Jack Qu’emi Gutiérrez was a 20-year-old college student in a self-described “shitty relationship” when they found out they were pregnant.
It was 2011 and Gutiérrez, a nonbinary person who uses the pronouns they/them, had to pool all their money at the time to pay the $500 to get the abortion pill. Even though Gutiérrez chose to have a medication abortion (“I didn’t want a bunch of people in my crotch”), they were still forced to undergo two trans-vaginal ultrasounds before obtaining the abortion pill.
“I felt very, very much alone,” Gutiérrez told HuffPost. “I didn’t have any frame of reference for what an abortion would be like, period. Not to mention what an abortion would be like as a nonbinary person.”
Although Gutiérrez went to Planned Parenthood, they were constantly misgendered and there was no option for preferred pronouns or name on the intake form.
“I got called ‘Miss’ and ‘Ma’am’ all the time,” they said. “And [the staff] was super sweet to me, but I was too terrified to really sit down and have a conversation and say, ‘Hey, my pronouns are this and my identity is this, could you stop doing that?’ I was too busy going, ‘Holy shit, I’m in a clinic and I don’t know what to expect.’” (Planned Parenthood now offers preferred pronouns and gender identity options on their intake forms.)
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That experience left Gutiérrez feeling violated, shameful and, later, angry. “I feel like I always have to justify my existence and explain why I need to be treated like a human being,” they said.
“To completely ignore a giant group of people that need access ― and who are already having a hard time going into health care spaces ― it is just mind-blowing to me, and it’s incredibly frustrating,” Gutiérrez said.
Make no mistake: The abortion bans are absolutely an attack on cis women. It’s part of a larger war on women that’s been raging for decades, and it’s deeply rooted in misogyny and sexism. But these bans also affect transgender, intersex and other gender-nonconforming people.
Cazembe Murphy Jackson, a transgender man, said his abortion experience was similar to Gutiérrez’s. Jackson was raped his junior year in college and, six weeks later, had to take out a loan to get an abortion at a Planned Parenthood in Texas.
“It was awkward because people were not competent around trans masculine folks getting abortions. One of the first questions I got was, ‘Is this [abortion] for your partner?’” he said.
At the time, Jackson did not identify as a man but told HuffPost he was openly queer and presented as trans masculine or butch.
Similar to Gutiérrez, Jackson agreed that Planned Parenthood was by far the safest place for him to get an abortion. And yet, nurses and doctors still had little practice in giving care to trans presenting people.
“Our health care professionals have to be more educated on who gets abortions and who needs them,” he said. “People expect a certain type of body to come in to get abortions and that’s just not the case. It’s never been the case.”
And therein lies the problem. Even the most progressive health organizations, like Planned Parenthood, are still not up to speed on some of the most rudimental ways to give competent and compassionate care to trans and nonbinary folks.
“Even the pro-choice people are constantly, constantly choosing to ignore my existence,” Gutiérrez said.
A System Designed To Fail Gender-Nonconforming People
Dr. Krystal Redman, executive director of southeastern nonprofit SPARK: Reproductive Justice Now, pointed to the fact that, historically, legislation in the U.S. has been created by cisgender white people. And that, she argued, creates a systemic “narrative of gender being binary.”
“Just based on the history of how these laws were created, naturally the narrative and the conversations behind it become this cis-het [cisgender, heteronormative] centered narrative,” said Redman, a cisgender woman.
The language of choice was specifically created by cisgender people for cisgender people, Redman explained. Instead of the question being “Are you male or female?″ or “Do you have insurance or are you uninsured?”, the question for most nonbinary and gender-nonconforming folks is, “What provider can I go to that truly understands the dynamics of my body?”
“Cis folks need to understand that they operate within a privilege,” Redman said. “I don’t care what other racial or ethnic identity you identify with but just by the premise of being cis-identified, there is so much more privilege that you have over folks who do not identify as cis.”
In addition to going up against a legislative system created for cisgender people, trans and gender-nonconforming folks have to deal with a health care system that continually erases and oppresses them.
A Lambda Legal survey found that 70% of trans people experience serious discrimination when seeking medical care. According to a 2011 National Center for Transgender Equality survey of over 6,000 gender non-conforming Americans, 19% of respondents said they had been refused medical services because of their gender identity. Additionally, 28% reported that they have postponed necessary health care for fear of discrimination, and 33% delayed or didn’t seek preventative care because of past discrimination they experienced due to their gender identity.
These issues will only be magnified for gender-nonconforming folks seeking abortions in the wake of extreme restrictions and bans. Redman said the recent abortion restrictions will “absolutely” raise the stakes for trans and gender-nonconforming people, especially those of color.
The lives of trans and gender-nonconforming people will be directly endangered because of these restrictions, Gutiérrez added.
“I feel like more people in my community are probably going to be even less inclined to seek medical care for any reason,” they said.
“You’re going to have a lot higher rates of illness of all kinds in transgender and nonconforming communities, and I expect the suicide rate to go up if abortion is not accessible,” Gutiérrez added. “I know that if I had been forced to take that thing to term ... There’s no way I would be here for you to talk to me now.”
Abortion Care As A Women+ Issue
“People with uteruses have abortions. It’s not up to cis folks to determine how those people identify,” Redman said.
By making abortion conversations inclusive, Jackson said, we aren’t erasing the majority of cis-women who obtain abortions ― we are simply making room for some of the most marginalized.
“For me, abortion can be a women’s issue. You can talk about women power and all of that,” he said. “But that means a few things: One, you’ve got to include trans women in the conversation because trans women are also women. And, two, you have to include trans men and nonbinary folks because we are also affected by this.”
Gutiérrez was more assertive and demanded way more from a system that has repeatedly and continually erased their humanity.
“I’ve been asked to be patient since the moment I stepped foot into this movement,” they said.
“I’ve been told by those in reproductive justice organizations that, ‘We’ll get to you eventually, we’ll get to your people eventually. Let’s get abortion access for women first, just women, and then we’ll include transgender and non-conforming people,’” Gutiérrez said. “But no, that’s not how that works. Because it isn’t liberation unless everyone is free.”
This article has been updated to include that Planned Parenthood now offers preferred pronouns and gender identity options on its intake forms.