Wednesday, September 11, 2013

A note on 9/11

Today is the anniversary of 9/11 media outlets will spend the day trying to milk our country's collective sorrow and pain for every bit of ratings it's worth.

I can do without TV stations replaying a moment by moment, as it happened 9/11 remembrance. We can still remember without doing that. I don't think it serves any function but to make us scared. The mass media likes scared. Capitalism likes scared. Scared people tend to buy things and stay glued to our TVs which means we watch commercials.

Well media I remember exactly how scared I was that day. So scared in fact that my children were running late for school and I decided to keep them home thinking the end of world was happening.
So scared I called one of my best friends Addison asking "what the hell is going on".

I remember making my kids huddle on my bedroom floor with me for about a half hour as I had a panic attack. Yes I was THAT scared even though I was in Indiana. Not really a big terrorist target. Yet it felt like it was the end of the world and media helped make it feel that way.

No MSNBC and others I don't need your yearly trigger. I don't need Facebook and Twitter posts to tell me to "Never Forget". I won't forget nor do I need to see graphic photos to remember.

I do know since that time I have grown. I know that one act of terror doesn't give us the right to hate or to blow up whole counties making innocent civilians and families feel the same pain as we did and still do.

I know I am not as sure as I once was that charging into countries to "teach them a lesson" is such a good idea. I am much more of a pacifist.

Today we can commemorate those lost without reliving our pain minute by minute. The lessons we need to take away from 9/11 happened leading up to that horrible day and in it's aftermath. Lessons that in the wake of what is going on in Syria what we need to be even more focused on.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Thankful for the small things

When I came home from church yesterday my mom and I were talking about how one of the reasons I was able to question the fundamentalist evangelical church I attended as a child is my aunts Julie and Cindy would openly defy the rules and give me things I wasn't allowed to have. (background my mother stayed in the church largely due to my grandparents influence and the fact we lived with them and/or by them).
On my 6th birthday my aunt Julie decided to get my ears pierced. My mother didn't object she just pretended not to know so my grandmother would yell at my aunt and not her. It was a full 2 days before my grandmother noticed and then all hell broke loose. She insisted my mother remove them and let my ears heal and my mother simply said "no she likes them and they aren't hurting anything". Thus I got to keep my earrings.
Julie also bought me my first pair of pants that year, turquoise blue sweatpants with white strips on the sides. I LOVED those pants! I couldn't wear them in public because I wasn't allowed but I hated taking them off. I wanted to wear them everyday even under my ankle length prairie dresses. In fact I wore them all the time for two years. The poor things had been patched so many times they were clearly rags and they were almost the length of walking shorts.
One may wonder why pants were so meaningful to a six year old girl but I remembered as I sat talking to my mother what I felt when I put them on. I felt free! Free to play and do things I had sat and watched other kids do but I couldn't because they weren't "ok for girls to do". Pants meant I could climb on monkey bars and flip upside down on the swing. Wearing pants meant I didn't have to constantly worry about how I was sitting. I could just be a kid, play and have fun.
My aunt Cindy understood this because at her house she often threw me in my cousin Jason's clothes and sent me out to play. Then I could get dirty, run, tumble, and just BE without worrying about that stupid bulky skirt getting in the way.
In this moment of reflection I remembered how thankful I was for such small things. How joyous those that seemingly small change felt. Often when I am doing the work I do I have to remember that "small things" matter. Many times your small things are really big things to the people who receive them.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Fat shaming-JUST STOP IT!

Today something happened to me that rarely does-something on social media triggered memories and made me cry. I had just woke up and opened my Facebook page and there it was a picture of a plus size women in a club with the caption "this bitch killed my vibe".  It was on a close friend's page so I posted several comments asking what it was this woman had done that was so offensive that she needed to be publicly shamed on the web. Eventually my friend posted that she had hit on him while he was with his girlfriend (oh the horror). I then asked did he post the pictures of skinny women who hit on him in clubs too. Not surprisingly, I didn't get a response. I decided to flip though a few more of his pics and there was a picture of a older chubby woman sitting alone eating at Raising Cane's (it's a chicken fingers place) the caption read "this is what I had to see at lunch". That picture and caption made me angry and it made me cry.

outside the state capitol -FABULOUS 

2006 Miss Phi Beta Sigma Pageant at JSU-GORGEOUS! 
I am a plus size woman. I am not ashamed or embarrassed by my size. In fact I just wrote a column about this very kind of thing. I just didn't expect to see it from a close friend. While I am confident in who I am it doesn't stop the days when people say cruel and nasty things about my weight. The attacks come from strangers, family, friends, co-workers, and health care professionals. Like the ER doctor who needed to give me a pelvic exam and told me "I think you might be too heavy for that gurney and make it tip. Can you scoot down and see". When I-naked from the waist down covered in a sheet-did scoot down and it tipped he shouted into the hall. "Yeah she's too big we need the OTHER gurney." To this day I don't understand why he couldn't just get the other one to begin with. Oh wait because I'm fat therefore less than human.

So I expect maybe people can understand why when I see people fat shame on social media often I recognize myself in those posts. Sometimes I see the people I love.

Mum and I-Dynamic Duo
See I am the child of larger woman. When I talk about fat shaming I don't only speak from a place of my own pain I speak from a place of watching strangers be unspeakably cruel to my mother for my entire life. Not only was I teased about my mother's weight but we were constantly stared at in public. There were always comments, gestures and general rudeness. There were the people who thought they meant well "you have such a pretty face it's a shame you're so fat". Then there were the people who were just cruel "who got her pregnant?". There were the racists "of course she has a black kid who else would want her". There were the people who thought my mom ate my food and that's why I was thin.  Oh and the people with no boundaries at all who would take things out of her cart at the store and say "you don't need that".

None of those people bothered to get to know my mother. They didn't find out that she was a great person who read to her daughter everyday, took her to the library every week, sewed her own clothes, is a professional level seamstress, that she has a beautiful singing voice or any of the other things that makes her a awesome person. They just saw her size and deemed her unworthy to exist in their space (I am still scratching my head on this concept). She was automatically less than they were in their eyes.

Now I'm a mother of seven children, six of them girls. I cringe every time my daughter who is a size 8 says she is getting "fat". Every time some one tells one of my girls they are "too big". When my 10 year old uttered the words "I think I need to go on a diet" it crushed my heart-she is thin as a rail. When asked why she said "because dieting is healthy". Super double facepalm mommy fail on the-healthy eating is healthy-NOT dieting.  I want them to know and understand they are all beautiful active young healthy women. Their bodies are perfect the way they are.

It all takes me back to the first time I drank Slim Fast because I felt I needed to lose weight when I was 7. The first time I counted calories when I was nine. The big one is first time I started not eating and throwing up my food to help control my weight at 12. At 12 I was a figure skater and figure skaters can't be fat.
4th place in skating competition-age 13
So  I worked really hard at not being fat. I also spent a lot of time hating my body. All that got me was mentally and physically ill. I hide my self hate and my activities. My mother doesn't even know now I use to purge that's how secretive I was. That beautiful girl in the above picture felt fat and ugly everyday. I wish I could reach back and tell her that her body was fine. That this how a society obsessed with fat shaming and thinness makes young women feel.

For my daughters and my son I fight fat shaming. I do it for them because I do not want them to live with the pain of self hate or miss the company of wonderful people due to size bias. Clearly body shaming doesn't only affect women yet it is harsher on women so for me it's a huge feminist issue. How am I a free person when I can't dress how I wish and freely go about my life without being the target of hate and contempt?

My challenge- the challenge for all of us is to ask why we feel the need to judge the appearance of others. What inside of us makes us so contemptuous of other people's bodies? We need not kid ourselves that it is about fat people's health because not all fat people are unhealthy. If it were about health people would harass others for a whole host of unhealthy behaviors-for the most part we don't. Let's stop acting like it's about what is morally/socially acceptable as far as fashion. Since if I put two pics up of women in the same revealing outfit one thin-one plus size, the thin one may be slut shamed the plus size one will absolutely be body shamed and slut shamed. The outfit will be deemed absolutely indecent for one not for the amount of flesh showing but the amount of fat flesh showing. Here in lies the problem. Who are any of us to say things like "no one wants to see that"-someone does. Lastly, I am FAT if you have a problem with that YOU deal with it- I'm fine.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Dear Gov-Stop mythologising 1950s motherhood

(This open letter is in response to comments Governor Phil Bryant made on June 4, 2013 saying that the decline in education is due to women working outside the home)
Dear Governor,

I have a request for you and others like you-please stop mythologising the 1950s housewife. I know, I know like many white middle/upper class males you may have warm fuzzy feelings of home and hearth when you think of  the "Leave it to Beaver" like existences of days past. However, many families never had those existences in fact most families that thought they did-did not.

Those cookies everyday after school and perfect laundry may have came at a cost. Not every 50s housewife was happy. Some women enjoy staying home many don't. In fact that's a big reason why second wave feminism happened Governor. I don't know maybe you skipped that part of history.

Perhaps you also skipped the part of history where some mothers never had the option to stay at home or not to work. Whether in the fields or as domestic help poor women-especially poor women of color have always worked. When it comes specifically to Mississippi history many 50s housewives you so adore Governor couldn't have had it all together without the assistance of their black housekeepers and nannies. Those woman washed their clothes, cooked their meals, and helped raised their kids so they could attend to things like improving public schools and playing bridge.

Yes once upon a time many women stayed at home-most middle class especially white women. Now those days are gone and do you know what studies show, children are fine. Children of working mothers are not worse off Governor. Children benefit from having mothers who are happy. What really hurts children though is poverty. As the Governor of the poorest state in the country I would think you would take some responsibility for that statistic rather than blaming working mothers for attempting to better their children's lives.

Lastly I must say I am confused because our state wants women to work,right? I mean poor women should always work. The state can't seem to force poor women back to work fast enough after giving birth . In fact women on TANF have 6 weeks to go back to work. So much for that needing to be with your child thing. So which is it? Do you want women to work or not? If you want to stick to the myth of the 1950s housewife then you should go back to the old rationale of aid to single women with children, which was to ensure she could care for her child's basic needs and stay home if needed.

See Governor it's not easy to stick to outdated sexist ideals is it. So I am asking you to please stop. Stop scapegoating women for the failures of the state of Mississippi. More than that stop promoting an America that never was.


a black mom who doesn't wish to be in the 50s 

Friday, May 31, 2013

Dr. Tiller we honor your memory

On May 31st 2009 Dr. George Tiller was gunned down in his church by an anti choice terrorist. Rachel Maddow did a great documentary on the shooting and events leading up to called "The Assassination of Dr. Tiller". I remember that day and I carry it with always in my work as a reproductive justice activist.

There is not a week that goes by that the death of Dr. Tiller and other clinic workers/volunteers who have died due to terrorist acts don't cross my mind. I am not sure how you can be a reproductive justice activist who volunteers at a clinic and not have their memories be somewhere ever present in your mind.

When I first entertained the thought of doing clinic defense it was the sacrifice of Dr. Tiller and others that motivated me to action. We who believe that women have a right to control their own bodies can not allow terrorist acts to dictate our actions or intimidate women who need to receive health care at our clinics. 

When we as escorts walk with our doctors-we are honoring the memory of Dr. Tiller. When we stand up to clinic harassment we honor his memory. I truly feel every time I put on that yellow vest I am saying no to terrorism and honoring the memory not only of Dr. Tiller but every other person killed and harmed by clinic violence.
Dr. Tiller you have not been forgotten-your courage is not forgotten and you are missed! 

Thursday, May 16, 2013

I need Medicaid Expansion

I have no shame in saying I need Medicaid expansion. I think it is time for those of us who do to tell our stories. Since my state refuses to expand Medicaid I may never be able to return to full time work unless by some miracle I find a job with full benefits I can afford (thankfully pre existing conditions for adults will be over). As it stands I am not healthy enough to work full time-yet I probably would be if I was able to go to the doctor and take my medications as prescribed. Not the half doses or cycling on and off as I do now.

I use to work full time until my doctor told me not having health care was preventing her from being able to care for me and affecting my ability to stay on the job. I actually became sicker because I was getting inadequate care, So I stopped working.

When I stopped working, I was able to get medicaid for a short while but when my monthly child support went from under $500 a month to whooping $800 a month I lost it. So now I can't see my specialists. I can barely see my family doctor. I can't afford my regular blood tests or the further testing recommended to rule out what may be wrong with me past fibromyalgia. My doctors suspect I may have a more serious auto immune disorder such as lupus or MS. I have had several TIA's (transient ischemic attacks)-also known as mini strokes-in the past.

Unfortunately my kids get to see their mother cry herself to sleep many nights due to pain. Most times I don't sleep at all. My main prescription is $200 a month that is not counting the $150-$250 for the other four sometimes seven drugs that enable me to simply get out of bed, plus additional supplements (doctor recommended) that help keep me mobile. Often getting my medication literally comes down to whether or not to pay a bill or buy the medication.

I know that I am not alone and my story is one of the least tragic. Thankfully my worst symptom is pain (many days a eight to nine on the pain scale) and I'm not experiencing-to my knowledge-anything life threatening. However, if I was I wouldn't know it and it wouldn't matter because my state would just let me stay sick until it got tragic, and then probably let me die.

This is where we are in this country and state. I sat in a medicaid appropriations meeting where the Director of Medicaid said how bad it would be if all the people currently eligible for medicaid actually signed up. Think about that-he actually thinks it's a bad thing if he does his freaking JOB because it will cost the state MONEY! The lives of poor and working class people don't matter. We are numbers.

Politicians in my state have decided giving tax breaks to companies that don't pay their employees enough so they can afford insurance is more important. That is where we are in Mississippi. We cut taxes on Walmart, Target and others so they can pay so little that their employees need Medicaid they can't get.

For thousands of Mississippi workers they will always make too much to qualify and they will probably always be too poor to afford health care. That is why Obamacare called for Medicaid Expansion. It was to catch all the people caught in between. The working poor people. The people working 2, 3 and 4 part time hourly jobs to make it. The ones who didn't go to college-not because they are stupid it just isn't their thing. The ones who are self employed but are just getting by. The families transitioning off of assistance and working their tails off.

The just getting by folks. Those people would finally have health care through Medicaid Expansion. I am not sure how anyone can argue that a healthier workforce is not better for our state. It makes no sense to me. I want to be as healthy as a can be. I want to work. I went to college so I could work, I studied a trade so I can work. I am trained, skilled and talented. Instead of working many days I'm at home in pain. That doesn't have to be my story though.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

5 Lessons of a Abortion Clinic Escort

 Most people know that the 22nd of January marked the 40th anniversary of Roe vs Wade and as such the clinic and really Jackson as a whole was under siege by an anti choice "activist" group named Operation Save America/Operation Rescue. I write activist in quotations because they need to be classified as a terrorist organization. Many incidences of clinic violence in this country have links to their members. Several people who hang out with them are also linked to or members of an extremist group known as The Army of God (click hyperlink for scary documentary regarding them). These past few months have marked the first time I have worked as a volunteer clinic escort at the Jackson Women's Health Organization in Jackson Mississippi. JWHO is Mississippi's ONLY abortion provider in the state. This makes them the target of constant harassment from anti choice groups not only local but national. In this time as a clinic escort I have learned some lessons that I will carry with me for life. I have become the keeper of women's abortion stories and literally used my body as the shield between people who shame and intimidate women when they access legal medical care in a country that guarantees freedom and privacy. These are the five lessons I want to share.
  1. Clinic harassment is worse than you think-
    When most of people have the occasion to drive past a clinic they may see people standing outside possibly with big bloody signs. Perhaps they notice people praying or singing while holding pamphlets out to patients. To most they seem awkward, maybe obnoxious, even righteous, annoying but not menacing, certainly benign. Yet if you take the time to sit outside the clinic for even a moment you would see a different scene. You would get to see protesters taking pictures of patients and staff going in and out of the clinic. You would see anti choice protesters shouting at patients, stopping their cars in the street, following them and yelling into their ears as they walk.  Calling them murderers telling them they will NEVER be the same, that the clinic wants to kill them and their baby.  You would see grown men stalk women all the way to their vehicles after being asked to leave them alone. You would see protesters scream as if they are being stabbed to supposedly mimic the screams of babies. There is the non stop preaching and singing on most days. They tell women constantly they can help them get forgiveness only AFTER they admit what they have done. Then claim they aren't shaming them. You would hear anti choice extremists harass workers and clinic escorts by saying "you will one day be tried for war crimes", "you have blood on your hands", "your work caused the school shootings", and asking “if they wished their mother aborted them” and  “aren't you glad your mother didn't know you were short she would have aborted you”. There is a protester at the clinic I escort at that routinely tells my teenage daughters and I to commit suicide and to play in the traffic. It never stops rain, shine, heat or freezing cold they are there to shame and demean women whose only offense is accessing LEGAL medical care in America.
  2. Anti choicers/Pro lifers use racially biased messaging-
    Awhile back in New York City a billboard popped up with the picture of a young African American child on it with the tagline "the most dangerous place for a African American is in the womb". The billboard funded by a white anti choice group that found some black spokespeople put it up during Black History Month. This type of racialized conversation around abortion isn't new. Groups have also placed billboards around Atlanta saying black children are an endangered species. (although I didn't know we were another species). This messaging doesn't stop at billboards it is alive and well at clinics EVERYDAY. I know in Jackson we hear it. While white women hear the standard "don't kill your baby" or are much more likely to hear "choose adoption, let us help you" black women get barraged with "you are HELPING WHITE PEOPLE KILL BLACK BABIES" "DO YOU KNOW 80% OF THE BABIES KILLED HERE ARE BLACK" "do you know abortion is a plot by Margaret Sanger to exterminate black people". They even have a handout especially for black women citing a study (incorrectly) claiming that the higher incidence of abortion among black women causes infertility. They hurl racial arguments at the black women who work and volunteer at the clinic too. Even though most will openly tell you they don't support ANY of the programs that help the disproportionate number of poor women of color in Mississippi. 
  3. There is no such thing as “elective abortion”-
    This is a term I have heard for years it is even a term I myself use to use. However, I am here to say I no longer use it and don't believe in the existence of such an occurrence  Each patient I see enter the clinic has a very real, very critical reason to be there. On that day at that time she needs this medical procedure to carry on with her life. Whether it's because she is too sick, too young, just not ready, can't provide for another child, or has a non progressing pregnancy on that day she needs this form of medical care. It may seem "elective" to others but it is critical to HER life at that time. She doesn't owe anyone or any group an explanation  Regardless of what someone may believe about their God she is not beholden to another person's belief system or their interpretation of Christian teachings. What she does have to do is what is right for HER family and HER life. 
  4. Clinic workers are not evil or greedy-
    Growing up as a fundamentalist Christian I always heard that people who worked at and owned abortion clinics are greedy, mean, and evil. They would perform abortions on women who aren't even pregnant. They hated children. They didn't care if women had problems afterwards they wouldn't talk to them. They just took their money and tossed them aside. The women and men at Jackson Womens Health Organization are nothing like that. I have watched staff talk women through being scared after losing their paperwork post op. I have heard our counselor on the phone with patients who had procedures weeks ago answering questions and making referrals. Unlike crisis Pregnancy Centers that call and call women to see what they decide, if women chose not to have a procedure the clinic wishes them the best and gives them referrals for resources. They don't badger them to change their mind. I know clinic staff have come together to help women who are $30 or $40 short for their procedure so they don't have to resort to some unsafe way of termination. Most are mothers, fathers, loving aunts and uncles so they don't hate children they love children. Rather than mean, greedy ,evil people I have seen compassionate, caring, ethical people. 
  5. There is no compromising with anti choice protesters-
    When people see clinic protesters they often think these people must be the radical fringe of the movement. However, they are not. At the clinic I volunteer at many of our protesters are leaders in not only the pro life movement but the Mississippi Tea Party and the Republican party. This is important because they are also people with whom compromise is impossible. They truly believe that abortion is murder and have told me that I am an accessory to the American holocaust (I always want to ask why they think abortion is just a US problem). For them there is only one way to save ourselves and that is to stop legal abortion and of course to worship the Christian God in the same way they do. When you are dealing with religious zealots reason, logic, and science are all useless.  
I find my volunteer work extremely rewarding. I get the privilege of helping women during a scary and emotional time. I get to hear their stories offer them a smile or a laugh, sometimes a hand to hold. I often have patients and their families ask me why I would volunteer to be harassed by strangers. My answer is simple. If I can take some of the harassment so patients don't have to then that is fine with me. I remember what it was like to walk through protesters to access a clinic. Those people knew nothing of my life but felt qualified to condemn me. No one deserves that. What they do doesn't bring women closer to God in fact it drives them away. Patients just want to be left alone. They have prayed, cried, chanted, meditated or whatever it is that works FOR THEM before coming that day. They aren't stupid and don't need saving. Lastly, I think whether you believe abortion is right or wrong we should all be able to agree harassing, shaming, and intimidating women accessing LEGAL medical care is not right. It is not a symbol of God's love and it shouldn't be allowed in a free country. 

Friday, April 5, 2013


As a woman in Mississippi I can't overstate how important today's court decision making emergency contraception truly a over the counter medication is. For women in my state access to Plan B has been a huge barrier to having a complete range of reproductive health care. Women here routinely have to go to 5-10 pharmacies to get Plan B and that's in the Jackson metro area. If you are in a rural area you can basically forget it. Having it OTC means women can stock up if they wish without having to show ID or face a pharmacist who by law can say they don't believe in birth control so they won't sell it. In a state with the highest teen pregnancy rate it baffles me why people would be so opposed to young women having access to emergency contraception when they need it without having to jump through hoops to get it. Today I heard "well it may interact with medication they are already taking so its not safe for them to get it on their own". Really? So it is more risky for them to buy than say Unisom or cough syrup two drugs that are contraindicated for some drugs and health conditions. So by this logic all OTCs are too dangerous for teens to buy. What of teen parents? Should they then be barred from buying baby medicine for their child? Are they too stupid to figure out the OTC meds then too? I could go down this rabbit hole all day but I won't because this is not why parents and right wing religious groups don't want young women to have access to Plan B. It is about perceived morality. 
There is a perception that back in the day we didn't have teens sleeping with each other before marriage. It wasn't until we had birth control and condoms that teens felt bold enough to sin openly and carry their bastard spawn to term (turning snark off).  That now teen pregnancy is worse than ever before. Yet those aren't the facts. Teen pregnancy is actually at the lowest point its been in decadesThe teen birth rate in 1957 was 96.3 per 1000 teen girls age 15-19 in 2011 it was 31.3 per 1000 teen girls. My point is the "good old days" weren't so damn good and things like Plan B, condoms, abortion, and birth control aren't making girls more likely to be teen moms in fact THEY ARE LESS LIKELY TO BE TEEN MOMS THAN EVER! So I don't want to hear about how over the counter Plan B will make girls irresponsible or slutty. Let's be real that isn't what this is about. This is about parents who don't want to recognize their children grow up and become sexual with or without THEIR CONSENT. I get it I have kids, I have daughters no one wants their children to be sexually active young but give your kids credit. If they are going to the store to get Plan B and condoms that IS being responsible it is just being responsible for something that makes US uncomfortable.