We are here: Stop erasing queerness from reproductive health debates

17 May

This post is part of the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia Blogathon.

I know I’m late to be writing about Fox News’s Monica Crowley questioning Sandra Fluke’s sexuality, but as a queer woman, it’s still getting under my skin. For those of you who’ve managed to avoid hearing about this, after Fluke announced her engagement, Crowley tweeted her response: “To a man?” and her comment provoked numerous and varied responses in the media and Twittersphere, even sparking the hashtag #crowleyjokes. (My favorite #crowleyjoke: Why did the chicken cross the road? LESBIANS!).

I shouldn’t be surprised that a Fox News pundit’s attempt at humor was actually an offensive insult; it’s not the first time that that has happened and it certainly won’t be the last. But I was on Twitter when the story broke, and alongside the #crowleyjokes, pro-choicers and advocates were also tweeting things that made me uncomfortable, like, “Understanding of lesbianism FAIL  FYI: No birth control needed” and “you don’t need contraception if you’re having sex with a woman #idiot”.

Progressive bloggers had a similar take on the situation. Jezebel covered the story, writing: “Irrationality of joking about how a non-procreative sex-having lesbian desperately needing contraception aside…” and Adam Peck on Think Progress wrote: “Crowley’s fake surprise that Fluke is not, in fact, a lesbian is especially ironic given the attacks that her network leveled against Fluke in February…”

So here’s the message I’m getting: It would be irrational and ironic for a gay or lesbian person to advocate for equal access to birth control.

There’s a big problem here. Pretending that queers (and I use queer as a general term to encompass myself and sexually-and-gender-variant peers) don’t need access to contraception is misinformed. According to the Massachusetts Youth Risk Behavior Survey, GLBT high schoolers were more than twice as likely as their heterosexual counterparts to become pregnant or to have gotten someone pregnant. Why? Because they were not using birth control regularly and because they did not feel safe going to a doctor to ask for it.  On top of that, many trans, non-gender conforming, and lesbian-identifying individuals may practice survival sex to make a living in a world where systems of oppression, racism, stereotypes, violence, and lack of a job market and legal rights may lead to dangerous situations, risk of pregnancy, and HIV infection. One study found that teenage lesbian and bisexual women were five times more likely to have exchanged sex for food, money, or other necessities than their heterosexual counterparts. Queer sexual health is an important and often forgotten component of reproductive justice, and neglect of queer communities in reproductive health dialogues only segments and divides the reproductive justice movement.

But there’s something else that’s been bothering me about this conversation. It’s not just that by calling Crowley’s comment irrational and ironic people are ignoring the experiences of queer people who need access to birth control or abortion care, and it’s not just that Crowley tweeted a deliberately malicious insult. It’s more than that. Questioning Sandra Fluke’s sexuality implies that she does not have the right to be speaking about birth control access; it intentionally uses queerness to demean her person and to make her opinions about birth control less valid.

It’s no surprise that the religious right is good at connecting queerness to reproductive health; they loop both together when talking about immorality and sex. So why can’t progressives and reproductive health advocates connect the dots? Brushing away queers’ need for birth control and comprehensive reproductive health care is ignoring the complexities of queer life and erasing reproductive choices. Queers are already struggling to find competent health care providers; we need the reproductive health and justice movements to advocate for us instead of shutting us out because of preconceived notions.

It’s time for people to see queers as diverse individuals with fluid identities and varied experiences and not be so quick to dismiss us. Reproductive justice activists will only benefit from our inclusion.

4 Responses to “We are here: Stop erasing queerness from reproductive health debates”

  1. Maggie May 18, 2012 at 10:40 am #

    Thank you. This post is spot on. Like we don’t have enough to fight against with antis and Republicans. We are all stronger when were united as a movement and not debating who is a “legitimate” advocate.

  2. Finn Schubert May 18, 2012 at 1:31 pm #

    Just wanted to say that it’s entirely possible that Sandra Fluke could be getting married to a woman and in need of contraceptive care – some women are trans, and would be able to get someone pregnant.

    In line with everything you’ve said here, trans people face many barriers to accessing reproductive health care, including contraceptive care and abortion care. When advocates within our movement use phrasing that suggests that cisgender bodies are the only ones that exist or matter, it makes it even more difficult for trans people to access the services we need.

    Thanks for all you’ve brought up in this post, Megan. This is an important conversation.

  3. Serena May 19, 2012 at 11:02 pm #

    Good arguments about why the discussion of birth control is important when we’re talking about LGBTQ health issues.

    Another connection is that if we’re truly “pro-choice,” then we need to support the choice of queers who want to have babies. It’s reproductive health care access, just as much as having access to abortion and birth control is. There is so much overlap on these issues – and I’m really glad that you’re calling attention to this.

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