September 28th is International Safe Abortion Day. On this day, we bear witness to the struggle for the bodily autonomy of women, transmen, and childbearing people, which transcends our bodies and spreads onto the streets, courts, and legislative chambers—the same streets and civic buildings where the pulse of democracy, corruption, and constitutional power is taken. We must understand that the call for legal and safe abortion is the same as the demand for bodily autonomy and, ultimately, for the democratizing struggle to choose our destiny as a society.
Every four years, the streets of the urban centers of Guatemala become the setting of a colorful electoral spectacle where power groups, regardless of who wins, divvy up public institutions and consolidate their power so that the State serves only a set of special interests. In the incipient Guatemalan democracy, political parties—lacking any ideologically-coherent proposals or governing plans—have served only as electoral vehicles to steer power. Their most recent agenda? Impunity.
Guatemala City. It is in this overwhelming display of colors—vehicles of all kinds, concrete, and contradictions—that street billboards undermine the validity and importance of the lives of women and LGBTQI+ people: “LGBTQI+ people and women are not welcome here” suggests the conservative electoral ads.
This year’s race was marked by an anomaly in the country’s rickety democratic system. Completely out of left field, a progressive candidate and his party managed to reach the general election’s second round. The system responded by deploying an impressive conservative propaganda machine whose content directly attacked bodily autonomy, the right to abortion, the families of LGBTQI+ people, and trans identities. This kind of advertisement decks the streets in a country where, in 2023 alone, twenty-three LGBTQI+ people have been murdered, and there have been sixty-seven cases of non-homicidal domestic violence.
A Gentle Tenacity: Trying Out Utopian Projects that Serve Trans Corporalities
But memory and resistance inhabit this seemingly uncaring city as well. A gentle tenacity has prevailed, and it has built spaces for transmen like me. A few weeks ago, I was navigating the conservative street ads as I made my way to a community clinic run by the Trans-formation Transmen’s Collective in the city center. This is the only clinic where I have felt my gender identity has been fully respected—even while having my routine pelvic ultrasound, whose purpose is to detect cysts in my ovaries, and discussing the best testosterone regimen to maintain the beard and muscular build that makes me happiest.
“What if we remove your uterus and ovaries? Then the cysts wouldn’t be a problem anymore.” The Collective’s doctor tells me. “I haven’t made up my mind about having children.” I reply, and the doctor takes me at my word with an understanding smile. I’m really not sure, but I want to have the option, the freedom, to think about it calmly, the autonomy to decide and know that I will be welcome in this world with a pregnant belly if that’s what I want. I recently learned that society, the State, should be organized so that we can live our full potential and to protect the fierce, undeniable humanity that inhabits us.
I want to feel safe knowing where to get sexual and reproductive healthcare. Just like in the past, I would have liked to know what to do and where to go had I needed an abortion after having sex without a condom with a cisman. However, sexual and reproductive health, access to contraceptives, tests, abortion, and public health with a gender perspective remain marginalized issues as far as the community of transmen and trans-masculinities in Guatemala are concerned. The trans community continues to suffer because the most basic conditions to provide us with healthcare continue to go unmet. No, we aren’t talking about gender reaffirming procedures: Clinics and hospitals won’t even to treat us.
In my country, conversations about abortion have been immersed in anti-gender and anti-democracy propaganda. The State of Guatemala has callously conferred on itself the power over life and death: While it forces minors who have been raped to give birth, it also leaves half of the children that have already been born to starve to death. The State lets people die when, despite cries for help, the police prevent a trans woman from being treated so as not to “contaminate the crime scene.” Thus vast conversations that concern many corporalities are postponed, and we expend energy defending the bare minimum. For example, we fight for the popular vote to be respected when we could be trying out different utopian projects that the memories of our communities and collectives have bequeathed to us.
The Home and the World: Democratizing Movements Are the Only Hope against the Crisis
History has taught us that in times of political crisis, the rights of women and LGBTQI+ people are the first to be endangered. In Guatemala, threats to the continuity of power group’s corruption have generated a conservative reaction that seeks to consolidate a worldview based on exclusion. And this isn’t only happening in Guatemala; we also live in Central America and the world in times of political crises that are testing the solidity or fragility of people’s constitutional power. We continue to observe how societies convulse in the face of democratic crises caused by corruption and how capitalism’s capacity to respond to climate change is at a breaking point.
Far from offering a solution to these problems, which explode in our faces every day, conservative and antidemocratic power groups seek to instead ensure that nothing changes by appealing to intimate, meaningful spaces for all of us: the family, gender roles, children (the future of society), marriage, and sexuality. Faced with the greatest crisis living humans have faced, conservative groups insist that we, transpeople, in some way, are the problem. It even seems common sense: one should return home when the world becomes too uncertain. However, we have the power to alleviate the world’s suffering and turn it into our home.
This is why in Guatemala, and the world, the fight against human rights and democracy has been in the key of “gender criticism.” However, this 28S we take on the responsibility to bring attention to the fact that antidemocratic actors are not compatible with our sexual and reproductive rights or our bodily autonomy. Moreover, each life that we seek to dignify furthers the possibility of building feminist and LGBTIQ+ movements that demand safe and legal abortions for all childbearing people. For this reason, transpeople must be present in the conversations about bodily autonomy since historically we have been denied access to things as basic as legal recognition or the possibility of living a life without violence.
Likewise, this 28S we can articulate feminisms that do not betray themselves and postpone the needs of transmen and trans-masculinities under the pretense of “if safe and legal abortion is won for cis women, it will eventually be [transmen’s] turn.” No. The history of feminism and social movements in general has taught us that gains for one group do not immediately translate to grans for another that shares similar demands—just as peasant women did not gain the right to vote when urban white women did. Moreover, it is necessary to banish from our spaces the kind of feminism that allies itself, in the same political and financial ecosystem, with the anti-rights actors it claims to combat, i.e., trans-exclusionary radical feminism (TERF) or transphobic feminism. It is urgent to build bridges in a social, plural, and democratizing movement.
In Guatemala, we have a very strong tradition of defending democracy. A recent victory was the pushback against Initiative 5272, an anti-rights initiative that sought to increase penalties for abortion, prohibit comprehensive sexual education, and ban equal marriage. In a social outpour, broad sectors led by the feminist and LGBTIQ+ movement managed to roll back Congress’ steamroller. This, like all recent victories, was only achieved through a broad coalition of social actors who, in unison, elevated a democratizing affirmation: These are our bodies; this is our country.