Thursday, April 28, 2011

So You're an Abortioneer : The Impact on Your Kids

Here’s to our second Yummy Mummy and Sassy Daddy’s Guide to Abortioneering. Last week, we talked about how to break it to your kids that you’re an abortioneer. This week, we’re talking about how kids can be impacted by our work and tips to help them talk to others.

Kids probably won’t really talk about their parents’ work until they’re at least in kindergarten. Maybe even first or second grade. During those years, you may not have told them you’re an abortioneer. Whatever age you do tell them, it might help to offer suggestions to your child how you think they can talk about it with others. If you live in a conservative community, it might be something along the lines of what your actual position is within abortioneering (like “my mommy’s a doctor,” or “my daddy works in a lab”). When your kids get involved in sports, church events, scouts, etc. other parents will ask you about your work. You will have probably already decided how you want to handle these questions and we’ve talked about this a lot on our blog. Your community will help dictate how safe you feel about outing yourself and how much you are willing to handle any fall-out for your kids as a result.

Because, well, there will be fall outs. Your kids will be impacted by your profession and it’s best to be as realistic and prepared as possible. You’ll want to set some guidelines for yourself. If your kid gets called a baby killer at school, what will be your response? (Call the school? The teacher? Talk to the parents of that child? Ignore it? Just talk to your child?) Before you had kids, you might’ve felt fine telling most people you’re an abortioneer. You might not feel quite the same after having kids because you don’t want your kids to be harassed. There are horror stories, including kids being called:
- baby killers
- parents being called baby killers
- kids not allowed to play with certain friends anymore
- being basically shunned from activities

These can be hard lessons for kids...and us, too! It’s also a life lesson though: a lesson in being picky about who are friends are, what a friend means, and how to stand up for yourself. This is where your family values come in and it will be super important for you to convey the life lessons you want your children to learn under these circumstances. Some kids can become very confident and find their own voice – when they’re ready – to stand up for their own beliefs on abortion. When in high school or so, they’ll probably feel they can defend abortion without outing you at the same time; instead, they’d be defending their own personal beliefs. That doesn’t mean it is easy for them, though. And I wouldn’t be too surprised if at some point, your child challenges your views. This is normal and it’s part of growing up; however, it can be hard when your teenager hates that you’re an abortioneer and wants you to quit!!

...And we haven’t even talked about if your clinic is under security threats. Be prepared to have your children and family want you to quit then, too. Again, you’ll have to decide as a family, and as an individual, how far you’re willing to go under these circumstances. Are you willing to put up with any shit that gets thrown at you? What if protesters come to your home? What if you get threatening letters? Do you draw the line in the sand when threats at work become threats at home? Or do you draw the line with threats that stay at work? You may not know until you’re in that situation. Most abortioneers I know feel very differently about security concerns at work after becoming a parent. Most are much more nervous, take it much more seriously, and are less willing to put up the shit we all put up with. You’ll also want to decide how much to tell your child about security threats. (When to tell them? Do you ever tell them? How do you teach them to be vigilant and aware of their surroundings, too, without freaking them out?)

Most of the parents I know are very cautious who they tell they’re an abortioneer to. Especially parents whose kids are very active in extracurricular activities. They maintain the vague answer, “I work at a health clinic,” blah blah. I know parents who have children in high school and college that haven’t ever been outted. I know parents who have had their small child outted. Usually, though, it came down to who the abortioneer chose to trust to out themselves to.

My instinct is to be very protective of my children. I prefer to be very, very cautious about my work and have only outted myself to one teacher. I have chosen to protect my children by rarely outing myself. You may have a different view.
Let us know what you think!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Abortioneer gone AWOL

I’m graduating from graduate school in three weeks. When I applied to my public health program almost three years ago I wrote my personal statement about my abortion clinic. I will be starting a part-time public health doctoral program in the Fall and I also wrote my personal statement for this application about abortion. Yet, the full time job I have accepted is working with persons living with HIV/AIDS. There were a lot of factors that went into my decision to accept an ostensibly non-reproductive health job. I did not make the decision quickly or lightly, but I still feel some sadness that I won’t be working day-to-day in reproductive health and specifically abortion. I know a job is not necessarily a lifetime commitment, but I do envision staying somewhere for awhile. I can also pursue whatever I want in my doctoral program and dissertation, but it doesn’t feel like enough. Part of me thinks I was a fraud on my personal statements for going on and on about how I wanted to learn skills and gain knowledge to improve this field. But, how could I have known when I applied where I would end up three years later?

Then I think back to the times when I was a full-time paid abortioneer. I worked at a non-profit clinic usually 50 hours a week and even during my time off I was immersed in abortion (rallies, volunteer positions, fielding phone calls from staff, baking fetus cookies, etc). Frankly, I got burned out. It was too much. When I moved up here for school I started abortion patient hosting as a way to stay connected, but not too connected. I get to compartmentalize my abortioneering and host when it works with my schedule. These last few months I have held an internship on a teen pregnancy prevention program which has brought me back to the field I love, but I sit in an office and plan evaluations and interventions. There is little talk of laminaria, or medical abortions, or LMPs, or even fetus jokes.

Every time I get a call from our patient hosting coordinator I smile, knowing I get to head to an abortion clinic and pick up a woman and essentially “do my thing”. I love entering the clinic…I love feeling a part of it all. I love how connected the staff are, and that knowledge that every day you leave work you significantly helped someone change their life. I remember one weekend I spent 2 days at a clinic waiting for a woman who traveled alone from Canada. The clinic had undergone some renovations and their heat was not working properly and it was January. I huddled on the floor with my laptop and books and photocopies of readings for class and I couldn’t have been happier to be studying there. I was in a room surrounded by strangers yet I felt so at home.

I honestly don’t know if I’ll ever get back into the abortion clinic as an employee. There aren’t many jobs for people with advanced degrees outside of healthcare workers. My new employer does have a clinic for our HIV/AIDS clients and I’m hoping I can grow to love it as much as I love my abortion clinics.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

International Abortion Access

We talk a lot about abortion access here in the United States which is limited, and yet much more accessible then most countries across the world. This short documentary looks at access to reproductive health care, family planning, and abortion in Guatemala. When I see the severe lack of access in other parts of the world I feel even more sure that I need to continue to pursue a career in abortion provision. Please check it out!

Right to life Guatemala - Birthrights - Al Jazeera English

Monday, April 25, 2011

You deserve high-quality abortion care regardless of your gender (Or..."Man in the clinic" Pt. 2!)

I'm a bit behind in sharing this, so you may have read about it at other blogs already -- which is great. But just in case you didn't, here's a thing to mull over. At the CLPP conference two weeks ago, Jos Truitt mentioned at one panel (on feminism and trans people and, eventually, reproductive justice) that it's important to recognize that it's not only women who have abortions. This spurred Lori at Feministing to write "Why I won't be talking about abortion as a women's issue anymore." You should go read it all, but it boils down to this:
Trans men have abortions. Gender-queer people have abortions. Two-spirit people have abortions. People who do not fit into the box of 'woman' have abortions. This is the reality we live in, and the more we pretend otherwise, the more dangerous it is for other people.
I'd add to this that, also, lesbian women have abortions. (I know sexual orientation wasn't the focus of Jos's remarks or the panel's subject, and don't mean to dilute those remarks, only to point out that our language can be erasing in multiple ways at once.)

I'm happy that my abortion clinic, which also offers reproductive wellness care, realized it has the capability to provide this care for transgender men and for women who have sex with women just as well as we do straight, cisgender women [cis is the opposite of trans], and has spent time training and seeking staff who feel the same way. (Extending our services for trans women, however, is unfortunately taking time.) So it's not that I'm unaware. But, it's true, when I talk about the social realities of abortion I find I'm almost always saying "women," and talking about experiences common to many straight cis women, which erases other women as well as men and people who identify as neither. Just because cis women compose the majority of our patients doesn't mean we can ignore the existence of others. I've noticed that the New York Abortion Doula Project is very consistent about referring to "pregnant people," which is highly accurate and perfectly inclusive, but they're about the only group who do this.

When we talk about how people who oppose abortion are underestimating women or being callous to women's realities, well, yes, they ARE doing that to women. But they're also underestimating and being callous to trans men and intersex people and other people on the gender spectrum -- and in many cases, are doing a lot worse to them. Like not even believing they exist. Or believing that not only are they not entitled to abortion care, but they're not entitled to ANY medical care until they conform to the gender assigned to them upon birth (or upon strangers' snap judgments). Or doing violence to them in more direct, terrifying ways. In sum, it's not just cis women whose mental health, physical health and survival are in danger.

So as long as we abortioneers owe it to women to provide abortion care that is welcoming, non-stigmatizing, non-judgmental, and as non-traumatic as possible given each particular patient's own circumstances, we will owe the same thing to men. And to gender-queer, neutrois and intersex people. How a patient identifies and presents their gender doesn't dictate what kind of care they will need or what quality of care they deserve to receive. 

Recently a coworker said something oppressive about gender-transitioning and trans people "passing," and continued to say it even when I and another colleague responded with reasons that we disagreed. She relented after a time, but I was still frustrated that even my workplace isn't everything I know it can be. (We do occasional "values clarification" sessions to identify our individual values about abortion; I wonder if any abortion providers incorporate issues of gender and sexuality in such workshops?) But I'm aware that the trans* and queer- friendliness of abortion providers can vary widely, (almost?) as widely as in any other medical field, and so I worry that other places I may work in the future, wherever they may be, might not live up to my generally-positive experiences to date. 

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Herstory, circa 1730: She was probably pregnant

Placenta Sandwich is such a smartypants. She shared this: Poor Jane's Almanac

PS. Thanks for rising from the dead with sheer beauty, humor, and grace. I love the heart of every single Abortioneer. Here's an Easter video about resurrection:

Thursday, April 21, 2011

"Man in the clinic!"

Abortioneering is a fairly female-dominated field, and when I hear the classic "But what about the menz?!" whining about consent from the "father" or when I see a male partner trying to force a woman into or out of an abortion, I'm completely OK with not involving that sex in the Abortioneering process. But in the real world, I do work with a couple of men who are 100% feminists, champions of women, in favor of abortion access on demand, and who give no credence to the idea that men should have any say in what a woman does with her own body. It seems to come naturally to them and I've never heard any complaints from them, but I have to wonder about what elements of the job get to them because they aren't immune. And they're still a part of the world where patriarchy rules and men don't talk about feelings, especially about feelings of working in an abortion clinic where there are vaginas. And that's got to be difficult. I love my Abortioneer brethren like I do my sistren, and I want them to feel supported and appreciated.

So, I'm curious, Abortioneers: Are any of you of the male persuasion? Do you work with a token male or two? What have your experiences been?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Let's *Do* Stuff

With all the bad stuff going down in politics so far this year, I have begun to question a number of things, including but not limited to: my sanity, the nature of reality, exactly how crazy are Republicans, and will abortion ever not be a big deal here? Will this ever stop?

You can almost laugh, reading that sentence. Abortion as an issue is so far from any type of general acceptance that it is laughable. By "acceptance," I mean: a woman can go to the doctor, and get an abortion, and have that be that. That's it. No 72 hour "cooling off periods," no laws requiring her to go to a CPC, no laws requiring the doctor to read information that is not true, not feeling like she had to lie to her mother and say she went to the doctor for a UTI. No unnecessary guilt and shame spirals afterwards, for choosing to have a legal medical procedure performed.

Isn't it 2011? It is, right? Wasn't Roe v. Wade decided 38 years ago? I thought society was progressing?

Instead of just lamenting the state of affairs here, I was thinking about stuff I could do that might help make a difference.

And, behold:

Stuff You Can Do To Help The State of Abortion in the US
-Call and/or write your representative to let him/her know you support abortion.
-Donate to any number of wonderful organizations, including:
-Planned Parenthood
-Participate in a local fundraiser -- NNAF's bowl-a-thon, have a bake sale, etc. Donate the proceeds to your favorite abortion fund.
-TALK about it. Openness and honesty, in my opinion, are two gifts the world needs more of. Communicating your thoughts and experiences with abortion in an intelligent, respectful manner can broaden another's view and perspective.
-Volunteer. Local clinics/Planned Parenthoods/Rape Crisis Centers could probably use an extra set of hands. Maybe yours.
-Become an abortion provider. (KIDDING! Unless you want to, in which case you are awesome.)

What else am I forgetting??? Doing a little something here and there can really add up and that is what I am resolving to do in the face of this ridiculousness.

Monday, April 18, 2011

How Do You Pass a Budget? Strike Down Abortion Funding.

As I'm sure you all know, Congress has been having some troubles passing a 2011 budget, going through many stop-gap measures to prevent a shutdown. The last of these was on April 8, and it went to just about the very last minute. What you all may not know is that last year DC enacted Medicaid funding for elective abortion (yay!). In its infinite wisdom, Congress decided it was within its purview and necessary to stop that Medicaid funding with the passage of the last stop gap measure to prevent the government shut down as well as making it permanent in the 2011 budget this past week.

A few questions come to mind. Why do you need to play with the budget like that, tacking on extra measures? Why do you need to play with women's lives like that? Low income women deserve to exercise their right to safe, legal, abortion like rich, middle class, and women with insurance coverage do? And exactly how is it in your purview to change DC law - passed by officials ELECTED BY THE PEOPLE OF DC?

It's an abomination that Congress thinks it's ok to rip away funding people rely on. I understand that we have a deficit, and that the debt ceiling continues to rise. What I don't understand is why taking programs to help the most disenfranchised, vulnerable citizens of this country is a good way to reduce the deficit. Perhaps we should take away tax loopholes that enable giant companies to avoid paying as much in taxes as possible. Punishing poor people is not the answer.

As someone with friends in DC and has lived in DC, it pisses me off that Congress gets to yay/nay decisions made by the DC city council and mayor. DC residents have no voting member in Congress or the Senate, yet Congress and the Senate get to make decisions on how DC's local tax dollars are spent. How ridiculous is that? DC residents need to get angry, get active, and get involved in the campaign to gain DC voting rights. It also wouldn't hurt for all of us with voting members of Congress and the Senate to write a letter/make a phone call/send an e-mail and tell our representatives how taxation without representation goes against what we claim to be about in this country.

I guess this means that helping low income women access reproductive health care falls back to the hands of volunteers. As we've mentioned before, the National Network of Abortion Funds is having a kick ass bowl-a-thon as a great way to energize the masses to donate to their favorite local abortion fund. I implore you, dear readers, to donate. Please help do the work that Congress is unwilling to do. Tell John Boehner that you won't let his uncaring, narrow minded views affect women having access to safe, legal abortion care.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Outing Yourself to Your Kids: "I'm an Abortioneer!" First Yummy Mummy and Sassy Daddy's Guide to Abortioneering Series!

Dear Parents, Parents-to-be, People-who-hang-out-with-kids (you get the point),

Welcome to our first series in our Yummy Mummy and Sassy Daddy’s Guide to Abortioneering! To know more about this ongoing series (until you all get bored of it!), read more here. On this week’s agenda: how do you tell your kids what you do for a living?

I think this is one of the biggest things to tackle. We’ve blogged a lot about how it can be challenging to tell strangers/family members/potential romantic interests what our job is. There’s always that shock effect. We all know it: abortion work is controversial. How and when to tell our kids, then, is going to be a delicate matter, right?

(Before I start spouting off my own opinion, I want to reiterate that I’m not an expert in parenting except for the fact that I’m a parent. A flawless parent I am not.) I’m hoping that some of you will chime in with your own thoughts about this subject and that it will be interactive.

The first obvious step is to be as age-appropriate as possible while also considering your child’s character/maturity. This can be approached the same way you have your life-long sex/body discussions (we’re having those, right?). One of the coolest things about being an abortioneer parent – I think – is that our jobs, in a nutshell (ha!), are all about sex. We talk about sex every day, know the appropriate terms for body parts, etc. Hopefully, we can use this skill that we’re super trained/educated in and transfer it to open and honest discussions with our children.

Below is my little outline of age appropriate examples of what you can tell your kids when talking about your job and abortion. This is inspired by personal mommy experience, stories from other abortioneers, and the book “Talking to Your Kids About Sex: Turning ‘the talk’ Into a Conversation for Life,” by Dr. Laura Berman (love her – but not her angle on abortion in this book. Ugh):

Age 2-3: “My job is to help girls.”

Age 4-5: “I help girls and women.” (They might ask why. These kids like to ask why a lot.) If they do, you can say, “I like helping people. My job helps me do that. It’s kind to help others.” Or you can insert any other value you want to teach your child here.

Age 5-8: Building on helping girls and women, you could say a little more specifically what you do. Examples could include: “I help the doctor at work,” “I pay the bills at work,” “I help girls find money to see the doctor,” “I help make appointments so girls can see the doctor,” etc.

Age 8-9: Again, building on the previous stories, you may want to start adding that the girls/women you see have a problem and you try to help them solve their problems/support them. The statement can be that simple. Your child will probably ask what kind of problems the women are having. An example could be, “Some of the girls are having a hard time making a choice in their life and we help them with that.” You could also say that the women are pregnant and are having a problem. Depending on how inquisitive your child is, they may or may not press you. If they do ask for more information, you can continue to be vague, answering only their specific question(s), “Sometimes there can be problems when women are pregnant.” This could be a very good age to discuss some of the problems that can happen in pregnancy: sometimes there are fetal indications and you could simply state this. “There are times when there are problems with babies. It might not be safe for the woman to stay pregnant.” At this age, your child should know the basics of sex and how women get pregnant. You very well may have already discussed this before age eight. During this age group, you could've talked to your children about the values you want to instill (when people should have sex, have babies, get married, etc.). If you've already had talks about that, then this would be the perfect opportunity to discuss that people don't always make the same choices you think are best (and maybe why?). This helps set the stage for them to understand life isn't black and white.

Age 10-11: Your child most likely knows about abortion. If not from you, from the media or friends. It’s important before this age to set the stage for abortion. It may be very hard for them to understand why anyone would not want to continue a pregnancy. Society and the media make it clear that women should always be happy when they’re pregnant. We know that is not always true; if you've had ongoing discussions with your kids that people make different choices in life and that there are consequences for those, they might be able to better understand why an abortion could take place. One approach is to simply tell your child this. You can bring up the fact that some women are raped and become pregnant: they did not ask to become pregnant. You can also talk about how pregnancy is something that can sometimes be controlled, and sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes women do not want be pregnant for many reasons. It’s probably easiest to discuss the obvious reasons why they wouldn’t want to be pregnant. I believe it’s important to call an abortion an abortion.

I think this is an appropriate age to tell your child that you help women obtain abortions. Validate any feelings your child has about this. Answer, as best as possible, their questions simply and honestly, while letting them know they can ask you questions at any time. You may feel your child is not ready for this at age; it depends on your child, how you communicate, and perhaps, even, how long you've been an abortioneer for. (If your child has been raised in an abortioneering family, then it would not be difficult to discuss it at this age, I think.) Be aware that at whatever age you do "out yourself" to your child, it's very normal they will worry about your safety at the clinic, especially if there has been media attention surrounding violence aimed at abortioneers. We can discuss this at another time.

Age 11+: I think at this age, you'll want to continue your discussions about choices in life, about our bodies, about pregnancy, contraception and abortion. This ties into the whole theme that
"life is complicated" and that the reality is: shit happens. (You may not believe life is complicated.) My firm belief is that it’s vital to try to raise optimistic, but realistic children. Sometimes things are hard. We make mistakes. Or we can be victims. We have choices, but sometimes they only take us so far. This is life. Sugar coating it does not provide our children with the coping mechanisms to deal with disappointments and mistakes in the future. There’s a balance here and you’ll have to find this yourself. I realize I am talking about my own personal view here.

At this age, you will probably have your kids ask you more questions about sex and you may find that their friends feel they can come to you. This is a super great thing about being an abortioneer. Many abortioneer parents are those liberal parents that other kids can talk to, or ask where to find birth control, etc. Another series....?

This was longer than I expected. If you're still reading (thank you!), then feel free to comment. Let's talk about it. What works for you? What doesn't? What's been hard? What's been good?

If you want more info about talking to your kids about sex, check out Dr. Laura Berman here. Of course, as Abortioneers, we all have loads of resources and if you decide you want more, comment and we'll provide more. (Scarleteen is a great source.)

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

2-4-6-8 who do we appreciate?

I had the most amazing morning today. I had to wake up extra early and travel on busy public transit during rush hour to a corporate-area of town that I usually try to avoid, but it was all worth it! One of the abortion clinics that our hosting organization partners with held their first ever appreciation breakfast for the volunteers who work with them. This included volunteers who host their clients overnight in homes and also the volunteers who help women fundraise to pay for their procedures.

This clinic is not a non-profit, not a feminist center, and not a Planned Parenthood. They are a for-profit clinic that has impressed me time and time again with their commitment to all of their clients, not just the ones paying full cost or using private insurance. The physician who runs the clinic is visibly invested in his clients and I have been on the phone with him multiple times regarding clients and making sure their arrangements for travel and care are all set. He defies stereotypes of abortion providers and physicians in general.

I do not do this work to be thanked or appreciated, in fact that is what I love about hosting clients. I do not have to attend meetings, events, or trainings and I rarely have my face recognized as a player in the reproductive rights movement. I sometimes receive thanks from the clients I host, but not always, and that is ok with me. However, there was something very special about being appreciated this morning. I feel like what I do is usually so easy, and I really do not need a big show of thanks. If anything, I want to thank the providers, specifically the doctors, nurses, counselors, and clinic staff. They are the (s)heroes in my book and I am so thankful for what they do. I have been on that end and I know how nice it is to be appreciated.

As I said above, I don’t ask for appreciation from the clients I host, but sometimes I hear from them the night after their procedure, or a few days later, or maybe a week or two. Here’s what some of them had to say (and yes I save them on my phone for those days when I need some TLC):

(note: all messages are via text and exactly as I received them):

“Yea…Thanx 4 being concerned because I really needed it. My heart got so broken when I got home…U made me really comfy though n I appreciated it.”

“Everything went fine an were about 20 minutes from home thank u very much 4 everything we both can not thank you enough”

“It’s ZZZZ we just got home. Thank u a lot u r a very good person…”

“everything is great YYYYY is better and im back 2 work thank u again 4 everything u r great!!”

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

More thoughts on the NPIC (and on "When the 'movement' disappoints")

Recently we hosted Steph's cross-post with Feministe (go read it there) about her weird experiences as a freelancer trying to find fulltime employment among, as she called them, the "big-girl organizations" of the reproductive health/rights/justice movement. It's well worth reading the thread there -- she got both support and pushback in the comments, and both provided some good points as well as some fodder for dismay.

While I was drafting a long follow-on post, a panel in New Hampshire was saying it all much better than I could. The very excellent @ClinicEscort livetweeted "Careers in the Movement," a session at Hampshire College's Civil Liberties and Public Policy conference on reproductive justice this weekend.

The words of Andrea Ritchie complicated the whole thing. In her activism to end violence against women and LGB&T people, she's worked within non-profits and outside of them, and her career is a good argument for being thoughtful and critical of the non-profit world we probably all picture when we think about a "Career in the Movement." (Let's bear in mind going forward that "the movement" is erroneously equated with the assortment of 501(c)(3) non-profit organizations that are its professionalized face.) From the livetweet: "Nonprofit-industrial complex is a subtle form of social control. Funders set agendas & can be driven by priorities outside the movement." "It's easy to find yourself doing work tailored to funder agenda & preferences, not the community the organization is meant to serve." 

Maybe this sounds super cynical or just far-fetched. The first time I heard such ideas, that's how they sounded to me. Non-profit employment was supposed to be a values-driven, agenda-free, "helping people and doing good" environment. But most 501(c)(3) orgs are grant-funded, and many of those grants come from foundations, and foundations have historically served as a tax shelter for the extra money of families who got very wealthy from owning a company. Say you run a reproductive health or rights organization and your operating funds come from a foundation like that. What are the chances you'll feel safe rocking the boat of capitalism by talking about how unjust labor practices affect reproductive health, or how even Democratic legislators would only vote for a Health Care Reform Act that preserved the role and profit of insurance companies because all legislators are owned by corporate donors? And so forth.

So maybe you don't want to hire anyone -- writers, activists, other freelancers -- who've ever had a public opinion on such topics; after all, guilt-by-association is a popular tactic in this country's informal politics. You might even shy away -- even if your whole mission is abortion-related -- from hiring someone who's written matter-of-factly about the existence of and need for second trimester abortion, as Steph has, because second-trimester abortion must be handled delicately lest someone out there twist it wrong (they always will) and must be discussed only 0.1% of the time since as we already know it only accounts for 10% of abortion procedures anyway. Maybe you'll ask prospective employees to give up writing, blogging, twitter-ing, and even volunteering for grassroots abortion organizations, just in case it makes them a liability in some nebulous way that you're reluctant to spell out up-front.

Steph reports that after blogging about her hiring misadventures, she received some personal communications from some big-girl orgs' reps intimating that she had "messed up" by talking about this publicly.

(O RLY? I didn't know you were reading blogs these days, big-girls! Maybe if you were reading them 6-12 months ago you'd have noticed the furor you ignited by claiming that young women just aren't interested in doing pro-choice activism? Maybe you wouldn't have even said that in the first place? Maybe you would have gone down to the intern pod where some eager young women were making your photocopies and your coffee and asked them what they thought of this hypothesis? But instead you talked shit about them to the media as if they weren't even there; and thank goodness there was no one to call you up and admonish you that you "messed up" for talking about this publicly.)

Here's the problem. Raising questions or criticism, even with the best of intentions, about a systemic issue within the field is so often written off as "infighting" and "distraction" because we "need to focus on the real problems" (or the enemy at the gates or what have you), etc. And yeah, we do have important work to be doing, and I'd love to get to it with 100% attention. But maybe if these conversations didn't devolve into defensiveness and secret phone calls over things that should've been out in the open in the first place, it wouldn't BE a waste of time and energy and a distraction, but an opportunity for progress and for strengthening our movement.

Because they overlook this opportunity, sometimes I really worry about the established orgs in the field: maybe they're so used to being on the defensive externally that the best they can do within the movement is defend their position as "leaders," and fight to keep the movement, and its unofficial hierarchies, just as they are. In a parallel way, the leaders of these orgs may falter in creativity and end up mostly working to keep their own positions as leaders. But in doing this, the professional organizations of our movement (and other movements, progressive and not) are replicating power structures that some of us thought we were aiming to undo. (More from Andrea Ritchie: "was a Greenpeace canvasser as first movement job; learned there that organizing a union at your nonprofit workplace will get you fired." Hell to the yes it will, and discovering that will fuck with your mind.)

I've said before that some older orgs seem to engage new technology only if they feel able to "manage" it, and so it is with web 2.0 platforms -- they tweet sanitized and non-conversational tweets, they publish "blog posts from the CEO" that are really just press releases written by the communications associate. And maybe in a similar way they only use new people if they feel they'll be able to "manage" us (does this mean use us as warm bodies and footsoldiers? mold us to their style of leading before allowing us any agency? what else?).

...These are some thoughts I keep coming back to over the years, and not intended as an exhaustive thesis. Which means I'll be back with more, soon enough. But I'd rather hear your thoughts on my thoughts -- those of you working inside and outside of nonprofitland -- and ideas on how we can push past this disappointing state of affairs: how activists can claim authentic leadership in our own movement; how we can maybe do meaningful work AND have a comfortable bed (I know, that's a whole can of worms). Anyone?

I owe all these thoughts to a lot of other activists and writers but most persistently to the INCITE! collective whom I always mention and to bfp, who discussed and argued with me over at Feministe but probably has no idea how much her writing has shaped my perspective and values since I first found her old blog (RIP) about five years ago. I'd be embarrassed to tell her directly.

Sunday, April 10, 2011


I went to a strip club this weekend. I don't go to strip clubs often but on occasion, typically at another friend's request I end up in a strip club. I rarely have an amazing time in strip clubs but this weekend was especially disturbing. I walked into an all black strip club located in a a area with a several other multiracial strip clubs and a few predominately white clubs. In the club I entered there were at least 30 women working in a one large room, with one stage. One woman danced on stage while the others lounged or tried to work the audience. I had no money and I was with a group of 4 other people, one of those people and I were the only white people in the bar.

I felt guilty for being in that space without money to give the women dancing. I had not planned to end up in a strip club. The women were not turning me on, really I had no desire to tip them beyond a sense of obligation because I was in the bar. Tipping is the point of being in a strip bar. I grew very uncomfortable, here I was with over 2 dozen black women working their bodies because that is how they make money. It would be very rude to go into a restaurant, sit down, and proceed not to order anything. In fact I would be asked to leave. As a white person I knew I took up space that no one else in the bar took up. Lots of people were tipping the women a dollar here or there, way less than any of the women's worth. When I say I took up space that no one else did its for me to explain. White people are privileged in this country. So there is an assumption that I have access to resources such as money. I don't think any one should go to a strip club unless they are ready to tip the dancers. Due to systemic racism, as I white person I most likely have access to certain resources that a black woman may not have access to. Thus making it even more important that as a white person in an all black strip bar I go ready to tip.

There were dozens of black men in the bar who were not tipping. For me, this did not justify my inability to tip. I did not want to do what those men were doing and I have no idea if the same men who were not tipping the woman on stage had at least paid for a "lap dance" in the back. My discomfort was about my relationship to that space. It felt reminiscent of a slave auction block, and yet I did not even have money to justify my voyeurism or participation. I did not want to participate in that kind of exploitation of black women's bodies. I am not against strip bars, sometimes I even have a good time. I think the thing that bothered me most is that I had no money to tip and the people I was with had very limited money to tip. Essentially the money my friends had was not enough to justify a group of 5 people inhabiting that space. Strippers don't strip for fun generally, they strip to earn $$$.

I voiced my discomfort to my friends, including the other white person. I was not heard by my friends and we stayed for a while before we left. I woke up thinking well if nothing else at least I have something to blog about. I definitely felt disappointed my friends are OK with being in that space with little money to compensate the women for their work. I was in a group of both people of color and white people, as well as straight people and queer people. So for each of us the space we take up in this particular situation varies and I cannot speak to whether they should have been in that space or not but I knew that personally I did not have any reason to be there without money. Had I been in a group of people who had big $ and could "make it rain", maybe the dynamic would have changed. For me it was not right to be in this strip club with a group of people who had little to no money to tip the dancers.

Someone I know is making a documentary about black strippers in gay communities who strip for gay people. Once she said part of what her documentary looks at is "how work shapes identity". I think about this statement partly because she was referring to how work as a stripper and entertainer helped shape the identity of the people she followed in her documentary. For me working in abortion has shaped my identity. I did not know I had so much feminism hiding in me until this weekend. I identify as a feminist but I have never had this kind of anger arise as a result of the objectification of women's bodies, at least not that I could really identify in real time.

I can not disconnect my work in an abortion clinic from experiences like this one. I kept on thinking of the stripper I got into a conversation with at work a few weeks ago. I kept hoping none of these women would end up in the clinic and remember my face because I watched and did not tip. My work has informed my identity as a feminist and anti-racist woman.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Making a statement

Sometimes, I consider whether I would love my job as much as I do if it weren't so controversial, if the mere act of going in to work weren't so badass, if the answer to "What do you do?" weren't guaranteed to make a statement. I can't pretend that loving my job isn't partially a political act. I adore advocating for women, fighting the evil forces of the anti-choicers, and the way I feel when a client expresses her appreciation, and those things wouldn't affect me quite the same way if not for how (inexplicably) volatile choice is.

Don't get it twisted; I'm not in any way thanking the antis for making me excited to go to work. Well, unless that angers that case, I will admit that on a day when I didn't sleep enough and I'm walking through puddles and my hair is looking weird, seeing the protesters outside my clinic inspires me to work harder and longer and better.

But that's the dramatic side, the one that gives me activist cred at fundraisers and boosts my ego. The quieter side is the one that truly sustains me and sustains choice and providers and clinics. If I woke up tomorrow in my dream world of abortion on demand and coffee flowing from my faucet and kittens all over my apartment, I would still leave my cat- and caffeine-filled apartment and go and proudly facilitate abortions and choice and justice. Because it would be the same amazing clients, dedicated staff, and a very much needed service. I believe in choice because of what it is fundamentally, not because of what it's been made into politically. Even if abortion were treated as casually as our society treats a Pap smear, if it bored people at cocktail parties, I would still honor and revere it, and THAT is badass.

I'm quite disappointed at the lack of stock images of women of color. I tried.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Just Because

The abortion blog gods are smiling upon me!

As soon as I sat down to write this post, I checked my email to review some of the topics that arose recently among The Abortioneers, when I received a strange message from a mysterious sender. I considered not opening it, since I'm on a work computer and didn't want to infect it more than I already have in the last two years. But then I was like "I wanna live like I'm dying!" and decided to take a risk.

And I discovered Because Magazine, the magazine of Ipas. Read it! Lots of good material, especially the cover story about the realities of abortion and how most TV programming sucks at portraying abortion in a fair and honest light. In the same spirit as the "No Easy Decision" program that MTV launched a few months ago, the article presents the true abortion stories of three women, including those who made the decision themselves or with input from others (for better or for worse). I also love it when women come out with their stories, proclaiming proudly that they do not regret their abortions and that it was the best decision they could h
ave made. Really shoves an ice pick into the anti's throat.

Aside from that, there are lots of gems in here, including what men can do to support choice (a theme I'm noticing more and more these days regarding women's rights), a great summary of abortion laws in the U.S. by state, and a tidbit about which states offer pro-choice license plates (you might be surprised!). I also enjoy the name; speaks to the myriad reasons why a woman would choose abortion, or why a person might be pro-choice, but also to the fact that you don't really need a reason at all to exercise your rights, do you?

So there's my plug. I think all our lovely readers should subscribe and keep on top of the latest. You can receive a cool green e-copy - yay environment!

Sign up here!

Regularly-scheduled abortiony material to resume next time. Until then, happy reading!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Which Way Home

I stumbled upon another really good documentary through netflix. Which Way Home is about children from Central America who travel as migrants with hopes of crossing the Mexico-U.S. border. So what does that have to do with abortion? Not much directly. I watched the documentary and it was a very emotional subject and it was really hard to watch children take on such a long and painful journey. At the end I cried, only for a moment, but I cried. I cried for the women I have met who have taken a similar journey as the children in this film. I also cried for the women who have left children in their countries of origin in hopes of providing for those children through work in the United States.

At work we serve many women who have reached the United States as undocumented people. I have listened to women tell their stories of walking for days, bus rides, and train rides. I have spoken to women who have been raped by coyotes and are pregnant and it could be the result of a couple different rapes. One of the children who is followed in the documentary tells his story of hiding in the boxcar of a train and watching a mother and daughter get raped by 15 men. These stories are horrifying and real.

My spanish is mas o menos at best and often times I can only pick up on a few words or a sentence. I have brought clothes to women who have showed up in the clinic in need of an abortion and often I've wondered how they are surviving the United States. Sometimes my coworker who is a native spanish speaker fills me in on a woman's story, I am a peripheral support person for spanish speaking women in the clinic where I work.

I have spoken to Latina women who are pregnant as a result of consensual sex and would rather have a baby then an abortion, but often times she cannot imagine supporting a child in the United States on her meager pay because she is sending money home to take care of the children she had to leave with family in her country of origin. Most recently I had to help a spanish speaking woman fill out here chart. I don't claim to be fluent but I have learned to ask most of the questions in spanish involved in filling out the first part of a patient's chart. I recently had a conversation that really changed my perspective. It went like this:

Me: Tiene hijos? (Do you have children?)
Patient: Si
Me: Cuantos? (How many?)
Patient: Tres
Me: Cuando nacimiento? (When birth?)- for lack of better words
Patient: *look of confusion*
Me: El cumpleanos de sus hijos? (Birthdays of your children?)
Patient: no recuerdo.

At this point I had to get some help from my coworker, the native Spanish speaker. I personally did not comprehend that some woman's experience is not conducive to remembering dates like when they gave birth. This conversation was an eye opener for me. I never considered the emotional distance some women must have to maintain when they have left children they love because it seems like the best way to care for them.

Every one in this country, with the exception of Native Americans, is the descendant an immigrant in some form or fashion. I don't understand the need to criminalize Latino people who want to come here. I don't understand who gets to decide which immigrants have a right to be here and which don't. The United States of America is a land of immigrants.

You can go here to watch clips of the documentary if you don't have netflix.