“Our society is so intensely gendered in ways we don’t even notice.”
Wise words from Miriam Zoila Pérez who visited my Queer Identities: LGBT Literature and Film class earlier today. Miriam is one of the editors at Feministing and is also the founder and sole blogger at Radical Doula.
I invited Miriam to visit the class to talk about her trajectory in the reproductive justice movement as well as to share her personal story as a queer Latin@.
At one point, Miriam joked: “Ellen Degeneres was the only inkling I had of what it meant to be a lesbian and since I wasn’t attracted to her, I figured I couldn’t be a lesbian.”
During her college years at Swarthmore, Miriam started her activist work as a volunteer for the Feminist Majority. In 2004, at the March for Women’s Lives in Washington, DC, she found herself attracted to the work of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health based on their strong intersectional analysis of women’s health from the perspective of women of color. During the course of the march, she felt connected to their Spanish/English signs that read “Salud, Dignidad, y Justicia” (Health, Dignity, and Justice) and became immediately hooked to their mission. After college, she began working for the NLIRH.
When asked how reproductive health is a queer issue, Miriam explained how many LGBT individuals have a range of reproductive health needs from lesbian survivors of sexual assault seeking abortion to bisexual women seeking contraception to lesbians and transgender people seeking reproductive healthcare services. “Ultimately,” she said, “reproductive rights is about bodily autonomy, and that’s important to queer folks.”
After hearing Miriam talk about the intersection of queer identity and healthcare, students immediately made connections to their reading of Leslie Feinberg’s Stone Butch Blues, in which Jess, the protagonist, is denied services at a women’s clinic due to her male gender expression.
As part of the conversation, Miriam explained terms such as cisgender, and talked about how she came to identify as genderqueer: “In the beginning, I couldn’t quite identify fully as a butch because I thought you had to be a certain kind of tough and a certain kind of hard to be butch. But I still felt this inclination towards a more butch or masculine expression, so identifying as genderqueer fit.”
At the end of her visit, Miriam recommended the Logo series Gender Rebels for students to continue their interest in exploring issues of gender.
One student noted: “The speaker was really fascinating. I really like that she expanded our discussion of queer issues and reproductive justice.”
I agree. I especially admire Miriam’s ability to bridge her work across movements: feminist, queer, and reproductive justice. It’s this kind of bridging that makes activists like Miriam an amazing model not only for young people looking for ways in which to make an impact but also for all of us who seek new inspiration for making our world that much more healthy, dignified, and just.
If you are interested in having Miriam visit your campus or classroom, please contact her here.