Picture: Several cartons of Plan B contraceptive stacked one of top of the other against a beige background.
This post is part one in a series. Please check out parts two and three.
This year, Blogging Against Disablism Day falls in the context of a great deal of celebration around the 50th anniversary of FDA approval of the hormonal birth control pill. Since most of my disability experiences have come with the birth control pill, I thought I’d take the BADD opportunity to talk about the intersection and write out my birth control narrative – what works for me, what doesn’t, and what ableism has to do with it.
Birth control is and was often (though by no means always) constructed as an unambiguous win for women. It’s strongly, strongly associated with the birth of the second wave of the feminist movement (though I’ve noted that the second wave is often omitted, effectively erasing the work of the first wave). And hormonal birth control has been wonderful and liberating for women in the final balance. The fiftieth anniversary of hormonal birth control should be celebrated. Hormonal birth control is wonderful.
But it is not unambiguously positive for women. It is not all of our liberation.
Birth control as a topic is simply not centrally relevant or empowering to every woman. Not all women are at risk of pregnancy. Widespread (rather than individual) centralization of birth control in feminism alienates and marginalizes their already problematized bodies: trans women, intersex women, older women, lesbian women, women with disabilities that affect their reproductive system, asexual women, women who want to get pregnant. Not to mention the loaded history of otherwise non-privileged bodies with birth control in light of the eugenics movement.
In the course of discussion of birth control, though, options which are not hormonal birth control or condoms are often erased or devalued. IUDs are unobtainable. Withdrawal is silly and irresponsible. Diaphragms are old-fashioned, ineffective, and irrelevant.
But these are the options those who need non-hormonal birth control. The voices of folks who need and use alternative methods of birth control are ignored or erased in favor of more popular methods. The downsides of these methods are not discussed or dismissed as minimal, marginal.
Women with disabilities are often (though not always) sexual, and some of us are at risk of pregnancy. When we go to the doctor, our questions may be brushed away because of disbelief in our sexuality. Our concerns about certain methods may be ignored because we are women, and not competent to make decisions about our own bodies. Our desires may be blocked due to our finances. Our fertility and desire for children may be discouraged or ignored based on the assumption that we don’t want to pass on to children the qualities and conditions that make society uncomfortable with us.
I’m writing about my experience with birth control for a few reasons.
The first reason: to provide a narrative of my disability and how I’ve experienced it: its causes, its fluctuations, its triggers. Folks with disabilities are socialized to be ashamed of our bodies and our disabilities. It’s important for those of us who can and want to contribute our voices to the conversation surrounding disability in an effort to counter harmful stereotypes and tropes.
Another reason: to provide a practical example of how ableism and reproductive rights intersect, and how feminist and mainstream constructions harm marginalized folks by normalizing some experiencing and othering others.
The last reason: to provide an alternative birth control narrative – a different story of how I’ve prevented getting pregnant thus far. I’m not the only one who’s had hormonal birth control pushed upon me, but I have found a system that’s wonderful for me. I want to share my methods and my journey towards them in the hope that someone whose birth control needs are challenged will find some useful tool in my story.
Check back tomorrow for said narrative. Also check out:
Pregnancy, my greatest fear
OCD, language, and my place on the disability spectrum: parts one and two
See more of BADD 2010.
ETA 5/5/10: I forgot to mention somewhere that trans men are often excluded from discussions of birth control, though many trans men use it. In a post that critiques the discussion of birth control in feminist communities, this erases the experiences of some folks, which is not cool. Apologies.