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Monday, May 16, 2022


Abortion rights in the US (part 2)



by Zeff Llamas

Last week, we talked about the history of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court case that guaranteed access to abortion on the grounds that abortion is a private matter. Now, it looks like Roe may be overturned before long. This week, we talk about what that means.



Let's talk about it: the Implications of overturning Roe


  • Whatever you opinion is on abortion itself, the fact remains that there is no banning abortion – there is only banning safe abortion. That is to say, people in need of abortions will find a way to obtain them, even if it means doing so illegally. As such, the overturning of Casey and Roe will result in higher mortality rates for people who seek abortions.


  • Additional burden on the most vulnerable. People seeking abortions must often travel long distances and take days off work. Some states require pregnant people seeking abortions to wait 24 hours so that they can “think about it” before the procedure can legally be performed. If you live in a state where your nearest abortion provider lives 200 miles away, for example, then suddenly, a one-day trip turns into a two-day trip and requires you to find lodging. Obviously, this puts a disproportionate burden on low-income people and people who are already struggling to access healthcare.


  • Additional burden on the healthcare systems of pro-abortion states. If abortion becomes illegal on a federal level, it will basically become a states’ issue, with some states providing abortion care, and others outlawing it entirely. As a result, people seeking abortions in states where it is illegal will be forced to seek providers in other states, thereby putting a burden on the healthcare system of pro-abortion states. We’ve seen during the COVID-19 pandemic what an overburdened healthcare system can look like and the negative implications it can have for everybody.


  • Jeopardizing other rights we have won. If Roe is overturned, other Supreme Court cases that were fought to secure civil liberties for marginalized people will be at-risk of being overturned as well, for example, Obergefell v. Hodges (2015), a ruling that guaranteed same-sex couples the right to marry.


  • Hypocrisy of the pro-life argument. Politically, opponents of abortion are less concerned with "protecting life" and are more concerned with promoting religious views that seek to control female bodies by limiting access to reproductive healthcare. If they were truly concerned with protecting life as a general concept, then they would be advocating for the lives of children who are living without parents or caregivers, children who live below the poverty line, children who lack access to healthcare, or who are otherwise disenfranchised. The same people who oppose abortion also oppose social programs that would provide healthcare, reliable housing, food security, and education to the most vulnerable in our society. There is a fundamental dishonesty to the pro-life argument, so we must recognize that it lacks credibility.



  • Separation of church and state. The banning of abortion is deeply rooted in an evangelical religious fervor that seeks to define sex as appropriate only if it is (1) between a man and a woman, and (2) results in pregnancy. This is obviously a point of view that reflects n a certain religious worldview, which is fine, but religious worldviews cannot be enacted into the laws of a secular society. The first amendment of the US Constitution says as much (it guarantees religious freedom and forbids Congress from promoting one religion over another).



  • There is a bigger picture objective to the banning of abortion. The system of power in the USA has always favored white skin, a Christian-worldview, male-bodies, and heteronormative behavior. The banning of abortion is just one tactic used in a broader campaign to control the civil liberties of women, people of color, queer people, immigrants, and all those who pose a threat to nationalist, patriarchal values upon which the USA was founded and has operated for the past 245 years.

Silver Lining and Resources

Roe will likely be overturned, but this is not the end of the story. A new approach will need to be taken to secure the right to reproductive freedom on a federal level. Moreover, some states with pro-choice governors have been increasing funding for reproductive health, including California and Oregon.

Abortion pills

Medical abortions (abortion pills as opposed to a surgical abortion) are still legal for the time being and can be purchased online. A typical regimen is a combination of two drugs, mifepristone and misoprostol. This is a self-administered abortion and has expanded in use as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, where abortion-seekers will often self-administer with the guidance of a healthcare professional through online video chats.

Learn more at:

AIDACCESS.ORG

HEYJANE.CO

PLANCPILLS.ORG

Abortion Funds

The National Network of Abortion Funds (NNAF) is a network of over 90 local, autonomous (non-governmental) organizations that help provide abortions to those in need, and more broadly speaking is a reproductive freedoms advocacy organization.

Learn more about Abortion Funds here:

ABORTIONFUNDS.ORG



Abortion rights in the US (part 1)

A brief overview of Roe v. Wade


by Zeff Llamas


How did it start?

During the 1950s and 1960s, marginalized groups were inspired by the progress being made by the Civil Rights movement to secure African American civil liberties that were once only available to white, heterosexual, cisgendered men. During that time, female-bodied people did not have the right to use contraception or get abortions.

The collective consciousness of US society was evolving and people began to realize that a government limiting a person’s bodily autonomy (by prohibiting access to contraception or abortion, for example) was a violation of a person’s basic civil rights. People were like, “hold on, the government does not have the right to control my body or to infringe on my reproductive health.”

How decisions are made when there is a problem

If a certain issue is not explicitly addressed in the US Constitution, then sometimes a decision will have to be made by the highest court in the country, the Supreme Court, which is composed of nine members. Five is the magic number; if five of the nine judges agree with the solution to the issue (following a trial), then they will issue a ruling, which then becomes law.

“Jane Roe”

In 1970, “Jane Roe” (pseudonym for Norma McCorvey) wanted to get an abortion in Texas. She was denied, and so decided to sue the state. In Texas at the time, abortion was prohibited absolutely, no exceptions were made, not even for cases of rape or incest.

At the same time, other similar cases of women being denied access to abortion around the country were being brought to high courts. In 1971, Jane Roe’s case went to the Supreme Court but was unsuccessful.

Roe’s Big Break – the Right to Privacy


Before 1965, contraceptives (birth control) were illegal in many US states. A Supreme Court case called “Griswold v. Connecticut,” resulted in a ruling that stated that the US Constitution protected the freedom of married couples to buy and use contraceptives without government interference. This was considered a "right to privacy."

Then, in March of 1972, the Supreme Court issued a ruling in the court case “Eisenstadt v. Baird,” which stated that the US Constitution also protects the freedom of single women to access birth control. So, single people were now also guaranteed a “right to privacy”. This would be the key to Roe’s victory.


Roe wins and abortion becomes legal ... technically

Roe’s case was allowed before the Supreme Court for a second time in October of 1972, and this allowed Roe to argue that the same right to privacy that allows for a single woman to access contraception should also extend to abortion.

The privacy argument was used together with the 5th and 14th amendments, which both include language in their due process clauses that state that nobody shall be "deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law."

The case was won in favor of Roe and abortion became legal on a federal level during the first three months of pregnancy (the first trimester). However, states were still empowered to put limits on access to abortion.


So, what’s the problem now?

  • States can and do restrict abortion access. Some states to this day only have one location where abortions are performed, so although it is technically legal, abortions have remained difficult to access in many places across the country. Some states require waiting periods and other restrictions (like spousal notices and parental notices for teens) that are designed to prolong the process into the second trimester, which means that the abortion is no longer legal. Most negatively affected are people who cannot access these services, namely people of color, low-income people, and teenagers.


  • Roe was won based on a broad and general argument that stated that all people are guaranteed a right to privacy. But this question itself is controversial. Is privacy a fundamental right? If you’ve been living in the USA during the past 10 years, you know that the government infringes on the privacy of citizens literally every day.


  • Roe was not won on the idea that people have a right to bodily autonomy or reproductive freedoms. The right to privacy argument has allowed for the case to be challenged over the years. It almost was overturned in 1992 (Planned Parenthood v. Casey), and now again in 2022 (pending a decision on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization).



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Monday, April 4, 2022

Senate Bill 923 - TGI (Trans, Gender-variant and Intersex) Inclusive Care Act

by Zeff Llamas

What is it?

Senate Bill 923 (SB923), also known as TGI (Transgender, Gender-variant, and Intersex) Inclusive Care Act would require healthcare providers and staff in California to undergo cultural competency training so that they acquire the tools necessary to provide inclusive care to TGI patients.


Trainings would need to be facilitated by TGI organizations, and health plans in California would also be required to include a directory for gender-affirming services on their websites. If passed, this legislation would take effect in summer of 2023.

Why is it important?

If passed, SB923 would aid in bridging a huge disparity between TGI people and the rest of the population in accessing healthcare. A study done by the National Center for Transgender Equality in 2014 found that one-third of trans people had a negative experience related to their gender in a healthcare setting.


Negative experiences include being misgendered, being asked inappropriate questions, and even being refused care. Negative experiences were recorded at a much higher rate for trans people of color. The expectation of mistreatment at the hands of healthcare professionals is a huge barrier to accessing healthcare for trans people, a barrier that SB923 aims to remove in California.

What’s the status?

California State Senator Scott Wiener introduced this bill to the Senate on February 3, 2022. Since then, a hearing has been scheduled for Wednesday, April 6. You can check updates to the status of SB923 on OpenStates, a handy legislation tracker.


You can read the full bill text on the California Legislative Information website.

What can I do?


Spread the word on social media. The California LGBTQ Health and Human Services Network has put together a great toolkit with graphics, information, and the socials of the Senate Committee on Health, the state representatives who will be deciding on the future of this bill. Check out that toolkit here.


Monday, March 7, 2022

Illustration: zeferin.o

What is Gender Affirming Care?

by Zeff Llamas

Anti-trans directives and legislation are fueled (in part) by misconceptions about what gender-affirming care looks like. Let's talk about what it actually looks like.


The most important gender affirming care that trans youth can receive is support from their parents and caregivers such that they feel free to express themselves in a way that aligns with their gender identity. Most often, gender-affirming medical care is a mix of therapy, and, in some cases, hormone treatments. Surgery is not an option until a person reaches 18. Here is what gender-affirming care often looks like for minors:

  • Therapy: As minors, trans youth will first speak with a therapist about their gender dysphoria, which would ideally happen in pre-puberty.

  • Hormone blockers: After a year of therapy, youth can begin to discuss medical intervention, which begins with puberty blockers, also known as hormone blockers. This would happen at around 12-14 years of age. Puberty blockers temporarily delay the process of puberty, which provides more time for the young person to postpone the increased gender dysphoria that may accompany a rapidly changing body.


  • Hormone replacement therapy: When the youth reaches 16 or 17, they would begin discussing hormone replacement therapy (HRT) with their medical provider. HRT is the use of sex hormones (including estrogen or testosterone) to help usher the individual into puberty in a way that aligns their gender identity, meaning "masculinizing" hormone treatment for trans boys, and "feminizing" treatment for trans girls.

Sources: Insider &

Very Well Health




Monday, March 7, 2022

Texas Update

by Zeff Llamas

Federal and state officials respond to Abbot and Paxton



Recap


Two weeks ago, in a desperate move to rile up a conservative base and garner support for November’s gubernatorial election, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, guided by Attorney General Kenn Paxton, issued a (non-binding) directive to state agencies to investigate families who provide gender-affirming care to their children, defining this kind of care as child abuse. To use trans youth, who are already at higher risk of depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation, as a tool to gain traction in an election year, is truly despicable; Yet, it has provided other Texas officials, as well as the federal government, an opportunity to stand up in support of trans youth.

Federal Response


In an official “guidance” statement issued by the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), child welfare departments have an obligation to protect transgender youth, which includes access to gender-affirming care. Moreover, HHS has emphasized that healthcare providers are not required to disclose patients’ medical information, including information about gender-affirming care.

State and County Responses


Beto O’Rourke, who served in the US House of Representatives and who is running against Abbot in November’s election, is one of many Texas legislators who has been speaking out against this kind anti-trans legislation since 2021. Local district and county attorneys, as well as local and national equal rights groups, including the Human Rights Campaign and Texas Freedom Network, have also been pushing back.


At least five district attorneys' offices have come together to issue public statements opposing Abbot and Paxton’s directive. Their stance is clear:


“This is part of a continued onslaught on personal freedoms. Elected officials should be protecting our most vulnerable. These two, instead, want to irrationally target and restrain children seeking medical assistance – and force caregivers to participate.”

If you or someone you know may be contemplating suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text HOME to 741741 to reach the Crisis Text Line. In emergencies, call 911, or seek care from a local hospital or mental health provider.




Monday, January 17, 2022

Martin Luther King Jr.

Illustration: zeferin.o

Tough but Tender: A reflection on nonviolence

by Zeff Llamas

*Note from the author: I am a queer, bilingual, biracial, bicultural person living in the United States today. Indigenous blood courses through my veins (of the Caxcan people of Zacatecas, Mexico). European blood courses there as well (Spanish and Anglo). I seek to fight cultural division, inequity, and racism, but have struggled in the past with the question of how. What is an appropriate response those who seek to disenfranchise others based on personal prejudices regarding sexuality, gender expression, race, and cultural identity? In my early 20s, I questioned the value of non-violence. Later, I decided to reject the position of violence because I realized that taking such a position would do nothing to combat the hate that I wanted to see dissolve from this world.

I came to the conclusion that using the tools of the oppressor against the oppressor would only turn me into an oppressor myself. Today, many still disagree with the philosophies of non-violence of the kind promoted by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Yet the position of non-violence, although a more difficult stance to take, is the only position that aligns with the principles that might create a future that is peaceful, equitable, and just for all people.

It is understandable to be shocked by the darkness of hateful actions. But as we peer into the dark hearts of those who hate, we should take the opportunity to remind ourselves what we do not want to become; a person who is consumed by hate, a person who acts from a place of fear.

Dr. King says in his book Strength to Love (1963), that this kind of person acts from a place of irrational fears, such as, “loss of preferred economic privilege, altered social status … and adjustment to new situations.” King describes such an individual as a victim of fear, and notes:

“Some seek to ignore the question of race relations and to close their mind to the issues involved… others hope to drown their fears by engaging in acts of violence and meanness. […] Instead of eliminating fear, they instill deeper and more pathological fears that leave the victims inflicted with strange psychoses and peculiar cases of paranoia.”

Dr. King made these observations some 60 years ago, but it is not difficult to recognize such people today. How do we respond to this kind of person? King would say that we should try to avoid contracting the illness of hate, because:

“Hate is just as injurious to the person who hates. Like an unchecked cancer, hate corrodes the personality and eats away its vital unity. Hate destroys a man’s sense of values and his objectivity. It causes him to describe the beautiful as ugly and the ugly as beautiful, and to confuse the true with the false and the false with the true … hate divides the personality … love in an amazing and inexorable way unites it.”

Love is Love. Love wins. Love transcends. The movement for LGBTQ+ civil equality has used love as a guiding principle to advance our goals. If we as queer, trans, non-binary and gender non-conforming people are to challenge and transcend the conventions of gender, and other binaries, then it is not enough to simply identify with this transcendence; it is something that we must display and practice in daily life.

Dr. King spoke of the “tough mind and the tender heart.” That is, to strive to have a mind that is tough, but not so rigid that it might shatter; and to have a heart that is tender, but not so soft that we become “unduly gullible.” Instead of looking at the principles of toughness and tenderness as opposites, King describes them as complementary forces. “We must be tough-minded enough to transcend the world, but tenderhearted enough to live in it.”

Regarding liberation, King warned that “soft-minded individuals … feel that the only way to deal with oppression is by adjusting to it.” To passively accept an unjust system is to “cooperate with that system, and thereby to become a participant in its evil.” But to react in violence (to be too tough-minded), brings “only temporary victories … creating more social problems than it solves, never bringing permanent peace.”

Personally, I believe that queer and trans people, in challenging binaries, do have an elevated potential to transcend those boundaries. Beyond the boundary of the binary is the singularity. To me, that means contact with a divine consciousness. But it is not enough to identify with this innate potential, we must practice it.

By reacting in hate, we do not transcend, we descend.

There is a Buddhist philosophy that says, “When someone insults you by doing or saying something that irritates you, take deep breath and turn off your ego… remember that if you are easily offended, you are easily manipulated.”

To this point, Dr. King said, “a victim of …the disease of egotism [fails to] realize that …all life is interrelated… all men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality… whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.” Some may call this point idealistic. I see it as a big-picture idea, and I think it is important to act according to our big picture, not to satisfy the desire for a short-term victory like using violence as a means of combating hate.

Today, as I contemplate the words of Dr. King, I believe that the path forward is to cultivate a tough mind and a tender heart, and to synthesize the two. From this place, a person is more able to advocate for peace, social equity, and justice in this world without needing to consider the path of violence as an option. A person who chooses violence as an option is a desperate person acting from fear. If we intend to change this world for the better, we must act from a place of peace and of love.

Saturday, January 1, 2022

Op-ed: Four book recommendations for contextualizing your place in the universe and making contact with your life's purpose

by Zeff Llamas

I was born in the 90s and came of age in the 00s. Like many queer people my age, my relationship with my parents was strained and tense. I couldn’t turn to them for the kind of guidance that adults often impart on young people as they take the first steps on their journey into adulthood. (As a grown man now, I understand that people are imperfect, and most parents & caregivers are doing the best they can with what tools they have.) Luckily for me, the kind of guidance I was looking for in my parents at the time was something that I ended up finding in other adults that I would meet later in life, like professors, mentors, and friends’ parents.


Some of these people recommended or gifted books to me that ended up also having a positive impact on my development as a young person, helping me to contextualize my own place in the universe and to make contact with a sense of purpose in life. I’m a little older now, but I still return to these books often, and I find myself reading them with new eyes, learning new lessons every time.


The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell

A work of comparative mythology and psychology, Campbell introduces the idea of the “monomyth,” also known as “the hero’s journey,” which describes the hero who is called on an adventure, faces a crisis, and then overcomes it, transforming themself in the process.


The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran

A timeless classic that touches of a wide range of everyday wisdom for life, including subjects like beauty, friendship, death, time, pleasure, teaching, laws, clothes, buying & selling, and eating & drinking.


Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda

Paramahansa Yogananda was one of the first people to teach about yogic philosophy to western people. His life story is told through short, engrossing anecdotes that reveal the spiritual wealth and “soul-satisfying wisdom” of India.

Man and His Symbols by CJ Jung

There is an idea in Jungian psychology that sees the unconscious mind as a “great guide, friend, and adviser of the conscious.” That is, the unconscious mind can help us in navigating our life if we are able to communicate with it. One of most powerful the ways we can do this is through understanding our dreams and the symbols that emerge from them. Man and his symbols is a collection of essays on this topic by CJ Jung and a number of his students.

Monday, December 27, 2021

Illustration: Pici

Op-ed: A post-holidays reflection on Capitalism, Bodies, and Identity

by Pici

Late-stage capitalism is a term that describes an authoritative and exploitative labor system and is also used to refer to our modern society’s distortion of human life. In our society today, holidays, national identity, and even individual identities revolve around the use of money, goods, and services. Advertisement promises a happiness that is contingent upon the consumer making repeated purchases.


The capitalist society does not prioritize the public good. Rather, the true priority is to keep consumers spending by creating desires and needs that can never truly be met. I observed this phenomenon very clearly during the holidays this year. Instead of celebrating and bonding with loved ones, many have reverted to, it seems, gift giving as a substitute for bonding experiences. This year alone, spending reached an all-time high, with the USA already meeting annual spending expectations by October, which in turn predicted an 8.5%-10.5% increase in holiday sales as compared to 2020.


Holidays are not the only example of how capitalism distorts human experiences. On an individual level, human bodies and self-expression are also dictated by spending expectations. Put simply, men must be strong, smell strong, and demonstrate physical feats of power. Women must look elegant, adorn themselves with paint, jewelry, and other accessories. Gender non-conforming individuals face an expectation of androgyny. Even as the rise of LGBTQIA+ representation in advertising advances, a narrative of sparkles and rainbow- themed everything is pushed onto queer bodies. Not only do these expectations limit personal expression and identity, they also exploit the desire to feel seen and fit in.


Self-expression is different for everyone, but there are certain shared reference points that can be used to express ourselves and our values. For example, a painting communicates its tone through color and symbolism, such as the cool-toned depression displayed in many of Van Gogh's late works. In everyday fashion, one can express a myriad of personal values ranging from emotion to musical taste to political affiliations. The goth aesthetic, for example, reflects melancholy as well as a rebellion against social norms, as goth is meant to subjugate narratives of gender and traditional understandings of elegance.


Capitalism limits the power of personal expression by treating happiness as a commodity that can be bought and sold. For example, in the case of transgender or intersex bodies, people are often told that gender-affirming products and/or surgeries will be key factors in a trans or intersex person being truly self-realized. In this way, capitalism attempts to control how queer bodies express themselves, as well as how cis-het bodies are meant to react to that expression.


Alok V. Menon, an artist and activist, whose work centers around de-gendering clothing, discusses the expectations that are imposed on queer bodies in an article written by Menon on their website. They explain:


“I received so much scrutiny for my self-presentation: ‘he isn’t trans, he dresses like a man!’ ‘if he’s trans, does that mean he’s a trans man?’ People conflated my vests + bow ties with my gender with my presumed manhood. I was new to this level of visibility, young and still coming into myself. It was traumatizing to have so many people misrecognize + misgender me — like they knew who I was and what I had been through.”


Rather than encouraging people to feel empowered about how they choose to present themselves, many queer and gender non-conforming people are scrutinized for not meeting the aesthetic standards expected of their identity. This affects everyone, regardless of intersectional spectrums. The privileged, as well as the oppressed, are pressured to meet expectations based on their identity; expectations which can be met through conforming to the beauty and gender standards of a capitalist society and its advertising campaigns.


Granted, feeling affirmed by traditional gender norms is by no means a bad thing, but the question must be asked of oneself: “Am I affirmed through buying into normalized expectations as a prerequisite to being respected? Or, do I truly feel as if I am expressing myself in the items that I buy?” There is no simple answer, and each reaction to this reflection will vary person to person as we assess closely our own personal values and tease them apart from capitalist messages about what a person should value. Recognizing what makes room for long term happiness over short term pleasure in one’s life not only encourages autonomy, but it pushes back against a narrative that money, and in turn labor, will buy happiness. Money is a significant factor in surviving a capitalist society, it both limits and provides access to things like food, housing, clothing, and healthcare. When we cultivate our own self-advocacy and self-acceptance as individuals, we are combating ways in which late-stage capitalism distorts human life.


Monday, December 6, 2021

Do you know what chest binders are?

Chest binders are compression undergarments used to flatten the chest. Many different types of folks use binders, including (but not limited to) transmasculine and gender-nonconforming people. Binders may help smooth the way for trans teens, but it is important to know how to measure these garments to find the right fit for you.


Check out this useful sizing video from gc2b for more information.


Also, check out this great binding guide: Binding 101: Tips to Bind Your Chest Safely from Point 5cc, for more general information about binding.