Last month, we joined seven partner organizations to host a reproductive justice virtual lobby day for advocates and a handful of our state legislators. During that event, our storyteller Ev uplifted the experience of trans masculine people while Rev. Heather Haginduff shared her abortion story, highlighting the importance of comprehensive sexual education. Both of their powerful accounts are included below.
Ev’s Story: The Trans Masculine Experience
As a trans person, sometimes parts of my body that society genders can cause me dysphoria. But my uterus and I, we’ve always had a pretty good relationship. Sure, there have been some bumps in the road. Cramps are never fun. But overall, I’ve never felt the need to not have my uterus.
I like to say that I’ve been gay in a lot of ways. As is somewhat common for trans people, when I went on testosterone, my attractions shifted some. I started being interested in cisgender men. Honestly, I was living the gay dude life of my dreams.
But all of a sudden, I was faced with a thought I had never had before in my 28 years of life. I could get pregnant. Being on testosterone does not prevent pregnancy. I’ve always been interested and passionate about sexual health education, most of which I’ve learned through my community. Professionally, I had advocated for LGBTQ+ folks in many health care settings. But now, I was the one needing to find birth control that met my needs.
After hearing about the positive experiences of another trans masculine friend with Nexplanon, I decided to pursue the long-term arm implant form of birth control. This was the right choice for me.
At the time, I was still living in Boston. My doctor instructed me on how to set up an appointment to get my implant. My stepmom came with me, and I was a little apprehensive. At the appointment I was told that my doctor had instructed me wrong, and I had set up the wrong type of appointment. I would not be able to get my birth control that day. Miscommunication within a medical system prevented me from getting birth control.
Three days later I started the drive from Boston to Denver. Once I landed in my new home I was eager to be proactive about my sexual health. I also found out that my health insurance autopay had been disrupted. I would need to pay over $900 to get back on insurance.
I called Planned Parenthood to see if they would be able to help me. Nexplanon through them would cost about $900. I was offered a lower-cost Depo-Provera shot instead. Both because of the side effects and the method and frequency of administration, Depo was not the right choice for me. I decided no long-term birth control was better than the wrong birth control.
Cost and lack of insurance prevented me from taking charge of my sexual health.
Finally, I got a job with decent insurance. I had an appointment set up on March 19th of last year to get my implant. I probably don’t need to tell you why I pushed that appointment back until July 27th, but finally, in the middle of a pandemic, I got my birth control.
Barriers are rarely just one thing. From the time I decided to get Nexplanon to the actual procedure, a year and a half passed. Part of reproductive freedom is being able to take charge of our sexual health with the support of health care payers and providers. Part of reproductive freedom is eliminating the barriers that prevent or delay care.
As advocates for reproductive freedom and justice, we must recognize that transportation is an issue of reproductive rights. Medicaid expansion is an issue of reproductive freedom as are the federal poverty guidelines. (P.S. if you make $13,000 a year you’re over the federal poverty line). Racism, transphobia, and xenophobia are barriers. If our work is not intersectional, trans-inclusive, and anti-racist, we are doing it wrong.
Words alone are not enough for change, my words here included. We must take meaningful action: action that removes barriers, increases access, and empowers each individual to be in charge of their sexual and reproductive health. I’ll leave you with a final question: What would a world in which we are all empowered to be in charge of our sexual health look like? Think about it for a second.
Let’s build that world, together.
Learn more about Ev’s work and check out their website at evevnen.com!
Heather’s Story: My Abortion Gave Me a Second Chance
CW: This story recounts an experience of rape.
I grew up in a middle class neighborhood outside of St. Louis, MO in the 1970s and 80s. I was the oldest to a younger sister and a baby brother. My parents were classically trained professional musicians. From a very young age, my siblings and I learned to play musical instruments, giving concerts for neighbors and friends. We ate dinner as a family every night and attended church every Sunday. My family took long road trips to visit aunts, uncles and grandparents in upstate New York. In August, we went to Cardinals games and in December, we put on fancy clothes to listen to the Nutcracker. My parents were actively engaged in our lives and we were a close-knit family.
When I was 14, I met a boy in my peer group who became my boyfriend a few months later. He and I had very different upbringings. He lived with his grandmother who struggled to provide for him and his older brother. I was sad for him and at the same time the lack of supervision looked like freedom to me. There was no one nagging him about algebra or practicing his violin or coming home on time for dinner. He was independent and mature. And he made me feel interesting and special.
One day, after school, my boyfriend brought me over to his grandma’s apartment. Like always, there was no one home. He took me to the basement, where he kissed me and unbuttoned my pants. I remember saying “no” and pushing him away. But he was stronger and overpowered me at barely 100 pounds. I liked him, so I didn’t want to reject him and hurt his feelings. Afterwards, I walked home, not understanding what really happened. I had no frame of reference, no sex education, no extra adults in my life to talk to me about consent in healthy relationships. All I knew was I didn’t like sex—if that’s what that was. I felt disgusting.
I remember bargaining with God when my period was late. Weeks later, I found out that I was pregnant. I gathered my allowance money and called a taxi to take me to the closest place, which was a crisis pregnancy center. While I waited for my pregnancy results, I was escorted to a room to watch a gruesome 30-minute video about the rights of unborn babies. I closed my eyes for most of it, trying not to see the images of dead fetuses in dumpsters. This process was designed to manipulate individuals. I was told that my pregnancy test was positive and I was given pamphlets about how God’s only desire for me was to have this baby.
I had no idea how I was going to tell my parents. And yet, I needed their help. On the cab ride home, I started thinking, “I am not emotionally or financially ready to have a baby. How would my parents ever trust me again? Am I a disappointment to them? Would the loving God that I grew up with ever forgive me?” As soon as I got home, I fell apart. I handed them the pamphlets and told them that I messed up and that God was mad. My parents comforted me and reminded me that God loved me no matter what. And so did they. They made an appointment for me to have an abortion.
It all happened so quickly. I was in the waiting room, in the exam room, hospital gown, laying on the table, feet in the stirrups, knees spread. I noticed a poster of clouds on the ceiling, which made me want to float away. “Float away, Heather.” Then a nurse reached for my hand, which brought me back to the moment. In a soft voice, she whispered, “It will be okay, sweetie. I’m here.” Her presence was like that of an angel. She saw my need for comfort in that moment. I felt cared for.
In the years to come, I had other boyfriends. I had comprehensive sex education in high school where I learned about consent, contraception, and healthy communication. I held a higher standard for my relationships, not always getting them right. I went to prom. I attended college. I lived in the dorm. I sang in operas and musicals. I had therapists to help me heal my trauma. I had jobs and earned two Masters’ degrees. I became an ordained clergywoman, got married and gave birth to two beautiful baby girls.
My abortion, while challenging in the moment, made it possible for me to build the life that I have today. My abortion gave me a second chance at life, a life that I could not imagine at age 14. And as a Christian pastor, I know firsthand that when people are facing challenging decisions, the necessary response is to suspend judgment and to meet them with compassion and care.
The nurse angel was right: things turned out okay. And God was with me, the entire journey.
Want to get more involved in the work of reproductive justice at the Interfaith Alliance of Colorado? Check out our reproductive health, rights, and justice page.