In modern parlance, “intersectionality” is defined as “a concept often used in critical theories to describe the ways in which oppressive institutions (racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, xenophobia, classism, etc.) are interconnected and cannot be examined separately from one another.” Thus, a person who is both black and female may suffer layers of discrimination: from other women who are white; from other blacks who are male.
“Subaltern” is an adjective which essentially means “of lower status.” People who are subaltern are society’s downtrodden, forgotten, or ignored. Unborn children have no voice, and under Vermont law lack all recognition as persons up until the moment of birth. I submit that the unborn — at whatever stage of development — are human beings, and that they qualify as subaltern.
In today’s identity-politics culture, the idea of a subaltern fetus is anathema to the predominant secular-humanist perspective of a fetus as inanimate tissue. The sacred has been largely subsumed by the self. “Ableism” describes “discrimination in favor of able-bodied people.” Well, those womb inhabitants are hardly able-bodied — they can’t even talk yet. Are they not victims of widespread ableism? What of the unacknowledged selfhood of the unborn child? Does its “nascent intersectionality” not become extant prior to delivery?
Clearly it is an error to perceive a pre-delivered being as mere tissue: the unborn black child is already suffering disadvantage allegedly occasioned by white supremacy or perhaps urban squalor. Surely added to this is the amplified subaltern denigration of being unrecognized as human. A subaltern “person of color” who is legally denied existence is the ultimate victim. His skin color (which will most unalterably develop into blackness) converges with his non-citizen status as “mere fetal tissue” to form pre-birth, intra-womb intersectionality. It is only natural that his evident disadvantages caused by slavery be recognized as something from which he already suffers: odd that he should be required to wait a few more months before he is qualified to invoke 200-year-old events as his heritage.
Subaltern unborn Native Americans have already survived genocide, and we now know (through epigenetics) that such deep wounds (like slavery) are genetically and psychologically woven into DNA and psyches. In the case of slavery this intergenerational trauma is called “Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome,” and this same type of historical trauma is carried by American Indians – and Civil War soldiers and their progeny.
If gay people are “born that way,” they must have been gay while in their subaltern fetal state; thus intersectionality. Similarly for transgender fetuses — just because society does not yet perceive that they are in the wrong bodies does not mean that society won’t later discriminate against them. I have no idea how “inquiring” subaltern fetuses feel about being marginalized pre-birth. They are likely wondering also.
The subaltern unborn are completely deprived of the protections of group identity because they are isolated from one another (unless they are twins). This further degrades their potentiality to raise a collective voice in protest within the society which has dismissed and “dehumanized” them.
As we consider how to best protect that unborn gay, black girl, we might reflect on the limitations faced by unborn babies. As civil rights activist Kimberle Crenshaw has observed, “Intersectionality has been the banner under which many demands for inclusion have been made, but a term can do no more than those who use it have the power to demand.” (The Washington Post, September 24, 2015). Society’s subaltern unborn have no power to demand inclusion, so we must do so on their behalf, by raising public awareness of subaltern fetal intersectionality!
John Klar is an attorney and farmer residing in Brookfield. © Copyright True North Reports 2022. All rights reserved.