I came out as genderqueer during my spring 2011 semester abroad. When I got back to campus, I went to a meeting for a student group which aims to support those who identify as members of the wider transgender community. Like many transgender advocacy groups, one of their focuses is on how transgender individuals are human beings who deserve the same respect and opportunities for their voices to be heard. However, within the first few minutes of the meeting, I felt singled out as someone entitled to neither of these basic recognitions.
When introducing ourselves with a fun fact, one individual chose to state their “cause” was autism awareness, showing pride in a new tattoo of the puzzle piece typically used as its symbol. Yet as an autistic person, this only left me deeply disturbed. Groups such as Autism Speaks tie the puzzle piece logo to one of their larger goals: finding a way to “cure” us. Our neurobiological differences are seen as something to be erased so that our lives can have the meaning we are assumed to be “missing” by not being neurotypical (meaning non-autistic). The assumption that autistic people are not worthy members of society, that we apparently don’t deserve to exist in the first place, is extremely insulting. I couldn’t help but wonder if the person sitting next to me believed the right to self-determination belonged to neurotypical transgender and gender non-conforming individuals only.
Needless to say, I was upset and disappointed that someone who chose to be involved in a student organization centered on the ideal that all people deserved to be treated as human beings might hold such contradictory values. Yet, as I thought about the experience, I began to realize it’s actually our society’s eugenics culture that allows such contradictions to remain unrecognized and unchallenged. This culture even manifests itself in so-called progressive causes.
For instance, my fellow 2011 RRASC intern Ivonne Ortega clued me in on the recent release of Mother: Caring for 7 Billion, one of many projects which vilify poor people and people of color for “causing” problems such as world hunger and environmental devastation. The version of the film which Ivonne had seen largely referenced the work of organizations such as the Population Media Center, whose two main goals are to “bring about stabilization of human population numbers at a level that can be sustained by the world’s natural resources” and “lessen the harmful impact of humanity on the earth’s environment.” These goals do not tackle the systematic injustices at the root at poverty and gender inequality. Instead, they prioritize an agenda of population control by “educating” poor women in the global south about how their fertility causes their poverty. There is no acknowledgement of the disproportionate role the wealthiest countries in the world play in exacerbating environmental catastrophes, or their role in facilitating global economic policies which make it even harder for many people to make a living.
Portraying people with disabilities as “burdensome” individuals who need to be “cured” and vilifying individuals in the Third World as “burdensome” consumers of our planet’s natural resources are just two examples of how eugenics culture persists in social movements today. And when we as a society continue to accept this ideology, groups that embrace it are allowed to perpetuate their oppressive agendas under the guise of “progress.”
When poor people, people of color, people with disabilities, and other historically marginalized groups are seen by such “activists” as inferior, burdensome individuals, none of us are afforded voices in the fight against ableism, environmental injustice, or other oppressions that directly affect our lives. Instead of buying into eugenics culture, we must acknowledge that is exists — clearly, it’s hardly a thing of the past — and actively resist the paradigm it provides. We need to build a culture of activism and a society that values each of our lives in the fight for true social justice.
At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what exactly the person I met at the transgender students meeting believed. The struggles for disability justice, environmental justice — and yes, even transgender justice — are all connected by our need to resist eugenics culture. Only when we work together to challenge its oppressive framework and realize these fights for liberation are in fact bound together will we create the meaningful change we all need.