My Journey To Reproductive Rights, Freedom and Justice
Posted by Guest Blogger
June 4, 2014
I am a bit of a unicorn. Let me explain what I mean by that. I am a 22-year-old multi-racial, Army National Guard veteran, college student, social justice policy nerd and advocate who is a moderate Democrat from a working class background in a fairly red state in the south: North Carolina. A state becoming more and more infamous by the minute for a legislator continuing to try to roll back the clock and time on reproductive rights and freedoms. I am also queer, someone who identifies as Tranmasculine and whose gender can best be summed up with the term “boi” (although I don’t think there is one word that can truly sum up my gender). Additionally I am Catholic, and my faith is something that is important to me and coming back to Catholicism recently after years of not being involved in the church has been a bit of a journey.
On paper I am not exactly the first person you would think who be an advocate for reproductive justice, but similarly to my journey in terms of discovering my true gender identity at 18 and journey back to the church, this too has been an adventure. Growing up I never truly identified as either “pro-choice” or “pro-life”, but one could say I leaned closer to pro-life than anything. Growing up in the south I had no grasp on what reproductive justice meant. To me reproductive “justice” was simply about abortion, and abortion was and still very much is, a personal subject for me that at the time I was not ready to touch. Abortion hit to close to home and talking about it brought up feelings I wasn’t equipped to deal with and I felt like the conversations around abortion that were happening consistently left out stories that fit my experience with the topic. So I just tended to stay out of it, and if people asked said I was against it.
Unlike some people I can’t pinpoint when my mind changed about abortion, or about that being the center of the reproductive justice movement. It would be cliché to say college, but maybe there is some truth to that as back in spring 2011 when I had originally started college that’s when I started my transition from female-to-male. What does gender and reproductive justice have to do with one another? Well everything if you are asking me, especially because abortion is often centered at the reproductive justice movement and we hear constant rhetoric on both political spectrums about the “war on women.” Imagine being a Tranmasculine person or gender non-conforming person and having to access abortion services? Thankfully I have never been in that situation, but have heard stories of people who have been. I have however been in similarly uncomfortable situations of accessing often “gendered” healthcare, most notably gynecological exams, which for someone who still has my “female” reproductive organs is key to maintaining my health.
My gender transition allowed me to see reproductive justice outside of the scope of abortion. It allowed me to move into a space where reproductive justice was about the idea of body autonomy — or owning one’s body. Having the right to choose what hormones I did or didn’t want to inject, what surgeries I did or didn’t want to have, what I wanted my body parts to be called and not called. My gender transition allowed me to own my body, in all ways, for the first time. Reproductive justice for me is innately linked to my gender identity.
The second thing that spurred my passage into a space where I became a reproductive justice advocate was my work on LGBTQ rights in Washington, DC from summer 2011-2013. I worked at various non-profit organizations doing work in the community and found the intersection between LGBTQ work and the reproductive justice movement to be very real. Whether it was on state-wide policy issues, or at sex education coalition meetings I found myself immersed in a world that gave me new definitions for words, sexual health practices and most importantly gave me mentors to navigate a world I never knew how. I saw various organizations doing work that truly embodied reproductive justice and took on a mission of what many call “queering RJ”.
It has taken me time, but the past four years I found my voice. I found my gender, faith, racial-identity and sexuality colliding to give me words to form my narrative around issues related to body autonomy, sexual/reproductive health, and yes even abortion. I am proud today to say I am an advocate and voice for reproductive justice and freedom, I’ve been an avid supporter of Choice USA and similar organizations for years now and have a large amount of friends who work in the reproductive rights movement. Most recently I attended a conference for young black queer/gay/bi-sexual/same gender loving men in Atlanta where the focus was HIV/AIDS and attended the Civil Liberties and Reproductive Justice Conference back in April-the largest reproductive justice conference in the country. My journey has just begun, and as the days go on I know I am taking another step towards owning my voice, my body, and speaking truth to power for the sake of a movement that has become a second home.
Bryce Celotto is a 22-year old full time student in Western Massachusetts who is originally from Charlotte, North Carolina. He is currently the education programs intern at the League of United Latin American Citizens national office in Washington, DC and in the past has worked at several LGBT nonprofit organizations on public policy issues related to employment non-discrimination, LGBT military service/benefits, LGBT youth/Anti-Bullying and education. When Bryce isn’t working he enjoys exploring Washington, DC, slam poetry, trying new recipes from Pinterest and going to Washington Nationals games; he is also an avid social media user, bow-tie lover and is passionate about sex education, LGBT youth, immigration reform and equal access to education (among many other things!).
Great piece Bryce!