ZINE: Ask me about my tubal ligation (part 6 of 6)

(posted by Sarah Lawrance)

[This is the final post where I share the content of my recent zine, “Ask me about my tubal ligation”, published by EXILE Press in February 2010. To read the 1st post, click here. To order a copy, feel free to visit exilebooks.orgmicrocosmpublishing.com, or akpress.org (coming soon). Thanks for your interest  :) ]

“Our” Tubal Ligation

by Matt McLennan

I’ve been Sarah’s partner since early 2008. I’m a biological male, hetero-flexible in my sexual orientation, masculine in my gender presentation. I’m an intellectual type and a feminist, but I also embody a number of traditionally masculine attitudes and ways of being. In this sense, though generally happy with who I am, I’m constantly finding occasions to learn to be a better feminist. To Sarah’s gender-queer presentation and lifestyle, I present something of a bland counterpart. When she brought me home to meet her family, I think they were some mixture of relieved (because she wasn’t, it appeared to them, a lesbian after all), confused (why would a normal looking young man go for a boyish rebel type?) and disappointed (because their reading of her had been at least partly wrong). In any case, they welcomed me with open arms and have expressed gratitude for the fact that, however it happens, I bring Sarah a measure of happiness.

My opinion on the question of tubal ligation is that if we take women’s reproductive autonomy seriously, then this includes the choice of women not to reproduce. It’s that simple. People routinely choose to get pregnant. If they have healthy networks of social support, their decision is almost always praised, or at least supported, inasmuch as having one’s own children is a defining life choice. That the decision to be childless, on the other hand, is often viewed negatively within the very same support networks or society at large is, therefore, irrational. Unless, that is, we assume that women have an ultimate natural function, that they are biological machines for making babies— and that, therefore, a woman who does not fulfill her “natural” role isn’t a proper woman. This kind of attitude, however, is long overdue for the shit heap. The claim of something’s being “natural” always requires qualification, and in any case does not help us to answer our moral questions, including those surrounding reproduction. A woman is a “failure” at being a woman, if it is ever appropriate to say such a thing, only if she has failed to achieve her most important morally appropriate life goals—and these may or may not include the goal of having children. A woman is not a failure simply by virtue of being childless, as many people tacitly or unabashedly assume.

With respect to Sarah’s decision, many friends, family and acquaintances have asked me questions like “What do you think about her doing it?” or “How do you feel about it?” These are fair questions, but only if the people asking them recognize the proper scope of a partner’s role in any relationship. In my opinion a man does not have, nor should he have, veto power over his partner’s (or any woman’s) morally appropriate life-defining decisions; at best, he should be able to give his opinions, but only in the spirit of communication, concern and compromise—never coercion. I went into my relationship with Sarah knowing full well that she did not want to bear children, and that she was actively pursuing sterilization as a means of ensuring that this didn’t happen. This was, in fact, the subject of a very early conversation we had had as friends. It therefore seems fair to me that I should have had no say in her decision (though she was concerned and caring enough to sound out my thoughts and feelings). It irks me when I get flak from people who learned about her procedure after the fact, and who imply that I should have stopped her somehow. Regardless of what I thought about it, it would have been unfair of me to have tried to change her mind as regards such a life-defining matter—especially, but not solely, since she had thought about it for years, and in any case I knew what I was getting into. If having children was so important to me, I could have looked elsewhere for companionship. But what if I hadn’t known Sarah’s preferences beforehand, or if, rather, she had decided during our relationship that sterilization was what she wanted? There again, morally speaking I would have had to defer to her decision as regards her reproductive autonomy. Perhaps in such a scenario there would be grounds for ending our relationship due to conflicting life goals; ultimately, however, Sarah’s bodily integrity and her unconstrained ability to posit and achieve her own morally appropriate life goals is a greater good than even our relationship.

Many people have emphasized to me that Sarah’s decision is “irreversible”—what if she changes her mind? For that matter, I’m fine with it now, but what if I change my mind? Well, it’s important to note that having a child is also irreversible—once you’ve had it, you can’t take that back, and you must live with the consequences. I doubt, however, that doctors give this kind of stern warning to people trying to conceive. It doesn’t strike me that there is any big risk of Sarah changing her mind; besides, any important life choice we make is fraught with the danger that we’ll change our minds, but we still have to live our lives in the (morally appropriate) ways we think will be most conducive to our happiness. As for me, at this point in my life I do not want children. At some point I might, and Sarah and I have discussed this possibility. Perhaps she’d be amenable to adopting or foster parenting; perhaps an arrangement could be made in which I had a child who is biologically related to me with another woman, and we would all raise the child outside traditional understandings of kinship; perhaps, finally, this change of attitude would be a sticking point that would necessitate the end of our relationship. We can’t tell ahead of time, but then no relationship can be protected against all the unforeseen circumstances life throws in its way.

Finally, I should mention that sterilization is a less complicated procedure and easier to recover from when it is done to a man. This makes male sterilization a better option for couples who don’t want to conceive. Some people have suggested to me that, for this reason, I should have been the one in our relationship to be sterilized. To the extent that my own goals and preferences have been understood by these people, their argument is highly objectionable. Since I have at no time made the decision not to have children biologically related to me—rather, I have made the decision to have a woman who will not bear children as my companion—it amounts to their saying that Sarah’s decision not to bear children entails a duty on my part to restrict my reproductive autonomy. But Sarah and I are not one entity, not a “couple who doesn’t want to conceive”; rather, we’re two individuals, with our own ideas on having children, who are a couple. The argument that I should have been the one to be sterilized doesn’t stand up, because if we are to take women’s reproductive autonomy seriously, then it is not obvious to me how we can fail to accord equal respect to men’s reproductive autonomy.

So there you have it. In my opinion, Sarah’s reproductive autonomy includes her right not to reproduce; but morally speaking, it does not entail any limiting of my own reproductive freedom. Strange as this attitude may sound to some people, so far it has not made for a bad or unstable relationship; far from it. Though I feel that morally speaking, I should not have had any say in her decision, it’s a testament to Sarah’s goodness and loving character that in the spirit of communication and mutual respect she nonetheless actively sought my thoughts and feelings on the matter. It’s this kind of relationship that’s important to me, irrespective of whether or not it produces offspring— biologically related to me or otherwise.

Resources & Good Reads


Some good books that address various themes touched upon by this zine.

Motherhood & Feminism, by Amber E. Kinser

Yes Means Yes! Visions of female sexual power & a world without rape, edited by Jaclyn Friedman & Jessica Valenti

Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide, by Andrea Smith

Color of Violence: The INCITE! anthology, edited by INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence


Vasectomy Party, by Benji Rouse, available online at http://seattlediy.com/zines/vasectomyparty.pdf I think of this as a sort of “companion” zine to mine, although it was made before and entirely independently from mine.


Some of my favourite sources for radical literature on a wide range of topics.

AK Press – Best radical press and distro this side of the atlantic. http://akpress.org/

Seal Press – Feminist press with a few real treasures. http://www.sealpress.com/

Microcosm Publishing – Best zine distro in North America! http://microcosmpublishing.com/

~ by artpoped on October 1, 2010.

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