on my bodily autonomy

[Hi y’all! It’s Eris. The timing of this essay worked out that it fell during Nonbinary Awareness Week, which feels really relevant considering both the ways that my gender made the below events harder and the amount of artistic work I’ve done regarding bodily autonomy and the restriction of it (in many ways). This is a little more personal than a lot of my content, but it’s important for me to share because there’s value in normalizing reproductive choices of all kinds. This essay carries CWs for mentions of sexual assault, pregnancy, surgical procedures, and misgendering.]

In college, I was the kid who HATED missing class. Absolutely loathed it. Called my mom the rare day I decided to skip lecture for one of my gen-eds in undergrad, because I figured someone should know where I was. (I’m a recovering rule follower.) If my butt could be in the seat learning, chances are I was there. I never took a sick day when I taught, either.

But even as an overzealous undergrad, I could’ve told you that some things—besides debilitating illness—were worth missing class, no matter how important the day’s material was. So a year ago today, just a couple weeks into my accelerated paralegal studies program and on the first day of its behemoth Civil Litigation course, I was absent.

A year ago today, I got sterilized.

I haven’t talked about it on here or even really on my socials, not only because I still haven’t gotten my commemorative tattoo but also because I wasn’t sure exactly how I wanted to bring it up. Early in recovery, I didn’t have the energy to gratefully accept the zealous congratulations I knew I’d get from many of my closest friends; as time passed, I chose to sit with the news for awhile longer to make sure I did the emotional processing I needed to do before sharing publicly.

Because as much as it was a deeply liberating milestone for me, it was also immensely frustrating. Not only was my ADHD actively working against me every time I tried to make an appointment, I struggled to find a provider who would perform the specific procedure I wanted and who had admitting privileges at a health center that at least nominally accepted my insurance. Even after those hurdles, I found the process arduous and sometimes disheartening—although my surgeon was ultimately happy to do what I wanted, I was misgendered constantly by medical staff and didn’t make it through a single visit without someone overlooking or ignoring my pronouns no matter how many times I made them clear. And because I was (and am) unwilling to put a gender dysphoria diagnosis in my medical record, I could not qualify for the hysterectomy I’d still love to have someday. So even as the bilateral salpingectomy I did end up getting was a major win for my bodily autonomy, I still have mixed feelings about the whole ordeal.

Despite it all, I consider myself lucky. I was twenty-seven, unmarried, and childless, yet I was still able to find a doctor who believed me when I said I was sure I’d never want to bear children. I wasn’t able to get the hysterectomy I would’ve loved, but I recovered smoothly from my bisalp and have experienced no complications. I was fortunate to have the full support of my family (or, if anyone disapproved, they were kind enough to shut up about it) and have faced no judgment from my partners for the decision I made. So even though I could’ve committed to sterilization as early as 2016, even though the years of doctor-prompted waffling in the name of “just in case you change your mind” were at times infuriating, even though I’ll continue needing an IUD that my insurance may no longer want to cover, I am so fortunate to have made it out the other side.

And to be clear: anyone can get sterilized for any reason they damn well please. I have friends who have had to undergo sterilization procedures to provide relief from chronic health problems. I have friends who have opted for them as gender-affirming care. I have friends who just don’t want to have kids. I have friends who are done having kids and don’t want to deal with the pregnancy risk. Regardless of what sends you down the path, each person’s reason for getting sterilized is individual and important.

Personally, I’m team “please don’t force me to be a baby incubator.” I’ve feared being pregnant for as long as I can remember, and the repeal of Roe v. Wade was the nail in the coffin that got me actively planning for a childfree future rather than considering my options. The past year has been literally life-changing for me. The gargantuan weight my sterilization lifted from my shoulders has both reduced my day-to-day stress levels and allowed me a greater degree of vulnerability and intimacy with my partners. As someone with multiple sexual assaults in my backstory, I have lived my entire life looking over my shoulder and desperately hoping I’d never have to live through the additional violation of an unwanted pregnancy, even from a fully consensual, risk-aware encounter with a trusted partner. Even now, with fantastic partners who treat me better than I’ve ever been treated before, the trauma that still lives in me occasionally rears its ugly head. Getting sterilized made one less pathway for it to do so.

The easier I can manage my own trauma, the more good I can do in the world. I’ve always held that to be true, both artistically and in every other aspect of my life. This is one extension of that throughline, and it has made me a better artist and a more compassionate human.

So as Nonbinary Awareness Week begins to wind down, this is your reminder: you don’t have to be a woman to not want to bear children, whether for gender-affirming reasons or regular old bodily autonomy reasons. And no matter who you are, you are not defined by your ability or lack thereof to bring a child into the world in any capacity. You are not obligated to share your reproductive status with nosy onlookers, even if they’re family. But if you’re like me and know your life will be better in every way with the assurance you can’t have children, know there are options out there. I’m happy to be a resource for anyone who wants to talk about it.

A year ago today, I got sterilized. And it’s one of the best choices I’ve ever made.

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[I am not a lawyer, and this is not legal advice! This commentary is provided for educational and entertainment purposes. Consult a qualified lawyer in your jurisdiction for legal services.]