I delivered this speech on Saturday, September 26th, at the second annual Lady Parts Justice V to Shining V Detroit. I spoke at the first one, last year, and was very honored to be back! Last year’s speech is also here on my blog.
A few weeks ago, a friend asked me for a testimonial about why I stand with Planned Parenthood. It made me think. Now, I know I do support Planned Parenthood. But why? And not just why I support Planned Parenthood, but why I support reproductive choice.
I want to start with the answer that I gave her. The partial truth. I come from a pretty classist upbringing – I’m not proud of it, but I am honest about it, which I need to be if I’m going to learn better. And when I think about Planned Parenthood and the women and families they support, I thought, well, they’re not much like me. Ruth Bader Ginsburg (a sister any of us could aspire to be like someday) brought some much needed attention to this, recently. My affluence and connectedness give me options, even as options become scarce. When abortion and reproductive care and sex education get regulated and policed, it doesn’t do very much to my access. Right? I mean, women like me just buy an airplane ticket to anywhere in the world – we get what we want. That’s not the way life works when you’re poor. Class is real, even if it is not to be celebrated, and it makes these sisters not like me. But then they are just like me in one very important way. We have hopes. And dreams. We need to be in charge of our own lives. When we don’t get a choice, it is injustice, and it stops us from making our communities better. And in that way, they’re just exactly like me. So I told her that’s why I support reproductive freedom. And it is. But it isn’t the whole story.
Shortly thereafter, I was up in Cadillac, talking about how trans is beautiful, trans is lovable, trans is proud, and trans can fly given the chance. It’s true. But, okay, so, you guys, know, right, that’s bravado, much of the time. I’m an anorexia survivor and a wallflower and I spend a lot of time faking it until I make it. Haven’t made it yet. I say it not because I believe it, but because I am learning to believe it. Anyways, later that day, I saw the Planned Parenthood coordinated protest campaign, and I was mad. Mad at the idea of anyone who can’t tell love from hate, who preys on vulnerable women and families. And mad at myself, because I wasn’t there to help stand firm against the night.
A few nights later, I put this all in context, and I want to tell you the rest of the truth about why I really support choice.
This is what you need to know: I would give anything, do anything, sacrifice anything, to be able to have my own child. And I can’t. Won’t. Ever. I’m a lucky girl, whose dreams came true, but this is the one thing I want and can never have. I know I’m not the only one, but people don’t always get it, because my reason is different.
We live intersectional lives, right? But I think, when we hear Flavia Dzodan’s famous quote, “My feminism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit,” we think that all intersectionality is just saying that forms of oppression intersect. Which is kind of obvious. The result is that we’ve unintentionally chosen the side of bullshit. To fix that, and to make us better advocates, just like I’m trying to be more honest with myself, and more integrative, about why I care about reproductive freedom so much, we have got to learn to actually understand intersectionally, and not just talk-is-cheap intersectionally. Let me try.
I can’t ever unsee my support for other women’s reproductive freedoms through the lens of my own lack of freedom, and you wouldn’t really understand me if you expected me to. It isn’t wrong for me to think about their choice in the context of my lack of choice – not doing so would hold me back. This is how they’re just like me. They deserve choice, just like I deserve choice. It’s useless to be angry about the reason I can’t have that choice, because it’s not like it’s anybody’s fault, or anybody can do anything about it. For all the times Teri’s held me when I was in tears in the middle of the night, I can’t change my lack of choice. And if you don’t understand that about me, and what it means to me, you won’t really understand why I care.
I care about reproductive freedom because I can’t have the freedom I need, but my sisters can. I support choice by drawing vitality from my own pain in lack of choice.
An aside: if you were here last year, I introduced you to Teri, my Prince Charming. So, he came home from Lady Parts Justice last year and he said something amazing. Okay, Teri, I told you that the nicest question a man ever asked me was when that waiter asked me if I prefer my chocolate white, milk, or dark. But you said something better. When we got home last year, you said, “Now I finally understand why you’ve wanted me to be a feminist all this time. I finally get it.” That’s when I knew you will be the father of my child. You’ve helped me learn that my child is out there, somewhere, and if I wandered around, lost and alone, for a long, long time, waiting for you, then I imagine how my child feels, and I am going to find them. Like so much in my life, I will come to embrace what I need even if it isn’t what I thought I wanted.
But back to freedom. I support reproductive freedom because I can’t change my lack of choice, but I can fight for choice for all our sisters who don’t have it. I can fight for a world where they don’t get called nasty things, just because they have the audacity to be poor and need help. I can fight for their dignity when they’re surrounded by people whose religion is so corroded that all their concern for the dignity of human life stops the instant anyone is actually born. I can fight for Purvi Patel and every other sister who is behind bars, just because we live in a land where everyone has a right to own a gun, but owning a vagina is a crime.
And I can fight. I’ve got a voice. I can’t change the rules of the universe, which keep me from what I want, but laws I could change. And minds? I change minds for a living. And hearts? I don’t make them change, but I know a thing or two about helping people re-connect with what their heart is telling them. All of that, I can do.
And by all that is holy – because lady parts are holy – they, those women who are and are not like me, in multiple ways, will have the choice – the freedom – they deserve. I’m going to use my voice and my heart and my thoughts and my brain – to fight for justice for my sisters. And I’m going to use my most fearsome weapon of all – my experience – including how and why I know what it’s like to not get to choose, for them.
And I’m going to use my connectedness to the sisterhood. I’m going to learn from my sisters and our history. I’m going to learn to be braver – like my sisters out there right now who say Black Lives Matter, to a world that thinks all lives matter but acts like they don’t. And there are times when I’m going to have to confront ignorance. I’m going to be more willing to throw my body into the gears rather than give it to a society that treats any woman like ours treats them. I mean that – I mean, the last year for women really emphasizes that it’s time for us to start acting like we’re the majority.
I’m also going to continue to be way more integrative of my identities. My anorexia didn’t make sense without embracing my womanhood. This is how I experience life. That’s what being intersectional is. Our identities make us all very different women. We can’t be the same, but we can listen, we can share what we hear and learn, and we can love each other. We can make our difference strength and not weakness.
This is the kind of integrativeness that I want with my belief in reproductive freedom – I want it to run even deeper in who I am. So this is my challenge for me, and for you: I want to be a woman whose womanhood, a feminist whose feminism, make no sense, whatsoever, unless you understand that I believe that every woman deserves a choice.