Something deep down told me that this week would be like any other demonstration I’ve participated in before. And boy, was my instinct ever right on the money.
When I woke up, I could hear the rain. As such, I decided not to wear my traditional clown gear, and I knew from all the focus on what I am or am not wearing at virtually every other demonstration before this week, that this would change everything. I thought long and hard about whether to add any bright colours at all to my appearance, and concluded that I would be far more useful if I could just stay warm and relatively dry. This week would be a useful social experiment, I decided, in observing just how differently I am treated with exactly the same message while presenting myself in different attire. And as it turns out, this is another one of the ways I seem to be experiencing sexism from both sides of the same coin, as a gender-variant person of non-binary gender.
I wasn’t prepared for actual hostility or aggression this week — I was only prepared to get completely soaked. But I am fed up with the persistence of the pro-lifers who hide behind their rhetoric and sandwich boards, and more prepared every week, to stand longer, taller, and more visibly, in order to convey to the public just what it is they are standing for on that same corner. And I’m not alone. At virtually every light change, when cars lined up, people were giving me nods, power fists, and honks from their vehicles. And literally more people than I can adequately gesture at were giving me thanks, high-fives, hugs, offers of hot chocolate or coffee from the coffee shop across the street, and sentiments of gratitude and the highest respect they can offer a complete stranger, for taking up space on their sidewalks. It seems the entire local community has grown completely sick and fucking tired of the pro-lifers who I demonstrate against, and the longer I stand out there, the more supporters I gain. In fact, a few people stopped and stood with me, and we had conversations about women like Bei Bei Shuai, and about the inciting incident six weeks ago that made me leap off my couch into action. These are all the people for whom I stand — many of whom can’t take a stand with me, and many who simply don’t know one way or another until they read that sign and begin to think about it. I consider the fact that someone stops to think about the issue at all, an enormous success of my dedicated effort. There are still dissenting voices, as I’m sure there always will be. But what matters to me isn’t that they dissent, it’s how they demonstrate that they disagree with me.
Female Aggression From Being Perceived As A Pro-Abortion Slut
A woman rode up on her bicycle and began spouting condemnations. It wasn’t immediately clear that they were directed at me and the single other pro-choice demonstrator who was with me at the time. She was shouting that people should use every means necessary to not get pregnant if they would have an abortion, and I said I agree. But then she started shouting “It’s GENOCIDE!” I responded by stating that she wants women thrown in prison for having an abortion or a miscarriage, and she barked back with “don’t misuse the word miscarriage!” Of course, I repeated myself, “abortions and miscarriages!” Then she started going off about how people like me should use birth control again. I shouted “I do use birth control!” For the record: I haven’t had penetrative sex with another human being for a couple years now, let alone with someone who could get me pregnant, even if that were still possible (which, thanks to testosterone, it’s not). That’s my method of birth control. But rather than hear what I’m saying at all, she started yelling even louder at me, telling me I shouldn’t consider abortion an option, and that I shouldn’t have sex if I’m going to use abortion as birth control. How else could I possibly respond, other than by giving her my middle finger and shouting as loudly as possible “Fuck you! You’re not the fucking body police!” as she pedalled away, being yelled at by supportive bystanders, who demanded that she just lay off.
I’ve said it before, and I will say it again. Pro-abortion sluts are a fucking myth. Moreover, the mythology of the pro-abortion slut allows a pro-lifer who espouses it to believe that bad things only ever happen to people who do bad things — that she deserved to spontaneously lose her baby in a miscarriage, that she deserved to be shamed for having an abortion or even thinking about it, she deserved to be subjected to unprovoked displays of hostility and aggression by complete strangers, and if she became pregnant during a rape or as a result of incest? Well, sir (there’s no point in addressing women when one secretly hates all of them), that’s her fault too. Because she clearly provoked a man who just can’t help himself once he becomes sexually aroused (especially if that sexual arousal sprang from the desire to shut a woman up by filling every available orifice in her body with his erect phallus — she deserves it, after all, for the terrible and genocidal transgression against all of humanity, of having something to say that isn’t approved of by a man). In the mind of the imagination that perceives of the possibility, provocation of misogynist psychopaths who sexually assault women when they are provoked is all a pro-abortion slut does. It’s a wonder they have time to get pregnant at all, with all the shouting, touching, and fucking they do.
Male Aggression From… What Is This I Don’t Even
While it’s still fresh in my mind, I am going to type out what I remember of a conversation with a random cis man who approached me at the intersection after reading my sign.
Him: “What does it mean?”
Me: “It means I’m pro-choice.”
Him: “Yeah, well there’s another side to this issue.”
Me: “Yeah, that’s what’s written on the sign.”
Him: “Well, look, I mean, abortion is wrong. It’s just wrong.”
Me: “There’s a woman in Indiana right now — her name is Bei Bei Shuai — and she is facing the possibility of 45 to 65 years in prison because she tried to commit suicide while pregnant.”
Him: “Well why would she try to do that?”
Me: With a perplexed look on my face “Because her boyfriend badgered her and then left her.”
Him: “Well, WAAAHHH.”
Me: Obviously upset now “Fuck you! WAAAHHH? She’s being charged with murder and attempted feticide because she was aggravated by her boyfriend to commit suicide while pregnant…”
Him: “Look, before you get rude…”
Me: “You’re the one being rude. You’re telling me she should be put in prison for trying to commit suicide while pregnant. That’s what ‘pro-life’ means.”
Him: “Look, she didn’t have to have anything to do with him at any time.”
Me: “Of course she had to have something to do with him. Fuck’s sake, she was pregnant! And he badgered her, threw money in her face, and left her. And now she’s on trial for murder because she was pregnant when she tried to commit suicide.”
Him: “You don’t have to get rude.”
Me: “The guy who aggravated her to commit suicide isn’t on trial. Think about that.”
Him: “Yeah, well he should be on trial.”
Me: “And she shouldn’t be! For trying to commit suicide! The only reason they are doing this is because a fetus was involved.”
Him: “Yeah, well if people like you would just use birth control…”
Me: “Fuck you. Don’t fucking talk to me. You’re not the fucking body police.”
From this point forward, he began badgering me. If I walked away, he would follow, standing immediately in front of me, face to face with me, and insisting on trying to talk to me, while I repeatedly told him at top volume to fuck off, don’t fucking talk to me, and get the fuck away from me. As there were only about three pro-choice demonstrators with me, when they formed a wall between him and I, to talk to him and try to convince him to just drop it, no one could stop him from badgering me further when I stepped two steps to my right so that my sign could be read. I distinctly remember shouting at him “Do you not understand what the word NO means? Fuck off and don’t talk to me!” His reply was this typical “It’s a free country” bullshit line I’ve heard even from people who insisted on dealing pot and chugging PBR at the back of a candlelit vigil while a Sikh community leader sang poetry in memorial of the genocide perpetrated against them in 1984. This shouting match, in which I repeatedly insisted that he leave me alone and he repeatedly insisted on following me around and badgering me (one of the pro-lifers quite literally was laughing at me), went on for a couple of minutes until the entire block could hear me. The street was full of vehicles while I walked into the middle of the crosswalk to get away from him. He followed me, and when I shouted for the last time “FUCK OFF!” he said “Why don’t you just hit me?”
Now here’s an interesting question: Why don’t I resort to physical violence to force someone to get the fuck away from me when we both have able bodies, and they won’t cease and desist after I’ve repeatedly told them to fuck off and leave me alone? Could it possibly be because I know that if I go against every fibre of my politics and make any physical contact with this person’s body (even by just laying a finger on the collar of his jacket), I’m putting my very life at risk, by putting it in his clenched fists? Could it be because I have more respect for human life than to attempt to smash it to pieces on the cement, even when I am given every reason to believe that I am at risk of the very same in that moment, for no reason other than having something to say while inhabiting an XX-chromosomal body? Could it be because if I did take a swing at this fucking fool, he would tell everyone that it’s my fault and that I provoked it, when I need my face reconstructed after he’s done with me? Let’s get serious here. I told this man on no uncertain terms that I was not willing to respectfully engage with him, and demanded a physical distance be established between us, and he responded by following me around and badgering me even though I repeatedly made the same demands to not be addressed any further and to be left alone.
You know who else did the exact opposite thing as I had explicitly and repeatedly asked for? He was my boyfriend when I was 17 years old, and I was in five-alarm full-body pain. When he finally determined that my attempts to pull myself off of him and my repeated begging for him to stop were serious, he laid me down and proceeded to rape me a second time. The last thing I remember before passing out was looking over at the green LED display on his stereo — the only lighting in the room at the time — and feeling my tears stream down both sides of my breathless face. And how did I find myself there that night; but because no one had ever respected my right to say no and be left alone, for the entire course of my life. Including him. And for ten years after that event, I continued to repeatedly enter relationships (romantic, sexual, and platonic) with people who, upon hearing me say no or assert a boundary, would push even harder. The only two ways I’ve ever known how to deal with this behaviour is by falling in love with the person who actively diminishes my voice (and thus, re-living the trauma of my first ten years of life — being molested and raped by one of the very people my life depended upon), or “having” a full-blown dissociative episode (an involuntary response, which leaves me without any memory of what actually happened, once I am no longer acting as my primary Self). Neither of these methods actually solve the problem — that though I’ve said no, that man isn’t listening and backing the fuck off.
The Only Reasonable Conclusions I Can Draw From Today
First, I am literally safer in public, when I’m down to my underwear or even topless — and being slut-shamed for it — than I am in baggy clothes that don’t give a hint of what shape I am underneath. If anyone sees someone trying to put me down and police over my body when I am baring my vulnerabilities (or my epic bewbs) in public spaces, they come flocking to my assistance. But if the same thing happens when I am covering my body, only people who know me are brave enough to approach me, even to ask if I’m okay once the hostility has stopped. This tells me that when I am fleshing in public, I am seen by default as exposing myself to a high level of risk that virtually all of society (except the sociopathic) think is unacceptable; enough that they are willing to step in and try to put a stop to it by shaming the shamers. But when I am obscuring my figure, and may or may not be being read as socially male, I am seen by default as a hostile entity, provoking and baiting the same level of risk, and therefore it’s my fault and even if it’s distressing to witness, it’s still my fault and now I’m just getting what I deserve. This thought process puts me in the headspace that I was in when I wrote out my message for this image, in memory of the late Shaima Alawadi, whose violent murder shortly following the cold-blooded murder of Trayvon Martin, sparked a social justice movement for Muslim women:
Second, because I cannot dismiss the second possibility, that the way I was treated today could be because I was socially read as a male, by at least a few people — my voice is deep enough now that many people call me Sir when I speak, and my still-feminine shape was completely obscured by my clothes — today’s events demonstrated to me that individual male demonstrators are taking enormous risks by taking up public space in defence of women’s rights. Again, this simply wouldn’t be the case if there wasn’t such a pervasive attitude of both latent and aggressive misogyny in every aspect of the dominant North American culture. And again, the rule of safety in numbers applies to them too. There were virtually no issues like this at the demonstration at the launch of the “new abortion caravan”, except with women who bared their flesh (among whom I was counted). If it is indeed the case that I was seen today as an individual (white) man standing in defence of women’s rights, and that is the reason why I was subjected to such hostility and aggression in at least one of the two events described above, then it follows that I was again seen as deserving it or inviting it upon myself, by virtue of being perceived as an instigator of hostility and violence.
And why would that be, you might ask? I have two words to give you an answer to that: pervasive misogyny. I can only begin to gesture at how much higher a risk I would experience if I were a person of colour.