Monday, April 14, 2014

Progressive Causes Should Not Require the Abandonment of Critical Thought

Several years ago, I needed an abortion. The only "women's clinic" in my town was a stealth-religious organization that advised abortion was a mortal sin. I had to drive four hours round-trip to the nearest Planned Parenthood to watch the state-approved video and sign the state-approved form to start the clock on my 24 hour waiting period, and later that week drive six hours round-trip to the nearest Planned Parenthood with a doctor still brave and caring enough to perform abortions.

I was pregnant, by the way, because the only gynecologist in my tiny middle-of-nowhere town who was taking new patients was a semi-retired 80 year old man who wouldn’t prescribe the pill because he didn’t believe in hormonal birth control, my insurance would not cover an IUD, and the combination of my 37 years, fertility-complicating medical conditions, condom and sponge was no match for my then-lover's supersperm.

This was a very trying time for me - not just because of the combination of onerous government requirements and funding cuts that led to clinic closures, or the boss who was working me to death and grilling me about any time off, or the salary that was so low that paying for the gas for those trips meant I had to do without groceries for a week, or because I was in love with the dope who’d impregnated me and the feeling wasn’t mutual - but because I would have very much liked to have a baby if there was any way I could afford to be a mom. 

All that said, when the lovely lone staffer of the first Planned Parenthood clinic told me I wasn't "required" to look at the fetus photographs included in the state-approved "information packet," my response was "I know the reality of what I'm doing." I looked at the photographs and said, "Yes. That is what I need removed from my uterus."

The abortion was an all-day affair of tense, crowded waiting rooms, repetitive paperwork and social-work-type interviews, and the procedure itself was five minutes of breathtaking pain – it felt like my insides were being vacuumed out through my uterus – but as I walked to the recovery room on shaky legs, the sense of relief was what overwhelmed me.

I don't have to skirt around or gloss over the reality of abortion to demand it as my human right, because the realities of pregnancy - that fetuses require a human host and that growing and birthing one is hard, dangerous work that entails workplace discrimination and incredibly high medical costs - and, after delivery, day care costs - are just as important. My defense of abortion access is 100% clear-eyed and reality-based because it takes in the full context of women's lives.

My support of anti-racism efforts is also 100% clear-eyed and reality-based. I don't feel any need to censor discussions of race because I know that people of color are in no way inferior to white people, and that any theses/data to the contrary can be factually dismantled by looking at historical and socio-economic realities in an honest and in-depth way. The same goes for anti-poverty efforts and any conception of poor people as inherently lazy.

The answer is never to deny demographic realities nor to spend all our time railing at those who use inequality to justify prejudice but to dig in and figure out how to solve problems. Analyze contexts, build coalitions, make individual and structural changes.

As for gay rights, my support is deeply grounded in my feminism. Homosexuality is in no way harmful - it does not require any unwilling participation, after all - but in addition, arguments against gay rights are always steeped in ideas of traditional gender roles. They're not, at base, about homosexuality but about male dominance. Dig deeper. More analysis, not less.

My support for progressive causes is not based on a belief that people born into oppressed classes are innately "better" than those who are born into oppressor classes, or because I feel sorry for anyone, or because to idealize and/or pity others would make me feel morally superior to anyone.

I support progressive causes because, very simply, I think all women and [men who are gay, black, brown, disabled, economically disadvantaged, et cetera] are just as human as the most privileged of males, and that the rights they (we) demand are perfectly reasonable and justifiable.

Which brings us to the latest fad in Leftist circles: If a person born with a fully functioning male reproductive system, socialized male throughout his childhood and adolescence, educated as a male, and promoted within his chosen profession as a male, declares he now "feels like a woman" then *TADA* SHE IS NOW BIOLOGICALLY FEMALE. IF YOU OBJECT IN ANY WAY YOU ARE A BIGOT WHO MUST BE SILENCED. 

THIS IS ABSURD. It also seems like a perfect parody of reactionary conservatives' view of progressive politics -- but given the traction this sentiment has found, not just with youth on Twitter and Tumblr but with mainstream leftist and feminist publications and in the law - I do believe the Right Wing Nut Jobs have a point regarding how many Lefties have no interest in applying critical analysis to their causes but instead simply vie for most non-judgmental (or in practice, most knee-jerkingly sanctimonious).

Rational judgment is good. And to equate the reasonableness of these first four statements with the reasonableness of the fifth one is offensive:

Women do not exist to serve men.

People of color are in no way inferior to white people.
Poor people do not deserve to be poor.
Homosexuality is not morally wrong.
Biological sex is all in your head.

This inanity calls into question both the intelligence and the sincerity of self-declared "transgender allies." 

Human beings are a sexually dimorphic species. That is a fact. "Transwomen are women" is a thought-terminating cliche that empties the word woman of its meaning - adult human female. On the other hand, "transwomen are men who suffer from sex dysmorphia, pursue medical and social transition, and are then addressed as transwomen -prefix included, and as a specific subset of men-might not fit into a tweet but also doesn't require anyone to deny reality.

And you know what? I find it extremely condescending to transsexual people when I'm exhorted to deny biological reality so as not to harm them. Many trans-identified men and women have made lovely lives for themselves. Careers, hobbies, homes, pets, friends, significant others. They are not only capable of accepting biological reality but of sincerely engaging with feminist analysis. They are grown people fully capable of human happiness and awesomeness and no one needs to treat them like they are made of glass. For heaven's sake. 

We can offer the concession of "transwoman" without giving up either our knowledge of how babies are made (my ex-boyfriend did not impregnate me with his manly gaze!) or our analyses of how female humans are subjugated (e.g. restricting abortion access!) We can befriend and support transwomen who embrace both reality & feminist analysis and still avoid the hell out of autogynephilic asshats. For crying out loud, they aren't hard to spot. WHAT WITH THE PENISES AND RAGING MISOGYNY AND ALL.

Progressive causes should not require us to relinquish our critical thinking skills or tell polite lies or walk on eggshells. Empathy and honest analysis can and should co-exist on the Left. Let's get it together.

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