It would be dishonest of me to deny that the stress is wearing on me lately. However, it’s not the people I picket who are stressing me out the most (although, the fact that they’ve maintained saying “You deserve to be raped” or “You’re asking to be raped” to people they read as female, every week for four months now, is making me enormously impatient). It’s the people who walk up behind me, talk to the back of my head and into my ear, say heinous shit about my body or my sexuality as if they were the objective authorities on the matter (even though I’m a complete stranger to them), and then speed-walk away like a coward. It’s the people who walk up to my friends and I, bark a pro-life non-argument at us, and walk away before we can get two words out. It’s the people who shout at us from their cars as they pass through the intersection. It’s the people who come back after having said it and walked away, come back and ask us if they can add just one more thing; and insist on yelling at us about God or hell or murder when we explicitly state no, we don’t want to talk to you. It’s the people who keep shouting at us even when we’re drowning them out with the sound of sexual assault whistles. It’s the people who scoff at us and declare they don’t trust us — Good for you, I guess? We are complete strangers, after all, and it’s good to set boundaries…
But more than that, now, it’s also some of the people who have shown up under the premise of showing solidarity, and have instead derailed the entire group, both online and face to face. It’s the way cisgendered white men are free to engage in a lengthy debate with a complete stranger, while other people around them continue to assault women with their words and get away with it because they don’t even stop long enough to look us in the eye when they spit daggers at us. It’s the way cisgendered white men aren’t sexually harassed for saying they support the individual right of every woman to choose how to live in her own body — without being shamed for it. It’s the way a cisgendered white guy sees a relatively minor misunderstanding, that he has nothing to do with, very gradually begin to escalate (as misunderstandings often do before they are resolved); and only at that point does he jump into it as a White Knight — and only to perpetuate the very problem that was raised in the first place — silencing non-cis-male voices and taking up too much space in a debate that doesn’t immediately and directly impact him, no matter the outcome.
Briefly, I’d like to state exactly why I say the debate doesn’t immediately and directly impact a cisgendered white guy. First and foremost, he’s not being silenced or sexually harassed. His body and sexuality aren’t being policed by complete strangers and politicians alike. Whether abortion is legalized, de-criminalized (as it currently is in Canada), or criminalized, there is no fundamental change to his capacity to choose what happens to his body and how he expresses his sexuality. If he gets someone pregnant who doesn’t want to be pregnant, either intentionally or by accident, he’s not the one who has to face the wall of shame on the way into the clinic. He’s not the one whose body is said to house another body from the moment of conception. He’s not the one who is compared to a psychopath because of impaired empathy for that tiny body, called a slut for wanting to have sex that isn’t for the express purpose of reproduction, or who is told she should be forced to be a human incubator for the offspring of a rapist. He is not the one who has to beg and plead for help from doctors who refuse, or who has to risk bleeding to death or dying from sepsis for taking her fate into her own hands. He is not the one who was beaten to death so that a young man who just had to fuck a woman who wouldn’t have an abortion, didn’t have to become a father — rather, it was someone just like him who did the beating, stuffed her body into the trunk of a car, and beat her again before dumping her body in a ditch.
All he has to do is use a condom, not sleep with people he could impregnate but whose abortion politics are incongruous with his own, abstain, and/or seek out a vasectomy (which is, remarkably, a one-time effort consisting of a phone call and a single office visit). If he uses a condom, he is also protecting himself from further complications during high-risk sexual activities (such as casual sex with a stranger, or loving sex with a regular partner who is a known carrier of a sexually transmitted or blood-borne infection). If he is transparent about whether he is for or against abortion, and just does not get into bed with someone whose politics are different, then he is showing himself a high degree of self-regard and self-respect. If he abstains, he is demonstrating to himself and others that he is not just his sexual organs and his default setting is not “potential rapist”. And if he pursues a vasectomy (most of which are reversible if so elected), he is accessing reproductive health choices on his own behalf that are deprived from women — people who might be his partner. He is privileged in this conversation, and he is free to occupy his time with esoteric philosophical arguments about the metaphysics of abortion.
I, however, am not. These arguments don’t help me when I’m triggered by the hostility of a complete stranger whose express purpose in talking at me is to upset or terrify me. These arguments don’t help me stay calm, so that I am less easily made to feel unsafe when the next complete stranger comes at me. They don’t help me keep an eye out for when one of those people is coming. They don’t help us as a collective, to all turn to face that person at once, and pressure them to leave us alone simply by demonstrating to them that we significantly outnumber them and are not going to stand complicit with their bullshit. They don’t help us laugh together and keep our hearts feeling relatively light (given the circumstances). They don’t help us maintain the ability to smile and share joy with passing supporters who would join us if only they didn’t have other commitments. There’s a time and a place for these debates, and it’s not in the street next to six lanes of high-volume traffic and directly under a train that passes overhead in three-minute intervals in each direction. All while anyone who is read as female is being sexually harassed every other minute, by people shouting at them from passing cars, or people walking up to them and talking into the back of their heads.
I need music, and the ability to dance and move, to keep my spirits high enough that I am both motivated to be there and there in a productive manner. I need bubbles and sparkles and sidewalk chalk. I need high fives, fist-bumps, bright colours on all our posters, and smiles on all the faces of the people I’m standing in solidarity with. I need good jokes, and definitely not sexist jokes. I need hugs from warrior women. I need to know that the space we are creating with our bodies is safe enough for fellow survivors to approach me, so that I can tell them they aren’t alone. I need to hear singing and laughing, not yelling or loudly declaring some hateful shit that just came out of one of the people I’m picketing. I need to know that I am doing this for my spirit, and that I am safer as a part of a group than I am when I am out there alone.