March 30, 2010

Stories relevant to the fight for reproductive justice

Posted in Feminism, Human rights, Reproduction at 4:57 pm by The Lizard Queen

It’s often the case that when people talk about reproductive freedom or reproductive justice, the conversation centers around abortion access.  And don’t get me wrong, that’s an important conversation to have, particularly in this age of anti-choice concessions.  To that end, then, I wanted to highlight this story I came across today (via Two Women Blogging), written by Bridget Potter, titled Lucky Girl.  She details her experience with an unwanted pregnancy and illegal abortion in 1962.  A brief excerpt:

Michael was Roman Catholic and at twenty-two was willing to get married but unenthusiastic. We could, he supposed, live with his parents in the Bronx. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. My upper-class English parents would have been appalled and, I was sure, unsupportive. Confused, ashamed, scared, and sad, I decided to try to get an abortion.

Try was the operative word. I asked the gynecologist for advice. He told me that the law prohibited him from helping me in any way but he offered to check me later for infection. The idea of infection alarmed me but I thought his gesture was nice.

Potter’s story, alongside the statistics she cites, is an excellent illustration of the importance of keeping abortion legal.  It is not just for women who do not wish to bear children to be forced to do so.  Also important in the struggle for reproductive justice, though, is the idea that women who do wish to bear children, or who might wish to bear children someday, should not be forced not to.  The tragedy and injustice of involuntary sterilization is something we need to be talking about, too, and so I wanted to highlight an excellent article (heartbreaking, but excellent) published on last week that tells the stories of several survivors of North Carolina’s mid-20th-century eugenics program.  (Hat tip to Feministing.)  Here is a brief part of Elaine Riddick’s story:

Elaine was 14 when she gave birth to what was to be her only child, a son, in 1968 at Chowan Hospital in Edenton. She doesn’t remember much about her hospital visit, but she was told that she almost died and had to stay in the hospital a week longer than her son.

For the next few years, Elaine says she remembers having frequent stomach pain and hemorrhaging so severe that at 16 she was admitted to a hospital. The doctor gave her little information, but she remembers he remarked that she’d been “butchered.”

These stories are important.  Some folks are horrifyingly quick to decide that certain people, people society deems less valuable for any number of reasons, shouldn’t have children.  (Here’s an example from less than two years ago.)  But those people deserve the freedom to procreate (or not, should they so choose) as much as anyone else does.  They deserve justice.


March 24, 2010

Hump Day Poetry: Ai (1947-2010)

Posted in Poetry at 8:53 am by The Lizard Queen

May she rest in peace, knowing that she challenged us: with beauty, with cruelty, with sensuality, with pain.


for Robert Lowell

We smile at each other
and I lean back against the wicker couch.
How does it feel to be dead? I say.
You touch my knees with your blue fingers.
And when you open your mouth,
a ball of yellow light falls to the floor
and burns a hole through it.
Don’t tell me, I say. I don’t want to hear.
Did you ever, you start,
wear a certain kind of silk dress
and just by accident,
so inconsequential you barely notice it,
your fingers graze that dress
and you hear the sound of a knife cutting paper,
you see it too
and you realize how that image
is simply the extension of another image,
that your own life
is a chain of words
that one day will snap.
Words, you say, young girls in a circle, holding hands,
and beginning to rise heavenward
in their confirmation dresses,
like white helium balloons,
the wreaths of flowers on their heads spinning,
and above all that,
that’s where I’m floating,
and that’s what it’s like
only ten times clearer,
ten times more horrible.
Could anyone alive survive it?

—Ai, 1999

(Also by Ai: “Salomé“)

March 17, 2010

Hump Day Poetry: Eithne Strong

Posted in Poetry at 10:27 am by The Lizard Queen

Statement to Offspring

Look, I’ll never leave you, issue
of my bone: inside
the marrow’s marrow tissue
I am true no matter what.

But I must not be your slave
and do not suck my later life.
I, of sweat and pain have
given, and breaking labour.

Let me be. There is much
I am starving for.
No muffler I to scarf your
years. I cannot aye be shield.

Rebellion? Yes. I am but part
grown. We grow till death.
Let me space. I cry for stars
as in my callow years.

But test me and I’m there.
In the meantime, let me burgeon
whatever else may fruit.
I have suckled without stint.

Let my statement grate who will.
I am no easy choice.
I never asked to have you
but having, am entirely true.

Just allow me room.

—Eithne Strong, 1974

(Happy St. Patrick’s Day!)

Previously posted poems by Irish poets:
Eavan Boland: “Outside History
Seamus Heaney: “Punishment
W.B. Yeats: “The Second Coming,” “Sailing to Byzantium,” “Adam’s Curse,” “No Second Troy

March 15, 2010

Book review: And the Band Played On by Randy Shilts

Posted in Books, GLBT issues, Medicine, Politics, Science at 9:41 pm by The Lizard Queen

And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic
by Randy Shilts

I knew it was bad, though I knew that mostly from other readings, because essentially, I don’t remember a time before AIDS. I remember that in grade school, “Red Ribbon Week” was about saying no to drugs rather than AIDS awareness, but that’s pretty much it. When Ryan White was battling to attend school, I was in first grade. I can remember having assemblies in years not too much later where they talked about how you can’t catch HIV through casual contact, and we can still be good friends and hold hands and hug and everybody’s happy and no one discriminates against anyone! (Of course, that was all, to the best of my knowledge, academic; I’m not entirely convinced that people would have been so sanguine had someone with HIV or AIDS actually tried to attend the school).  Read the rest of this entry »

March 11, 2010

The right to privacy does not preclude the right to speak out

Posted in Feminism, Reproduction at 12:22 pm by The Lizard Queen

I’ve been way behind on reading blogs and, especially, blogging (as my regular readers have surely noticed!), but Evil Bender sent me a link to this Salon article by Mary Ann Sorrentino in which she bemoans Angie Jackson’s decision to live-tweet her medical abortion, and I felt moved to respond to it.  (Read: it pissed me right the fuck off.)

It started with the title, “The right to hate Angie Jackson’s choice.”  I appreciate that the title was most likely chosen by an editor rather than the author, but the idea of hating another woman’s choice strikes me as extraordinarily problematic, sort of in the same vein as the “love the sinner, hate the sin” bullshit.  The things we do, the decisions we make, the actions we take, they’re all part of who we are.  That’s not to say it’s impossible to love a person and hate what they do, nor is it to say that Sorrentino isn’t free to hate whoever or whatever she pleases, but it begins the discussion on an antagonistic note.

And then Sorrentino comes to this charming thought:

If . . . [Jackson’s] decision about ending her child-bearing is solid and responsible, one has to wonder why she didn’t just have a tubal ligation.

I can think of a few possibilities: Because said procedure is expensive, and I’m not sure whether Jackson has health insurance?  (I read enough of the tweets to know that Jackson and her partner paid for the abortion out-of-pocket.)  Because it’s difficult to find a doctor who will perform said procedure on a woman in her twenties?  Because Jackson believed (understandably) that an IUD (which she had) would suffice?

Furthermore, does the fact that Jackson went public with this particular choice mean that all her other choices are fair game for scrutiny?  How far, truly, is “if you didn’t want a baby you should’ve had your tubes tied” from “if you didn’t want a baby you shouldn’t’ve had sex”?  On the one hand, sure, it’s pretty far, but on the other, it’s merely a difference in degree, not in kind.

Sorrentino goes on to reassure readers of her pro-choice cred, and asserts that  

Those of us who drove in the dark of night to deliver or pick up a friend in a back-alley clinic, terrified that that friend hemorrhaging in the back seat of our car might die on our watch, know things that Ms. Jackson clearly cannot fathom.

I’ve poked around enough on Jackson’s blog to suspect that Sorrentino is actually pretty far off the mark here.  That aside, though—just going off of the knowledge Sorrentino and I have in common—I’m not sure what makes her think that Jackson “clearly cannot fathom” how terrible things were in the days before abortion was legal.  Jackson experienced a difficult pregnancy and childbirth, and she’s now experienced a legal abortion as well, which suggests to me that she could pretty easily imagine what it was like before.

Furthermore, I’m really just not sure what kind of sense that makes.  After all, it used to be that pregnancy and childbirth were taboo subjects for discussion, and they were certainly a great deal more dangerous than they are now.  Does that mean we shouldn’t talk about such things openly?  (If so, I have seen way too many sonogram printouts for someone without children of her own.)

What kills me about this, though, is the knowledge that Sorrentino does have that pro-choice cred.  Presumably we’re on the same side—which means I expect more from her.  I appreciate that there’s a generational divide coming into play here, and that these days people in their teens and twenties post about things on their Twitters and MySpaces and Facebooks and blogs that older people would never dream of discussing in such a public forum.  I get why such a frank discussion of a medical procedure might make people uncomfortable.  But there’s “uncomfortable,” and then there’s basically saying, “We won you the right to have that procedure, so shut up about it already.”  However, having the right to privacy does not equal having the obligation to keep particular things private.  (Similarly, the Lawrence v. Texas ruling does not mean gay people have to stay closeted out of a sense of privacy.  Can they if they want to?  Of course!  But they don’t have to.)

As Evil Bender put it in his e-mail to me, “I’d be inclined to say that fighting against moral scolds who tell strangers what they should do is an EXCELLENT reason to discuss one’s abortion.”