Last year, I sent an email to my parents with a clip of a media appearance I did on CBC. I can’t recall the topic—I’m sure I was yammering about abortion and the law, as I am wont to do—but I thought it was a good clip and figured my parents might enjoy it. Look at me! I’m on TV!
My dad responded that he had enjoyed the clip and then said that my mom and he were wondering why I kept saying pregnant people. “Is this a new thing?” he asked. I told him it’s because women aren’t the only people who get pregnant. He said, “Oh, OK. I see” and then went about his day—not because he was being dismissive, but because he understood and there wasn’t much need to talk about it anymore. (My dad is pretty great that way.) He asked a question. I answered it. He got it. Bing bang boom.
My dad is a smart man. My mom is a smart woman, and they needed a quick explanation about why “pregnant people” is not only inclusive, but correct. And it occurred to me that there might be other smart people—perhaps you, dear reader—who might not understand why folks use the term “pregnant people” and why it’s important that everyone does so.
The reason I don’t say pregnant women is because transgender men get pregnant. Nonbinary people get pregnant. As s.e. smith wrote for Rewire New Group last year:
People across the gender spectrum receive abortion care. While their numbers are relatively small—so small that it is difficult to get statistics, for example, on how many men receive abortions each year—they are not insignificant. That they are unintended victims of the war on women does not negate the fact that they, too, are fighting for their lives and autonomy.
Using the term “pregnant people,” recognizes that fact. It also serves as a way to acknowledge the lived experience of trans and nonbinary people. And yet the pushback to this inclusive language persists, particularly when it comes to abortion rights.
The fight over trans inclusion in the reproductive rights movement has been going on for years. And despite the fact that the politics of pregnancy affect trans men and nonbinary people—since they can and do become pregnant—trans-exclusionary radical feminists (or TERFs for short) still manage to center the conversation around trans women; in that way, they can center themselves and their endless whinging that somehow trans women existing means cis women are somehow less women-y. Apparently, every time you call a trans woman a woman, a cis woman’s vagina explodes. Simply stating the fact that trans women are women somehow erases the womanhood of the cis women who oppose being forced to change their language in order to kowtow to Big Trans.
When it comes to abortion politics, the pushback tends to seem more reasonable. After all, the majority of people who become pregnant and get abortions are women. But is that an excuse to exclude the trans men and nonbinary people who may become pregnant and need abortion care? No. It’s not.
Oftentimes those averse to saying “pregnant people” complain that it erases the struggle that women face when it comes to control over their bodies. These sorts of arguments go something like this: “Gender-neutral language around reproduction creates the illusion of dismantling a hierarchy—when what you really end up doing is ignoring it.”
That’s Glosswitch writing for the New Statesman five years ago. Referencing Florynce Kennedy’s well-known 1971 quote—”If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament”—Glosswitch argued that the “quote still has resonance today, or rather, it would have, were it not for the fact that its basic premise has been proven false. Men can get pregnant; abortion, on the other hand, remains as stigmatised as ever.”
I understand the point. There’s something powerful about talking about the reproductive rights of women. I can imagine that for some people, it evokes a sense of sisterhood and is a nod to women’s centuries-long struggle for equality. I get it. I do. But ultimately, who gives a fuck. Yes, trans men are men, but they are not the men chipping away at abortion rights and squeezing access. Trans men aren’t the ones driving abortion policy in the United States. Cis men are doing that. Trans men and nonbinary people are simply trying to live—and get health care—without being harassed and singled out.
And besides, the politics of abortion has to be about more than soundbites. Yes, Kennedy’s quote is the rhetorical equivalent of a throat punch. I love that quote. But if the choice is between giving up that spicy rhetoric and making sure trans and nonbinary people don’t feel excluded from the fight for bodily autonomy, I choose the latter. And I like to think that Kennedy would have too. (Although it’s worth noting that Black feminists aren’t immune to the scourge of transphobia. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a perfect example.)
For those of us who believe not just in reproductive rights—which has traditionally been a white upper-middle-class fight—but in reproductive justice—which is for everyone—the notion that we should ignore inclusivity in favor of marketability is grotesque. Our abortion politics must be inclusive, or the fight that we are waging for human rights is a farce. There’s no getting around it. Abortion is a human right. Trans and nonbinary people are humans. Trans and nonbinary people sometimes get abortions. End of story.
How can anyone advocating for a human right remain unwilling to use factual and inclusive language to describe that fight? If we are willing to throw trans people under the bus because their inclusion makes it difficult to throw a trenchant quote on a bumper sticker, then what are we even doing?
To paraphrase Flavia Dodzan, my abortion politics will be intersectional, or they will be bullshit.
And ultimately, that’s why I say “pregnant people”: It’s correct; it’s inclusive; and I don’t want my feminism—or my abortion politics—to be bullshit.
It’s not something I always did, mind you. I sometimes read my work from six years ago and I wince at how noninclusive my language was. But I always come back to the fact that my language is inclusive now. I made a choice to start using “pregnant people.” There’s no reason why you can’t make that same choice. You don’t even have to make a big fuss about it. And there’s no reason to be ashamed if you haven’t begun using more inclusive language until you read this very sentence. Now you know why inclusive language is so important, and it’s what you choose to do with that information that counts.
My dad gets it. Get on my dad’s level.