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There is so much power telling our stories. It has the ability to heal emotional wounds, immortalize the legacies of our ancestors and, for trans organizer Cazembe Murphy Jackson, telling our stories can dismantle oppressive systems.
Cazembe has been open about his abortion – adding to the chorus of trans and nonbinary voices who refused to be quiet even before the fall of Roe. Cazembe said his abortion story is linked to both his trans identity and survivorship of rape. So along with being a membership organizer for the Rising Majority in Atlanta, Cazembe leads training sessions and conversations where he encourages people to be more inclusive in reproductive justice spaces.
“When people talk about the reversal of Roe v. Wade and name it as a women’s issue, their analysis is incomplete,” Cazembe said. “I feel like more organizations have shifted their language to include trans and non-binary people because it’s just obvious that nonbinary and trans folks who are able to give birth also need to be included in a conversation about choosing whether or not to birth. But I think there’s a lot of work to do with these larger organizations and mainstream media.”
Cazembe is being the trans voice he needed when he had an abortion in 2001. He found out he was pregnant six weeks after he was raped while attending college in Huntsville, Texas, which added more heaviness to the depression he was already experiencing. After dealing with the hassle of funding the abortion and traveling about two hours to a Planned Parenthood clinic in Austin, he endured shouting protesters outside the clinic and people giggling behind his back once he got inside the clinic. Cazembe was 20 at the time and wasn’t out as a trans man, but was masculine presenting.
“Had I known other trans people who had had abortions, I wouldn’t have felt so like a fish out of water,” Cazembe said. “There’s this stigma with masculine presenting people and being pregnant, especially in the Black community in the South. Still 20 years later, I remember the receptionist said, ‘Are you here for yourself or for someone else?’ Which was shade.”
Cazembe was able to get the abortion along with therapy. He said the procedure saved his life, and couldn’t imagine what he would have done if he needed an abortion under Texas’ current law, which bans all abortions unless it is a medical emergency. Rape and incest are not exceptions. Cazembe said many people are now starting to see how reproductive justice is connected to other parts of the movement, like police brutality due to the criminalization of abortion access.
“I think the reversal of Roe v. Wade woke up a lot of people and a lot of other parts of [the] Black liberation movement and made everybody realize, ‘Yeah, this is all of our fight,’” Cazembe said. “And I think the work that’s being done to get us to think like that is being done by Black, queer women in the South.”
A Black, queer woman was the one who asked Cazembe to tell his story during a Washington, D.C., rally in 2015, the same year Cazembe came out as a trans man. It was a scary moment, but empowering.
“They want you to be quiet about rape and abortion. These are things we don’t necessarily normally talk about as publicly as I do,” Cazembe said. “I feel like every time I’m telling my story, or talking about abortion access or surviving rape, all of those things chip at the patriarchy a little bit at a time because it inspires somebody else to tell their story too.”
Cazembe hasn’t stopped reiterating his story since. He’s found joy talking to young people who message him on Instagram about their abortion and pregnancy stories. Their gratitude for how his story has helped them reclaim their own bodily autonomy tells Cazembe he is doing something right.
And then there is the community of love and support Cazembe has made during his decade-long activism career. The Black, queer woman who encouraged Cazembe to tell his story held his hand as he spoke during the rally. The camaraderie he has built over the years comes through for him everyday in the form of deep-belly laughs as they work together to fight through the negativity of oppression.
“You can find community in the South. I would say if people reading this are looking for community, join an organization,” Cazembe said. “There are people looking for you. There were people looking for me and I didn’t know it. That’s where I started to meet my community – at the rallies, in the meetings, doing the work, showing up.”
Cazembe says having a community is necessary when sharing your abortion story because they can become part of your safety plan, which details how you will take care of yourself mentally and physically after telling such an emotional story. Cazembe’s safety plan involves connecting with a friend. Another idea: Turn on your favorite bop and dance around.
“But one way to be safe is not being quiet,” Cazembe warned to those who may feel afraid to tell their abortion story. “Your silence -- not going to protect you. Audre Lorde taught us that. We’ve been quiet all this time, and they took the things we thought they would never take away from us. And I’m not just talking about Roe v. Wade. I’m talking about voter’s rights, trans rights, all the things we thought we have fought for and won. So if you’re scared, be scared. But push through. Tell your story and take care of yourself.”