Blas Radi (Universidad de Buenos Aires)
The sexual and (non) reproductive health of trans men is a challenging issue. In the first place, because it is far from being guaranteed (even contemplated, perhaps imagined?) by the Health system and its agents. Second, because it seems not to be included in the limited inventory of “integral health” practices. Thirdly, because its inclusion in the social movements agenda tends to be considered more as a burden to be discarded than as an occasion to articulate and defend human rights.
In a theoretical and political terrain where obstacles are found not only in the legal regulation of sexual and (non) reproductive rights, but also in their cultural articulation, the situation of trans men tends to be dominated by a set of myths that propagate more by their effect than by their truth value. I am interested in presenting a sketch of this political mythology because it condenses and exhibits many simplified beliefs that are harmful and deserve to be addressed.
- Myth # 1: Trans men are all the same.
It is unlikely that anybody would hold something like this. Still, it is an implicit assumption in the existing representations about trans men. This alleged homogeneity allows speaking of this collective as if it were a compact and uniform group of identical specimens. Of course, such universalization lacks support and is backed only by its own repetition.
- Myth # 2: Trans men do not want to have kids.
(Here we can see myth # 1 in action) In fact, some trans men want to have children and others do not. As in any human group, right? Such a gross generalization should fall by its own weight. However, it is interesting to analyze how normative stereotypes linked to gender and reproduction work.
These stereotypes permeate the culture, and its daily functioning constitutes the conditions of possibility of gendered bodies. The assumption of sexual difference (that is, the belief that there are only two types of possible bodies, male and female, and that each corresponds to one and only one gender, masculine or feminine, respectively) still constitutes the hidden curriculum of all disciplines (including sex education) and is the backbone of our institutions. Thus, it is reasonable to think that disinterest in procreation can be derived from the prescriptive functioning of gender. In fact, in many States, renouncing reproductive capacities is a requirement for the recognition of a gender identity different from that assigned at birth.
In Argentina, trans men are not forced to give up their reproductive capacities to change their document. Still, the myth does not lose force, even when trans men have given birth to their children. Its persistence enables the non-existence of sexual and (non) reproductive health policies for this population.
- Myth # 3: Trans men can’t reproduce because they are heterosexual… homosexual… they are… huh? Well, trans men can’t reproduce, period.
What about the categories “homo” and “hetero”? Neither seems entirely appropriate. How do we define what is “the same” -homo- sex and “the other” -hetero- sex? Perhaps these terms are useful only if we assume that each person has one -and only one- substance in which that “one” or “other” sex is embodied, allowing us to determine if the substance of the couples they choose is “the same” or “the other”. But let’s leave this topic for another occasion…
This myth is also the product of gender stereotypes. We know that a person’s gender identity says nothing about who he/she/they choose as sexual or romantic companions, nor about their sexual practices, nor about their reproductive desires and capacities. However, the assumption here is that trans men are sexually related to (cis) women and it is impossible for such relationships to result in pregnancy.
- Myth # 4: Trans men can’t reproduce because they are sterile.
Many cis women are sterile and we would not say that none of them can procreate. What enables such inductions when it comes to trans men? Maybe it’s the scourge of forced sterilization. It is a good point. The renunciation of reproductive capacities has been and still is a condition of access to legal recognition of the gender identity of trans people in many countries. In some cases, forced sterilization is one of the requirements established by law or the courts, although it is not openly demanded. In these cases, for example, the person requesting the change is required to present “a medical certificate that states his/her desire to permanently belong to the opposite gender, lives in accordance with that gender role and has been sterilized or is infertile for other reasons”.
These eugenic precepts can be traced in Argentine jurisprudence. In any case, our 2012 Gender Identity Law is clear regarding the right of trans people not to be sterilized against their will, and to the recognition of their identity regardless of their physical characteristics. That means that our legislation recognizes that there are men who have the possibility of becoming pregnant.
- Myth # 5: It is not right for transgender men to reproduce.
There is no evidence that being raised by trans parents has negative effects on a person. It is important to remember that reproductive rights, as well as the right to form a family, are part of the human rights of all people, and are not subordinated to their gender identity.
There are statistics and reports about child mistreatment, abandonment, non-compliance with food duties and loss of parental authority over cases of families with cis parents. Is this argument reversible?
- Myth # 6: Sexual and (non) reproductive health, and the rights related to it, are not men’s issues.
A slogan says “women decide and men accompany”, right? And “if men could get pregnant, abortion would be le…” but, wait, trans men can get pregnant! Many do it and some of them abort.
This myth expresses the way in which cissexism feeds our view of the world, and it exhibits the dead ends to which identity politics can lead us. The scope of the category “women” does not map onto that of “people who can get pregnant”. And this is not only because there are women who cannot get pregnant (trans women, among them) but because there are people who are not women who actually get pregnant and abort -trans men, for example. However, the myth turns to an idea of humanity that assumes that all people (all those worthy of attention, at least) are cis. That is, the myth is rooted in a cissexist conception of humanity.
On the other hand, this myth (when it is sustained, in spite of everything) expresses the problems to which unwavering commitments to politics of identity lead. Thus, even when defining gender identity as a subjective experience (that is, when the definition given by our Gender Identity Law is recognized), gender is still conceived following static and obsolete structures, which distribute characteristics, problems and privileges in two predefined, sealed and fixed categories, cast in the mold of cis experiences. Thus, people who identify as men and were assigned female at birth are compulsively inserted into this plot, which defines their needs, desires, possibilities and reputation in the light of a model developed on the basis of other people’s experiences.
- Myth # 7: The issue of trans men is very new.
This myth is invoked to justify the exclusion of trans men from sexual and (non) reproductive rights agendas focused on (cis) women. Leaving aside the old trick of believing that something exists from the moment we see it, it is not true that the existence of trans men, the fact that they can get pregnant, or their political demands are new.
This myth has a double effect. On the one hand, it erases the memory in such a way that the discussion on this topic has always “just begun”. That is why the treatment of this topic always has that inaugural gesture, which means that each time, it is a new topic that we still have to process.
On the other hand, this myth justifies the hierarchy of emergencies, whereby certain populations must remain in the waiting room, but with a new number each time.
- Myth # 8: Trans men were never committed to this social cause.
This myth is articulated with the previous one and has the same performative effect.
In addition to its truth value, does anyone else feel uncomfortable with this idea of merit being required in order to be considered a worthy subject of rights?
Trans activism has a significant political presence since the 1990s, at least. Bodily integrity and decisional autonomy have been and are two of its strong causes. Additionally, many trans men are part of feminist groups. Many trans groups are also feminist groups and, as if that were not enough, many trans people spent a large part of their lives as women within feminist organizations.
It is also true that many trans men were expelled from their (lesbo)feminist groups due to their transition, and/or were denied access because of their gender identity.
The lack of commitment attributed to trans men is a perverse resource that justifies their exclusion while holding them responsible for it.
- Myth # 9: Trans men are contemplated in the use of an x instead of gendered words and the category “pregnant bodies” in the agenda of sexual and (non) reproductive rights.
The category “pregnant bodies” has the advantage of enabling a certain openness with respect to the demands centred on (cis) “women” and, in this sense, generating a space of intelligibility for other experiences. However, just as the demands for parity do not stop at demanding that institutional cultures revise their communications and adopt inclusive vocabulary, participation under equal conditions is not achieved only through a strategy of grammatical change. Imagine how ridiculous it would be to argue that parity in electoral lists is achieved only by adopting non-gendered terms such as “candidates”, making it unnecessary to review how the list is composed, and ok if candidates are all cis men.
Participation in equal conditions requires inclusive language strategies, but it also requires more. Participation in equal conditions requires, nothing other than participation under equal conditions.
- Myth # 10: Trans men are not the population that suffers most from the violation of their sexual and (non) reproductive rights.
This myth is presented as the premise of an argument that I call “the majority argument”. According to this argument, the number of trans men who are affected by these rights violations is negligible compared to the number of cis women. In its affirmative version, the argument holds that cis women are the vast majority of people who see their sexual and (non) reproductive rights violated, which would justify the exclusion of trans men from the agendas of social movements and the lack of public policies.
In favour of this argument, we must acknowledge that all existing reports and statistics on this matter reflect an eloquent disproportion: the ratio between cis women and trans men surveyed is 100 to 0. Of course, when we look into the procedures to determine these figures, the calculations made and the raw data, we find that this research only applies to cis women, understanding that they are the only subjects of pregnancy, abortion, subrogation, etc. In those cases, the absence of trans men is not a result of the research, but a premise. In this scenario, we must consider that this absolute majority might just be the limitations in our instruments of analysis, projected on reality.
In any case, even if there were analytical tools sophisticated enough to register transgender men, it would be necessary to consider particular challenges before turning to numbers. For example, in the context of hostile contexts, it is unlikely that trans people are willing to identify themselves publicly as such, especially taking into account what is at stake in the space of the doctor’s office. Not to mention when it comes to declaring an abortion.
But even if the result of the most meticulous research was that of an overwhelming majority of cis women, it is worth asking what would be the harm of incorporating other subjects who are also affected by these human rights violations, and also by others, such as the violation of their right to gender identity. That is, if cis women were the majority, the incorporation of transgender men in sexual and (non) reproductive health agendas and policies does not erase that fact and does no harm on cis women.
In this sense, it is not clear why or since when we began to relate to human rights as if they were scarce resources that must be reserved for certain people at the expense of others.
 A version of this text was presented at the inauguration of the Undersecretariat of Gender, School of Social Sciences, University of Buenos Aires, in April 2018. Simultaneously, Argentina was discussing (and still is) the legalization of abortion, and the “Myths” described here were recurrent throughout the debates and the projects discussed in Congres.
 In his art. 11, the Argentine Gender Identity Law guarantees access to “integral health”. This article was regulated three years after the enactment of the law, and without a budget, and thus its effective implementation, even today, is far from being a fact. Moreover, this idea of “integrality” in “integral health” actually refers to practices of gender affirmation.
 Finnish gender identity law, currently in force.
 The Argentine Gender Identity Law does not establish surgical or hormonal requirements for the purpose of changing personal data in identity documents.
 Cissexism is the system of symbolic and material exclusions and privileges rooted in the prejudice that cis people are better, more important and/or more authentic than trans people (if not the only ones).