Archive | June, 2012

Is Planned Parenthood bringing sexy back?

27 Jun

To be totally honest, when I think of sex, I never think of Planned Parenthood. Strange, isn’t it? The organization has provided so many of my reproductive health needs, and what is reproductive health about, if not sex? But over the years, I think, as a movement, we’ve felt the need to distance ourselves from sex; we feel an obligation to be, somehow, more responsible than that. To validate our movement, our need for access to birth control, maternal health care, abortion care, we needed to be respectable. Listen to the stories we tell the mainstream about abortion. We tell stories of married women, most of them heterosexual; we tell stories of women who needed an abortion only the one time, not like the irresponsible sluts we’re constantly being made out to be. And Planned Parenthood has lately become synonymous with that mainstreaming image, the “only 3% of our services are abortion” sort of aggravating apologist rhetoric that sets us back more than it moves us forward.

It’s easy, in that context, to forget that PPFA is different than its tiny affiliates, who are down on the ground where the work gets done, where people have non-gender normative identities and multiple abortions and lack of access and very real, often desperate need for their services. And last night, I discovered that the Planned Parenthood New York City affiliate is pretty fucking bad-ass.

Last night, PPNYC threw their “Summer, Sex and Spirits” bash, apparently an annual event, at the Hudson Terrace on the far west side of the island. Like most NYC venues, its facade fell somewhere between “non-descript” and “downright sketchy,” located as it was next to that saddest of sights, an abandoned H&H Bagels (I know, right? Tragedy.). Inside, however, was a phenomenal space with pink lights and weird, cool chandeliers, and a great DJ (when your second song of the night is “Hey Mickey,” friend, you have my attention). Mistress B was making everyone weirdly sexual balloon hats and two beautiful women were wandering around performing and dancing on stilts, and all of it without the “oh look at the different!” uncomfortable sort of gawking I am accustomed to seeing from folks when anything vaguely weird is going on at a party.

The lack of awkward tittering was due to the crowd, overwhelmingly under 30 and much more diverse than your typical fundraising event, even in NYC. The $40 ticket was reasonable – although even reasonable will only get you so far on the budgets most of us are living on right now – but it was the all night open bar and the snacks that ticket got you that I assume was the kicker for people. The extremely attractive bartender made me something with tequila and grapefruit juice that tasted like summer. Thanks, dude.

So where I ended up last night was a pretty cool place, surrounded by people my age drinking and partying to good music with people walking around on stilts and making balloon animals. Fun. Sexy. And as a result, I want to propose here and now that we put the fucking back in reproductive rights. “What kind of work do you do?” “I’m in fucking reproductive rights.” It really just lends itself to so many circumstances.

This isn’t the first time this has occurred to me and anyone else who happens to really love sex and also works in reproductive rights; the conversation happens a lot. Shouldn’t sex be fun? Shouldn’t life be fun? Should work about sex be fun? But I am seeing a broader conversation about moving away from the mainstreaming tactics that were meant to advance us and instead seem to be perpetually setting us back into which I would like our movement to wade thickly and messily into. This great truthout interview between Laura Flanders and Amber Hollibaugh, a self-described “working class, white trash, incest survivor, high femme, lesbian, sex radical,” gets to my greater point really eloquently, I think, when Flanders says, “This is no time to privatize and hush. It’s time to talk ever louder and ever-more publicly about dreams and desires and wanting.” The whole interview is really worth a read.

What happened last night was that, while swimming in this movement and its internal evolution and the daily external assaults, I was suddenly given a sense of time and place; I was suddenly and abruptly made present, in New York City, young, economically struggling, occasionally desperate, happy, excited, yearning, and not fully formed. I feel we rarely give ourselves and one another the chance to have that moment, and I feel we should, far more often. I feel we should get together and talk about sex and feelings, and dance, and eat a lot of food, and stay out to late, and drink. I feel we should do that in the ways and contexts that are appropriate to who we are and how we want to live and interact with one another, and I feel we should do these things starting immediately, right now, as soon as possible. There is really no better combination of things than summer and sex.


Egg donation update: Almost time!

26 Jun

My egg donation cycling starts in 3 days. I’m excited, nervous, and ready for it to be done.

First of all, not having sex for the past 8 weeks has sucked, and I still have 3 more weeks to go. Yeah, that’s right. They ask you to remain abstinent the ENTIRE time you’re in the program, especially around the time when you start your fertility hormone shots, and then for a week or so after. It makes sound medical sense, and I wouldn’t want to risk getting pregnant or getting an STD while I’m doing this, but… come on! I broke up with my boyfriend of 3 years a little while ago, and frankly, I’d like to get laid.

I’m also totes nervous about what the hormones might do to me. I’ve heard horror stories about women going temporarily nuts while they’re on the hormones. Also, hyperstimulation. That’s a thing. It is basically when your body gets overwhelmed by the medication that’s used to stimulate your ovaries, and your abdomen can fill with fluid (usually around your ovaries, but it can be other places too). Here is one woman’s story of hyperstimulation. Tell me that shit isn’t scary sounding. Go ahead. Tell me.

You’re lying. That’s scary and uncomfortable and just horrible.

The weird part is that I’m not super concerned that it will actually happen to me. But if it does!!! Eep!

Last night was my last night on birth control pills (which, truth be told, I hate taking. I’m an athlete and they can interfere with muscle building… so I feel all fat and jiggly when I’m on them), and on Thursday at 8am, I start my shots.

The end of my year long quest to become an egg donor is in sight. Totally psyched though, because if this one goes well, I can donate 5 more times. Fingers crossed!

Around the Web in US Abortion Access: June 25 Edition

25 Jun

Just in time for election season, Abortion Gang is starting a new weekly feature- news updates and links on all the abortion, parenting, birth control, and reproducitve rights news we can find!  There is so much news going flying around these days it is hard to know what is rumor, truth, fact, fiction, triumph, or horror. Not to mention scanning the web for all the news is time consuming, so we are compiling it all in one place just for you! In weeks to come, I hope to have more analysis and insight. For now, around the web we go!

The Vagina Monologues.
Last week, Michigan lawmakers attempted to silence one representative during her floor rebuttal against new Michigan abortion restrictions, after she used the word, “Vagina.” It’s a story that has swept the internet and beyond, and in response to the rightful outrage and anger, that same representative refused to be silenced, performing the ‘Vagina Monologues’ on the Michigan State Capitol’s steps to a large crowd. The pictures are brilliant, capturing the faces and voices of the very people Rep. Lisa Brown  is trying to protect.

Apart from the amazing and inspiring photographs and still shots of Rep. Brown standing in front of a large, red, letter V, the article works to sum up abortion opponents’ response to the backlash and outrage from rightfully-pissed-off women of Michigan, by arguing that there is no “outrage,” that the whole “vagina controversy” is something drummed up by the Democratic party in order to win votes during an election year. Just rich, isn’t it?

14 Pa. abortion clinics licensed under new law.

Now that abortion providers are having to meet new, tough, and generally non-medically necessary guidelines in Pennsylvania, I would tentatively state it is good news that there have not been massive closures of abortion clinics. But, there are so many restrictions that many clinics are only able to provide the abortion pill or surgery up to 14 weeks. That’s unfortunate, to say the least, as we know that the more restrictions to safe, legal, and affordable abortion care only leads to an increase in unsafe and unregulated abortion care.

Doctors in Atlanta that voiced concern about “fetal pain” laws thought to be targeted; FBI investigating domestic terrorism, arson.

Two burglaries and two fires at Atlanta-area women’s clinics and a burglary at the the main office of the Georgia Obstetrical and Gynecological Society are being investigated by the FBI as possible acts of domestic terrorism or civil rights violations.

Four of the five offices targeted are run by doctors who had voiced concerns — sometimes publicly, sometimes privately — about the so-called fetal pain bill, which shortened to 20 weeks the time frame during which women can have an elective abortion.

Disturbing.  On so many levels.

State Legislatures and U.S. Congress may be losing their minds, but U. S. Mayors have our backs, pass resolution supporting Planned Parenthood and The Pill.

“The U.S. Conference of Mayors urges Congress and the states to pursue a positive agenda that reaffirms fundamental rights and improves women’s access to safe and comprehensive reproductive health care,” said the resolution.

The resolution was sponsored by (my home CITAYY) Portland, Oregon’s Sam Adams; Seattle, Washington’s Mike McGinn; San Francisco, California’s Ed Lee; and Los Angeles, California’s Antonio Villaraigosa. Resolutions are not very powerful but the signal of support is key, as many cities (Portland, for example) are experiencing an increase in harassment and violence at clinics from so called “pro-life” protestors.

Republicans and conservatives question whether Romney’s “Pro-Life” conversion is real. 

Trigger Warning: In Iowa, GOP lawmakers want to halt Medicaid funding for abortion in cases of rape and incest.

A group of 41 Iowa Republican representatives has filed a petition requesting emergency rulemaking that would halt all Iowa government-paid abortions in cases of rape and incest.

The petition cites state law in arguing that rules allowing for abortions paid by Medicaid for fetuses that are physically or mentally deformed or those conceived in cases of rape or incest are illegal and should be rescinded.

Groups like the Civil Liberties Union of Iowa previously criticized such actions, saying it penalizes women for being poor.

The average abortion to save the life of a mother or in cases of rape and incest this year costs the state around $1,400, according to information from the Iowa Department of Human Services.

“Scrapping together that funding can be incredibly difficult when you’re talking hundreds and hundreds of dollars,” said Elizabeth Nash, the state issues manager for the Guttmacher Institute. “On top of that it just absolutely the right thing to do for public health purposes.”

Kim Kardashian admits that she went on birth control at 14 after advice and consultation with her mother. 

Kim – who is currently dating rapper Kanye West – told Oprah Winfrey: “When I did want to have sex the first time I was almost 15. “I said to my mom, ‘I think I’m going to, or I want to’, and she was like, ‘OK, so this is what we’re gonna do, we’re gonna put you on birth control.’ She was, like, really open and honest with me.”

The whole Kardashian family, their shows, and their products irritate me. But I have to commend them for talking openly about their periods, sex lives, and yes, when they went on birth control. Many parents would probably cringe seeing Kris (Kim’s mom) put her daughter on birth control at the tender age of fourteen, but I think it is an honest and really important thing to talk about. See, Kim admitted that she told her mom she was exploring sexually at 14 with a new boyfriend.  Instead of freaking out and shaming Kim, Kris helped her get birth control. Mamma Kris isn’t perfect, obviously, but from the outside looking in, that seemed like an appropriate and very smart choice from a parenting perspective. Kudos, Kardashians.

Sharing Abortion Stories: Similar Experiences, but Never the Same

22 Jun

Indifferent. As I rode home from the abortion clinic and the days after the procedure, I felt indifferent. I had been told to expect overwhelming feelings of sadness and physical pain, yet I felt none. I felt fine. Not better than normal, but also not worse than normal. Indifferent. It was not at all what I was told to expect, by the doctors, the nurses, or what I had heard from friends.

I grew up in what many would call a ‘liberal’ family. We were middle class; my parents are both nurses, college educated, we lived in the suburbs of a major city, and we were a very open family. My parents are both ‘pro-choice’ and would have supported my decision when I was 19 years old to have an abortion, yet, why did it take me six years to tell them about it?

My experience wasn’t unlike other women’s; I had a steady boyfriend, I was on birth control, but I missed a few weeks of pills and became pregnant. At sixteen, when I told my mom about a friend’s abortion decision, she told me that it was a personal choice and one she supported. So, I should have been able to go to my parents when I needed support, right?

It just wasn’t that easy for me. Many of my cousins had children in their teens and were unable to finish high school and college, yet I was on track to do both. I didn’t want to disappoint my mother, I felt that if I told her that I was pregnant, I would let her down, make her mad. I felt that she and my father would be disappointed, even though they would have supported my decision.

Even until recently, I was afraid to tell anyone, for fear of the reaction that I would get, or the way they would view me. I felt that if I told my story, I would be wearing the scarlet ‘A’ forever. I felt that I would be one of the vicious women that senators and representatives talk about who ‘abort their babies to fit into a prom dress’. That kind of rhetoric hurts me because that wasn’t what happened. How could I make others understand without having to share the whole story of the abuse I had endured during that relationship, how to say that it was my choice and it was a way to get out of a really bad situation. It’s hard to justify your actions without giving away a huge part of yourself every time.

Even though some people may see me differently after knowing I had an abortion,  I’ve chosen to share my story to let others in the community know that abortion shouldn’t be a taboo subject. We can comfort one another and change the conversation. We can shape what people hear about our lives and our stories.

After talking to many of my friends, family members and co-workers, I found out that almost everyone has an experience with abortion; whether they themselves had one, a partner, a parent or a sibling, it is not uncommon. It is an experience that crosses all racial lines, the gender spectrum, class backgrounds and sexual orientations; yet, we don’t talk about it. I understand that there are many reasons some folks won’t want to share about their experience. Even if I don’t hear their story, I want them to know they are not alone. We’ve been through a similar experience and there is love and support available to you.

I recently told my mother about my abortion experience and she cried, not because she was mad, but because she was proud of me for having the strength to make a tough decision on my own. She wished she could have been there to support me. When I asked her if she was disappointed in me, she said, “No honey, I am proud of who you have become. You made a decision for you.”

Abortion is different for everyone. Each abortion is like stripes on a zebra; while on the surface they may seem similar, no two experiences are exactly the same. I hope that in the future, the abortion debate moves from above the heads of the people it affects, down to a conversational level, where women and family members who have experienced abortion can talk about how to best support each other. Our voices matter. Let’s listen.

Renee is a reproductive justice activist who shares her own abortion story to encourage others who have had abortions to speak out and end the silence and stigma around abortion. Renee is a Generative Fellow with CoreAlign, a contributor to Echoing Ida, a project of Strong Families, and is currently pursuing a Master’s in Public Administration at Cornell University. Follow Renee on Twitter: @rbraceysherman.

On Trust

21 Jun

Recently, I was having an abortion-related conversation with someone I love dearly who works in reproductive health and expressed some judgmental ideas about specific groups of people who may access abortion care. No matter what I said, I could not change her mind and convince her to think differently. It was a difficult situation for me to be in, and still one that I am struggling with and replaying in my mind because I value this person. Her words hit me hard.

Working in the field, we all have those moments where a client or an issue makes us uncomfortable. Some people might not be completely agreeable to a trans or non-gender-conforming patient requesting reproductive health services, a patient requesting an abortion at 26 weeks gestation, or a patient who expresses a lack of concern about their reproductive health, to name a few examples. I know that I have certainly experienced jarring moments or uncomfortable conversations that have made me stop and refocus myself. But I do it, because the real, hard truth is that usually, people trying to access care who we feel uncomfortable around are those most marginalized and who most need our support.

With my friend, I’m not sure if I should continue to push the issue or to let it go. I don’t want to give up, especially because this person means a lot to me, but also because I feel an obligation to the movement. It’s hard for me to articulate, but I think that if we don’t continue to press the people closest to us, especially those who are abortion rights supporters, then we will never gain any ground. On the other hand, I don’t want to risk losing an important relationship.

As I’ve continued to think about this, I’ve also reflected on myself and how far I’ve come in the years that I have been working for abortion access. There are certainly still times when I find myself judging someone or lumping them in a category; unfortunately, this is normal in the world we live in. I’ve gotten much better about clarifying my values in the moment: questioning why I’m thinking one way about ideas or people, and recognizing where people are coming from. And of course, I try to do the most important and hardest thing: admitting when I have been wrong.

The truth is that we never know the circumstances of someone else’s life or the reasons why they chose to do things or not, like having an abortion. We can only try to understand and assist someone by listening to what they need, giving them information, and ensuring that they have nonjudgmental access and equal rights to the services they need.

This always takes me back to the saying “Trust Women”. It’s a small phrase that says so much. Of course, in my trans-inclusive, non-gender determining mindset I wouldn’t mind changing it to “Trust People”, but I think you know what I mean. We need to trust that people are their own decision makers and that they think hard about important decisions concerning their health.

I worry that sometimes, we, as a movement say Trust Women or Trust People, but we say it so often that we don’t think about what it means anymore.

As reproductive, justice, and health workers, allies, and advocates, we can’t just say that we trust the people who need access to abortion care: we must continue to work on ourselves and our values to embody that trust. I can’t imagine that there is anything worse than someone who faces difficulty and marginalization accessing a health service being scrutinized, consciously or unconsciously, by a health care provider.

As far as the answer to my first question, about whether or not I should continue to converse with my friend, I’m still not sure what the answer is. But maybe we can start by reminding each other about what trust means for ourselves, our peers, and the people who need abortion care, and maybe we can continue by never letting that go. We will not be a healthy movement unless we embrace all of our constituents wholly, and only by continuously healing ourselves can we can justify making change.

A vagina by any other name

20 Jun

“Finally Mr. Speaker I’m all so flattered you’re interested in my vagina, but no means no.” -State Representative Lisa Brown

Speaking on the floor of the Michigan State House, State Representative Brown responded to discussion of HB 5711 , a bill that has since passed with an overwhelming majority that bans abortions after 20 weeks with no exceptions and includes targeted regulations against abortion providers (TRAP) provisions including specifications like how to dispose of “fetal remains.”  Because clearly legislators would have a superior understanding of this than medical providers.

Representative Brown was barred from the last day of discussion of the bill on the floor of the Michigan House.  No official reason has been given, but the Speaker did say State Representative Brown “failed to maintain the decorum of the House of Representatives,”  because she used the word vagina in reference to a bill about abortion… a procedure only needed if you have a vagina.

I am so thankful that up to 5,000 people had the good sense to get to the Michigan State Capitol steps to watch a presentation of the Vagina Monologues.  I also would have paid to join the crowd chanting C-U-N-T (which if you are not familiar with the “Reclaiming Cunt” monologue,  you should make a point to see live one day).  Watching thousands reclaim the word vagina and with it their dignity as women (and men), accepting their humanity and biology, I can only imagine how powerful it can be.

In an interview about the performance, Eve Ensler said, “language is so important, it is the pathway to freedom.”

Thinking about Ms. Ensler’s words and the implications of language brought me back to the most recent Gallup polland the use of “pro-choice.”

I will not bore you with the tired dialogue on that phrase not resonating (though Kush did an excellent job discussing this).  What I will bore you with is the conundrum that faces us, the one that theoretically prompted Nancy Keenan to step down for her post as President of NARAL.  If we are no longer represented by vestiges of the second wave, whether it be their words or leaders, where are our new leaders and language?  Jessica Valenti wrote beautifully about a new generation at the helm of reproductive justice organizations, that so many people have consistently have overlooked.  Despite this, I still think we have a serious language problem that is not being addressed.

Define Reproductive Justice in onr sentence.  In a two second sound bite?  Can’t?  Well, honestly I don’t think you should be able to.  The beauty of intersectionalities is that they are complex.  They address multiple facets of the human experience SIMULTANEOUSLY.  This is not about simplicity people.  Or bowing to a culture whose collective attention span is being reduced by the day. We have to find a way to embrace complexity and wordiness and make it accessible as at the end of the day we all know access is the key.

We were recently discussing the difference between using trans and trans* on the AG listserv, and taking a step back it becomes astonishing how much meaning is conveyed in a simple asterisk.  But to me that is a clear example of language evolving, becoming more inclusive and specific, a model we may be able to follow as we evolve more specific language for reproductive justice.

So where does this leave the vagina phobic in Michigan?  We are clearly seeing a retrogression as a means to block the “path to freedom,” as Ms. Ensler so eloquently put it.  But you can’t erase words.  At least it is very difficult to do so in a country where dictionaries operate independently and there is no council in operation like the Académie française. As Ensler said at the end of the same interview, vaginas are here to stay.

The Multicultural Politics of Trans Chic on The Glee Project

19 Jun

A guest post by Lauren Herold.

Over the past few years, Glee has received criticism for tokenizing some of its characters, particularly the queer, disabled, and characters of color on its show.  While some argue that any kind of representation of marginalized individuals on mainstream television is groundbreaking, others have criticized Glee producer Ryan Murphy and his team of writers for mangling the story lines of their minority cast members.

But what about the representation of diversity on The Glee Project? Now just starting its second season, The Glee Project is Glee’s reality TV spinoff: it’s a competition-based show on which young people sing, dance, and act their way to the top, vying to become a character on the next season of Glee. While The Glee Project’s cast is remarkably diverse, it too fetishizes the experiences of its cast members.*

The representation of Tyler Ford, a multiracial young trans man on the show, is a perfect—and troubling—example. Tyler’s treatment on the show smacks of tokenization. Time and time again, Tyler is reduced to his trans identity. The show’s producers, Ryan Murphy especially, tell him they want to highlight his “unique story” and “struggle” so that he can be a “role model” for other young trans people who might watch Glee. Accordingly, viewers of The Glee Project only see footage of Tyler in the context of issues relating to his gender identity: we watch as he discusses transitioning and how it affects his experience on the show. (We don’t, for example, learn about any other aspects of his life: his family, his friends, his interests and hobbies, his desires, his goals.)

When Tyler is reduced to his gender identity, his experiences (and by proxy, the experiences of all trans people) are commodified. In “The Affordable, Multicultural Politics of Gay Chic,” a chapter from Gay TV and Straight America, Ron Becker analyzes the emergence of gay characters on television in the 1990s. He proposes that gay characters became ubiquitous because “marketers quickly realized that multicultural difference could be profitably commodified, packaged, and sold.” Indeed, producers use the “allure of marginality” to attract niche audiences to watch their show. Multiculturalism—a progressive liberal value—sells to progressive liberal audiences. In The Glee Project’s case, diversity is crucial to its brand and to its viewers. Highlighting a trans character on the show fits within its marketing strategy.

Yet this strategy leaves trans people behind. It puts their experiences in the hands of privileged wealthy, white, cisgender gay men who ignore the realities of trans experiences. In the first two episodes of the show, viewers watch as Tyler is silenced by Zach Woodlee, the show’s choreographer. While Tyler repeatedly explains that he is uncomfortable dancing because his body is literally in transition, Woodlee reduces Tyler’s discomfort to internal confusion and claims that Tyler should just “get over it.” It’s as if Tyler’s problems must be in his head: he becomes inadequate and mentally unstable and he just need to “work harder” in order to succeed. In this framing, trans people like Tyler—and not the society in which they exist—become the (apparently easily fixable) problem.

This is not only a misunderstanding of trans issues: it is a reproduction of a power structure that gives permission to white cisgender adults to dismiss the experiences of a young trans person of color. It simultaneously reproduces the neoliberal ideal that minorities just need to “push themselves” to succeed beyond inequalities. Reproducing this power structure is dangerous in a world in which the experiences of trans people of color are ignored by the social, legal, medical, and educational institutions that should service them.

Becker concludes his chapter by commenting, “For the fiscally conservative cosmopolitan who wanted to be tolerant but who still believed in free market capitalism and the power of the individual to determine his/her own destiny, celebrating cultural difference was undoubtedly easier than facing the economic and structural inequities of a capitalist system grounded in inequality.” Reality shows like The Glee Project consistently depoliticize their minority characters. The producers of The Glee Project might reason that no viewer wants to discuss the structural and interpersonal ageism, racism, and transphobia that young trans people of color encounter in their daily lives, much less admit to how they collude with these structures. So they reduce Tyler and other minority contestants on the show to niche identity categories that can be marketed to attract specific audiences. They mask institutional and interpersonal experiences of oppression in a veneer of tolerance and multiculturalism. In the process, they reinforce the vary structures of inequality that their show claims to oppose.

*This season so far has received praise for its remarkable diversity in casting: multiple young disabled, queer, trans*, and people of color make up the talented cast. Dani is a Justin Bieber-look-a-like lesbian, Mario is a blind young black man, Ali is wheel chair-bound, Charlie has ADHD, Abraham is a queer and Asian, Aylin comes from a religious Muslim family. While most TV shows generally have one or two token minority cast members, The Glee Project emphasizes diversity as a key component of its brand.