This week is the first week we decided as a group to occupy the intersection two days in a row. On the first day, someone stole my shorts. They must have really needed some clothes.
Well. Sadly. I was the only person there to represent a pro-choice counter-presence. And I got there later than I wanted, arriving at noon when I intended to get there at 11:30 a.m. The whole pro-life gang was there this time, though, and that made my presence as a stand-alone demonstrator super-powerful to onlookers of every persuasion. I received more of everything good, bad, and terrible than in any of the previous weeks that I’ve stood on that intersection in the exact same amount of clothing: more support, more sexual harassment, and more “I disagree with you, therefore you’re a slut and I’m the body police here to tell you what to do with that body”. I guess some people just find an abundantly-titted person in their underwear too threatening. But they are still a marked minority, and ultimately, always will be.
I had an instant boost of support the moment I got to that intersection, and it didn’t stop coming for the entire two hours. Maybe because it was everyone’s lunch hour, or maybe because people are paying more attention on a work day right before the weekend, but in any case, I was happy to be so immediately and respectfully (and continuously) affirmed for taking space. Before long, a woman from the abortion clinic across the street approached me to personally thank me and tell me about how she had been hearing about us. She offered to provide me storage for my sign, and told me where to find them if I ever want to take them up on their offer. I learned that the clinic is in fact not open on Saturdays, which is the most likely reason why we hadn’t heard from them directly since the first or second week. The staff at the clinic were clear in any case: they are sick of the pro-life presence at these intersections, and are glad that someone is taking a stand (I’m sure even though they didn’t say it, they are also glad that we are there in a non-traumatizing and non-invasive presence).
I’ve lost a lot of trust in cops, having grown up in social conditions that secured my mistrust in them from the start, and now reading all about the injustices they actively and passively perpetuate (especially against women of marginalized communities). So when I saw more cops today than I saw at the counter-protest of the “FetusMobile”, I have to admit that it took a lot just to keep my shit cool. What surprised me was when police in vehicles waved and honked at me in support, and when I was approached by a white male officer who simply wanted to know how I’m doing and if I’m all alone in my demonstration. In fact, that same officer seemed to be badgering the pro-life presence, both before and after speaking to me for all of the 15 seconds it took to establish that I’m not fucking nuts. So Vancouver Police Department, if any one of you are reading this, thank you for just not being like your slut-shaming colleague at the art gallery today. We may be able to recover some trust after all, but I can’t help but think that things might have played out differently today if I wasn’t white. So please start treating all women the way you treated me today. I want to hear more stories like this for a change, instead of hearing about your colleagues beating the shit out of my friends.
Among my rowdier supporters today were a couple of men who told me right away that they were just released from prison. I was quite pleased that they supported me standing up against slut-shaming and rape culture, and I was even more delighted to watch them respectfully engage the pro-life woman who spits daggers at me. They spent the greater part of an hour talking to her about their life experiences, and about how wrong it is for her to be so arrogant as to stand on that corner and try to tell women what they should do with their bodies or convince people that women should be sentenced for murder for having an abortion. She honestly looked like she was about to cry, and this is the first time I feel I’ve ever seen her as a human being and not just a brainwashed sock puppet. It’s really a powerful experience to see someone whose potential and civil rights have been stripped away by the penal system, taking a stand for social justice on the very day of his release. And the fact that the two of them did so without raising their voices at all (except when they were trying to get my attention from across the street), especially while one of them quietly recounted the story of his prematurely born baby girl, was truly outstanding. Both of them were clearly a bit rattled by the pro-life presence at that intersection, especially with the proposed motion to re-open the debate on when a baby is legally considered a person in Canada. I hope whatever they said sinks in deeply, because it was clear to me that’s where their message was coming from.
Pro-Abortion Slut-Shaming, Sexual Harassment, & Body Policing
It seems that the neighbourhood pro-life troll presence has learned a thing or two somehow, from the week that it rained while they verbally dumped on me at top volume. Rather than shout at me from the street until passersby attempt to intervene, I was repeatedly approached by people who quietly told me things like “That’s God’s body and you’ll figure that out someday soon” and “You shouldn’t even have sex if you would have an abortion”. And that’s a pretty fucking arrogant thing to tell someone at nearly whispering volume as you pass by them in their underwear at a busy intersection (once again, HULLO, BODY POLICE!). But even more arrogant than that was the person who asked me if I’m tucked and taped “under there”. While I’m mildly flattered that I am now easily mistaken for either a pre- or non-operative MtF transsexual, because at least I’m not being misgendered as a woman (which still constantly happens), being asked if I’ve got a pair of testicles tucked up into my pelvic cavity and a penis taped down in my underwear is nothing short of positively astounding. And how many people other than me can honestly say that after stating that they do not have a secret phallus, and that they are injecting testosterone to masculinize, that the offending party insisted that the observed (i.e., me in this case) appears to have a hidden penis? I mean really. Even I didn’t think someone would be so bold as to tilt backward to get a better look at what’s under “the hood” (though that actually happened to me once in high school on one of the three days I wore a skirt in the entire three years, I never anticipated it would ever happen again in my adulthood). I’m not even going to go into more detail about when he finally conceded that I am an XX-chromosomal human being, except that he insisted I ought to trim my underarm hairs and be feminine. Presumably for him.
A Fellow Rape Survivor
Today, in between all the obnoxious pro-abortion slut-shaming, body-policing, and sexual harassment, as I was discussing the branding problem of SlutWalk (yet again) and the racialization of the concept of a slut (yet again), a woman approached and told me that she was abducted and raped by two men. Her rapists bit her everywhere during her assault, and when they abandoned her, she scrubbed her entire body under scalding hot water for what may very well have been hours. She then informed me that it took her two whole years to leave her home again for the first time. I am so humbled to have met and embraced this woman today, and to have run my fingers through her hair while I told her I love her and I’m sorry that she was treated so horrendously. She is one of the many reasons why I take my stand there, and the fact that she trusted me — a complete stranger — enough to bare her grief and let me hold her is absolutely remarkable. It’s warriors like her who give me the strength to reach out for someone else’s physical touch. Before someone just like her — a stranger to me — told me her story without solicitation, I literally jumped whenever someone touched me unless I explicitly asked for it. These stories, and the warrior women who are sharing them with me, are helping me heal.
I arrived today before any pro-lifers did, and for a few minutes there, I actually got my hopes up that they wouldn’t show their coward faces on my street corner this Saturday. But sure enough, they did anyway. Just two of them today — not like yesterday, where it was a whole posse of approximately 8 to 10 of them. In the few minutes before they arrived, I chatted with a fellow Casserole marcher about his recent arrest, and about how these demonstrations are really zapping the energy out of people. And to our mutual surprise, the intersection rapidly flooded with pro-choice people and their signs, including our totally fabulous “These People Want Stephen Harper In Your Vagina” mini-billboard. We had a regular party-party, and much discussion of the shit these pro-life people are actually saying.
One of the things that bothers me about these self-appointed body police is that they believe that anyone who is disabled must automatically be pro-life, because if they weren’t, they are a walking (or wheeling) contradiction. The pro-life belief is that the first people who are targeted for abortion are those who are confirmed severely disabled from inside the womb, either through clear indicators in ultrasounds or through the results of routine amniocentesis (possibly because they think anyone who is disabled is a punitive abomination against their own parents). There simply isn’t any reason, however, to believe that persons with disabilities are any more a target than those who are clinically able-minded and able-bodied. Women who take a Plan B tablet within 72 hours of unprotected consensual sex (or rape or incest) aren’t waiting to confirm the ability status of the fetus before they take an abortive. And very young women, such as one who was talking to me yesterday about how different her life would be if she didn’t get an abortion at 14 years old in her small home town, aren’t waiting around either. And in fact, before Western medicine, when women were free to use early contraceptives and herbal abortive remedies to control their own fertility, there was no intrauterine slaughter of disabled children. Whoever is coming up with these creepy urban pro-life mythologies must have a really good prescription, because I think they have to be stoned out of their fucking trees.
But there’s another issue with ableism emerging from these demonstrations, and it’s actually from the side I stand on. We are reaching such enormous numbers when there are many of us at once, that we are overcrowding the sidewalk and making it difficult for people who use wheelchairs or canes to move among us. As an able-bodied person, it is my responsibility to remain aware of this, to pay attention, and to keep a clear path open for people who are less mobile than I am. I hope that the people who are demonstrating with me also keep this in mind at all times, because sometimes it isn’t as obvious as a person who comes rolling by in a chair. Although it often is, and I’m happy to see how accessible that corner is (when we’re not overcrowding it). We get a lot of support from people who use wheelchairs and cruise through that intersection at the same time of the day every Saturday, stopping to cheer us on (and it’s really nice to see them).
Yet More Body Policing & Sexual Harassment
One thing that I noticed today, more than I realized it yesterday, is that when I am at that intersection alone, people (especially women) feel entitled to touch me. But when there are a lot of us, I don’t receive the same invasive gestures towards my body. Quite often yesterday, I would feel a hand on my shoulder or my back before I could see the person who was talking to me to cheer me on or say “Good for you!” or express some form of gratitude for my presence. Today, I got a total of three high-fives and not one person touched me. I remarked that a few weeks ago, a woman actually patted me on the butt, and I wasn’t sure if it was just by accident or on purpose. And today, in sharp contrast to yesterday, I’ve actually started to think about this for the first time (but I don’t have any answers at this point). What does all of this uninvited physical contact from women mean?
Another remarkable thing I observed in unusual frequency was support from men who felt it necessary to just add onto the end that I ought to shave my underarm hair. This is another one of the things I just can’t wrap my head around. It’s just hair, and my body is cleaner with it there than without. I shaved it a few months ago for the first time in two years and I hated it. My skin was constantly irritated just by the persistent presence of sweat with nothing to wick it away from the hair follicles. Growing it back was tickly until it was flat-out itchy (and that feeling continued for a few consecutive days). And no matter what I wore, I always had lint stuck in there, even if I wasn’t wearing something that sheds a lot of lint. So I don’t even know where it comes from. But Jesus Christ, if my armpit hair bothers complete strangers this much, what the fuck are they going to say when I have visible hair all over my chest and belly (the belly hairs are coming first it seems)? It’s my body — what bearing does my underarm hair or chest hair or leg hair or belly hair have on anyone else’s day? And I guarantee you that if I had enough facial hair, people would be thinking twice about saying this shit to me.
However, I will say this much: people are really concerned about my skin (and overall health), and I am grateful to frequently hear “I hope you’re wearing sunscreen!” It’s a wonderful change from (hold your nose shut when you say this out loud) “How are you comfortable like that?” from a woman in a turtleneck and cardigan in 20° C (that’s 68 °F for those of you using the Imperial system) and clear blue skies.
Are We Making A Difference?
I can’t see any reason to believe we aren’t making a difference. We receive so much support from people driving and walking by, and I personally hear so many stories from people who are completely fed up with the pro-life presence at that intersection, that I have no reason to believe that people simply stop thinking about us after they walk away. Occasionally we even hear stories from people who talk to their families about us. I also get word back once in a while about the word spreading far and wide among multiple local communities (even to people I’m no longer on speaking terms with). And the fact that the clinic staff know? Well that felt pretty good to hear.