When Allies Make Mistakes
Last month in our resilience report, we linked to a blog post about menstruation. In the blog post I (Jennifer) used language to be inclusive of all people who menstruate, because not all people who menstruate identify as women.
When creating the Resilience Report however, I messed up.
In the resilience report description of the blog, I stated that abortion bans are a way to control women.
This statement excludes gender non-binary and trans people and contributes to oppression, marginalization and harm towards them. I am so sorry to anyone who was affected by my oversight. I was the one who wrote the forward in the blog post, so you might think that I wouldn’t make that mistake, but I did.
The reason I became aware of this mistake is due to a courageous client who identifies as non-binary (they/them). They wrote me a compassionate, well thought out, informative email notifying me of how my mistake hurt them.
I do my absolute best to be a strong ally- but I made a mistake, and it hurt people. After talking this through with the person who came forward with feedback, I decided to write this blog to hold myself accountable and to (hopefully) show that well-meaning allies make mistakes- and it’s an opportunity to grow and learn from them and take responsibility.
Although I’d love to be perfect, I recognize that I am far from it. I truly believe that feedback is a gift and I am so grateful for the person who emailed me their thoughts. With their permission, I’m including information from their informative email to help other cisgender people learn and grow:
I was deeply upset by the lack of inclusive language in the last Peak Resilience newsletter. When talking about the abortion laws the newsletter read "The abortion laws are a clear effort to control women, so we're focusing on various ways you can continue to fight for women's rights." While I completely agree that this law attacks cis women's rights, it also is a direct attack on trans men, nonbinary people, and anyone with a uterus. In addition, using women as a blanket statement is hurtful to trans women, as not every woman has a uterus/vagina. Failing to mention this pushes trans people into invisibility, and makes it even harder for us to fight for our right to decide what to do with our already very policed and at risk bodies.
The sex educator Ericka Hart (@ihartericka on instagram) wrote a post that contained "language to use around abortion that is inclusive/affirming and based in reality". Here is the list they created, which I hope you will consider when talking about the abortion ban in the future:
Reproductive health/right as opposed to "women's issues"
People's bodies rather than "women's bodies"
Reminder: gender does not equal genitalia
People with a uterus, instead of women
"Hands off my genitalia" instead of "hands off my vagina"
*Don't include trans/nonbinary etc. as an afterthought: "We need to fight for women because they matter! Oh and trans and nonbinary people too!" Just say people.
"Behind everyone there is likely someone who has had an abortion" as opposed to "behind every man there is a woman who has had an abortion"
I write this email for multiple reasons. First, I am tired of trans people being an afterthought. We exist and we're affected by these laws too. Let us be a part of the conversation! Second, it's important that we recognize that there are women (mostly white women), are part of the oppressive group working to strip away people's right to abortion. The governor of Alabama, Kay Ivey, who signed this ban into law, is a white woman. Third, this law will disproportionately affect black people and people of colour. In an article published by the Guardian, Erin Durkin states "Black and Hispanic women are more likely to experience unintended pregnancies than white women, and more likely to get abortions. In 2017, the abortion rate for black women was 27 for every 1,000 women of reproductive age, compared with 18 for Hispanic women and 10 for white women, according to the Guttmacher Institute." (https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/may/19/abortion-ban-alabama-women-of-color-poor). We need to be talking about this, and we need to tie in anti-racist work in our fight for people's reproductive rights.
I hope that you take this email for what it is, a chance for accountability. We all make mistakes and that's human and normal, it's how we respond to those mistakes that is important.
So, to summarize- I’m sorry I used hurtful language and thank you to anyone who gives us feedback. We truly see it as a gift and take it seriously. I will continue to learn and grow as an ally, and build back the trust that was lost by my mistake.
Thanks to our amazing community of clients and counsellors at Peak Resilience.
Jennifer Hollinshead is the founder and clinical director at Peak Resilience and is motivated to provide high quality, intersectional feminist, integrative therapy for people in Vancouver and BC.