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On Being Queer and Pregnant: How the LGBT Community Failed Me

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June 13, 2013

Earlier this year, I shared my abortion story for the first time. Opening up about it felt hard because I had waited ten years — and also, because I’m queer.

When I came out to my mom 12 years ago, queer wasn’t a word that we used. The language we use to describe sexual orientation has shifted so much since then, but at the time I identified as bisexual. Similar to now, bisexuality wasn’t perceived to be something that really existed. From a heterosexist perspective, bisexuality meant you were confused or going through a phase that would have a finite end. From a monosexist perspective, being bisexual ostracized you from the gay and lesbian community unless you could somehow prove that you were equally attracted to both sexes, an impossible feat. So essentially you’re gay, straight or lying – bisexual wasn’t an option. To avoid the back-and-forth I usually identified as a lesbian.

Despite an evident embrace by pop-culture, there’s obviously still stigma attached to being a lesbian. But it seems, that in the last two decades, it’s been more acceptable to do so than to admit to having had an abortion – so as you can imagine having to confess to both can seem like social suicide; especially for an 18-year-old.  Even though I was sexually active with both men and women, most people couldn’t grasp that idea. So when I became pregnant, in addition to worrying about how I’d access and afford an abortion, I was also navigating how I’d prove to people I wasn’t a liar. For ten years, the nuances of my story kept me from telling it. Often, I had to choose between talking openly about dating both genders (and the obvious spool of questions that come after admitting that) and telling my abortion story – even though they were not mutually exclusive for me, for most people, they could not co-exist.

It wasn’t until I began working in reproductive justice that I learned my story wasn’t an isolated one. There were many, many other people who had experienced exactly what I had and there wasn’t any shame to: being bisexual, having an abortion, or both at the same time. Reproductive justice recognizes the complexities of sexual and reproductive experiences and is inclusive of the LGBT community. The framework validated, for me, that no matter what your sexual orientation, you deserve safe and affordable health services from a medical professional that is judgment free.

When I reflect back on the last ten years, I probably wouldn’t have changed anything about when and where I decided to share my story. Navigating sexual orientation in the late 90s early 00s, albeit easier than previous generations, was still difficult – and still is. Sex education wasn’t comprehensive and certainly didn’t address the distinctions of sexual safety for LGBT students – and just so we’re clear, even in California, it still doesn’t. Although I’ve released any shame I have about my sexuality and my abortion, I’m embarrassed to admit that there is still stigma in the LGBT community for some people who become pregnant and identify as queer.

At the core of both reproductive justice and LGBT equality is the belief that society must remove barriers that interfere with people’s ability to lead healthy sexual and reproductive lives; but even within our movements there is so much shame. It’s no wonder we’ve regressed on the fight for our basic human rights – even we believe there is only one right way to be. I encourage LGBT activists to toss the hypocrisy, embrace reproductive justice, and to stop shaming people for their personal choices. Believe it or not, that kind of interpersonal oppression is a by-product of internalized persecution. You’re finger pointing is sustaining anti-LGBT sentiment. Only when we acknowledge and accept the nuances of people’s experiences, can we expect to make any real progress.

Shanelle Matthews pictureShanelle is a blogger, creative and all-around digital communications enthusiast. She is the Communications Manager at Forward Together, co-founder of Black Women Birthing Justice and co-editor of Birthing Justice: Black Women, Pregnancy and Childbirth, slated for print in 2014.

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