Anti-Blackness and Bioessentialism Won’t Give Us Abortion Rights

On September 1st, Texas passed the strictest abortion law in recent history.

“This is a terrible thing for women,” wrote my classmates in our group chat.

I texted back: “This is a terrible thing for anyone that can get pregnant.” The typical awkward silence happened before everyone moved on.

The next day, the world’s favorite Black gay troll Lil Nas X announced that he was “expecting” a little bundle of joy called MONTERO, his debut album. Two events, seemingly unrelated but ultimately tied together by what they reveal about our culture.

If nothing else, these two things reminded me that reproductive justice conversations are still based on bioessentialism, or the idea that a woman equals a vagina and a uterus and that reproductive issues are only women’s issues. My immediate response to both of these topics was pause.

When we say “abortion rights”, are we also including men and gender-diverse people that can give birth? Though cisgender women make up most of the population affected by this regressive abortion law, do the men and gender-diverse people also impacted not matter?

I can give birth, and many of my chosen brothers can too.

With abortion rights conversations almost always starring cisgender women—will we always be an afterthought? Will I always have to correct people in the grocery store, in classes, and in social justice spaces too?

Pause. I don’t subscribe to the idea of Lil Nas X being transphobic. I do, however, think that he did not foresee the inevitable transphobia that would ensue online. It was lazy of him to not acknowledge trans men and transmasculine people in at least a tweet after his album announcement.

A man being pregnant shouldn’t be a shocking gag. It’s boring. James Charles, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Billy Crystal all have done it, and people have made jokes about men doing seemingly “non-man” things (like Martin’s Sheneneh and the L-Word’s lesbian man) for decades.

Some assumed that Lil Nas X’s “pregnancy” was just clickbait. Others questioned whether he knowingly made a choice that referenced trans manhood. We’ll likely never know his motivations, but what we do know is that Lil Nas X is a hypervisible Black gay man and most of these critiques came from non-Black people. In most cases, the same level of critique that was thrown his way is not duly given to non-Black people. And because Black people of all genders define so much of pop culture, it’s low-hanging fruit to bash Black celebrities when they make lazy choices.

So much of Black manhood is defined by hypermasculine presentation. Due to centuries of colonization, mainstream Black masculinity insists on being devoid of what we deem as feminine (dresses, emotions, and pregnant bellies). Is it a mix of all these things that make this anti-Black stew? Pause.

Multiple things can be true at once. Lil Nas X made an embarassingly cisgender marketing choice and men and masculine people being pregnant is not as normalized as it should be, therefore the sight of it is laughable to some of you. Anti-Blackness is cooked into the ways that Black celebrity is consumed and responded to.

A week of discourse on social media is everyday life for me. Being Black, trans, and masculine puts me in the dilemma of being both hypervisible and invisible every time I have to go to the bathroom or see a car with a siren attached to it. The erasure and mockery of Black transmasculine people that this concurrent discourse showed shouldn’t be treated as just another day on Twitter; it is a reality that my brothers and I live with. We have to reckon with the ways we treat Black transmasculine people like ghosts: denying our existence completely or treating our existence like a spectacle.

Abortion policies in the state of Texas affect folks of all genders. And worse, they’re coupled with anti-transgender and racist laws restricting education right now. In attempts to advocate for the marginalized, many contributed to a typical, limited view of the human experience. If our collective fight doesn’t at the very least include all bodies that can reproduce, with our bellies and humanity acknowledged, then we have already lost.

Clearly we have work to do. The question is will the rapture get here first.


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earthtokb1

KB is a Black queer poet and essayist. They are the author of How To Identify Yourself with a Wound (Kallisto Gaia Press, 2022) and Freedom House (Deep Vellum Publishing, 2023). Follow them online at @earthtokb.

KB has written 1 article for us.

8 Comments

  1. Thanks for writing KB. I think with most social issues, we need to consider not just the impacts on the majority, but the impacts on the most vulnerable, right? Probably often even more than the impacts on the majority. Yes, lots of women are impacted by abortion regulation, but the impacts on not-cis-women are often more severe, as you say?

    I felt uneasy about Lil Nas X’s pregnancy announcement, but only because I feel that way about all pregnancy announcements and especially any joke about pregnancy (jokes about food babies can get in the bin).

    I hadn’t thought that it was a spectacle, anymore than any other celebrity pregnancy announcement. I really appreciated your take on this!

  2. I missed most of the discourse about Lil Nas X’s pregnancy photoshoot, but to me it seemed to be part of an ongoing conscious attempt to play with gender roles in a “fuck these cishetero restrictions” way. He’s worn dresses and other feminine-coded attire many times on the red carpet and in photoshoots, and always in a way that’s beautiful and glamorous and natural–never mocking. Playful and unexpected sometimes, but his femininity is never the butt of the joke. It reads to me as someone exploring gender expression from an AMAB perspective, very “this is who I am and what I like, fuck off if you can’t handle my queerness.”

    So I have figured the pregnancy photoshoot was more of the same. (Which, as you say, doesn’t mean it can’t still fall into well-worn “haha pregnant man” tropes, or invite those responses from others or at least not be entirely equipped to deal with those responses.) And conversations like this are so valuable to have within the queer community–your perspective as a black trans masculine person, Lil Nas’s as a black cis gay man, and mine as a white transmasc enby are all going to be different. So thank you for this article.

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