On the Front Lines

By Kit-Bacon Gressitt

You look in the bedroom mirror, small enough to deny self-adoration, and pull your brownish hair into a ponytail. Tight, like Mother used to do it, just the right way. You turn to the bed. Your clothes are laid out on sheets held taut by perfect hospital corners. You dress in practical layers, to accommodate the variable temperatures of the daylong vigil you perform every Thursday. First, your underthings, then flesh-tone tights and a plain white t-shirt. Next, the pleated blouse Mother used to wear, when you held the vigils together, and ski pants, a modest one size too large. Finally, a nice worsted wool skirt you found at Goodwill for a dollar. It’s a bit matronly, but you top it off with your 12-week ultrasound hoodie.

fetus dollsYou strap on your choose-life fanny pack, loaded with crisis pregnancy tracts and embryo dolls; take the bigger-than-life-size fetus parts poster in one hand and your calico-covered Bible in the other; and you march to the local abortion mill. Battle ready. Here profit motive thrives under Satan’s leering eyes and abortions are marketed to the vulnerable—to provide lucrative embryos for ungodly research. You believe this with all her heart because that’s what the tracts tell you.

You bungee-cord the poster to a tree and take your position between the clinic entrance and the parking lot. You’re armed with the assurance that you’re doing God’s righteous work, as Mother taught you, witnessing for life, sidewalk counseling would-be abortion victims, guiding them away from mortal sin, toward salvation. You adjust the bunched-up layers around your waist while you await the poor misguided mothers, bearing their precious preborns to slaughter. You know they will come, as they do every week, in numbers that torment your heart with the horrid image of God’s beloved innocents torn asunder by evil and torturous tools in the hands of Death’s doctors. But you are stalwart, determined to rescue a life from the great abyss of immoral destruction.

The clinic opens, the women and girls—not so much younger than you—begin to arrive, and you gird your supplies. They are comforting. Mother was so much better at this.

You take a breath. “Excuse me,” you say as you step before the nearest sinner heading for the door. The young woman looks sad. She wears immodest jeans from which she’ll soon burst forth in the full flower of maternal fertility—if you can lead her to Jesus.

“How many weeks are you?” you say.

“Huh?” the girl says, wires dangling from her ears to a front pocket.

“How many weeks pregnant are you?” You give her your kindest, most eager smile.

“Hmm?” The girl frowns, pulls a phone from her pocket and, without looking up, says, “What?”

“Do not renounce God’s miracle growing within you,” you say. “Already it feels. Already it knows life. Already it loves you.”

She stares at you, says nothing. She needs you.

“I know you’re scared and confused, but don’t succumb to the fear of your situation, to the temptation of an easy solution. In truth, it is not easy. There are better ways. God has sent you his love and support—through me. Choose life for your preborn child.”

The girl pulls the wires from her ears. “What did you say?”

“Choose life,” you repeat. You put down your Bible and pull a tiny plastic embryo from your fanny pack. “Look, this one, this one here is probably the size of yours. Choose life for the blameless gift God has given you, and you will receive his endless blessings. Choose life for your baby and heavenly eternity for yourself.”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” the girl says and steps around you.

“Please wait!” Mother taught you how to deal with denial. You must use extreme counseling technique. You grab the girl’s hand and drop to your knees. “You needn’t be afraid. Turn your heart away from the evil of abortion. God’s innocent fruit grows in the garden of your womb. Don’t let them suck it out to rot in the bowels of evil!”

“Gross.” The girl pulls away from you.

You hold on tighter. “Don’t do this,” you say. “We’ll help you through your pregnancy and then—”

“Yeah?” the girl says, “and then what?”

“Then the lord will provide.”

“Yeah, right.” The girl snickers and pulls harder. “Let go of me.”

“No, please.” You try not to, but you cry. “Listen to me.” The girl hesitates. Your nose drips. You look up at her and think of Mother. “Before God formed the sinless one in your womb, he knew her. His hands shaped and made her. Would you now turn from the wonder of his love?” You wipe your nose on the sleeve of the ultrasound hoodie and wrap yourself around the girl’s calves.

“You’re nuts.” The girl struggles against your embrace. “Let go—let go!”

“I can’t. Jesus wants me to save you. Please don’t murder your baby! Give your preborn the gift of life!”

The girl yanks one leg free, puts her foot against your chest and pushes you backward. “Cool your shit,” she says. “I’ve got a killer UTI—stay the fuck out of my way.”

You gather yourself and get up from the sidewalk, brushing dirt and leaves from the nice Goodwill skirt, tidying your ponytail, and you wonder if the clinic switched the weekday it murders unborns. Nausea quivers through your belly at the thought of having to change your routine. The routine you and Mother performed together every week. Mother, who didn’t abort you.

“Have a blessed day,” you call after the girl.

She’s already inside.


Previously published by Writers Resist.


About Kit-Bacon Gressitt

January 22 is the anniversary of the Roe v Wade Supreme Court decision guaranteeing women the freedom to make their own private reproductive decisions. It’s also Kit-Bacon Gressitt’s birthday, which has long seemed significant to her. Spawned by a Baptist creationist and a liberal social worker, K-B inherited the requisite sense of humor to survive family dinner-table debates and the imagination to avoid them. As a result, she’s a feminist writer, she supports unrestricted access to affordable abortion and other reproductive health services, and she’s an LGBTQ rights advocate. She also birthed a child of color, who’s taught her a lot about white privilege and intersectionality. An erstwhile political columnist with an MFA in Creative Writing, K-B is now represented by Amanda Annis at Trident Media Group and is a Women’s Studies lecturer. Visit her website.

Because it’s unlikely the nation will see anything from the new administration akin to President Obama’s 2016 commemoration of the Roe v Wade decision, it is reprinted here:

The White House
January 22, 2016

Statement by the President on the 43rd Anniversary of Roe v. Wade

Today, we mark the 43rd anniversary of the Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade, which affirmed a woman’s freedom to make her own choices about her body and her health. The decision supports the broader principle that the government should not intrude on private decisions made between a woman and her doctor. As we commemorate this day, we also redouble our commitment to protecting these constitutional rights, including protecting a woman’s access to safe, affordable health care and her right to reproductive freedom from efforts to undermine or overturn them. In America, every single one of us deserves the rights, freedoms, and opportunities to fulfill our dreams.

Photo credit: Anthony Easton via a Creative Commons License.

The Idiocy-Capable, Unrealized Adults Protection Act

By Kit-Bacon Gressitt

January 22 is a significant date for me. I make note of it every year. There are two reasons.

One, January 22 is the day my mother, now dear and departed, birthed me. This year, I will acknowledge the anniversary in the warm embrace of family, Sicilian cuisine and possibly enough Chianti to disqualify my normal role as designated driver. I will laugh among loved ones, expound on various profundities and polemics, blow out the candles, and wish for a future in which women continue to make progress toward equality in the United States, while I sag imperceptibly toward my oldth.

GagMeHangerTwo, January 22 is the anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion in the United States. Today’s newly Republican-dominated Congress will acknowledge the anniversary in the warm embrace of anti-abortion activists and enough religiosity to qualify many of its members as anthropomorphic examples of a failed separation of church and state. They will envision a national ban on abortions after 20 weeks, vote on the misnomered H.R. 36, the “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act,” and wish for a future female population that acquiesces to white, heterosexual, Christian male dominance.

By the way, the bill’s title is a misnomer because scientific studies put the age at which a fetus experiences pain somewhere between 23 and 30 weeks.

Please note, however, that science is not a requisite basis for U.S. legislation; nor is the embrace of science a requisite for being elected to the U.S. Congress.

Please note also that some of those who support the unscientific bill are not necessarily idiots, but some clearly are, for example, Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), who introduced it. He’s one of those nutty elected guys who’ve said nutty things about “women parts” they can’t bring themselves to name in public. Franks’ contribution to the nuttiness is, “The incidence of rape resulting in pregnancy are very low,” a statement contradicted by medical science and the rules of grammar.

CallameConUnGanchoThis sort of thing puts a bit of a damper on my celebratory mood. I’m always grateful to share a day of such importance to the advancement of women’s rights, but I’m always annoyed that some men and women remain adamantly dedicated to rescinding this particular advancement, and preventing others when the opportunity arises. And now, I’m sad that I can no longer call Mother on the 22nd to thank her for birthing me—and for teaching me grammar.

My mother was a great fan of grammar, unlike Rep. Franks and so many of his peers. She liked syntax, too, big fan of that. And punctuation. Also semantics. We could play with the meaning of words well into the wee hours. And, ho boy, Mother would have had some fun with H.R. 36’s title, the “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act.” It’s quite a little piece of propaganda: Who wouldn’t want to vote to protect children, right? I imagine, though, she’d have found that hyphenated compound modifier troubling, and the missing comma. She would surely never have referred to Rep. Franks and his nutty peers as “idiocy-capable, unrealized adults.” But she surely would have wondered why anything yet to be born would rely on anyone but its mother for protection.

Mother did a great job of protecting me, in the womb and out, without any interference from Congress. She was especially protective when I had an abortion. And you know what? When she died, she left me some money, so I honored her departure by giving some of it to abortion funds in states already burdened with abortion bans, along with other regressive restrictions that make abortions pretty darn hard for low-income women to access.

This also makes me sad. And mad.

So here’s a thought. On the 22nd, when I blow out the candles, I’m wishing for this: that you make a contribution to an abortion fund. Yeah, that would be great! You can visit the National Network of Abortion Funds to find the fund nearest you.


For information about Roe v. Wade and reproductive justice:

Read Pro-Choice America’s “Abortion Bans at 20 Weeks: A Dangerous Restriction for Women.”

Click here to read an overview of the Roe v. Wade case.

Click here to read the Supreme Court decision, written by Justice Harry Blackmun.

Click here to read the dissenting opinion by Justice William Rehnquist.

1992 Rehnquist posters by Robbie Conal.

Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights by Katha Pollitt

An excerpt from Katha Pollitt’s new book, Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights (Picador, October 14, 2014), reprinted with permission.




Available at Powell’s and other independent bookstores, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble.

Abortion. We need to talk about it. I know, sometimes it seems as if we talk of little else, so perhaps I should say we need to talk about it differently. Not as something we all agree is a bad thing about which we shake our heads sadly and then debate its precise degree of badness, preening ourselves on our judiciousness and moral seriousness as we argue about this or that restriction on this or that kind of woman. We need to talk about ending a pregnancy as a common, even normal, event in the reproductive lives of women—and not just modern American women either, but women throughout history and all over the world, from ancient Egypt to medieval Catholic Europe, from today’s sprawling cities to rural villages barely touched by modern ideas about women’s roles and rights. Abortion takes place in Canada and Greece and France, where it is legal, performed by medical professionals, and covered by national health insurance, and also in Kenya, Nicaragua, and the Philippines, where it is a crime and a woman who terminates a pregnancy takes her life in her hands. According to anthropologists, abortion is found in virtually every society, going back at least 4,000 years. American women had great numbers of abortions throughout our history, when it was legal and when it was not. Consider this: At the beginning of the nineteenth century effective birth control barely existed and in the 1870s it was criminalized— even mailing an informational pamphlet about contraceptive devices was against the law and remained so until 1936. Yet the average number of births per woman declined from around 7 in 1800 to around 3.5 in 1900 to just over 2 in 1930. How do you think that happened?

We need to see abortion as an urgent practical decision that is just as moral as the decision to have a child—indeed, sometimes more moral. Pro-choicers often say no one is “pro-abortion,” but what is so virtuous about adding another child to the ones you’re already overwhelmed by? Why do we make young women feel guilty for wanting to feel ready for motherhood before they have a baby? Isn’t it a good thing that women think carefully about what it means to bring a child into this world—what, for example, it means to the children she already has? We tend to think of abortion as anti-child and anti-motherhood. In media iconography, it’s the fetus versus the coat hanger: that is, abortion kills an “unborn baby,” but banning it makes women injure themselves. Actually, abortion is part of being a mother and of caring for children, because part of caring for children is knowing when it’s not a good idea to bring them into the world.We need to put abortion back into its context, which is the lives and bodies of women, but also the lives of men, and families, and the children those women already have or will have. Since nearly 1 in 5 American women end their childbearing years without having borne a child (compared with 1 in 10 in the 1970s), we need to acknowledge that motherhood is not for everyone; there are other ways of living a useful, happy life.

We need to talk about abortion in its full human setting: sex and sexuality, love, violence, privilege, class, race, school and work, men, the scarcity of excellent, respectful reproductive health care, and of realistic, accurate information about sex and reproduction. We need to talk about why there are so many unplanned and unwanted pregnancies—which means we need to talk about birth control, but also about so much more than that: about poverty and violence and family troubles, about sexual shyness and shame and ignorance and the lack of power so many women experience in bed and in their relationships with men. Why is it such a huge big deal to ask a man to wear a condom? Or for a man to do so without being asked? Why do so many women not realize they are pregnant until they are fifteen or twenty or even twenty-five weeks along, and what does that say about the extraordinary degree of vigilance we demand women exercise over their reproductive systems? And speaking of that vigilance, what about the fact that some 16 percent of women, according to a Brown University study, have experienced reproductive coercion in at least one relationship— a male partner who used threats or violence to control a woman’s contraception or pregnancy outcomes—with a remarkable 9 percent experiencing “birth control sabotage,” a male partner who disposed of her pills, poked holes in condoms, or prevented her from getting contraception. One-third of the women reporting reproductive coercion also reported partner abuse in the same relationship. Behind America’s high rate of unintended pregnancy—almost half of all pregnancies—and high rates of abortion lies a world of hurt.

ProBackcvrWe need to talk about the scarcity of resources for single mothers and even for two-parent families, and the extraordinary, contradictory demands we make upon young girls to be simultaneously sexually alluring and withholding: hot virgins. We need to talk about blood and mess and periods and pregnancy and childbirth and what women go through to bring new life into the world and whether deep in our hearts we believe that those bodies mean women were put on Earth to serve and sacrifice and suffer in a way that men are not. Because when we talk about abortion as a bad thing, and worry that there’s too much of it, sometimes we mean there’s too much unwanted pregnancy and that women and men need more and better sex education and birth control, and sometimes  we mean there’s too much poverty, especially for children and their mothers, but a lot of the time we mean a woman should have a good cry, and then do the right thing and have the baby. She can always put it up for adoption, can’t she, like Juno in the movie? And that is close to saying that a woman can have no needs, desires, purpose, or calling so compelling and so important that she should not set it aside in an instant, because of a stray sperm.

Abortion has been legal across the United States for more than four decades. More than a million abortions are performed every year—some 55 million since 1973, when Roe v. Wade became the law of the land. A few facts: By menopause, 3 in 10 American women will have terminated at least one pregnancy; about half of all US women who have an abortion have already had a prior abortion; excluding miscarriages, 21 percent of pregnancies end in abortion. Contrary to the popular stereotype of abortion-seeking women as promiscuous teenagers or child-hating professionals, around 6 in 10 women who have abortions are already mothers. And 7 in 10 are poor or low-income. Abortion, in other words, is part of the fabric of American life, and yet it is arguably more stigmatized than it was when Roe was decided. Of the seven Supreme Court justices who made up the majority in Roe, five were nominated by a Republican president. These men were hardly radicals: Potter Stewart, nominated by President Eisenhower, had dissented in the court’s 1965 landmark decision, Griswold v. Connecticut, which struck down that state’s ban on the sale or use of contraceptives even by married couples; in two separate decisions he upheld prayer and Bible readings in public schools. Warren Burger, Richard Nixon’s choice for Chief Justice, went on to rule in favor of laws criminalizing “sodomy” in Bowers v. Hardwick (1986) on the grounds that historically homosexuality had been viewed as heinous and wrong. What made these staid, gray-haired gentlemen permit abortion virtually on demand in the first six months of pregnancy?

To understand that, we have to see what those men saw. In the law, they were witnessing a rapid evolution toward increased personal freedom, and in particular increased freedom for women: These were the years when feminism was a true grassroots movement, one that achieved remarkable success in a very short time, knocking down hundreds of laws and regulations, challenging centuries of tradition and custom, and expanding women’s rights and opportunities in almost every area of life. Ten million women were taking birth-control pills, and two-thirds of all Catholic women were using some form of contraception. Women were pouring into colleges and the workforce. The year before the Roe decision, the Senate had passed the Equal Rights Amendment and sent it to the states for ratification.

In tandem with these huge social shifts, elite views were changing on abortion. Doctors had helped criminalize abortions after the Civil War as part of their effort to professionalize medicine by marginalizing midwives and lay healers. Now significant numbers of them saw abortion bans as a constraint on their right to care for their patients: Barring malpractice, there was no other circumstance in which a doctor had to defend his professional decisions as a matter of law. There had always been a little wiggle room in state abortion laws, because doctors were still permitted to perform them for “therapeutic” reasons—to save a woman’s life, for example. But what did that mean, exactly? An amicus curiae brief in Roe from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and several other medical groups observed that “a woman suffering from heart disease, diabetes or cancer whose pregnancy worsens the underlying pathology may be denied a medically indicated therapeutic abortion under the statute because death is not certain.” Meanwhile, the definition of “therapeutic” was being quietly expanded—for women with money, connections, and luck. Certain psychiatrists were willing to bend the rules by certifying abortion-seeking patients as mentally ill or suicidal (of course, you had to pay them for this service, and know how to find them in the first place). Beginning in the late 1940s, hospitals in many states set up abortion committees to which a woman seeking to terminate her pregnancy could appeal. It was a humiliating process, which could involve multiple physical examinations and interrogations by unsympathetic doctors. For some women, the price of an abortion was sterilization. But it meant that some small fraction of middle-class white girls and women were able to obtain legal abortions, especially if they happened to be related to one of the doctors on the committee.

As a matter of public discussion, abortion was coming out of the shadows. In 1962, Sherri Chessen Finkbine was granted a legal abortion because she had taken Thalidomide, a sleeping medication her husband had brought back from a trip to Europe that, she belatedly discovered, had resulted in the births of thousands of babies with disastrous deformities. When the abortion was canceled after a newspaper article about her situation created an uproar, Finkbine publicly went to Sweden and terminated her pregnancy there. Her story was featured on the cover of Life magazine and helped break the silence around abortion. But it did more than that. It presented an abortion-seeking woman as sympathetic, rational, and capable. Finkbine was not a college student or low-income single mother to be either pitied as a victim or scorned as a slut. She was a white, middle-class married mother of four, well known as Miss Sherri on the local version of Romper Room, a popular children’s television show. In the early 1960s, epidemics of rubella, which is linked to birth defects, had the same effect: Americans had to listen to respectable white women unapologetically demanding the right to end their pregnancies. At the same time, Americans had to face the fact that illegal abortion was already common.

The more exceptions there were to the criminalization of abortion, the more glaringly unfair and hypocritical the whole system was seen to be. By the time Roe came to the court, well-off, savvy women could flock to New York or several other states where laws had been relaxed and get a safe, legal termination; poor women, trapped in states that banned abortion, bore the brunt of harm from illegal procedures. There was a racial angle, too: Not only did women of color, then as now, have far more abortions than whites in proportion to their numbers, they were much more likely to be injured or die in botched illegal procedures. According to the Centers for Disease Con- trol and Prevention, from 1972 to 1974, the mortality rate due to illegal abortion for nonwhite women was 12 times that for white women. The injustice of a patchwork system, in which a simple medical procedure could leave a woman dead or in- jured based purely on where it took place, was obvious.

Women were speaking up, too, about their abortions. In 1969 feminists invaded and disrupted the New York state legis- lature’s “expert hearing” on abortion (the experts consisted of fourteen men and a nun). Women talked about ending their pregnancies in public speak-outs. In 1972 the first issue of Ms. magazine carried a statement headlined “We Have Had Abor- tions” that was signed by more than fifty prominent women, including Gloria Steinem, Nora Ephron, Billie Jean King, Lee Grant, and Lillian Hellman. In Chicago, the Jane Collective began by connecting women with an illegal provider and ended up performing abortions themselves. And if you assume the churches were united against abortion, think again: Begin- ning in 1967, the Clergy Consultation Service founded by the Rev. Howard R. Moody, a Baptist, along with Lawrence Lader, Arlene Carmen, and others, helped thousands of women across the country find their way to safe illegal abortions. In the years leading up to Roe, legalization of abortion under at least some circumstances was endorsed by the Union for Reform Judaism, the Southern Baptist Convention, the National Asso- ciation of Evangelicals, the United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church USA, the Episcopal Church, and other mainstream  denominations.

Because so much of this history has been forgotten—what, the Southern Baptists supported legalization?—we tend to see Roe as a bolt out of the blue. But to the Supreme Court—and to the public, a majority of which supported liberalization—the ruling ratified and expanded social changes that were already under way.  At the time, what its supporters saw as its chief effect was to transform an operation that was commonplace, criminal and sometimes extremely dangerous into an operation that was commonplace, legal, remarkably safe—and becoming ever safer: “Deaths from legal abortion declined fivefold between 1973 and 1985 (from 3.3 deaths to 0.4 deaths per 100,000 procedures),” reported the American Medical Association’s Council on Scientific Affairs, reflecting increased physician education and skills, improvements in medical technology, and, notably, the earlier termination of pregnancy. The mortality rate for childbirth from 1979 to 1985 was more than ten times higher than that from abortion in the same period.

Today the real-life harms Roe was intended to rectify have receded from memory. Few doctors remember the hospital wards filled with injured and infected women. The coat-hanger symbol seems as exotic as the rack and thumbscrew, a relic waved by gray-haired “radical feminists,” even as anti-abortion advocates use rare examples of injury and death to paint all abortions as unsafe. They seized on the horrifying case of Dr. Kermit Gosnell, who ran a filthy Philadelphia “clinic” where a teenage girl administered anesthesia, a patient died and others were injured, fetuses were aborted well into the third trimester, and the ones who survived had their spines “snipped.” You wouldn’t know from their reporting that what Gosnell was doing was completely against the law; he was found guilty of three acts of first-degree murder on May 13, 2013. Using deceptively edited secretly videoed encounters, abortion opponents tar all abortion clinics as inhumane “mills” staffed by callous, greedy people—transferring the century-old taint of the criminal “abortionist” to legitimate providers. Yet paradoxically, abortion opponents deny that when abortion was illegal it was both widespread and sometimes (though not always) dangerous. Look, they say, in 1960, Mary Steichen Calderone, medical director of Planned Parenthood, herself said there had been “only 260 deaths” in 1957. (They don’t mention that she also said it was likely that there were one million abortions a year—almost as many as today, in a much smaller population— and this was in the supposedly staid and moral 1950s, before the sexual revolution or the women’s movement.) Years ago I debated a leader of Massachusetts for Life who pooh-poohed the health risks of recriminalizing abortion: Thanks to suction machines and antibiotics (which illegal providers would all have access to) illegal procedures would be reasonably nonfatal. So there it is. Legal abortion: very dangerous. Illegal abortion: remarkably safe!

For many years after Roe, abortion opponents talked a lot about the need to overturn the decision, and worked hard to elect officials who would install anti-abortion justices on the Supreme Court. So far, they have not seen that dream realized. But they have been shockingly successful in making abortion hard to get in much of the nation. Between 2011 and 2013, states enacted 205 new restrictions—more than in the previous ten years: waiting periods, inaccurate scripts that doctors must read to patients (abortion causes breast cancer, mental illness, suicide), bans on state Medicaid payments, restrictions on insurance coverage, and parental notification and consent laws. In Ohio, lawmakers have taken money from TANF, the welfare program that supports poor families, and given it to so-called crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) whose mission is to discourage pregnant women from having abortions. (That’s right: Embryos and fetuses deserve government support, not the actual, living children they may become.) Twenty-seven states have passed laws forcing clinics into expensive and unnecessary renovations and burdening them with medical regula- tions intended to make them impossible to staff. Largely as a result, between 2011 and 2013 at least 73 clinics closed or stopped performing abortions. When these laws have been challenged in court, judges have set aside some of them, but not all. The result: In 2000, according to the Guttmacher Institute, around one-third of American women of reproductive age lived in states hostile to abortion rights, one-third lived in states that supported abortion rights, and one-third lived in states with a middle position. As of 2011, more than half of women lived in hostile states. Middle-ground states, such as North Carolina, Ohio, and Wisconsin, have moved in an anti-choice direction. Only twenty-three states could be said to have a strong commitment to abortion rights. In 2013, only one state, California, made abortion easier to obtain.

What this means is that although abortion has been legal for four full decades, for many women in America it might as well not be. It is inaccessible—too far away, too expensive to pay for out of pocket, and too encumbered by restrictions and regulations and humiliations, many of which might not seem to be one of those “undue burdens” the Supreme Court has ruled are impermissible curbs on a woman’s ability to terminate a pregnancy, but which, taken together, do place abortion out of reach. It would be nice to believe that no woman is deterred from an act so crucial to her future by having to wait a mere twenty-four hours between state-mandated counseling and the actual procedure, but what if the waiting period means two long round trips from your rural home to a distant city while trying to juggle work and child care, and because the clinic has to fly in a doctor from out of state, the twenty-four hours actually means a week, and that puts the woman into the second trimester but the clinic only does abortions through twelve weeks? What about the teenage girls who must tell their parents in order to get an abortion and can’t bear to do so until it’s too late? (Thirty-eight states currently require parental involvement in a minor’s decision to have an abortion.) What about low-income women who live in one of the thirty-three states without Medicaid abortion coverage? What if, while she is putting together the $500 for a first-trimester abortion, a low-income woman goes over into the second trimester, and now the abortion costs $1,000? It is as if a woman has a right to vote, but the polling place is across the state and casting a ballot costs two weeks’ pay, and as if she has a right to be a Jew or a Muslim or a Buddhist, but her place of worship is a four-hour bus ride away, and before she can go to services she has to listen to a fundamentalist Christian sermon warning her that if she doesn’t accept Jesus as her personal savior she’s going straight to hell. We would never accept the kinds of restrictions on our other constitutional rights that we have allowed to hamper the right to end a pregnancy.

How has this happened?

One answer is that the Republican Party, home base of the organized anti-abortion-rights movement, has won a lot of elections. The midterm elections in 2010 were crucial: The GOP won the House of Representatives and, even more important, in twenty states it had “trifectas”—control of both statehouses and the governorship. By 2013 it had twenty-four. Democrats, by contrast had only fourteen. (It’s important to note that not all Democratic politicians are pro-choice, especially in red states. In 2014, Louisiana’s bill that requires doctors at abortion clinics to have hospital admitting privileges, a measure that could close three out of the state’s five clinics, was written by a Democrat, Katrina Jackson.)

But there’s a deeper, more troubling answer. The self- described pro-life movement may not represent a numerical majority—only 7 to 20 percent of Americans tell pollsters they want to ban abortion—but what it lacks in numbers it makes up for in intensity, dedication, cohesion, and savvy. It is the closest thing we have right now to a mass social movement. It works in multiple ways at once—through its own organizations, electoral politics, abstinence-only sex education in the public schools, the Catholic and fundamentalist/evangelical churches, public protests like the annual March for Life in Washington, DC, and “sidewalk counseling” in front of clinics. It reaches all the way from a terrorist fringe that it regularly disowns but that has very effectively discouraged doctors from performing abortions to popular radio and TV haranguers like Bill O’Reilly and Rush Limbaugh to respectable journals like National Review and the Weekly Standard. Indeed, it is hard to think of American conservatism today without its opposition to abortion. You would never know that Ayn Rand and Barry Goldwater were pro-choice, and that in 1967, the governor of California, Ronald Reagan, signed what was then the most liberal abortion law in the nation. Some of this hostility to abortion is surely for political reasons: Right-wing Christians vote. But the fact that opposition to abortion is de rigueur even for mainstream Republicans like Mitt Romney shows the movement’s power.

The anti-abortion movement has made abortion a lot harder to get in many states, but even more important, it has reframed the issue. It has placed the zygote/embryo/fetus at the moral center, while relegating women and their rights to the periphery. Over time, it has altered the way we talk about abortion and the way many people feel about it, even if they remain pro-choice. It has made abortion seem risky, when in fact it is remarkably safe—twelve to fourteen times safer than the alter- native, which is continued pregnancy and childbirth. It has made people think the abortion of viable fetuses happens all the time when in fact it is illegal in most states except for serious medical reasons, and happens very rarely: According to the Guttmacher Institute, only 1.5 percent of abortions occur after twenty weeks’ gestation. (The Supreme Court has said twenty-four weeks is the threshold of viability.) It has made practices that are virtually unknown in the United States, like sex-selective abortions, seem routine and clinics like Dr. Gosnell’s seem typical.

Most of all, abortion opponents have made ending a pregnancy shameful, even for women who don’t believe a fertilized egg or a lentil-sized embryo is a child. It is hard now to believe, or even remember, that for a brief moment in the 1970s (let alone when abortion was an illegal but common practice), it was permissible not to consider your abortion a personal tragedy and failure. You were not automatically a callous, superficial person if you felt nothing but relief that you were no longer pregnant, and you were not a monster if you said so.

Nowadays, we take it for granted that having an abortion is a sorrowful, troubling, even traumatic experience, involving much ambivalence and emotional struggle, even though studies and surveys consistently tell us it usually is not. Even pro-choicers use negative language: Hillary Clinton called abortion “a sad, even tragic choice to many, many women.” True as far as it goes, but you’ll notice she didn’t add, “and for many others, a blessing and a lifesaver.” For decades, the Democratic Party mantra has been “safe, legal, and rare,” with the accent on the rare. Among hardcore opponents, the language is completely over the top: Abortion is a Holocaust, providers are Nazis, the womb is the most dangerous place on Earth for a child, the Democratic Party is the Party of Death.

As long as abortion has been legal, pro-choice activists have complained that abortion opponents have stolen the language of morality and used it to twist public opinion. Who can be against “life,” after all? Or responsibility, family, babies, motherhood? But it’s not just opponents who paint abortion as awful and tormented. Pro-choicers do so too.

We may roll our eyes when abortion opponents contrast the anguish of abortion with the joys of unwanted babies, and the selfishness of women who end their pregnancies with the nobility of women who keep theirs whatever the difficulty, but over time it seeps in. So defensive has the pro-choice community become since the 1970s, when activists proudly defended “abortion on demand and without apology,” that in 2013 Planned Parenthood announced that it was moving away from the term “pro-choice,” which was itself a bit of a euphemism: Choose what? In mass-media messaging you’re likely to hear about “defending Roe,” even though only 62 percent of Americans (and only 44 percent of those under thirty) know what Roe is. When abortion opponents at the Susan G. Komen Foundation canceled its grants in 2012, Planned Parenthood’s response emphasized that “More than 90 percent of Planned Parenthood health care is preventive, including lifesaving cancer screenings, birth control, prevention and treatment of STDs, breast health services, Pap tests, and sexual health education and information.” True, this cautious approach won the day—Komen was forced to restore the grants, and the anti-choice faction left the organization. But was there no room for Planned Parenthood to add, “Yes, we perform abortions, and we are proud to offer that service to women who make the decision not to bear a child at that time, because abortion is a normal part of health care”?

It’s not just our leaders and spokespeople at major organizations who unwittingly participate in what’s been rather uneuphoniously called the “awfulization” of abortion. Anywhere you look or listen, you find pro-choicers falling over themselves to use words like “thorny,” “vexed,” “complex,” and “difficult.” How often have you heard abortion described as “the hardest decision” or “the most painful choice” a woman ever makes, as if every single woman who gets pregnant by accident seriously considers having a baby, only a few weeks earlier the furthest thing from her mind and for very good reason? Or more accurately, as if every accidentally pregnant woman really should seriously consider having that baby—and if she doesn’t at least claim she thought long and hard about it and only reluctantly and sadly realized it was impossible, she’s a bad woman who thinks only of her own pleasure and convenience.


Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights is available at Powell’s and other independent bookstores, Amazon.com, and Barnes and Noble.


AbouKathaPollittt Katha Pollitt

Katha Pollitt, a feminist author and poet, writes the “Subject to Debate” column for The Nation. Her other books include Learning to Drive, The Mind-Body Problem poetry collection, Virginity or Death! And Other Social and Political Issues of Our Time. She tweets at @kathapollitt and blogs at kathapollitt.blogspot.

History’s answer to the caterwaul of the contemptible

By Kit-Bacon Gressitt


Some days, there seems no succor against the raging ignorance that plagues the United States. But others, there’s hope, and today, history has an answer: hearing loss.

Deafness of old ageI first learned of the joys of presbycusis—age-related hearing loss—while perusing the July 16, 1880 issue of the Hickman Courier (KY.). The article, “Deafness of the Aged,” reads, in part, “The gradual loss of hearing is effected for the best purpose, it being intended to give ease and quietude to the decline of life, when any noise or sound from without but discomposes the enfeebled mind and prevents peaceful meditation. Indeed, the gradual withdrawal of all the senses and the decay of the frame of old age has been wisely ordained in order to wean the human mind from the concerns and pleasures of the world, and to induce a longing for a perfect state of existence.”

What a surprise to learn that geriatric aural degeneration offers a certain bliss, albeit patronizing and dogmatic. But that’s not so bad because, well, isn’t today’s ignominy of ignorance giving you the vapors? Wouldn’t a wee loss of hearing provide a comforting mute to the blare of absurdity that greets our morning ablutions? Wouldn’t you welcome a respite from the barking lunatics who hound us through the day, nipping at our heels as we attempt to flee the mongrel bastards of bigotry, misogyny, idiocy?

One trepidatious step outside the sanctuary of my study, and my quietude is shattered by an onslaught of ill-reasoned offenses. Even the unintended irony of advertising renders me disconsolate.

Consider the for-profit online education firm K12.com and its recent news-hour ad spot, “Rewards.” The advertisement features a testimonial appearance from “Teresa,” a homeschooling mother who declares, “You just need to be a mom that loves their child.”

No, no you don’t. To take advantage of K12.com’s corporatized educational unit delivery system, you just need to be a mom who doesn’t care about English grammar. Those moms who do, know you just need to be a mom who loves her child. And where are the dads?

Perhaps some of them are lining up at the U.S.-Mexico border to terrify child refugees—the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free from drug wars, poverty and corruption.* The border vigilantes can join the uncommodious company of the Ku Klux Klan. Imperial Wizard Robert Jones, of the Loyal White Knights of the KKK, is calling for a shoot-to-kill law to forestall the immigrant hordes from the south—including children. He said in an Aljazeera interview, “If we can’t turn them back, I think if we pop a couple of them off and leave their corpses laying on the border, maybe they’ll see that we’re serious about stopping immigration.”

Jones’ mind might be enfeebled, but hate is hate is hate, no matter how withdrawn his senses.

Equally befuddled by critical thinking, Brian Brown of National Organization for Marriage bellowed his buffoonery in a recent email attempt to refute the logic of same-sex marriage. Declaring definitions important, his point’s illustration was a G. K. Chesterton quote from his essay, “The Suicide of Thought,” in which Chesterton defends the need for categorization in order to communicate: “If all chairs were quite different, you could not call them ‘all chairs.’”

Indeed, chairs might be different in size or shape or color, in the individual character of each, but they have more in common than they are different, they all serve the same purpose—to provide seating—hence the common word they all share, ‘chair.’ Just as marriages might be different in size or shape or color, in the individual character of each, but they have more in common than they are different, they all serve the same purpose—to unite two committed people—hence the common word they share, ‘marriage.’

This particular of Chesterton’s essays can more readily be said to support the logic of same-sex marriage than to refute it, but Brown’s bellicosity blinds him to logic.

Similarly, U.S. Supreme Court Justices Roberts, Kennedy, Alito, Thomas and Scalia appear blinded to any human experience they’ve not know as privileged males. (Yes, Justice Thomas wasn’t born into privilege, but, alas, he’s no Thurgood Marshall). The five justices’ recent Hobby Lobby decision, supporting a corporation’s right to impose its owners’ religious dogma on its female employees—blocking their healthcare coverage for contraception—buggers the senses much worse than aging, as it broadcasts the five justices’ incomprehension of women’s reproductive lives—and of the repercussions of their disastrous decision.

In fact, our nation’s abandonment of common sense at every level of decision-making, our abandonment of respect for others, of generosity, of gratitude for our many riches, of accommodations for the world weary, of reverence for democracy, of our collective humanity; this great and comprehensive decline discomposes the mind, prevents peaceful meditation, lays waste to the pleasures of the world.

And so I yearn for that decline of life, the decay of my frame, for a perfect state of existence. I crave the deafness of the aged.

Although, I’d far prefer that the blathering ignorami shut up.


* My apologies to Emma Lazarus.

Published by San Diego Gay & Lesbian News.

Women’s History Month: Women in Words



By Penny Perry

            for my son, Danny

SandalsThe maid invited me
into the breakfast room
of your father’s home.
Your grandmother, her life
peeling away, sat like
a small onion in her wheelchair.
She smiled. “Abortions are illegal,”
she said. “But our doctor will do one
if you tell him you’re mentally ill.
You’d be an unfit mother.”

I placed my hand over my belly.
Danny, you were a fiery hub
that kept me spinning.
I was hot iron, the wheel
of a chariot rolling us both
through that great house
onto the cool grass where
even a robin poking for worms
looked bereft.

My scuffed sandals left tracks
on the freshly mown lawn.


About Penny Perry

A three time Pushcart nominee, twice for poetry and once for fiction, my stories and poems have been widely published in literary magazines. Fiction Daily tagged my short story “Haunting the Alley,” published online in Literary Mama in August 2011. My first collection of poetry, Santa Monica Disposal & Salvage, was published in 2012 by Garden Oak Press. The collection earned praise from Marge Piercy, Steve Kowit, Diane Wakoski, and Maria Gillan. I was the fiction editor for Knot Literary Magazine, a Middle Eastern literary journal. I was a screenwriting fellow at the American Film Institute, and my movie A Berkeley Christmas aired on PBS. And, I’ve just completed a novel about a school shooting. I write under two names, Penny Perry and Kate Harding.

Photo credit: Joe Shlabotnik via a Creative Commons license.

On abortion clinic buffer zones and busybodies

Sidewalk Counseling: Peacefully offering the women the opportunity to choose life for their unborn children                                                         –from the Pro-Life Action League

By Kit-Bacon Gressitt


……………….Click for larger image……………….

This Wednesday is the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision. Last Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments on a case intended to overturn Massachusetts’ abortion clinic buffer zone law, one of endless efforts to chip away at the right to legal abortion established by Roe v. Wade. Anti-abortionistas are so persistently pesky.

The Massachusetts law mandates a 35-foot buffer zone around clinic entrances, which keeps sidewalks clear and, incidentally, protects patients from protesters—or sidewalk “counselors” as anti-abortion organizations prefer their protesters be called.

I get this. “Counselor” inspires a more positive response in media consumers than “protester.” But, hey, you call yourself a counselor, and I want to see the license that allows you to hang that shingle.

While we wait for that, I suppose we could attempt to accommodate both sides of this battle, and call the people who stand outside clinics interfering with patients countesters or proselors or something similarly silly. But I figure they’re actually a bunch of busybodies.

If I’m heading to Planned Parenthood because I have a urinary tract infection or I need a mammogram or things are suddenly smelling kind of funky down there, I don’t want some stranger sticking her or his nose in my business. And if I’m heading to the clinic because I have an unwanted pregnancy? I really don’t want some strange busybody in my business.

But here’s the thing. These countestelorés don’t care what I want (nice Latin touch, eh?). All they care about is what they believe I should want. And, aside from counseling them on the impropriety of such public demonstrations of self-absorption—and their failure to generalize the primary don’t-talk-to-strangers lesson—there’s not a whole lot we can do to counter their faith-driven behavior, rude though it is, other than mandate that they keep their distance.

And faith is the thing here. These protselors—at least the ones who are not shrieking “Baby killer!” in patients’ faces or body blocking them before they reach the clinic door—are indeed proselytizing, attempting to convert their targets to their way of thinking, and they do it with free-flowing biblical rhetoric and medical blather. It’s a kinder, gentler way of telling clinic patients that if they have abortions they’re baby killers, God’s gonna hate them, and they’ll end up with deadly ectopic pregnancies, pelvic inflammatory disease, infertility, breast cancer, placenta previa, psychological and emotional trauma, fatal infections—and don’t forget the dry cough and shortness of breath! By the way, I’m so grateful to the Fallbrook Pregnancy Resource Center for publishing all this misinformation, sourced not from the American Medical Association, but from anti-abortion organizations; otherwise you might not have believed me that anti-abortionistas would so blatantly, you know, fib.

Yep, you got it: Peaceful “counselors” have been known to lie to change pregnant women’s minds—it’s enough to give you shortness of breath!

January 2013 anti-abortion protest in Fallbrook

…….January 2013 anti-abortion protest in Fallbrook……

Now, there are some lies we all should tell pregnant women: You look beautiful, The last trimester is much easier than the first two, No matter how bad your labor is, don’t worry—you won’t remember any of it. But lie to them about their reproductive health? About bogus medical outcomes? That’s pretty poopy. And as I was listening to the Massachusetts case arguments before the court (Justice Scalia was his typical punkasschump), the justices’ disregard for the women targeted by these procoutenselterlors was increasingly annoying, albeit the patients aren’t the legal focus of the case. And, of course, freedom of speech means the procoutenselterlors have the right to say most anything they want. I, on the other hand, do not have the right to not hear it. I can, instead, hustle my buns into the clinic to avoid their peaceful insistence on telling me what to do (something I’ve abhorred since adolescence), unless they’re peacefully detaining me, begging me not to kill my baby.

There’s a power imbalance in that there relationship. Hence the desire for a bit of a buffer for clinic patients, something to serve as a protective barrier from unwanted lectures on purportedly divine intensions for our uteri. But we have a funky Supreme Court these days. I’ve no inkling what the majority will decide. I do know that if they decide against Massachusetts’ law, anti-abortionistas will have a hell of a party, because the decision could put other state and municipal buffer laws at risk.

Being a bit of a planner, though, I’ve prepared for the worst while hoping for a just decision. Remember that Fallbrook Pregnancy Resource Center I mentioned? It’s one of those fake clinics, set up to sucker women in with “free medical quality pregnancy tests” and then barrage them with anti-abortion messages. I’ve left the center and their misinformation alone, because it’s the polite thing to do. But if the court decides against the buffer law, I’m going to trot down to the center with Planned Parenthood brochures in hand, and I’ll peacefully offer one to each woman, while being sure to stay out of her path. It’s called “modeling appropriate behavior.” But the biggest difference between the proctolecstors and me? I know the decision is the woman’s to make, whatever it might be.


Photo credit: © K-B Gressitt 2013

Also published by San Diego Gay & Lesbian News.

Selfies, Gap and Feminism

By Kit-Bacon Gressitt

Surrounded by loved ones in my kitchen, I stood confounded as they laughed at me for having erroneously added a year to my age. My husband and daughter thought it was the funniest thing since … hmmm … since the last off-kilter thing I’d done.

pencilsI did not find it funny. I find it dismaying. The internal sixteen year old who steers my boat has been swamped by degenerative discs, increasing bladder dribble and faulty chronology. But my exaggerated sense of age is not due solely to encroaching decrepitude. A host of external factors has hit me with a rogue wave of geriatric awareness. Indeed, my miscalculated age is as much a function of fuzzy memory, persistent back pain and southbound flesh, as it is an internalized reaction to cultural commentary that declares with overt and subtle messages that my increasing loss of thigh gap and elasticity—fleshy and mental—is matched by a decrease in my social value. No matter that a friend called me a “community asset” when I waddled into the Main Street coffee shop this morning (that’s café in contemporary parlance, despite the absence of sidewalk tables and darkly snide waiters). Nope, countless messages suggest that I’m becoming too old, too flaccid, too dated to be an asset to anyone, except, perhaps, boiler-room telemarketers who suck the life savings from lonely senior citizens.

Just in November, Oxford Dictionaries,* master of primarily-sourced words, named selfie its 2013 Word of the Year. Being of significantly earlier origin than the word, I’d never heard of the pipsqueak prior to the announcement, so I turned to the dictionary for a definition:


a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website:

occasional selfies are acceptable, but posting a new picture of yourself every day isn’t necessary

For a visual illustration of the distinction between the venerable art of the self-portrait and the unrefined school of selfies, check out “SELFIES AT FUNERALS.” Or consider the title of the post and don’t bother. Either way, the word makes me a feel a bit older than my years, albeit a wee bit superior, having avoided DOMArepall but one opportunity for what I now know to be selfie-izing—and that one time was for a political cause, so I chalk it up to advocacy. I suppose I’d not have taken pause at the untoward recognition selfie received, but for the event that followed it by mere days: The fruit of my loins turned twenty-five, a quarter of a century on top of the thirty-some years point at which I’d birthed her. And don’t you love that phrase, fruit of my loins? I used it once in a newspaper column about reproductive justice, and one of the rabble of anti-abortionistas who declared my feminist opinions unfit for human consumption (as in, worthy only of Satan’s reading pleasure) sought to condemn my work product by declaring me stupid. As proof of my dim wit, the reader claimed that women don’t have loins, because God gave them only to men, in the Book of Genesis, she said. Her comment reminded me that ignorance is sometimes more highly valued than women without gap.

I, however, value knowledge and so I recently got myself to a university, to study the written word and consequently to spend ten days holed up in a desert resort with a cohort of crazy writers. It was there that the quintessential blow to my self-perceived age was dealt.

During a break between lectures on literary esoterica, a young woman said, “I’m not really comfortable with feminism. I fight for equality, but feminism is kind of ridiculous.”

Although I’ve never suffered the dreaded writer’s block and I’m usually pretty quick with a comeback, her words took mine away. In their void, I suffered the classic flash of scenes replayed on my cranial screen: decades of marching on Washington and standing firmly against inequality; surreptitiously connecting unfairly-paid employees with union organizers; challenging and satirizing the patriarchy with cheeky abandon. At the end of my private screening, I briefly wished I’d invested in online access to the OED so I could stick the definition of feminism under the gal’s nose, but I knew that wouldn’t prove enlightening. Feminism is much more complex than a dictionary definition. I came home from the academic retreat, my mood befouled by the ignorance so pervasive in my daughter’s generation.

But after a week of recovering from intensive exposure to the studied humor and glib rhetoric of the writing class—“People think I’m gay for a variety of reasons.” “That’s a great first line. I’d read the next sentence.”—I am certain of two things: I had succumbed to the devaluation of me just as the young woman had succumbed to the devaluation of the civil rights movement that gave her entrée to graduate school, and I now stand firmly in appreciation of my ability to clench a pencil between my upper thighs, just south of my pelvis.


* Take a peek at The Professor and the Madman for a fascinating history of the Oxford English Dictionary.

Photo credit: David Nicholas via a Creative Commons license

Celebrating Women’s History Month with Poetry

By Penny Perry


Always a Line in the Women’s Room at the Greyhound Bus Depot

GreyhoudBusDepotThree stalls. Ten women waiting.
Choose to not pee in my pants
or miss the Greyhound.
The bathroom dance — hopping
to stop that little yellow dribble
or the gushing mustard flood.
The girl in front of me, breasts jiggling
out of her halter top, stiletto heels tapping
chipped linoleum.

A woman in something gauzy like Tinker Bell
steps from the gunmetal stall. “Happy to serve”
stitched on her apron. “That one’s clogged.”
White toilet paper turning the color of weak
lemonade floats in the bowl.

A basketball settles on my bladder.
Dr. Mike, at the clinic said with a smile,
“Only problem with blood pressure medicine,
it makes you pee.” Would he be smiling now
if he had to use a woman’s public restroom?

I’m going to explode, feel just like I did
years ago when Teddy popped out of me
right on the hospital steps three weeks early.
Guess old Doc Evans couldn’t count.

Someone should open a window.  Pee.
Sweat. Sweet hairspray. I wave the pregnant lady
with blue fishes on her dress to go ahead
of me. Poor thing.
Hope she’s not going Greyhound.
If her baby comes early who will help her?




Mother couldn’t have known what to do.
She was only twenty-five,
drove her big sister, Leona, six weeks pregnant
to the doctor’s in L.A.

Leona squinted at California bungalows,
backyards with orange trees.
She thought about her husband home worrying,
her baby waiting for her.

She told my mother about her screenplay,
a murder in the Braille room of the public library.
Then, she sat silent, her long fingers tangled like kelp.

The doctor glanced at his medical license
framed on the wall behind him,
said he was afraid to use ether.
Leona jutted her famous Heyert jaw:
“My friend Ruth told me to insist.
With ether I’ll float above the pain.”

It was hot that June morning, 1942.
No air conditioning. My mother
in the waiting room thumbed through magazines.
Big-eyed Loretta Young on the cover of Life.

It happened fast. Ether, a busy housewife,
pulled down the shades.

The doctor waved my mother in.
White face, head back, Leona was no longer breathing.
The ribbon in her dark hair floated in the breeze of a fan.


Old Santa Monica Bus Depot photo by Omar Omar via a Creative Commons license.
Fan photo by Meagan Fisher via a Creative Commons license.

Women’s History Month in Poetry and Prose

By Kit-Bacon Gressitt

March is National Women’s History Month, a fact I note every year, with varying degrees of enthusiasm. I am conflicted. And this particular bit of oppositional thinking cannot be attributed to my nutty genetic code. … Well maybe the predisposition for it can. Regardless, I’ve an active distaste for the need of such a month.


Yet, I persist in embracing the 31-day celebration, because honored recognition of women’s contributions to the world is relatively absent from historical texts and popular media, and this void, I believe, contributes to the multitude of unseemly sexist attitudes and laws and behaviors to which women are regularly subjected. (Or maybe they contribute to each other?)

Yet, how diminishing, that the value of my sex’s historical accomplishments requires the validation of a congressional vote and an annual presidential proclamation. The male dominated power that declares it our month might as well pat us on our collective female head with that rolled up parchment.

Yet, perhaps we gals should be grateful for the formal opportunity to encourage the enlightenment that the month is intended to engender in young people, as they learn of women’s overlooked commitments and achievements that have proved “invaluable” to society.

Yet, I don’t hear much noise from feminist circles about the fabulosity of this opportunity. I see no recognition of the month’s existence in the particular school where I volunteer with eighth-graders learning to write. And I see no evidence that discovering Sojourner Truth, Susan B. Anthony, Rosa Parks, Gloria Steinem or Sally Ride has persuaded our nation’s institutions and businesses to honor women and our work—with equality.

So I wonder: Is Women’s History Month actually effective?

With that question nagging me, I called the California-based National Women’s History Project (NWHP). The nonprofit organization, founded in 1980, operates a website, newsletter and online store loaded with resources and teaching materials that illustrate the individuals and issues that have contributed to the rich women’s history missing from school textbooks—and from common knowledge.

NWHMcollageI lucked upon NWHP co-founder, Molly Murphy MacGregor, and, although I really wanted to talk with her about her musical name, I managed to focus on the task at hand and asked how things were shaking, were requests for women’s history resources up or down?

It was an inane question, but Molly graciously avoided saying so. Instead, she sang an enthusiastic song of success. In the 1980s, she said, kids could not identify Sojourner Truth or Susan B. Anthony or Rosa Parks. That has changed. And that very day she had taken requests from a mayor in Alaska and the governor of Pennsylvania.

“The change that we see is not where we want it to be,” Molly said, “but where we are going—boy!—we are so incredibly encouraged!”

I am, too, but, still, there’s so incredibly much more to achieving women’s equality than Women’s History Month, and the challenges appear everyday.

There’s the aggravating politics of it all, of trying to function as a peer in a society dominated by decision-makers who have little or no understanding of women’s issues—and, unlike the Alaskan mayor and Pennsylvania’s governor, seemingly no interest in acquiring it. As though women are not relevant.

There’s the U.S. House of Representatives, where women hold only 78 of 435 seats and conservatives opposed reauthorization of the lifesaving Violence Against Women Act, holding it up for months, because they didn’t want to extend the act’s protections and programs to lesbians, Native Americans, and undocumented immigrants. As though the violence perpetrated against these women is somehow less awful.

There’s the New York City anti-teen pregnancy campaign that targets girls with shame tactics. As though boys are somehow absent from the equation—and as though shame is such a fabulous deterrent to sex.

There are the for-profit companies that have filed suit against the Affordable Care Act birth control mandate* (they’re not eligible for the religious exemption). As though the owners’ would got to hell if their female employees were to obtain contraception with their healthcare benefits. Perhaps if these guys went through the hell of labor and delivery, they’d be more rational about birth control.

Seriously, though, there are still so many hurdles that preclude women’s equality, equal pay, equal opportunities, equal rights. It’s dismaying.

And what does “Women’s History Month in Poetry and Prose” have to do with all this?

Not much—and that’s the joy of it!

I’m not only conflicted, I’m burned out on the politics of my sex. So this year, instead of haranguing the sexist evildoers any further, let’s recognize National Women’s History Month by celebrating women in writing.

For the rest of March, we’ll be publishing poetry and prose that acknowledge women, beginning Monday with Penny Perry’s poem “Meeting Place,” about women and the 2008 Five Day War.

We’ll also publish a piece or two by one of our favorite and sorely missed writers, Wilma Elizabeth McDaniel, former poet laureate of Tulare, California.

And, Dan McClenaghan will remind us that women’s power lurks in some of the most unexpected places.


* Thanks to RH Reality Check for compiling the list of companies that want women to remain barefoot and preggers, and here they are, with links to their websites’ contact pages, in case you’d like to let them know what you think about their lawsuits:

American Pulverizer Company

Annex Medical, Inc.

Autocam Corporation

Cherry Creek Mortgage

Conestoga Wood Specialties Corporation

Domino’s Farms Property Management

Freshway Foods

Grote Industries

Hercules Industries, Inc.

Hobby Lobby

Infrastructure Alternatives, Inc.

Korte & Luitjohan Contractors, Inc. (you’ll have to click on Contact)

O’Brien Industrial Holdings

Sharpe Holdings, Inc.

Sioux Chief Manufacturing

Tonn and Blank Construction, LLC

Triune Health Group

Tyndale House Publishing

Weingartz Supply Company

Published by San Diego Gay & Lesbian News.

I didn’t ask for the anal probe*

By Kit-Bacon Gressitt
24 Feb 2013

In the realm of women and their pregnancies, there are two basic types of ultrasounds. There’s the type folks commonly think of being performed on a pregnant woman’s belly. This type entails the jelly, the transducer that fits in the palm of the technician’s hand, the screen with the captured image of a fetus, and the proud parental assumption that that shadowy oblong shape is the biggest penis ever seen on a fetus. Nonetheless, it’s a sweetly benign image, stereotyped in popular media and other fantasies.

Of course, such external ultrasounds are used to view inside many parts of the body and for a grand variety of diagnostic purposes.

But there’s another type that’s not so warm and fuzzy: Transvaginal ultrasounds involve a darn long probe that is inserted into a woman’s vagina to capture images. In normal pregnancies, transvaginal ultrasounds are not typically necessary, although, if there’s some concern in very early-term pregnancies, they are sometimes used because the jelly-on-the-belly type ultrasound cannot capture an image clear enough for diagnostic purposes until the fetus is more developed.

Other times, transvaginal ultrasounds are not diagnostic at all: Instead, legislators who are opposed to legal abortion have passed, or have attempted to pass, legislation that forces women seeking abortions to undergo medically unnecessary transvaginal ultrasounds. In these cases, the obvious purpose is to discourage abortions. The Guttmacher Institute reports on such legislation, and, along with other measures intended to reduce or prevent access to legal abortion, these efforts are plentiful and they often work.

To some women, the prospect of a transvaginal ultrasound is adequately intimidating or degrading or expensive, to send them home without the abortions they seek. Others gird transvaginal_machine-22098their loins and go forward, exercising their reproductive rights while railing at the elected officials who would intervene in their nether regions. And some women consider having their vaginas penetrated by a stranger against their will, and without medical necessity, rape.

I am unable to disagree with them. However, the legislators and anti-abortion activists who would force such unnecessary transvaginal ultrasounds on women insist they are not rape, but, rather, demonstrations of their deep concern for women’s safety. I am unable to agree with them.

Recently, Indiana State Senator Travis Holdman (R) introduced Senate Bill 371, which would require two ultrasounds for women prescribed the oral drug RU-486 to terminate their pregnancies. The first ultrasound would be performed before the drug’s administration, to confirm the pregnancy, and the second one, afterward, to confirm that the abortion was successful. But, because RU-486 can only be used in very early-term pregnancies, when a “jelly-on-the-belly” ultrasound cannot produce a clear image, Holdman’s bill essentially mandates two medically unnecessary transvaginal ultrasounds.

His rationale for the bill? That the ultrasounds will ensure women’s safety. Quelle surprise!

I suspect the truth is that Holdman and the members of the Indiana Senate Health and Provider Services Committee who voted for SB 371, sending it to the full Senate for a vote, really just want to stick it—figuratively and literally—to women who wish to terminate their pregnancies.

I wonder, though, if the female senators who voted for SB 371 might feel differently if they were forced to be probed vaginally to determine pregnancy before being prescribed oral contraception, because there’s a teeny tiny little risk that birth control pills can affect a fetus.

And I wonder if the male committee members might be similarly swayed, were they facing forced transrectal ultrasound probes before they could be prescribed erectile dysfunction drugs.

It’s a safe assumption that Indiana’s state legislators don’t want an unwelcomed appliance forced into their bodily orifices, any more than women seeking abortions do. But those who would force women to be subjected to transvaginal probes, might benefit from having intimate knowledge of the invasive procedure before casting their votes on SB 371.

Perhaps anal or vaginal probes should be a mandated prerequisite for voting in support of SB 371.

If you’d like to share your thoughts about SB 371 with Sen. Holdman, you can email his office at Senator.Holdman@iga.in.gov or use this form (if you don’t have an address in his district, his office address will make it more likely that your email message will transmit: 2467 W. 1000 North, Markle, IN 46770).


* This phrase is a wee bit of appropriation from the film Passion Fish.

Also published by San Diego gay & Lesbian News.

V-Day – Until the Violence Stops

V-Day is a global activist movement to end violence against women and girls.

Today, one billion people are rising up to demand an end to violence.

Because around the globe, 1 in 3 females will be raped or beaten in her lifetime.

Demand an end to violence. Don’t ignore it. Don’t perpetrate it. Report it. Get help.





On V-Day’s 15th Anniversary, 14 February 2013, we are inviting ONE BILLION women and those who love them to WALK OUT, DANCE, RISE UP, and DEMAND an end to this violence. ONE BILLION RISING will move the earth, activating women and men across every country. V-Day wants the world to see our collective strength, our numbers, our solidarity across borders.

What does ONE BILLION look like? On 14 February 2013, it will look like a REVOLUTION.


A global strike
An invitation to dance
A call to men and women to refuse to participate in the status quo until rape and rape culture ends
An act of solidarity, demonstrating to women the commonality of their struggles and their power in numbers
A refusal to accept violence against women and girls as a given
A new time and a new way of being

I’ve had an abortion: Will my daughter be able to?

By Kit-Bacon Gressitt

It’s Tuesday in Highlands, N.J., and I’m taking Frank the contractor to lunch. He’s been such a great guy. He will rebuild my mother’s little house on the Jersey shore that was awash in the waters of Hurricane Sandy last October. Newly gutted, the house reveals the faded layers of lives that once made the place a home, one pattern atop the last, atop the last, atop the last. As I exited the rental car to meet Frank by his pickup, to attach a face to the phone voice I’ve come to find comforting, we were greeted by an exhibit of a neighbor’s sodden refuse, installed along my mother’s front fence, and a code enforcement officer with an envelope in extended hand. I reached for the letter and asked him if it were common for folks to lay their waste at another’s door. He said, “No worries, just remove it,” and tucked the letter back into his pocket. We laughed at human foibles. Frank offered to haul it all away. So now we’re having lunch, in the less damaged town up the coast, lingering while the counters are wiped down and chairs are stacked on tables. We are challenging and sharing, finding our way around common themes and conflicting perspectives—gun control and the difference between deficit and debt, corporate taxes and small town politics—and I wonder: Would he care that I’ve had an abortion? Would I care if he opposed it? Would we still enjoy the conversation?

64percentRoeVWadeWednesday, a tire on the rental car goes flat. Too bad. The car’s been kind of fun until now. The fellow at Enterprise had said, “I’m going to upgrade you. How about the Prius?” ”I’ve never driven one,” I admitted. “Anything I should know?” “No, no, it’s easy.” Turns out, there are things to know, like how to start the car, but I wasn’t hit with the stupid stick, so I figure them out. Oh, and that hybrids get flat tires, too. I call AAA, and the gal says it’ll be 45 minutes before the tow truck arrives. I whine about the weather—36 degrees!—and then I apologize for whining, explain that I might have grown up with chilly winters, but Southern California has lowered my tolerance for the cold, for the cold and for working with idiots. We chat about the sleet, the number of calls they’re receiving, the gal’s wish to fly back to the warmth of California with me—she says it three times. And she promises to shorten my wait, if she possibly can. I feel like a shmuck for complaining. The tow truck shows up in 25 minutes, although it’s not a truck, but a battered and primered sedan with a paperclip instead of a door lock and a driver who looks twelve and has nothing but a windbreaker between him and the frigid air. His frost-chapped hands do quick work. I give him $10. And I wonder: If he impregnates his girlfriend, will they understand that abortion is an option?

Thursday, I’m flying home. The plane is packed. A father is incensed that no one will swap seats so that he can sit with his family. I suspect what’s really bugging him is being stuck next to the window. The flight attendants push the snack and beverage carts up and down the aisle several times, attempting to calm passengers’ restlessness with consumable distractions. But the irate father hounds a woman into giving up her aisle seat, and my suspicion is confirmed. One of the attendants is an older man, slim and stately, a handsome black face, and the most graceful of hands. I ask for ice water, twice, just so I can touch them, despite my stash of bottled water. The other attendant is telling a story, but the engine’s roar muffles most of it. She looks concerned, wears a large button with the face of a young Marine on it. I hope he’s still alive, and it occurs to me that she’s hoping the same thing. She hands a passenger a soda and pushes the cart a few steps closer. I hear her say, “I leaned over to ask what she wanted to drink, and it was a guy pretending to be a girl.” She looks disgusted. And I wonder: Is she similarly ignorant about why women need access to legal, safe abortions?

Friday, I’m home, contemplating the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade on January 22, and reading a list of state laws limiting women’s reproductive freedom and a report of a study on the use of anti-abortion measures to deprive pregnant women of their rights. Reproductive justice is in a sorry state across the country, and I hope that the people whose paths I cross would vote to protect women’s access to legal abortion, that they understand the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, that they can comprehend the repercussions of overturning it. I hope they would be, at worst, passive defenders and, at best, ardent activists for women’s right to make private personal decisions about their reproductive lives. As I’ve written before, I’ve exercised my right to choose several times, and I live at peace with the full range of consequences, including my daughter. I hope she is able to exercise the same right. And I wonder: Will Roe v. Wade be here for her?

*     *     *

Visit Planned Parenthood’s 40th Roe v. Wade Anniversary webpage to read and watch and learn what good Roe has done for so many of the women we love.


Crossposted at San Diego Gay & Lesbian News.

’Tis the season to celebrate same-sex parenting

By Kit-Bacon Gressitt

On Family Day in 2009, President Obama proclaimed that, “Whether children are raised by two parents, a single parent, grandparents, a same-sex couple, or a guardian, families encourage us to do our best and enable us to accomplish great things [emphasis added].”

The proclamation represented a culmination, of sorts, the definitive result of nearly four decades of advocacy for same-sex parenting, endorsed for the first time by a U.S. president.

Today, same-sex parenting as a social institution has come of age in popular media and across the country. Network television offers two regular series that feature gay couples approaching, or in the throes of, parenthood: The New Normal and Modern Family. The 2010 Census revealed that the number of reported same-sex couples raising children increased from 63,000 in 2000 to more than 110,000 in 2010.* Parenting classes and support groups, progressive adoption laws and fertility clinics, all encourage couples who, until less than two decades ago, thought that acknowledging their sexuality meant forsaking parenthood forever.

“When we grew up, we were never expected to have a family,” said Dietmar Weiss. “When we came out as gay, it’s the same as saying that we won’t have a family, especially if you’re men.”

Russ Noe was once close to being engaged to a woman. “It would have been a marriage with a white picket fence house and 2.3 children. I figured I’d be a dad. And as I got older that image slipped away, and when I came out, it was gone.”

Scott Zucker long envisioned himself with kids. “When I was really young, I saw myself growing up and having a family like the family I had, and when I realized I was gay, that was one of the sticking points, because I thought I wouldn’t be able to have a family. I took that whole idea of being a parent and shoved it under the carpet.”

Similarly, Wally Oliver had the will, but questioned the way. “It’s always been a desire to be a parent, to share the good experiences and give a child a chance to do the things that I didn’t get to do. I didn’t think that that was ever going to be possible.”

Eleanor, Richard and the twins on vacation in Hawaii

Eleanor, Richard, Philip and Tara on vacation in Hawaii

But social, political and medical advances in recent years have made parenting eminently possible for same-sex couples. And, unlike nearly half of the prospective parents in the United States, whose pregnancies are unintended, these four gay men and their partners became parents with explicit intent and thoughtful consideration, often at great expense, and driven by a common and compelling desire to create families.

Dietmar Weiss, 45, born in Germany, and Richard Doust, 56, live in New Jersey, where they manage their business and raise three children: Eleanor, who is 4, and twins Philip and Tara, 2. For Dietmar and Richard, parenting was a given from the start of their relationship.

Tara, Richard, Philip and Dietmar in Hawaii

Tara, Richard, Philip and Dietmar in Hawaii

“I have always loved children, and I felt that having a child of my own might bring some meaning to my mundane day-to-day existence,” Richard explained. “It was actually one of the first things we talked about when we met. We shared a desire to have kids at some point. … We read up on what the options were, and they seemed to be adoption and surrogacy. We ruled out adoption rather quickly, mostly due to health and age issues. We read up on surrogacy and learned all the pitfalls, of which there are many. We found what seemed to be the ideal candidate, in Oregon. … We had certainly read our share of the nightmares, so we were aware of the potential problems and that informed our decision to use embryo from an egg donor, rather than actual surrogacy.

It’s terribly expensive,” Richard continued. “Each of the kids cost us at least $70,000. The twins were a little cheaper — because we got two for one,” he concluded with a laugh.

Dietmar’s first child, Max, now 24 and living in Germany, was born of a different-sex relationship that ended when Dietmar came out as a young man. “I had a relationship with my son,” he said, “but I was basically a weekend dad. I felt like there was something missing, and I liked being a father and I had good times with him, but I felt like I wanted to do it right.”

Today, Daddy and Papa (Richard and Dietmar respectively) deal with the unique challenges of same-sex parenting:

Crafting the perfect response to the older woman at the nearby table who commented on their beautiful children and said, “My hat’s off the women who raised them.” Their response? “There are no women. We are a couple, and these are our children.”

Eleanor’s recognition that she is different from the other kids, who are dropped off at pre-school by their mothers. “You know,” she said one day to her teacher, “I have a mommy. She lives in Oregon.” Richard and Dietmar recognize that this is something Eleanor will live with her entire life, and they don’t necessarily think it’s bad, just different. But, as Dietmar said, “It’s always in the back of your mind: Is there something we’re not doing that a mother would do?”

Children confronted by criticism of their gay parents. “I think they learn to defend their parents,” Dietmar mused. “They learn who are real friends, whether somebody is open-minded or not. They can always get into situations where it is not accepted, and they learn how to keep a secret, and that situation would not be good, because we want everything open. So, we limit our friends to people who are open.”

People who are open seem to be on the rise. Russ noted an indicator of that in the November election results, “This last election was such a big deal, and not just about marriage equality. I think this last election was incredibly telling about the way our culture is going — more progressive.”

Russ Noe, 52 and a commercial artist, and his partner, Kergan Edwards-Stout, 47 and a writer, live in Orange, Calif., with their two adopted boys, Mason, 12, and Marcus, 10.


Mason, Russ, Marcus and Kergan at home

Kergan explained that Mason was a private adoption, and Marcus was a “foster adopt,” meaning that he was adopted through the foster care system. “With Mason, it was a great experience. We were actually in the delivery room when he was born in Tennessee. Cut the cord, it was a very intimate process, where we bonded with the birth mother. She and I are friends to this day.” The family does not maintain contact with Marcus’ birth parents.

A 2011 report by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law indicated that the number of same-sex couples adopting children tripled between 2000 and 2009, rising from 6,477 to about 21,740. The cost of adoption varies wildly, from less than $5,000 for foster adoption to more than $50,000 for a domestic agency newborn adoption. However, other factors can be more compelling than cost.

“Surrogacy is a valid path for others,” Kergan said, “but I just see so many kids in need, and I can’t fathom bringing another one into the world without taking care of those already here.”

And the care Mason and Marcus receive is evident in the fondness they share with their fathers and the child-centered structure of their household.

“Being a dad and being a partner and being a part of this family is one of the most gratifying things I’ve experienced,” Russ said. “I didn’t have this growing up, though they loved me deeply. We have such a traditional family structure ironically, for a nontraditional family. Kergan fixes them breakfast before they go to school. We have dinner together. We correct homework. It’s almost 1950s style, except it just happens to be two Caucasian men and two African-American children.”

Adoption has worked well for this family, but foster adopt can sometimes be a rocky path, particularly if a birth parent contests it.

Wally Oliver, 55, and Dave Roberts, 52, are committed to the foster-adopt process, despite the risks — and they have experienced them.

Dave, former deputy mayor of Solana Beach and newly elected member of the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, will leave his job with an international nonprofit to take office in January. His commitment to service is visibly passionate. “Even though we’re not Jewish,” Dave said, “we believe in the Jewish proverb, if you can save one soul, you can save the world. We wanted to foster and adopt children locally. We were astounded how many children had been abused and neglected right here in our county.”


Dave, Julian, Alex, Joe and Wally in their backyard

Dave and Wally talked about adopting children on their first date, but they didn’t know how to go about it — until they saw the San Diego County’s foster and adoption program booth at the county fair.

“We came across that booth, and that gave us the means to do it,” Dave explained. “I walked up and asked the woman, I whispered, ‘Do they allow gay couples?’ and she said, ‘Honey, this is Southern California; you don’t have to whisper!’”

They now have five foster-adopt children:  Robert, 17 years of age; Alex, 12; Julian, 8; Joe 5; and Natalee, 4. The couple adopted Robert when he was 5, and he’s about to launch into adulthood.

“Robert’s a great, well-adjusted kid,” Dave said. “He works at the visitor center, for the Chamber of Commerce. He wants to join the Air Force.”

Natalee and Wally

Natalee and Wally

Wally, who serves as the family’s stay-at-home dad, is a retired Air Force master sergeant, and he was both surprised and proud of Robert’s goal. Daddy Wally, as the kids call him, makes sure they are all involved in sports, have access to music, and experience an “even balance of discipline and fun.” And, like many parents, he recognizes that, “Someone is the disciplinarian, and that’s me most of the time, even though Dave steps in sometimes. And I get, ‘I want to go with Daddy Dave’ — he’s the fun dad.” Although Wally has to be the “bad guy” sometimes, he exudes the joys of parenting. “I think we’ve got a great family, a harmonic family.”

While Dave and Wally’s children have come from challenging backgrounds, the family is clearly a success, yet their success is not unique. A recent UCLA multi-year study found that “high-risk children adopted from foster care do equally well when placed with gay, lesbian or heterosexual parents.” This provides a powerful argument for those who can’t get their heads and hearts around same-sex parenting.

When Dave and Wally first moved to the neighborhood, they met some resistance.

“My neighbor said, ‘Oh, the gays are moving in.’” Dave recounted. “He has to admit we really changed his mind about same-sex couples raising kids, because now he says we’re the best parents.”

David Lopez, Scott Zucker’s husband, received similarly dismaying responses to their plans to become parents through surrogacy, including, “They’d say we only wanted a boy child to play with him. Are you kidding?!”

But, like Dave and Wally, Scott and David are changing minds as they raise their three sons, born through surrogacy: Aiden, 10; and twins Cade and Bram, 7.

Scott, David and Aiden at home

Scott, David and Aiden at home

Scott described the reception they received when they moved to Mission Viejo, Calif. “The neighbors across the street, our landlord said hi to them — they’re devout Christians — and she reprimanded him for renting to a homosexual couple. But at Christmas time last year, she brought over a box of baked goods for us, so it is changing.” And the celebrity status of gay parenting on TV doesn’t hurt. “Another neighbor, walking her dog, said, ‘Oh, my god, I love Modern Family! I can’t wait to tell my girl friends I have my own Modern Family in the neighborhood!’”

A sense of humor helps, but David is quite serious about preparing the boys for the possibility of people responding to their parentage with hostility. “That’s one of the reasons we have them in Taekwondo. With our kind of family, they are going to encounter people like that in high school, and all I want to know is that they’re going to be able to protect themselves.”

Scott, a landscape architect, has facilitated groups for lesbians and gays contemplating parenthood. He shares David’s concern, and tries to instill in their children a sense that their “difference” is a positive thing.

Cade and Bram demonstrate Taekwondo

Cade and Bram demonstrate Taekwondo

“I want them to understand that we are a different kind of family, but I want them to be proud about that. I’ve always been proud of being different. It’s fun, and there’s a lot of pride in being at the forefront of changing society for the better. I was proud that Aiden was out there with [No on Prop. 8] signs on the street corner with us.”

Although such moments are memorable, the daily grind of parenthood, straight or gay, is the hardest job available: “It feels overwhelming,” Scott said, “because we’ve got some challenges in our family, and at the same time I have to acknowledge how lucky I am to have a partner like Dave. There are a lot of things we don’t do well in our relationship, but we partner well. Together, we make sure the kids are taken care of. I’m very, very proud of that.”

These four families are special in each its own way, yet they ring a lot of familiar bells. The parents juggle workplace demands with childrearing with housework with the PTA with homework with tantrums with cuddling with trying to find a little time just for the adults. They are frustrated with differing parenting styles. They mourn and love their children’s challenges. They struggle to be present at conflicting school and sports events on opposite sides of town. They demonstrate adoration for each child’s achievements, in the way that each child needs it. They do their best to enable their children to accomplish great things — as all good parents do, as their president acknowledged.

Of course, just because you can be a parent, doesn’t mean you should be, but enthusiasm can be contagious.

“I think family is a great institution and one that more gay couples should feel that it’s their right to participate in, beyond the context of extended family,” Richard said. “As more and more younger gay couples come of age, it will become more and more accepted as a possibility. … It has its challenges, it has its rewards, and it’s only just begun. We have a lifetime to see how it all turns out. We’re only four years into this experiment. I look forward to the rest of it, I’m sure as much as any other dad. It’s the best thing since apple pie — I love being a dad!”


* While the number of same-sex couples raising children has risen significantly since 2000, the proportion decreased by 1% from 2000 to 2009. However, analysis of the data suggests that “the decrease in the proportion of couples raising children may be due to decreases in parenting by lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) individuals who had children at a relatively young age while in a relationship with a different-sex partner.”

Crossposted at San Diego Gay & Lesbian News.

Too many Twinkies and other befucklement

By Kit-Bacon Gressitt

Hostess Twinkies

After the failure of a billion-dollar-plus wholesale bakery, a strident presidential election, a celebrated sex scandal (which would not be scandalous in countries less publicly vested in the whereabouts of folks’ dickles), and voter support for same-sex marriage in four states, thoughtful study and analysis of the outcomes is warranted. And what better place to find due consideration of lessons learned and key takeaways than in the media. Recent news stories and releases offered the following insights.

According to CEO Gregory F. Rayburn, the recent shutdown of Hostess Brands, maker of the iconic and non-biodegradable Twinkie, was the fault of dastardly unions. Certainly no responsibility should be assigned to executives, who cavalierly cut workers’ benefits while giving themselves hefty pay raises, or to hedge funds intent on bleeding the company of every last sanguine cent while the corporation tumbled through mismanaged bankruptcies.

This one is a bit of a stretch for me, given that the half-life of a Twinkie mythically rivals that of a spent nuclear fuel rod. I suspect the world is actually better off without the jovially packaged trans fats and Polysorbate 60 that are a Twinkie.

Perhaps what actually caused Hostess’ downfall is that Rayburn and his investors ate too much of their own junk (food).

Hostess Sno Balls

According to the dratted liberal media, failed GOP presidential candidate Gov. Mitt Romney’s supposition that President Obama won re-election by employing political patronage — giving “gifts” to African Americans, Latinos and young people — was the sourly-grapish rant of a poor loser.

Bitter though he might be, Romney’s error was that he revealed only the tip of the gift-laden iceberg. Obama also doled out gifts to women and the LGBT community, and we gratefully swapped our votes for them. We received such largess as support for contraception, family planning and legal abortion; LGBT civil rights, including support for same-sex marriage; greater access to pay equity for women; two female Supreme Court Justices; and investment in clean energy — something all we giftees can enjoy.

Romney got this one pretty much right. Hell, Obama makes life feel like a perpetual birthday — I can’t wait to open the next package!

Hostess Ding Dongs

According to most major news outlets, retired Army General and former CIA Director David Petraeus — the much-ballyhooed savior of the coalition forces’ homesick derrieres in Iraq, the soldier’s soldier who taunted lesser men with his 2:50 marathon time — was toppled not by his hubris but by “Miss Fatal Attraction 2012,” because, however overtly or subtly it is implied, extra-marital affairs, particularly those involving men of renown, are always the woman’s fault.

Supposedly, all it took to knock out the nation’s quintessential warrior-scholar was a wily vagina.

While this repeated suggestion is certainly sexist, it makes me feel rather powerful down there, and I can think of any number of targets against which I’d like to wield my mighty vagina: the Republican Party, the Catholic Church, many churches in fact. Indeed, imagine what could be achieved with a united effort — a platoon of vaginas, a brigade of fighting labia, an army of elite warrior vulva marching against the misogynist hordes!

Hostess Cupcake

According to the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), the November 6 election results — including popular and electoral vote victories for a pro-gay rights president, an increased U.S. Senate majority of 55 democratic and independent seats, supermajorities in the California Senate and Assembly, and four states’ same-sex marriage wins — indicated that had the election included a national referendum against same-sex marriage, it would have won with 55 percent of the vote. In contrast to his fanciful thinking, NOM President Brian Brown also went on the attack, indicating that the losses at the polls were the result of goddamned stingy donors, who contributed only half — half! — of what NOM budgeted for the campaign season.

“What is required to regain victory?” Brown asked in his Saturday missive. “People of faith are going to need to step up and help fund the cause.”

Although Brown might have a talent for fear- and hate-mongering propaganda, his analysis of the elections suggests that critical thinking is not his long suit — and that he’s really, really worried about holding onto his job in the face of dwindling financial support for his unworthy cause.

While I admit to the guilty pleasure of imagining Brown joining the ranks of Romney’s reputed 47 percent of the population on the government dole (a concept newly unpopular among Republicans), on a slightly more serious note, I must say that it surely seems many of those who reported their insights this past week have been befuckled by too many Twinkies.


Crossposted by San Diego Gay & Lesbian News and San Diego Free Press.

Men: You Don’t Own Me


From Lesley Gore:

Women constitute more than half of the population. In 2008, 60% of voters were women. It is estimated that 10 million more women than men will vote in this election. Despite this, women make up only 16% of Congress. Women earn only 70 cents to each dollar men make. Women of color and undocumented women make less than white citizens.

Mitt Romney and the Republican Party are determined to overturn Roe V. Wade. Romney has not supported equal pay for women (The Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act). Romney has vowed to defund Planned Parenthood. Romney has vowed to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Romney doesn’t want health care to cover birth control. Romney says same sex marriage should be banned with a Constitutional Amendment.

Women, let’s rise up. Our vote alone can win this election. A vote for Obama is a vote for your health and your right to choose. It is a vote for equal pay and equal rights. A vote for Obama is a vote for our families. It is a vote to marry who you choose. It’s a vote to start a family when you choose. A vote for Obama says that we won’t stand for violence against women and that rape is rape. Our vote ensures that our daughters will grow up with the same rights that we’ve had. A vote for Obama sends a message: This war on women must end. We will not go backwards.

This election is shockingly close. Our safety is at stake. Our silence is consent and our vote is our voice. Let’s get active. Let’s get out every vote we can. Let’s make this election a mandate. A mandate to finally ensure women the respect, dignity and equality we all deserve! This is now. This is our call to action. Once and for all, let’s take back the power that is so inherently and naturally ours!

Appearances by:
Abbey Lee Kershaw
Alexa Chung
Alia Penner
Alia Shawkat
Amy Rose Spiegel
Amanda Zazi Charchian
Ana Calderon
Anna Fitzpatrick
Ariana Delawari
Arrow and Ada
Barb Morrison
Becky Stark
Brodie Lancaster
Brooke Williams
Carlen Altman
Carrie Brownstein
Cassie Carello
Chapin Sisters
Courtney Hall
Courtney Martin
Elle Wagner
Erika Spring
Hannah Johnson
India Menuez
Judith Iocovozzi
Justin Vivian Bond
Karen Elson
Kate Nash
Kate Urcioli
Katy Goodman
Kime Buzzelli
Krista Bachmeier
Kristina Uriegas
Leah Siegel
Leith Clark
Lena Dunham
Lesley Gore
Lisa Mayock
Lucy Moffatt
Madelyne Beckles
Mae Whitman
Maximilla Lukacs
Maria Valencia
Mecca Andrews
Meg Olsen
Melissa Coker
Mia Moretti & Caitlin Moe
Mia Lidofsky
Miranda July
Natalia Czajkiewicz
Natasha Lyonne
Petra Collins
Rachel Antonoff
Rebecca Fernandez
Rain Phoenix
Riley Keough
Ruby Karp
Ryan Roche
Sarah Sophie Flicker
Shae Detar
Sophie Buhai
Tavi Gevinson
Tracee Ellis Ross

Translating Mitt Romney

By Kit-Bacon Gressitt

16 October 2012 Presidential Debate excerpt:


Candy Crowley, Moderator: Governor Romney, pay equity for women?

Gov. Mitt Romney: Thank you. An important topic, and one which I learned a great deal about, particularly as I was serving as governor of my state, because I had the chance to pull together a cabinet and all the applicants seemed to be men. And I, and I went to my staff, and I said, “How come all the people for these jobs are, are all men.”

They said, “Well, these are the people that have the qualifications.”

And I said, “Well, gosh, can’t we, can’t we find some, some women that are also qualified?” And, and so we, we took a concerted effort to go out and find women who had backgrounds that could be qualified to become members of our cabinet. I went to a number of women’s groups and said, “Can you help us find folks?” and they brought us whole binders full of women.


Candy Crowley, Moderator: Governor Romney, pay equity for women?

Gov. Mitt Romney: I cannot tell a lie: I oppose pay equity, because I don’t, I do not believe women belong in the workplace. The first thing President Obama did in office was sign the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. Gosh, I would have vetoed it, because it is both an effective tool for women to sue for pay equity and it helps trial attorneys, and those guys give more money to democrats.

Now, I know a few families depend on a second income, but they should stop buying luxuries, like cell phones and personal computers and eating out and, and books. Poor people shouldn’t have stuff. And they should learn to live righteously on one income, the husband’s.

Unfortunately, women have been forcing their way into the workplace for decades, so now, when I’m elected president, I’ve got to deal with the social mess that has created. But I have a plan, a two-point plan.

First, I pledge to do everything in the power of my office to stall progress toward pay equity. And if the Paycheck Fairness Act is introduced a third time, I’ll kill it, one way or another.

Now, let me explain this, because this is all about the economy: Pay equity would produce significant pay raises for millions of women, which would entice even more women away from the home and into jobs, abandoning their child rearing and household management and overpopulating the workplace, where women really muck things up for us — for us men.

That, that “muck things up,” what I mean by that is that pay equity is bad for the economy: It would diminish corporate profits, and it’s corporate profits that keep America great! When the nation’s elite — when we buy jets and, and other expensive stuff — we’re helping you guys, the lower classes. You need us to be wealthy. Just like we need you to be poor — ah, ah, scratch that.

And so, second in my two-point plan is to encourage women to embrace the primary role God gave them: motherhood. I will defund Planned Parenthood and make sure contraception is expensive and difficult to obtain and overturn Roe v. Wade. And I’ll make conversion therapy available at an attractive rate to all homosexuals, so we can get those boys and girls back onto a godly path and into sanctified, productive marriages.

And also — I’ll also have an exemption for poor women, who have a special role under a Romney presidency: We will offer free sterilization to poor minority women so they stop producing poor minority babies. We still have some unskilled jobs for those women, and that’s the most important thing they can do for our nation: Once the current generation of the minority poor expires, we’ll be ready to complete the final outsourcing of unskilled jobs overseas, where the labor is super cheap and we’re not stuck with having to provide workers and their kids education and health services. And this will all strengthen the middle class. The middle class has been crushed the last four years, but my plan will strengthen them: I’ll make them the new, improved low class.

Well, it could be that some of what you’re hearing here seems contradictory, but this is actually the best-defined plan of my whole campaign, because we, we don’t know how to make my five-point plan for the economy work. But I do know that the fewer points, the better.

OK, so, hey — I just had this funny thought. I was picturing the binders full of women that a women’s coalition prepared before I was even elected governor of Massachusetts. They dumped the things on me, which was annoying, because we had important business to conduct right out of the gate. Obviously, their kind of women’s stuff wasn’t high on my agenda. But I took a peek at the top binder, and the first thing I thought of was those catalogues of import wives for sale — not that I’ve ever, not that I would ever look at them, but I, you know, read.

So here’s the funny thing: I thought those women’s groups were being way too assertive, foisting those binders on my office — lobbying me to appoint women to my cabinet, for God’s sake! But then I realized the binders full of women were a great thing, because I didn’t know many women that I could appoint — who knew there were so many of them out there! — and of course I had to give the appearance of wanting to elevate gals in the workplace until I, until I could get into a high enough office to send them all back home.

So now I say, “Thank God for those binders!” And thank you to Hofstra University and to Candy Crowley for organizing and leading this — this event. And, and thanks to you all for the opportunity to be part of this debate, openly and honestly.


Crossposted at San Diego Gay & Lesbian News and San Diego Free Press.

Ryan dumps First Amendment for faith; does Romney?

By Kit-Bacon Gressitt

Until a few years ago, I had a neighbor named Donna. Widowed well before she was ready, she plodded on, alone in her leaky house, unread mail and remembrances piling up in dusty corners. We invited her to holiday meals, cared for her dying cat, and, when the 2007 wildfire forced our town’s evacuation, she came with us, enjoying a prolonged pajama party in a small, borrowed apartment, raucous with four women. We ate out, watched movies late into the night, laughed about the yard-waste bag full of adult diapers Donna offered to share with us, found succor for our fears in chocolate and wine and camaraderie. And, while combing Donna’s hair one evening and avoiding a fairly large knob on her head, we learned that she was Mormon.

“They used to say we have horns,” she said, “like the devil. That’s my Mormon horn.” I’d never heard that particular slur, and Donna laughed it off, saying the lump was just a fatty deposit, so I thought little of it — until recently.

When Governor Mitt Romney, a Mormon, became the Republican nominee for president, I thought of Donna and her easy acceptance of our dramatic situation, of the multitude of our differences, of her simple request for water while we imbibed our wine.

Of course, I won’t vote for Romney or anyone who embraces a fundamentalist interpretation of women’s rights and roles, such as that of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, whether long-held or politically opportunist, as Romney’s ineptly shifting positions on women’s issues reveal. Nonetheless, I was relieved that there wasn’t much Internet fecal matter slinging at Romney’s faith.

But Mormon teachings are certainly vulnerable to critique, as they dwell in the realm of patriarchal Christian fundamentalism. When adhered to fully, as the church encourages, they are as denigrating of women as those of many other fundamentalist churches — churches that, by the way, preach that the Mormon church is a cult, which smacks of the pot calling the kettle black, one of Donna’s well-worn idioms.

However, does any of this matter, as long as Romney and his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, honor the separation of church and state? Whether Romney is a true fundamentalist or one of political convenience, if he is able to honor a wall between his personal commitment to his chosen religion and his public commitment to the people of the United States — people of many beliefs — does his flavor of faith, or Ryan’s, matter?

In an ideal world, one of rational, collaborative adults, the answer to that question would be “No,” But U.S. politics being what it is today, rampant with fundamentalist lobbies and office holders, the answer is “Yes.” Yes, one’s faith does matter — or, more accurately, one’s ability to separate one’s faith from one’s public service matters. And determining Romney’s ability to do so has become evermore important in light of Ryan’s declaration at Thursday’s vice presidential debate that, in essence, he, like many rightwing politicians, does not accept the separation of church and state, a principle enshrined in the U.S. Constitution.

Debate moderator Martha Raddatz posed the following to Ryan and Vice President Joe Biden: “We have two Catholic candidates, first time, on a stage such as this. And I would like to ask you both to tell me what role your religion has played in your own personal views on abortion.”

Ryan: I don’t see how a person can separate their public life from their private life or from their faith. Our faith informs us in everything we do. My faith informs me about how to take care of the vulnerable, of how to make sure that people have a chance in life.

Now, you want to ask basically why I’m pro-life? It’s not simply because of my Catholic faith. That’s a factor, of course. But it’s also because of reason and science. You know, I think about 10 1/2 years ago, my wife Janna and I went to Mercy Hospital in Janesville where I was born, for our seven-week ultrasound for our firstborn child, and we saw that heartbeat. A little baby was in the shape of a bean. And to this day, we have nicknamed our firstborn child Liza, “Bean.” Now I believe that life begins at conception.

That’s why — those are the reasons why I’m pro-life. Now I understand this is a difficult issue, and I respect people who don’t agree with me on this, but the policy of a Romney administration will be to oppose abortions with the exceptions for rape, incest and life of the mother.

In contrast, Biden delivered a personal rendition of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Biden: My religion defines who I am, and I’ve been a practicing Catholic my whole life. And has particularly informed my social doctrine. The Catholic social doctrine talks about taking care of those who– who can’t take care of themselves, people who need help. With regard to– with regard to abortion, I accept my church’s position on abortion as a– what we call a (inaudible) doctrine. Life begins at conception in the church’s judgment. I accept it in my personal life.

But I refuse to impose it on equally devout Christians and Muslims and Jews, and I just refuse to impose that on others, unlike my friend here, the– the congressman. I– I do not believe that we have a right to tell other people, that women, they can’t control their body. It’s a decision between them and their doctor.

The contrast between Ryan’s insistence on battering the wall between church and state and Biden’s commitment to honor it is distinct — and a clear warning of faith-based things Ryan would foist on the nation if he were allowed to continue his pursuit.

I lived next to Donna for 15 years before I learned she was a Mormon. At the same time, I learned she was also the politest of guests in the small apartment that sheltered us during the wildfire. She worked hard to do her share, graciously allowed us to compensate for her physical limitations, joined in the alternating frivolity and consternation, was willing to share what little she had — even her adult diapers. And, she honored her own beliefs without imposing them on the rest of us, as each of us did — for the sake of community, of a more perfect union.

Because faith does matter in this election, it’s important to ask: Does Romney practice his faith as Donna does, gently and accommodatingly, or is he another guest from Hell, like Ryan?

Love, K-B

Crossposted at San Diego Gay & Lesbian News and San Diego Free Press.