Laura Lovejoy recently caught up with Broden Giambrone, the Chief Executive of Transgender Equality Network Ireland (TENI). Broden has led the organisation since 2011 and has been involved in advocacy, activism, community organising and capacity building in trans communities in Ireland and Canada for over fifteen years. He holds a Master’s in Public Health from the University of Toronto, which focused on community development and public health policy in the field of trans health. Laura and Broden talked about abortion, representation and visibility. Check out their conversation!
LL: Do you feel that trans men, as a group of people who need access to abortion services, are well-represented in current reproductive justice activism in Ireland? What steps could be taken by campaigners to achieve greater representation?
BG: The language of reproductive justice activism tends to centre around women and women's bodies and women's rights. Generally, access to abortion services is framed as exclusively a women's issue. Of course, the vast majority of people who seek abortion services are women but it's important to remember that it's not only women. Trans men and non-binary people do get pregnant and may need abortion services. However, currently reproductive rights campaigns render trans men and non-binary people largely invisible. Slogans like "women have a right to choose" negates experiences of non-women who also need to choose.
I believe that at the core of both trans and reproductive justice activism is the shared commitment to ensuring the right to self-determination and right to bodily autonomy. I think there is an undeniable solidarity between our movements and I know many trans activists who are heavily involved in pro-choice activism and many pro-choice activists who support trans rights.
Just to be clear, I don't think reproductive rights campaigns need to stop talking about women but instead should look at ways of being more inclusive to trans experiences and move beyond biological essentialism and dichotomous gender. There have been some positive steps and we [have] had productive meetings with organisations like ARC on how to develop a campaign that is inclusive to trans people. However, my fear is that as calls for a referendum grow louder, messaging can get simplified and those of us on the margins, whose experiences don't fit neatly in a box, may get left out of future campaigns.
LL: Increasingly, campaigns for social justice, such as the marriage equality campaign, have made visibility an integral part of their activism. This has had a positive effect on destigmatisation in many ways. A creative campaign like X-ile Project is very much focused on visibility, as our gallery seeks to show the faces of those who have been effectively exiled in order to access abortion services outside of Ireland. However, we recognise that visibility affects marginalised groups in society in different ways. How does visibility in activism specifically affect trans men in the fight for abortion rights in Ireland today?
BG: I believe that visibility is crucial to the success of any social justice campaign. We saw this in action in the marriage equality campaign. But visibility isn't everything, of course. We need real change beyond visibility. And we also need nuanced visibility, which we are only just beginning to see in terms of trans rights. It should go without saying that not all trans people are the same and we don't all have the same narratives, experiences or identities. Despite increased visibility of the trans community, there are still things we're not talking about and experiences that are not being shared. There is undoubtedly significant stigma facing trans men or non-binary folks who are pregnant as it is assumed pregnancy is inherently female. We've yet to hear a pregnant trans or non-binary person share their story publicly in Ireland and I imagine this is in part due to the sensationalism that greets these disclosures with headlines like, "the pregnant man" which rather than raising awareness about this experience tends to turn it into a spectacle, usually accompanied by rampant transphobia and misgendering. This isn't the visibility we need. However, the absence of these stories just perpetuates stigma and erasure.
This stigma is amplified if the pregnancy is unwanted and an individual needs to seek abortion services because the narrative is that these services are exclusively for women. We do not see any trans men or non-binary folks talking about accessing an abortion. In part I believe this is because it's hard to talk about abortion full stop in our society (we can see all the abuse that people like Tara Flynn and Róisín Ingle endured when they talked about abortion). But I also think it has to do with how difficult this experience would be as a man or non-binary person who needs to avail of abortion services that are exclusively "for women". First of all, in the Irish context you will need to travel to the UK, which requires identification documents which can be a barrier for many trans people to start with. Then, assuming you can travel and you have the money, the clinics where abortions are performed tend to be gendered. This adds additional barriers to trans people seeking abortions. Individuals run the real risk of being misgendered, mispronounced (wrong pronouns used deliberately or accidentally) and possibly having your gender identity ignored, mocked or derided. Even in the best cases where there is no ill will, there is almost certainly a need to educate service providers. These are real barriers for trans people, in addition to the real barriers facing all people who need abortions in Ireland.
We need to create a safe and open space for trans people to be able to access abortion services, to talk about reproductive rights and to participate in reproductive justice activism. I think there is also a responsibility for reproductive rights campaigners and organisations to self-reflect on the language that is used, to critically examine campaign messages to ensure they are inclusive, to engage with trans organisations and activists and to actively ensure the movement welcomes trans activists. We can't just expect that we can snap our fingers and trans people will come out of the woodwork to talk about reproductive rights or abortion, we need to challenge structural barriers and create an inclusive movement where trans people belong.