What is freedom?

For me, freedom as it relates to gender and sexuality is bodily autonomy: having the faculty to independently govern one’s bodily and sexual choices. Bodily autonomy, is a human rights issue pertinent to sexuality and gender, particularly in relation to personal rights and medical treatment (or denial).

Recent issues that threaten bodily autonomy, and therefore personal freedom, include abortion, compulsory sterilization, medical insurance for gender surgery, etc. In these cases, denying someone’s right to choose abortion/sterilization (or not) and denying insurance coverage for gender surgeries, autonomy is threatened by law or policy that would prevent someone from having control over their own body.

Bodily autonomy can also be denied socially rather than legally. Take for example this discussion of reactions to Angelina Jolie’s double mastectomy and Demetri Marchessini’s book about women wearing pants.

Denial of bodily autonomy could be innocuous-seeming as my dad’s passive aggressive comments about my “manly” hair, or as threatening as the denial of insurance coverage for gender transition. While we are used to thinking about freedom in terms of older examples of slavery or women’s legal status as property, we need to realize that these denials of bodily autonomy are the threats to freedom today.


2 thoughts on “What is freedom?

  1. noahfeit

    Your comment is provocative and hits home for me as a student of political science and international relations. You seem to define freedom very broadly and I applaud the wide scope you propose for human rights. On the other hand, I take issue with the particular examples you give of what constitutes freedom. I tend to disagree with the idea that we as a society ought to subsidize gender reassignment surgery.

    We only have freedom insomuch as that freedom does not disadvantage our peers. With that said, there are certain instances where we have a right to inconvenience others, such as when we are in a life-or-death scenario and public funds are required to restore us to health. I tend to ascribe to the beliefs about liberty and freedom of Mill and Locke. I think that most amongst us would fall in about the same spot on the spectrum of what constitutes freedom and what unfairly infringes upon the rights of others.

    Access to sexual reassignment surgery is important for those who are uncomfortable in the bodies they are dealt at birth. However, I’m not sure that I would characterize a refusal to pay for someone else’s reassignment surgery as a violation of human dignity. For me, human rights include the right to food and water, shelter, health, and political rights. Public financial support for these types of operations sets a negative precedent that those who are uncomfortable in their bodies are entitled to surgical reassignment and other forms of elective surgery.

    1. virseymour Post author

      I’d like to understand whether your issue is specifically with gender surgeries (which, correct me if I am wrong, you are defining as elective, unessential procedures) or you oppose all healthcare coverage for all “inconveniencing” medical care, which by your definition would broadly include things like mental health, physical therapy, and routine mammograms. These are all things widely covered and unquestioned by public and private health insurance, things that COULD be life or death (just like gender surgeries or hormone therapy or depression medication, all treatments for gender dysphoria, could be the difference between life or death for a trans* person) but are generally to improve one’s quality of life.

      Gender surgery is not an emergency procedure equatable to the “life-or-death scenario and public funds are required to restore us to health” that you are talking about. I am speaking of people who are denied coverage for gender surgery and hormone therapy, *people who pay for their healthcare just like you would (or rather your parents would)*. I am not even approaching the question of underserved populations with no access to healthcare or the option of gender surgeries or hormone treatment. I am specifically talking about people who pay for healthcare, healthcare that would cover many “elective” treatments or procedures including the ones I listed above, voluntary sterilization, facial reconstruction after trauma, etc.

      If you don’t want to “shoulder the burden” of someone else’s healthcare, tell your parents to stop paying for healthcare and start paying out of pocket so those people who you would deny gender treatments to don’t have to shoulder the burden of all the “non-essential” medical treatments that your current insurance covers.

      I’m also interested in your definition of human rights. It does fall along traditional bare-minimum definitions of human needs but falls extremely short of widely accepted definitions of human rights, like the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights (which includes a broadly defined “medical care” which, I hope in a first world country like the United States, would be able to go beyond life-or-death medical care). I’m curious as to why you don’t find bodily autonomy and the right to make decisions for your own body a human right. Which only brings me back to the fact that I think you misinterpreted me (or you are not very well read in the issues surrounding trans* healthcare) in thinking I am declaring some wildly liberal call-to-arms to get gender surgery paid for for everyone regardless of wether they have healthcare, hooray! No. I am simply saying that people have the right to be the sole choice-maker for their own bodies, meaning: if one pays for healthcare that would cover procedures or treatments with similar cost or urgency, one should not be denied coverage. One should not be subject to an increasingly shrinking portion of the population’s idea that gender is a choice and therefore hormone therapy and gender surgeries are “elective” and “non-essential”. Not only does that signal to trans* people that their struggles and their bodies are not important or that they are “electing” to be trans*, but it signals that other people have the privilege to choose what kind of medical treatment they receive and that they don’t have the HUMAN RIGHT to choose what happens or doesn’t happen to their body— the single entity that everyone should be entitled to control.


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