Archive | August, 2011

Transgender and Choice: Can We Start a Conversation?

30 Aug

Working for the summer to provide direct reproductive and family planning services, the question of who gets pregnant (and who doesn’t… and who needs those services, whether they do or do not get pregnant…) has started to play a role in how I think about outreach. The language of the last reproductive justice wave was about women, “women’s health,” “women’s needs,” and “women’s rights,” and with good reason, but it is becoming increasingly apparent that that language is exclusionary – too exclusionary, to my mind, for the movement I hope to be a part of building. We’ve had the start of this conversation several times on this blog. Women are no longer the only ones who get pregnant. Many people now can and do get pregnant who do not identify as women. This war on reproductive justice may in many ways still be the “war on women” it is often referred to as, given the narrow gender identities the antichoice community too often ascribes to, but it is not only a war on women when so many people suffer in a silence imposed by language and many kinds of violence. (And what else? What else imposes this silence? Please tell me. I am writing this in the hopes that I can learn.)

So I am wondering, how do we begin to address trans issues, particularly trans reproductive issues, outside of transitioning itself? How do we make prochoice about more than the gender binary? How do we work with language? How do we do direct outreach, how do we make clinics and doctor’s offices and family planning centers truly safe spaces? What other questions do you have? I have so many!

I do not want to see hard-fought cisgender identities subsumed to political correctness. Cisgender identity is valid, and I fight to know and love myself as a woman every day. But that fight has a name and words and acknowledgement; I believe the fight for transgendered identities is silenced a billion ways. So I’m asking you to talk to me. I’m also asking you to talk to me, and to each other, respectfully. If you feel I have already made grave errors in the way this is written, please let me know and I will address them. I know sometimes there is a lot of pent-up anger that, given a release point, can feel very good to vent, but ideally, if people want to talk about this, I would love to see a productive conversation get started here.


Talking Pro-Choice and Politics, Texas Edition: Rick Perry is Anti-Women

29 Aug

I moved to Texas last week. Well, Austin, Texas which doesn’t quite count, but still, I am now a Texan. And I am quite pleased to adopt the residency status of Sarah Weddington and Linda Coffee, two native Texans who made abortion Americans’ Constitutional right. Weddington won the Roe v. Wade case when she was 26 years old. This made her the youngest person to win a Supreme Court case and a feminist hero to many, myself definitely included. Weddington’s got the best of the traditional Texas characteristics: she’s got Wild West guts, indiscriminate kindness, a fine drawl, and that solid Southern sensibility. She’s a gal that my now-Governor, Rick Perry, could really benefit from being around.

But instead, he is spending his time signing bills to force women choosing abortion to look at sonagrams of the fetus even if they say no. He’s making women sit and wait 24 hours to think over their choice to have an abortion; one more time for Gov. Perry’s sake. He is funding crisis pregnancy centers with state tax dollars. He is holding rallies with religious extremist who believe abortion is preventing the second coming of Christ and the separation of church and state is demonic. He is ignoring all evidence-based practices by funding abstinence-only education because his “personal life” says it works, and is preventing teens with unwanted pregnancies from obtaining abortions without parental consent. Worst of all? He is planning to take these laws and sentiments Federal through his bid for the presidency. He made that loud and clear when he signed an anti-abortion rights pledge last week stating he promises to only appoint anti-choicers to executive and Federal branch positions, and support Federal funding bands and restrictions on abortion services.

I know, that is one depressing paragraph, but never fear, we have abortion gang bangers like Sarah Weddington to offer solutions on dealing with Texas-sized misogynist jerks, even those who hold political office. At the end of Weddington’s book on Roe v. Wade, A Question of Choice, Weddington discusses an action plan for keeping abortion legal and accessible. She puts electing pro-choice candidates, especially Presidential candidates, as a first priority. And from just one of the above examples you can tell you why: anti-abortion fanatics/candidates make punishing any human with a uterus a priority. She suggests we all volunteer, financially support and talk-up pro-choice campaigns, and help educate voters on the impact of their support for anti-choice candidates. Weddington follows up the importance of elections by urging us all to ‘talk pro-choice’: to never call abortion opponents “pro-life”, but to call them “anti-freedom”, “pro-mandaotry birth” and “pro-illegal abortion.” She doesn’t include my favorite sum-up in the book, anit-woman, but I think we get the point. Being vocal about choice, particularly when it concerns Presidential candidates, is incredibly important.

We can’t take a day off from verbalizing how oppressive Perry’s policies are to women. I believe if we keep this verbal counter-attack up, the race for the (Tea Party) Republican nomination i.e. the anti-woman parade, will become an opportunity to help the pro-choice cause. The front running Republican candidates are so extremely zealous in their want to oppress women, and so willing to ignore evidence in the name of their church and personal experiences, that we pro-choicers might just get some footing here with those in the “grey area” in the abortion debate. Let’s point out that Rick Perry wants babies to be women’s major contribution to society, that he thinks education and job growth for women are less important than optimizing women’s birthing potential. Let’s point out that the right not to bear children is central to social equality for women, and that Perry and his fellow conservative minions do not believe in equality, women’s freedom, or women’s potential. Let’s say that loudly, again, again, and again. We need more people helping to fight for abortion rights, and this may just be our ticket to expanding the base.

So tell your friends and your enemies, y’all: Gov. Rick Perry is an anti-women and no President should ever fit that description.

In Kansas? Rally for Choice!

26 Aug

A guest post by Speak for Choice.

The state of Kansas recently has undergone extreme social turmoil due to Brownback’s recent legislation designed to target abortion providers in Kansas. At the end of June, all three of Kansas’ abortion providers were nearly shut down and Kansas was days away from becoming the first state in the United States with no legal abortion access. Two of the clinics did not have their licenses renewed, and the Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri received its license after a mad scramble to comply with the new regulations. A judge issued a temporary injunction and all clinics for now remain in practice. Anti-abortion proponents of the law claimed it was a great step toward protecting women’s health, but after learning details of the new regulations, it became apparent that it was less about women’s health and rights, and more about a religious system.

In response to these anti-choice laws, three students from the University of Kansas and local feminists in Lawrence, formed a group to counteract and inform the general public on the reality of these laws and the repercussions that would occur if the legislation passed and the clinics closed.

Speak for Choice is a grassroots organization that aims at educating and informing the public on Choice issues. On September 7, 2011, Speak for Choice will be holding a rally at the capitol in collaboration with other pro-choice, feminist, and equality groups from around the state. There speakers will voice their opinions, feelings, and life experiences in a positive demonstration of support for Choice. The rally will begin at eleven in the morning with music, chants, and speak-out-circles. By noon, speakers will commence.

In an effort to aid commuters, Speak for Choice is asking anyone who is driving to offer their empty seats to others interested in attending. Their blog is an informational hub where the public can access news articles, statistics, and updates on reproductive justice in Kansas.

If anyone is in the Kansas area and is interested in participating, feel free to check out the website or email the group at for more information.

Back to School Sexual Health: The Freshman Five

24 Aug

When I went to college, I was like a kid in a candy store. Finally away from the watchful eyes of mom and dad, no curfew, no one to tell me what to do, and boys, boys, boys to choose from.  And I’m sure I was not alone. This first taste of freedom can be so liberating….but it also can lead to some sticky situations.   So, in honor of back to school, I would like to bring you the Top Five Tips for Safe Sex in College to guarantee that you have the most fun (and safe) freshman year possible.

Student Health Services is Your Friend.

Whether it’s Student Health Services, the Health and Wellness Center, or the College Clinic, every University has one. When you first arrive on campus make sure you know where it is located, and stop in for a visit! If you haven’t yet had your first gynecological exam, make one. If you are sexually active, and going to continue to be, get yourself tested. Testing (and treatment) for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) on college campuses is usually very reasonable priced, or even free…and you won’t have to worry about your parents finding out. Sexually active men and women should get tested every three months, and Student Health Services is there for you. They should also have lots of helpful information and pamphlets there for the taking, whether you need advice on how to avoid the Freshman 15 or help deciding which birth control method is right for you. And don’t forget to stock up on the free condoms on your way out!

Condoms, Condoms, Condoms.  

And about those condoms, always keep some on hand. They are (at most schools) free for the taking at Health Services.  Even if you are on another method of birth control, keep in mind that barrier contraception methods (male condoms, female condoms, dental dams etc.) are the only way to protect yourself from STIs.  And make sure you know how to use one properly.  If you need some advice, don’t be embarrassed to ask one of your new found friends or your new doctor at Health Services, and steal some dining hall bananas to practice on!

No One Loves a Roommate who Sexiles.

It’s only natural to explore your sexuality when you get to college, whether that be with a partner or by yourself.  Speaking of masturbation, a recent study in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine actually found that boys who masturbate are more likely to use a condom when having sex. Yay masturbation! Know your own body and enjoy your orgasms, but also know your surroundings and be respectful to those you are sharing the very cramped quarters with.  If you’re going to have a partner over to your room or just want some alone time, let your roommate know ahead of time or arrange a secret “signal” for one another. A hair thing on the door knob, or a secret code written on the white board can do wonders for your sex life and your roommate relationship….just don’t abuse the power.

Have a Party Plan.

Drinking and sex, especially unsafe sex, seem to go hand-in-hand in college.  And binge drinking (hello college frat parties) is universally linked to risky sexual behavior, which can be especially dangerous for women. Before you go to a party, make sure you have a ride home lined up, whether that be the number for a local cab company, a campus service that gives free rides home, or a designated driver.  And make a pact with your friends to stick together. This way, you can prevent each other from disappearing into a dark room, walking home alone, or going home with a stranger. Acquaintance rape is a reality, so you have to watch out for yourself, your new friends, and your drinks (never leave one unattended!).  If you are going to drink and party in college, drunken hookups may seem inevitable or even ideal; however, you can make thoughtful and careful decisions and still have fun.

Stick to Your Guns, No Means No.

College is going to throw lots of curveballs your way. Lots of new books to read, new friends to meet, and lots of new (and potentially uncomfortable) experiences await you.  You may feel pressured to do things you aren’t ready for based on the people you are surrounded by, I know I did. But don’t do anything you aren’t ready for or comfortable with…no matter what your friends say and do, no matter what your partner wants or says he/she “needs.”  This may be sexually, or just socially, but either way, stay within your comfort zone, know your own personal limits and expectations, and trust your gut.

Unexpected Motherhood

22 Aug

A guest post by ninersgirl.

My friend recently had a baby.  Savannah was born two months early, due to several difficulties that my friend had during her pregnancy.  Mom has gone back to work full-time, and I have become Savannah’s full-time caretaker. Although Savannah was a planned pregnancy, my role in her life was not.  I love this little baby, but I am also feeling very overwhelmed by unexpected “motherhood.”

Savannah is a fairly easy-going baby.  She has no health problems.  She’s generally very predictable (eat, sleep, poop, repeat).  Some days Savannah is crankier than others, and some days I swear she hates me.  But on the whole, she’s a good baby.

I have never wanted to have my own children.  I like sleeping in, I love a tasty cigarette, and I curse like it’s my job.  I’m not what you would call “motherhood material.”  I am totally honest about the fact that I’m selfish, which is a big reason why I have never considered getting knocked up and raising a baby.

My plans have taken a back seat for a while because I’m in a position to help a friend.  She can’t afford full-time daycare, and I want to be supportive.  Compassion aside, I keep asking myself why I said “yes.”  Last week I had a little panic attack when the baby wouldn’t stop screaming.  I got a little dizzy and thought, “I can’t do this.”  Fortunately, my partner was home and could take the baby off my hands for a few minutes.  I don’t know how single women manage to do it.

Full-time care giving has definitely reaffirmed my pro-choice beliefs.  Some women (myself included) aren’t ready to be mothers.  Some women feel overwhelmed by the children they already have.  And some women are stuck in bad relationships.  Whatever their reasons, I support their right to decide when parenting is appropriate for them.

I’m really struggling to be a good friend and a good “aunty” right now.  I love Savannah, but I don’t know that I’m cut out to take care of her full-time.  At least I have the option to walk away – if she were my own baby, I couldn’t shirk the responsibility.

If you’ve ever felt overwhelmed by care giving, how have you managed to deal with your feelings?  Has your own experience with motherhood contributed to your pro-choice beliefs?  I’d love to hear your point of view.

How to find a job in reproductive health

19 Aug

I have been lucky enough to have never had a real job. Yes I spent many a summer among six year olds, but I have never worked for a for-profit company, never stood behind a counter, never taken someone’s order.   Over the past five years I have been even luckier to almost exclusively work for organizations dedicated to reproductive health and rights.  Now after landing my first job out of grad school, the first gig I plan to stay in for more than two years, it seemed about time to put all the knowledge I have garnered to work for someone else.

1. Don’t be afraid of networking.  Just because you’re a self-righteous crusader doesn’t mean a job will magically fall into your lap.  Lots of people do lots of incredible things.  It’s who you know AND what you know.  Possibly in that order, but you need both.

2. Know what you’re talking about.  And I don’t mean be able to recite Gonorrhea symptoms or what TRAP stands for.  I mean stay on top of the organizations and issues you love EVERY DAY.  Get on Twitter and Facebook and RHReality Check and set-up a Google Reader to guide you through the rest of that internet thing.  Perhaps most importantly read feminist theory, old and new.  It’ll inspire you.  Don’t forget books.

3. Find a mentor, or two.  Sometimes it takes someone else believing you for you to believe in yourself.  Sometimes you just need to talk to someone older and wiser who understands how badly you want to change the world.  And when you find a mentor, don’t let them go.

4. Keep your activist friends and make new ones.  Not everyone you love is going to care about vaginas the way you do, but there will be days when you’ll want to pick-up the phone and cry over a Governor’s veto override or celebrate the IOM. It’s essential to have people on speed dial for these pivotal moments.

5. Grapple with and respect the complexities of reproductive health, justice, and rights.  Analyze yourself and where you fit into these intersections.  Where you are an ally, an activist, and perhaps most importantly inapplicable?

6. Obtain marketable skills.  Bleeding heart activist does not go on a resume but is still a requirement for the job.  Find hard skills like communications, development, clinical, legal, and research that excite you and pursue them.  Volunteering is a great way to do this, and can often lead to a job.  Remember, there needs to be a reason to hire you.

7. Judge what you’re up against.  Sex is, well, sexy.  Lots of people leave undergrad thinking they are the first to bring condoms or Take Back the Night to their campus.  You’re not.

8. Be nice.  If I could give anyone one piece of advice it would be this.  This planet is small, your city/town is smaller, our universe, minuscule.  People will remember you and they will show-up when you least expect them, so be nice.

9. Fear not grunt work.   If you do a good job with copying they will give you fun stuff to do, I promise.  It just might take a year or three… but we all must suffer through maintaining calendars and wrangling space phones, no matter how smart or passionate or deserving you are.  At least one day you might take pity on an intern and order a shredding truck instead of making her/him do it by hand.

10. Remember the economy sucks and do not give-up!  I too worked outside of reproductive health but I came back to it within two years and you can too!  Do not forget that there are relevant skills that you can gather outside the field to help you land that perfect position.

Small Town Activist

18 Aug

If you pay attention to pro-choice events, walks, rallies, fundraisers, and other activities, you’ll notice that almost all of them take place in big cities like New York City. This makes a lot of sense. I mean, duh! If your event is in a big city, you’ll attract more people and it will probably be a much more progressive area altogether.

Still, as a small town girl, this leaves me feeling a little bit lonely sometimes. I live in an area where I know only a small handful of pro-choicers and no other people who would call themselves activists. I go to whichever pro-choice events which are close by, but there are not many. Many activists, including myself, can’t afford to travel to participate in pro-choice events and can’t afford to take time off of school or work to be able to attend them. It’s not only the pro-choice movement, either. I am also passionate about my veganism. I know no vegans, or even vegetarians, outside of the internet, however, so vegan activism outside of the internet just seems out of the question. Also, abortion is not the only women’s rights issue which is neglected in my area. For example, the only time you hear the word “rape” mentioned in my area is in the context of a joke. Not surprisingly, this leads to me being burned out quite often. It leaves me thinking “Wow, am I fucking useless to this movement?”

Now, I don’t know if I’m alone in my feelings about this or if there are other small town activists out there who feel the same way, but if there are, then I’m writing this for you. It is discouraging to feel outnumbered by anti-choicers and to feel like a lone activist . Not being able to surround yourself with positivity in the wake of anti-choice bullshit totally sucks. I understand that. I refuse, however, to just sit down and call myself useless to the movement. Burn out occurs frequently, but there are things that small town activists can do to help prevent it. For example, you could:

1) Start something

I’m not going to lie, if you live in an uber-conservative area where it seems like you can count the number of pro-choicers on one hand ( I do), this might not work out. But it’s still worth a shot. You can try to organize something in your town or on your campus which will unite the pro-choicers who are in that area. You can raise awareness and possibly help to uncover a new passion for reproductive justice in your area. You can organize a march or a group. If this works out for you, then you will have created a community, and that is absolutely priceless.

2) Just be vocal

Being vocal about your passion for reproductive justice is not always easy, especially in a very conservative area. It was not easy for me to “come out” as an adamant pro-choicer, but when I did, I had no regrets whatsoever. “Coming out” incited a lot of people to also share their opinions on abortion with me, and with that, I got to find out who the pro-choicers are. Yes, my area is so conservative I feel as if I have to take a bath after being in crowded areas, but I found out that there are more pro-choicers out there than I thought. Not only that, but being very vocal about my pro-choice beliefs ended up scaring away a lot of the anti-choicers in my life. So basically, there are more pro-choicers in my life and less antis. It’s a win-win situation.

3) If you can’t build a real-life community, find one online

Sometimes it’s just not easy to construct a positive, loving, pro-choice climate in an area which is very hostile to women and their rights. Even after trying to create one, you may still end up feeling excluded from the movement. This is where the internet comes in handy. The internet does a great job of uniting small town activists like me and big city activists like many of the writers for the Abortion Gang. It would be great to have more of a pro-choice community in real life, but I love the online pro-choice community with all my heart, and I know that I can be open and honest with them. I may be a small town girl, but that does not mean I can’t be apart of the pro-choice movement. I know I belong, and the rest of you small town activists do, too.