Today was International Women’s Day, which is what prompts the “Genocide Awareness Project” campaign to appear each year at a local university campus — that fact may very well change in future years, as hundreds of visitors, students, and instructors signed a petition to UBC to prohibit these obscene displays from appearing again. If you haven’t read how I reflected upon the first day of counter-picketing (in this blog post), the campaign directly equates abortion with the Nazi Holocaust, Cambodian killing fields, Black lynchings, the Wounded Knee Massacre, and Rwandan genocide. Graphic images of all of these events of mass murder, genocide, and ethnic cleansing stand immediately adjacent to doctored images of what is alleged to be aborted fetal remains. Volunteers from local pro-life groups stand with their backs turned to these horrific and offensive murals, passing out pamphlets to passersby and continuously trying to bait people into endless debates by avoiding direct answers, changing the subject, derailing the topic of conversation, making personal attacks, using straw man arguments, and answering questions by asking questions that are only obliquely relevant (if they even grant that much).
Psychoanalysis and Abortion Politics
After the first day of counter-picketing, I experienced utterly horrendous and extremely vivid nightmares, one of which involved me being completely overpowered, brutally raped, and beaten to death by a man holding a brick in his hand. When I woke up, I had a psychotherapy appointment to attend before I could be on my way to the picket lines. Naturally, I detailed this particular nightmare to my psychotherapist, and expressed that perhaps I have not yet learned how to properly decompress myself after being confronted with these incredibly offensive and racist images all day. I spoke about how I genuinely believe that this group of people are a part of an enormous hate movement called “pro-life”. I talked about how their entire purpose, strategy, and goal is to viscerally offend, emotionally traumatize, and aggressively antagonize as many people as inhumanely as possible (this also applies to virtually all of pro-life activism). I said that they literally fetishize violence and turn abortion into depictions of snuff pornography. It’s obscene, and it’s a funnel of hatred.
My psychotherapist raised a number of issues that have come up in my previous visits over the past year and a half, and said that these all seem to be triggered by the displays. More on that momentarily. He said that it sounds to him as if these groups project everything they don’t like about the world onto an out-group (pro-choicers) and subsequently vent hatred towards them. He heard in the details of all the invasive actions these groups engage in, that they don’t respect boundaries and yet, expect perfection from anyone who displays a propensity of any magnitude towards resistance — something I have personally experienced at virtually every counter-picket. He added that this would necessarily require intensive brain-washing, because otherwise, any self-critical person would be able to see how incredibly aggressive, hostile, and inherently violent their behaviour is. Indeed, anyone who actually believes that all life is sacred would be able to see how inherently violent the very existence of our society is, given that it was built on top of demolished villages, mass graves, and the complete destruction of former old growth forests that had remained virtually untouched for several thousand years.
And this is where I’m going to go into personal details about those issues I have vented in that office, that seem to be triggered by the displays and other psychologically (and sometimes physically) invasive tactics being used by pro-life groups, because I have experience with brain-washing and I can guarantee that you do too. It’s called non-consensual gendering, and when I was very young but already had a fairly unsettling conception of my gender in relation to my body, I was told about what name I would have been given if I had been born a boy like I was expected to be. I would have been given a gender-neutral name at birth, for starters, but when it was revealed that I was (going to be) born a (medically assigned) female, I was given an intensely gendered name instead. Parents with a dominant cultural mindset towards other peoples’ children will enquire into the sex of the neonate before they even express concern for the safety, health, or well-being of the newborn (or the mother who just gave birth). And when children assigned to the female sex are raised as girls, they are brainwashed with all sorts of ideas about what that means and who they should aspire to be. The same applies to children assigned to the male sex who are raised as boys, even though it manifests differentially. This brainwashing isn’t just done by the parents of a given child—it’s a collective process by the entire dominant culture and the society that upholds those values. By the time we are adults, we are already perpetuating the same binarism against our own children and our friends’ children. My struggle to unpack all of these ideas finally resulted in my decision to start testosterone injections a little more than a year ago. That decision might have come sooner, had I not spent so much time thinking about whether or not my persistent subjective experience of a fluid gender identity that frequently tends towards masculine isn’t just an elaborate defence mechanism or lie I tell myself to allow me to escape the constant pain and chronic grief of the horrible upbringing I survived. But ultimately, I decided that even if it is, there is not one valid reason for continuing to torture myself with a feminine gender embodiment.
It’s hard fucking work undoing the years and years of gendered brainwashing, and most people don’t feel the need to even start. But there’s another layer to what’s being triggered by “Genocide Awareness Project”, and that’s the internalized notion of being an unwanted child. My parents treated me as though I didn’t deserve love, was a mistake for being born a girl (and was subsequently punished for it through years of sexual, physical, emotional, and spiritual abuse), and didn’t deserve a family. I frequently fantasized about being able to turn time backwards and eliminate myself from existence, when I wasn’t fantasizing about having been born into a different household or taken away to one. I very intensely felt for a long time that the world would have been a better place and I would have been better off if I had simply never been born. These are the ideas that revolve in orbit around the pro-life movement and all of its tactics and goals—it’s an entire movement rooted in and perpetuated by a persistent and intense phobia of being an unwanted child like I was. Most people who actually believe they are or were unwanted work through that shit in a therapist’s office, but the people involved in the pro-life movement vent their crisis into the public sphere. Their pornographied depictions of abortion, death, and genocide are their defence mechanisms for unresolved feelings of deep-rooted rejection by their own family members. It would almost be pitiful if it wasn’t all funnelled into such an aggressively bigoted and public demonstration (i.e., there is no context-free space where this kind of demonstration is OK, because we all struggle through these crises). And about that funnelling of hatred: there’s no way this could even happen among people who weren’t so self-absorbed in their own psychodrama of rejection that they can no longer empathize with people who have either survived acts of genocide themselves or descended from survivors into the hazards of trans-generational violence.
Where the brainwashing of non-consensual gendering and elaborate defence mechanisms for feelings of rejection intersect, one observes a veritable explosion of new (sometimes intersecting) layers of brainwashing and defence mechanisms (such as cognitive dissonance). There are so many ways to approach the entire galaxy of hate speech and ignorance that manifest themselves out of these layers upon layers of self-absorbed and self-defensive behaviour, it would surely take an entire lifetime of work to specialize in the subject as an academic. And this is really at the root of why I simply cut to the chase and refer to the pro-life movement as a hate movement. I simply don’t have an entire lifetime to establish the field so that it can make a meaningful academic contribution towards protecting and reinforcing women’s rights. I am already going to be spending the rest of my life trying to heal from the daily, multi-faceted demonstrations of violence that characterized my existence from infancy into my mid-twenties. I also can’t justify the idea that the onus is somehow on me — a random unprofessional blogger somewhere on the internet — to radically alter this country’s reproduction and sexual health politics through its highly Eurocentric educational institutions.
Decolonizing Conversations About Women and Reproduction
For the sake of context here, the front of my sandwich board read “Pro-Life is a Hate Movement” in large letters and “Whose ancestors are you standing on?” in slightly smaller letters. The back of my sandwich board read “Attempted Genocide: 1867 to Present” and featured the first page of the current revision of The Indian Act taped to the middle of it. I was dressed in black from head to toe, wearing mirror-lens sunglasses and a bandanna that covered my face. I don’t quite remember how the conversation got started between myself, a friend from the local Occupy movement, and a young Iranian man, but soon we found ourselves simultaneously explaining the nature of and discussing examples of colonialism as a parallel to the issue of men’s rights and misogyny. I pointed out that for instance, the pro-life movement has relatively recently produced a private member’s bill to propose a ban on sex-selective abortion in Canada. A commonly held belief is that women in Chinese culture in particular are undervalued, and that because of the One Child policy in China, women either terminate their pregnancies (or commit infanticide) if they discover they are going to give birth to a girl because male infants are so strongly preferred. But this is a colonialist mythology that reproduces and reinforces racist ideologies that lead to people like Mark Warawa — the Canadian Member of Parliament who wrote and tabled Motion 408 — thinking that legislating over the collective reproductive organs of all immigrant women from China, South Korea, and India is a step towards gender equality. In actual fact, women in China are paying doctors to not report the birth of their female children. And though women’s gender roles in Chinese culture differ from women’s gender roles in Eurocentric culture, the manner in which they are interpreted to suggest that women are undervalued is a colonialist narrative. The way we can better understand what that means is by engaging with the insights and perspectives of someone who is an insider to Chinese culture and traditions, instead of observing and interpreting from our own already-contextualized standpoint.
I then pointed to the “Genocide Awareness Project” to my right, as an example of a colonialist narrative that flies in the face of possible reconciliation with First Nations communities in this country. Because here we are, standing on the site of a former village and very likely a mass grave of indigenous peoples, and we’re protesting a group that fails to even acknowledge that the genocide perpetrated against First Nations in this country has yet to stop for the first time since contact, while they claim that abortion is genocide. I turned my sign around to the side with The Indian Act, and said that this is an example of raising awareness about genocide. But what the pro-lifers are doing with their hate-mongering campaign is simply de-contextualizing genocide and appropriating the result to horrify people into compliance with their misogynist world views (which include taking the right to access abortion away from women all across the continent). I said that if they had the respect for life that they claim to have, they would respect not only life but death as well, rather than fetishizing and pornographying it the way they have. As we began to talk about the destruction of indigenous culture, the Iranian man said that First Nation communities should be learning our ways of life, taking what’s good, and incorporating it into their own lives. “But they already have and do,” I said, adding that the key to reconciliation is the rest of us returning the favour to them, rather than pretending that they demand we all go back to Europe.
He told me at this point that it may not be clear, but he’s not even from Europe, and those who have known have treated him with revolt and disgust. Soon we began discussing how visibly racialized people of colour and those who might be considered “stealth” for their ability to pass for white are exposed to different kinds of racism against the very same ethnic groups (“stealth” people of colour who reveal their identity are often exposed to both in the same conversation). I remember bringing this up as a point of empathy for the plight of women in this country, which I then followed up by explaining that not only am I actually a white person and yet able to understand and relate to his experience, but as a person who wasn’t born male, and who is often read as female until such a time as I speak (at which time I am then often read as a transwoman), I experience two different kinds of sexism against women — almost on a daily basis. I could see the light bulb brighten up in that moment. The fact is that these issues are all products of colonialism, but the opportunity to have this conversation was one of two major highlights of the past two days.
Abortion is not Auschwitz
While preparing signs for the counter-picket the day before the first appearance of the campaign, my friend prompted me for possible slogans she could write on her sign. I told her that, due to the anticipated depiction of the Nazi Holocaust, and our known location adjacent to the Jewish students’ building, I would make a sign that reads “Abortion is not Auschwitz.” She told me that while it is a true statement, she finds the idea unsettling and is concerned about offending people who are more deeply connected to that history, as she is herself not Jewish. I thought about the same, too. But I independently concluded that anyone who would actually try to accuse her of being racist or anti-Semitic for writing “X is not Auschwitz” in any case of an event or action that is in no way legitimately comparable to the systematic mass torture and murder of ten million people of a particular ethnic group — but especially in the case of abortion — is simply trying to disempower her voice as an activist. I encouraged her to be brave. Not only would she be doing the right thing but would be doing it in a good way, to show those who are hit the closest by the graphic depictions that it is not acceptable for anyone to misappropriate their history, and that their grief is shared among people who are not directly impacted by this display of hostility and disrespect. She went through with it, and we were alone together on the counter-picket side for the first two or three hours of the first day, and back again at 10:30 a.m. with just one other person today for about an hour before dozens of supporters arrived after us.
I know we both did our best to show our solidarity with the Jewish students entering and exiting the building all day today, and when I least expected it, I received a very brief and humbling visit. The director of the building approached me and my second friend (who, at the time, was wearing the sandwich board that read “Abortion is not Auschwitz” on the front, and “$hame on you, UB¢!” on the back). He asked us if we would like some water or possibly something to eat, and he returned a few minutes later with water for us. I later learned that he very quietly thanked my friend for the “Abortion is not Auschwitz” sign, directly confronted the anti-Semitic aspect of “Genocide Awareness Project”. I am both humbled and overwhelmed since hearing it. This is what we hoped to achieve with our presence there over the past two days, as that particular misappropriation and anti-Semitism hits close to my heart in the same way as someone who is part ethnically Jewish. So thank you, Sir, for coming out to tell us. I don’t know your name and I don’t know if you will ever find this blog post, but from the bottom of my heart, thank you for telling us. It took a lot of courage for us to be there and to take a stand, taking the risk of speaking with a warrior’s heart against that kind of hatred, and it makes a world of difference to be honoured simply by the knowledge that it was received in a good way.