About a year ago I picked up a WENCH flier at Highland Coffee Company. I was looking for some volunteer opportunities and clinic escorting immediately appealed to my sense of duty, responsibility and activism. I had no idea what I was getting into or the level of metamorphosis I would undergo.
Escorting clients into a gynecologist office should not be necessary. No one should have to endure the gauntlet of hatred, judgment, obstruction, harassment, and plain old-fashion stupidity lining the sidewalks here at Louisville’s only clinic that provides abortive care, one of only two in the state. Anti-choice activist have exhausted every legal, moral and ethical avenue to make abortion the most regulated procedure in the history of modern medicine. And yet, it remains legal and available and by some accounts the safest, most common surgical procedure in the country. And the anti-choice extremist are just not satisfied. They resort to bullying, intimidation, and physical obstruction to coerce people into acting in accordance with their personal, ideological beliefs. (I’m no lawyer but that sounds a whole lot like terrorism to me.) I ask you, would PETA be allowed to use the anti-choice tactics outside of Kentucky Fried Chicken? How would these “Christians” feel if 100 folks, mostly 6′ tall, 200 pound Muslims of Color lined both sides of the sidewalk leading up to their church and shouted condemnation as they went to Easter Services? It may be legal but that doesn’t mean we as a society have to stand by and tacitly condone these actions. I escort to empower clients and companions so they can make the choice that is best for themselves and their families. Bullies don’t get to make those choices, not in my backyard, not today.
The sidewalk outside the clinic taught me more about human behavior in the last year than I think I have learned in any decade of my life. A combat marine arrives home from Iraq on Thursday. His wife tells him she is pregnant with another man’s baby on Friday. The come to the clinic on Saturday.
“Don’t kill your baby because your wife’s a sinner.”
The marine would later tell us it took every ounce of Marine Corp resolve to repress the kill urge.
A couple learns they are pregnant with twins, a dream come true. But the dream turns to nightmare when one of the boys develops a fatal defect and is dragging his brother down with him. The heart broken couple has 24 hours to abort the diseased fetus so that the other might survive.
“Be a real man, stand up for your baby!” “Please don’t kill your little baby!” And holding up a fetus-snuff porn poster, “This is what they do to your child in there!” Compassion, you’re doing it wrong.
On a personal level, escorting is the most rewarding activism in which I have ever participated. Unlike signing a petition, letter writing or even marching in protests, escorting makes an immediate, concrete, positive impact for those at the epicenter of the pro-choice issue. I see the clients and companions relax and ease up when they realize the escorts are there to help them through the gauntlet.
But the true metamorphosis began when I widened my vision beyond the clinic and started embracing the spectrum of reproductive health issues. I joined NOW. I have attended workshops and film discussions on issues ranging from underground abortion services in the pre-RoeVsWade era to reproductive health justice. I learned things I never knew were an issue – activist having to teach educated, 20 somethings the biological name and function of their vaginas?!?!? Seriously, how did we get here? After clinic breakfast discussions opened my eyes to the horrors of pregnancy in the medical arena and the beauty of home birthing. I learned about the gender binary and how vital it is that we break it down. I’ve embraced not trusting my perceptions of gender, sexuality, orientation, race, ideologies, or anything else that pops up “at face value”.
And through all of this, I have questioned why, as a middle-aged, middle-class white man, do I have any reason or right to embrace these issues? Reproductive health is a woman’s domain, right?
The single most important thing I have learned is that as a middle-class, middle-aged white man, I MUST embrace these issues. Just as the civil rights movement took hold when white people stopped accepting racism as normal in their white families and white work places, so will “woman’s” issues start to take hold when men start calling out other men on their sexist ways. It begins by shutting up and listening to women when they talk about these issues. Ask questions and then shut up and listen. Shut up and Listen. Then comes the changes. Rape jokes are not funny. Misogyny is not acceptable. It is not okay to withhold knowledge and skills from female co-workers so as to promote and advance your buddies. We must create uncomfortable silences at family gatherings when Uncle Idiot oppresses Aunt Submissive. We must no longer allow our fathers, nephews, sons and friends to think any of this is OK. We must pick up this fight and stand with our sisters, mothers, aunts and wives. Not as champions or knights, saviors or rescuers but rather as brothers-in-arms, side-by-side making the world a better, safer, more powerful place one living room, one office, one sidewalk outside a clinic at a time.