The following speech was delivered by MSU PP Gen Action Leader Riley Korus at MI Body MI Choice: A March for Reproductive Freedom in Lansing.
If you’re wondering why a man is speaking at a rally on reproductive rights, listen up. If you call reproductive rights a “women’s issue,” listen up. If your idea of reproductive justice does not include trans and nonbinary people, then I am so glad I’m here to speak to you all today.
My name is Riley, and I am a proud transgender man. I am a man with a uterus, and these laws affect me—and people like me—as much as they affect cisgender women. But we are being left out of this conversation.
The trans community cannot be an afterthought in the fight for reproductive rights when our bodies are just as much under attack.
Let me make this clear. This is not just about “political correctness.” The language we use and who we include in this movement has a real impact. It impacts the care trans people can access, the visibility we have, and the chance that a doctor will even give us the time of day.
Robert Eads, a trans man like me, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 1996 and was denied treatment by over a dozen doctors because of who he was. They told him that it would be an embarrassment to the other patients if they gave him treatment. By the time he found a doctor who was willing to give him the care that could have saved his life, it was too late. The cancer had spread, and he died in 1999 at the age of 53. Cancer did not kill Robert Eads. His blood is on the hands of the doctors that were too afraid of staining their reputation by treating a transgender person and the society that let it happen.
Robert’s story happened over 20 years ago, and there is still so much work that needs to be done to fix the system that failed him. As a trans person today, navigating the health care system, let alone reproductive health care, has been one of the most stressful and sometimes downright humiliating experiences in my adult life.
If I make an appointment somewhere I haven’t been treated before, I am never sure if my identity will be respected or if they will even know how to treat someone like me. I have had to explain my body to nurses and doctors because all their years of medical school never taught them how to treat a transgender patient.
Trans people are not asking for doctors to move heaven and hell. We are asking to be treated with respect and dignity.
I am disgusted and enraged by what is happening in Texas. We all are. But in your anger, do not forget that any legislation that infringes on bodily autonomy will hurt trans people.
This ban sets such a dangerous precedent for how states can restrict what people chose to do with their bodies. Anti-trans and anti-abortion legislation are backed by the same groups, fueled by the same hateful ideology, and attack the same liberties. These fights go hand in hand. But the direct harm that abortion bans have on trans people cannot be overlooked either.
I am scared for my trans and nonbinary siblings who will be forced to carry their pregnancy. Not only do they face the same problems as cis women, but they will face dysphoria and harassment by small-minded people who see a pregnant person that does not present as female, and they will respond with confusion and hate.
Trans people need access to safe and legal abortion just as much as anyone else.
I want to step back for a minute and talk to all the young activists out there like me. I am not a senator, I am not a doctor, and I am not an executive director of anything. I am just an angry, loud, 19-year-old college kid. But I’m still standing here today. My voice is being heard, and my words are leaving an impact. So, if you want to see something changed in the world but you don’t think anyone is going to listen to you, make them listen. Get loud. Get angry. And to everyone else, pay attention.
Before I go, I have something to ask of you all. I know that bad habits can be hard to kick, so I have a pretty big request for everyone out there:
Make your activism gender inclusive. Get rid of the notion that this movement is just about women. Not all people with uteruses are women. Not all people who are or can be pregnant are women. And not all people who get abortions are women.
Because if I’ve done my job, you understand that these aren’t just words. This is how we know that you stand with us. Because we are in this fight together. The trans community will never be left behind. Ever. Thank you.