I am beginning this writing after 1 a.m., even though my shoulders are sore, my body is drained of energy and hydration, and I am under-slept. But today was the happiest day I’ve had in at least a month. And it all started with writing out the following sign on bristol board in preparation for today’s Round Two of demonstrations against the slut-shaming pro-lifers from a week earlier:
You see, for the people I am stripping down to my vaguely-clown-themed skivvies in protest of slut-shaming, body-policing, and rape-victim-blaming, what I am doing is positively revolting. Last week there were just three people, but this week, they brought back-up. They made a point last week of questioning my choice in fleshing (I’d say choice in clothing, but that hardly seems accurate). This week, they told me I disgust them, and I responded immediately, “It’s my privilege to disgust you.” I stood in front of them with the above-pictured side of my sign facing them, stared one of them straight in the face and said “Oh, please. Please read the entire length.” They answered this by yelling at me that I should be ashamed of myself. I shouted back, “I should be able to stand here stark fucking naked and not be ashamed of myself, thank you very fucking much.” One of them — a man — decided for all of them in that moment that there’s no point in addressing me any further. But the most insistent individual among them wasn’t done with me. I repeatedly stepped in front of her, holding up my sign, and blocking her sandwich board and pamphlets from view with my body (trolled IRL by a half-naked assclown, lololol PWND). She started yelling at me and shaming me. I responded by repeatedly honking my clown horn in her direction until her lips stopped moving, yelling “I’m sorry, I can’t hear your rhetoric over all this noise I’m making!”
I’ve since been informed by someone else in our group that, not only did she tell someone else in our group that they don’t deserve to be alive, but she also told someone today, multiple times, that I’m asking to be raped and that I deserve it. There was a moment I experienced tonight, after I found out that second part (I found out that first little gem last week), in which I began to question a decision I made earlier today to arrive next time wearing nothing but duct tape over my nipples and a fucking loincloth over my Bermuda Triangle. But I quickly realized that there is simply no valid reason why I should have to question this decision at all. It’s actually already more than what’s legally required at a bare minimum, and my body isn’t disposable. Full stop.
I’m now more determined than ever to look for loincloth material and an air-horn (I broke my clown horn by honking it too hard) over the next couple of days. Someone also reported that they were overheard saying that they aren’t going to bring their signs back next week.
SCORE ONE FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE!!!
Reactions And Responses From The Public
In between confrontations, women approached and told me (and anyone within ear shot) about their experiences of rape (two of these were described in horrendously graphic detail, quite frankly). We told those women that the way they were treated is disgusting, and why we started these demonstrations (i.e., we told them what incited us to flip all our shits and bring that anger into full public view). One of them told us that she had accessed an abortion, and asked who in their right mind would expect her to carry the child of the man who attacked her from behind, choked her out, raped her, and started beating the life out of her when he realized she was still alive, until an angry mob of passing bystanders chased him off with baseball bats when they determined that she was in need of help. Women joined us in chanting and yelling at the pro-lifers who stand there to shame them. One of those women even openly declared how many children and how many abortions she has had, immediately before leading an angry chant at the pro-lifers, to send them back under whatever rock they came out from. And I am so fucking incredibly proud of all those women who shared their personal narratives with us, words barely form an adequate gesture.
We also received a lot of nods, hand gestures hanging out the windows of speeding vehicles while the horn was being repeatedly honked, people shouting support or disapproval at us. One person shouted at me to “put some fucking clothes on”, but I haven’t the foggiest idea why clothes were necessary at all, either for any reason pertaining to me personally (it’s my choice), or to him (err… yup, it’s definitely still my choice how my body is clothed… I don’t follow his logic at all). Some people laughed at us. A lot of people (especially women) said “Thank you” with a humble tone or “Good for you!” with enthusiasm and passion. An enormous number of people took pictures of us (I only hope they are sharing those photos as widely as possible). Many more people stopped to talk to us at great length, standing with our These People Want Stephen Harper In Your Vagina sign, and talking with us about what they can do to show support. Since we anticipated that they might be bringing back more pamphlets than in previous weeks, one of our most frequent suggestions (apart from “Join us next week!” was to take one from them, and staring them straight in the face, tear it up into pieces and throw it straight into the garbage.
How Round One Informed My Next Move
I’ve spent the last three weeks thinking about how and where women’s narratives on the issue of misogynist and sexist oppressions are heard — if ever. This is ultimately what informed my decision to declare myself a rape survivor in the first week. I also waited until after Round One to inform my psychotherapist of my involvement in these demonstrations, on the grounds that I might otherwise be silenced or discouraged by him, just the way I have been silenced and discouraged by many other people (especially men) before I had even stepped into the street. When my psychotherapist actually does give advice, especially advice that runs in contradiction to my very identity, it’s quite a powerful exhibit of assumed authority over my lived experience. Like, for instance, when he tried to tell me how I should deal with bus tickets that my friends gave to me when I couldn’t even afford them; or when he tried to tell me that the changes that are happening to my body because of testosterone aren’t what I need. I have enough anger to deal with, without this weatlhsplaining and body-policing to deal with during my psychotherapy appointments, is really the point I’m driving at. So I acted proactively this time, to empower myself.
Disclosing to him after Round One, though, I had a lot more to say about it than I thought, in addition to how I realized things like how I don’t feel safe to take up space under any other conditions, anywhere else, because of my horrendously abusive upbringing, when taking up as little space as possible was a survival mechanism. Without the experience of Round One to lend me further insight, I really think he wouldn’t have understood why I was preparing to engage. But with it, I rather unbelievably inspired him to express support and encouragement for my decision. He helped me understand that claiming that space in the streets of my city, to bare myself (and my narrative) and protest against the oppressive barriers that normally prevent me from trying to take up any space at all, is an important step in my healing from trauma. It used to be said that the personal is political, and I feel like that’s the tl;dr version of that entire appointment. Hearing that affirmation and encouragement from him, and gaining that deeper insight into my own motivations, I had far more confidence to claim that space for myself this week. It was a couple days later, as I drifted off to sleep and became as vulnerable as I was in my infancy, that the ideas I wrote on my sign this week came to me in fully actualized form. It was such a striking idea, I was literally jolted out of my sleep, and committed the inspired message to memory before falling back into that vulnerable state of sleep for a second time.
The “Slut” Myth And The Universal Post-Abortion Grief Myth
Prior to walking out to the intersection today, I was privileged to discuss the mythology around the word “slut”, and the very contentious debate that has been inspired by the My Abortion Was Fabulous, Thanks sign. These are just two of the reasons why the focus of my writing on this subject, including my signs, have been about the issue of body-policing. If I knew that at that intersection, the pro-lifers were just handing out their absurd pamphlets and standing around looking like a bunch of douchenozzles, I would show significantly more respect for their right to free speech even though I outrageously disagree with them. But the moment they start slut-shaming, telling women that they deserve to be raped or are asking for it, or claiming that women whose rights have already been violated ought to be treated like incubators (which are the type of thing that is not said to have rights), now I can’t just sit in my home and ignore them. Now undermining their message is a top priority, and it has nothing to do with their stance on other peoples’ right to access abortions or their religious faith, because it’s about standing up against body-policing.
And this is what brings me to the mythological slut. This is a woman who is sexually available to everyone. A woman who consents without even providing consent. A woman who mysteriously dresses in some manner that communicates this to everyone. She can’t be raped, because she’s literally begging for sex just by her very physical presence, anywhere at all and at all times. She’s positively aching for it. And she is a strawperson. Does she not eat? Sleep? Shit? Certainly, she’s not thinking about being fucked by every available erect phallus while she’s bunching toilet tissue in the gas station bathroom stall. I mean, puh-leeaze. She never has a period or a bad day or, remarkably, a low mood. She never has a headache, and never feels too tired. It’s absolutely absurd. And the mere suggestion that it’s logically possible to dress like this person is absolutely ludicrous. Exactly what the fuck does a slut “look” or “dress” like? There is simply no such thing.
And similarly, there is no universal post-abortion grief experience shared by all women who access abortions. The sign that says “My abortion was fabulous — thanks” is read as a completely invalid and unacceptable personal narrative because it aggressively contradicts social norms around the very concept of an abortion. It arouses such a powerful cognitive dissonance in people who have never heard of a single positive abortion experience, that they will come up with anything they can to claim personal offence or outright rebuttal of the actual lived experience of the person who wrote that sign. But that sign isn’t expressing a pro-abortion stance, as if the person who holds it up is using abortion in place of birth control. It isn’t telling other women how they should feel about theirs, either. It’s just claiming space for the bearer, to say “Yeah. It was actually a great experience.” It’s taken a full week, but it seems that at last, other positive subjective reports of abortions are rising to the occasion. And I couldn’t be happier to see that result.
Breaking The Silence
It’s time we start talking more openly about our experiences. If I am learning anything from baring my flesh and a very small part of my history on that street corner every week, it’s that nothing is going to change if we continue to police women’s experiences to make sure the dominant discourse maintains sexist stereotypes. We all need to do the work to dismantle sexist stereotypes, and every word spoken out loud about our authentic lived experiences is another chip in the block. Especially when we say these things in public spaces, where we take back a part of that space with every word uttered. I know and fully respect that not everyone is ready, but for those of us who are, we are doing our part to create safe spaces for those who aren’t yet ready or safe, by breaking our silence — so that they have that space when they are ready.