. Editorial. The New York Times.  p. A30.

[8] Presgraves, Daryl. 20 May 2010. “Franken Introducees Student Non-Discrimination Act in Senate to End Anti-LGBT Discrimination in Schools.” 10 June 2010 http://www.glsen.org/cgi-bin/iowa/all/news/record/2579.html

[9] Marinelli, Louis. “Gay-theme books banned from high school.” 10 June 2010 http://www.protectmarriagesite.com/nj.html

[10] Warbelow, Sarah. 17 May 2010. “Update: Minnesota Gov. Pawlenty Vetoes Domestic Partner Funeral Rights Bill.” 10 June 2010 http://www.hrcbackstory.org/2010/05/update-minnesota-gov-pawlenty-vetoes-domestic-partner-funeral-rights-bill/

[11] Celebrating Women’s History: A Women’s History Month resource book Ed. Mary Ellen Snodgrass. 1996. ITP: New York.

[12] Bello, Marisol. 27 May 2010. “‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ affects women, minorities more.” USA Today. 10 June 2010 http://www.usatoday.com/news/military/2010-05-26-dont-ask_N.htm

[13] Spaulding, Pam. 26 April 2010. “President Obama: A Transgender Veteran Is Not An ‘Impersonator,’ ‘It,’ Or ‘Shim.’” 10 June 2010 http://www.dailykos.com/story/2010/4/26/860860/-President-Obama:-A-Transgender-Veteran-Is-Not-An-Impersonator,-It,-Or-Shim-

[14] Bradley Hagerty, Barbara. 19 May 2010. “Nun Excommunicated for Allowing Abortion.” National Public Radio. 10 June 2010 http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=126985072

[15] Presley, Katie. 14 May 2010. “3 Main Ways Right-Wing Legislators Control Women’s Bodies.” Ms.blog 10 June 2010 http://msmagazine.com/blog/blog/2010/05/14/3-main-ways-right-wing-legislators-control-womens-bodies/

[16] Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice. 2007. “What is Reproductive Justice?” SisterSong. 10 June 2010 http://www.sistersong.net/reproductive_justice.html

%d bloggers like this: