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What’s So Gay About RJ?

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June 11, 2013

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I have a photo of my grandmother on the bulletin board next to my desk. It’s a picture of her, taking a picture of Eleanor Roosevelt. The First Lady is riding in an open-air car, and my grandmother is leaning in, over the hood, for a close up. While we don’t know the story first-hand (because we only found the photo after she had died), we assume she was snapping the picture for the University of Idaho newspaper, where she worked as a reporter while in school.
Both of my grandmothers went to college. Neither of my grandfathers did.

Feminism, it seems, runs in the family.

It’s June and it’s pride month and at Choice USA we are celebrating – highlighting some of the amazing work that our chapters and organizational partners are doing, working at the intersections of LGBTQ issues and reproductive health/rights/justice (h/r/j) issues. If you don’t understand what I’m talking about, you should click here and read this, and then come back and keep reading. The work is pretty badass, and it’s happening really organically. This makes sense, given that the reproductive h/r/j movements are chock full o’ queers.

And THAT reality – the reality that queers are SO highly represented in reproductive activism, and have been for a long, long time – is a curious thing to me. Why are queer people so disproportionately represented in a movement primarily focused on issues that disproportionately affect heterosexual women?

And, YES – I do know that queer folks have unplanned pregnancies. I know that queer folks have abortions. I know that queer folks take hormonal contraceptives. I know all of that. But I also know that heterosexual women interact with these things much more frequently than queer folks do.

And, YES – I do want to know that if I should ever experience an unplanned pregnancy, that abortion is an accessible option for me (Lord, I want to know this). But I also want to know that if I’m ever laid off that I can collect unemployment insurance. I want to know that if I’m ever injured in an accident, that I will be able to receive all of the best treatment and medicine available, and not go bankrupt doing it. I want lots of things to be available to me in the event that I need them, and yet I’m not working on those issues. I’m working in reproductive justice.

Why?

I got asked this question just a few weeks ago. I was having dinner with a friend and her friend – a well-known, well-respected LGBT activist who is in her 50’s. I told her what I did for work and she fired back at me, “What the hell are you doing, there?” I think I said something smartass like, “I like working with women” (which is true). But the truth is, I didn’t have a better answer. I could have given her all of the talking points, or listed the things that I want to ensure will be available to me in the event I need them one day. But she would have seen through that, because what she was really asking me was, “Kai, where are you in this work?” And I haven’t ever really known how to answer that. It has always just felt intuitive.

But intuitive isn’t really cutting it anymore. I’m a writer, damnit. Find your words, Kai! So here goes.

I am an unapologetic feminist. I believe, deeply, that homophobia, transphobia, and misogyny are all manifestations of the institution of patriarchy. Patriarchy tells us that women’s bodies are for the consumption and control of men. Patriarchy tells us that the feminine is weak, and meant to be dominated. And patriarchy tells us that there is a natural order, and that human bodies that transgress that order must be beat back into submission or eliminated. (Side note: this is not original thinking. It is informed by the mostly second-wave, mostly heterosexual badass feminists I have read and spent my life with.)

I believe that trans people will never be safe and free, and that queer people will never be safe and free, until heterosexual women are safe and free.

I believe in the elimination of gender-based oppression, and I believe this is called feminism.

There is not, in my view, a national feminist movement. Instead, feminism hangs out in a few places. Since the effective defeat of the Equal Rights Amendment in 1982, and the subsequent collapse of the women’s rights movement in the US, feminism has lived most strongly in the reproductive h/r/j movements. This makes sense, given that ability to control one’s reproductive autonomy is central to women being/becoming safe and free.

Feminism hangs out here, so I do too.

Abortion is great. Birth control is great. Gay marriage is “super, thanks for asking.” But for this queer boi, feminism is where it’s at.

I love that Choice USA works to cultivate and build the leadership of a new generation of young feminists. They may not identify with the term (feminist), but if they are working to end gender-based oppression, it works for me. And it makes me hopeful that we might see the re-emergence of a powerful, radical feminist movement in my lifetime.

When my grandmother was getting up in age, she saw the March for Women’s Lives on the news. She told my mom that she wished she could have been there. I think my grandmothers would be proud of me. I think they would be completely confused by a lot of me, and alarmed by my hair and tattoos. But I think they would be proud of the work I do. THAT is what the hell I am doing here.

 

KaiBIoKai Gurley is the Development Manager at Choice USA

 

 

 

 

 

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One Response to “What’s So Gay About RJ?”

  1. JT Hammons

    Lovelovelove this post. You were able to put into words something I have yet to think of. As a straight, white dude working within the RJ movement I get asked the question a lot too. “What are you doing there.”

    Your answer is terrific.

    “Feminism hangs out here, so I do too.”

    Pretty much the best one sentence answer I have seen!