UpRoot

digging up the roots of gender-based violence

How I Became Pro-Choice at 8 Years Old

[Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this piece are those of the author.  HAVEN, as an organization, does not support or condemn abortion, but believes that all people are experts on their own experiences and should be trusted to make their own decisions.]

If you will bear with me for a few sentences, I will eventually come to the point of how I personally came to a pro-choice position at 8 years old. My life is often influenced by the experiences of my past and this memory was recently brought to the surface. I personally enjoy the intricate set up of a story, my personal creative process and the moment of opportunity to contemplate the speculative. I hope that the way it which it is framed is able to create an illustration within your mind.

Gas Station Revelations

The day I essentially became pro-choice (without having those words of course) was a remarkable summer day sometime between 1985 and 86 and I remember it was one of those humid and thick Michigan summer days. It was the kind of day that was difficult to breathe deeply and fully all the way to theBirthControl-e bottom of your diaphragm. It felt heavy. I was sharing a rare and exciting weekend with my father who I expectantly and eagerly waited to spend time with whenever he would unexpectedly make an appearance. I recall a striking desire to emulate everything that I perceived him to be and also desiring to become him when I grew up. He was not a big man; however, in my eyes he was huge. He was seemingly handsome, tall, with a medium build, slicked back dark hair with a thin face that was scattered with pock mark scars that gave him a weathered and tough facade. He smelled like machine oil most of the time that lingered over shower soap. He spoke with a typical white guy, tough guy, from the city accent that I presume was meant to make him seem cooler than he probably was. (I think he still talks that way) His hands were large and calloused from assembly factory work. I remember examining his hands closely, taking them into my own and carefully tracing the lines with my fingertips while noticing that the shape of our hands were identical as I compared them, except that mine were small and smooth like silk, like a child’s, and I detested that reality.

*The nature of my adoration for my father really does have relevance to this story.

My father and I stopped at a gas station to fill his old beater car and I remember racing around the vehicle in order to be allowed the opportunity to pump gas. I remember the thickness of the air so well because I could also taste the gas fumes on my tongue, filling my mouth and it almost hurt my little lunges to breathe. I don’t remember at all how we came to the discussion that we were having; however, it was in this moment, at a Detroit city gas station, that my father revealed to me that I had nearly been aborted. He spoke a narrative that I recollect vividly constructing in my mind in an effort to recreate what I thought it must have looked like. My parents were young when my mother became pregnant and she was still a senior in high school. They were unmarried, not college bound and within families that were at the higher end of low income. When she told my father that she was pregnant neither of them was willing to say out loud what they desired to have happen as an outcome. I can’t conceive their fear or frustration because this is not something that I have ever had to confront. Instead of talking about it they wrote their thoughts on paper, folded it up and handed it to each other to read. My father opted to have their potential child come to full term while my mother opted for bodily autonomy and wanted to wait to have a child. The obvious outcome, as I sit here typing this script, is that my father prevailed in the decision. While I’ve never asked her, I am quite sure that my mother’s version would tell a completely different narrative.

Getting Past Feelings of Rejection

Looking back in retrospect I can see how disturbing this scene may appear. Aside from the fact that I now understand that it’s totally fucked up for a dad to tell this to his kid, I will tell you that I was wholly unaffected emotionally by this revelation. I was not hurt or distressed by his disclosure and only found myself increasingly interested and curious for more information. I knew what abortion was and what it would have meant had my mother pursued one. I had an acute awareness that my mother’s life would have been drastically different had she been given the opportunity to follow through with her initial inclination. I knew that something had been taken away from her, her autonomy and independence stolen through a moment of time and inadequate communication on a section of folded paper. I remember a profound frustration with the fact that they were unable to communicate about something so incredibly important. This is not to say that my mother would have come to the conclusion to terminate her pregnancy indefinitely; however, she did deserve to have had the opportunity to come to this decision with more education and support from her family and community. Instead she was forced through her family, community and partner into a violent marriage and to eventually care for, support and raise a child completely and totally on her own.

I remember the rising of a peculiar frustration from the pit of my stomach and up into my throat on that thick summer day. I did not allow the words that rose up to come out of my mouth though. My veneration for my father was too strong to effectively challenge him in my little 8 year old body and come to the defense of my mother. I wondered why he thought it was so important to tell me this, but more importantly, I found myself noticeably angry that he took so much pride in his perceived ownership of a woman’s body, my mother. He owned her and he owned me. This is a concept that I certainly couldn’t put into words at the time but I do now understand.

Complete Bodily Autonomy is an Expectation not a Luxury

When I share this story with folks that I argue with in favor of autonomy I am inevitably asked, “Well, aren’t you glad your dad did that? Are you saying that you would prefer to not exist?” I am so tired of that question I wish I could simply sigh audibly and somehow convey everything that races through my head in that fraction of a second.

I’ve actually gotten into yelling matches over the issue with other men (which is really rare form for a soft temperament guy). I was having this discussion with a couple of dudes, one of whom balanced on the edge of indecision on his personal stance. Then suddenly he fell on the side of becoming pro-life. “You know Kole, I just decided that she shouldn’t be able to have an abortion”. ((insert screeching halt sound)) My lips literally went numb and my ears went silent. Seriously? “Well, I’m glad you can so easily come to a decision, for someone else, without having any other education on the topic and in reference to something that you will never have to face as a gay cis*man.” Don’t get me wrong, I love these men and I think they are good people. I also think that too many of us lean on the side of making choices for people, without any real education and we often do this when those choices in no way affect our own lives. It is not our choice to make.

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Of course. Of course I’m grateful to be in existence and appreciative of the opportunity to experience the dichotomies that this life has to offer between the good and bad and love and hate. Yet, I do not like knowing that it may have come at the expense of my mother’s autonomy, life or happiness. I will never know how her life may have been different because there is no way to know. I’m well aware that women choose to have unexpected children and find complete and total joy in the choice that they made. This is not always the case and undeniably it’s not our choice to make for any woman that walks this planet. Her body and her future are her own and she deserves the right to come to that conclusion fully educated and supported. For more on personhood and violations of autonomy you can check this guest blog.

It’s an expectation that we may choose to have any form of surgery, medical care, chemo treatment for cancer, to remove a mole or to have a hysterectomy or vasectomy, it is also an expectation that anyone should be able to choose whether or not to use their body as a vessel to bring about life to the full term of personhood. This choice is not a luxury, it is an expectation. At 8 years old I knew that this was not up for debate.

The Punishment for Sex is Not Forced Pregnancy

Just as the punishment for drinking is NOT rape, the punishment for sex is NOT forced pregnancy. This has a long historical context that is rooted in the idea that “irresponsible” sexual activity leads to the assumed “consequences” of pregnancy. I’m acutely aware that women have sex for a multitude of reasons, love, romance, pleasure, fun, perhaps procreation. Sex is not an irresponsible act. It can be an act of passion or love or pure pleasure but it is never irresponsible when enacted between two consenting people. I imagine that my mother felt guilt and shame wrapped around her accidental pregnancy. This is evident in the fact that there was a quick and forced marriage before I became too noticeable (Ya know, like born) to the public’s condemning eye. While we may not be as likely to force young folks into marriage after getting pregnant anymore, we still shame young girls which adds absolutely nothing to the solution. There are examples abounding undeniably. Sex Education reduces the risk for unwanted pregnancy, not shame tactics.

Until Women have Complete Bodily Autonomy there will Never be Total Gender Equity

Photo Credit: The Pro-Choice Mom

Photo Credit: The Pro-Choice Mom

I’m not an expert on abortion and there are plenty of resources out that lean in support and opposition of the cause. (I won’t cite them because they are easy enough to find) I’m also not here to argue the intricacies of the subject. I am not the first or last to talk about abortion and there are many folks out there that are the experts. Yet, at 8 years old I had awareness that my mother was entitled to do whatever she pleased with her own body before I had developed fully. She was the expert on her own body and life. Her bodily autonomy was about her fundamental right to choose. I imagine that abortion is something that many folks don’t think about too in depth until they are faced with a situation where they must contemplate having one. It shouldn’t matter why my mother wanted an abortion – she should’ve had the choice no matter her age, her location, her education, her economic status, her community’s opinions, her boyfriend’s opinions or any other qualifying circumstance, because it was her own damn body and her own damn life that she was offering up.

Without bodily autonomy women become a possession that our community owns. Specifically, the men who are making the vast majority of these decisions. When we make decisions for women about their own lives she then becomes property. When we own women as property we rob her of her fundemental right to autonomy and independence and make it easier to devalue and dehumanize her. When we dehumanize and devalue her we make it easier for ourselves, and others, to oppress and violate her. As a collective consciousness and community it is our ethical responsibility to trust women to make choices for their own bodies, even if they are not decisions that we would personally reach and even if we think that those choices are harmful choices. Perhaps I didn’t have the words but I could see that at 8 years old.

3 responses to “How I Became Pro-Choice at 8 Years Old

  1. nobodysperfick November 8, 2013 at 8:38 am

    This is a really phenomenal post. Your description of the experience really captured every sensation, every realization, as it came to you as a child, and how you’ve processed and discussed it as an adult. The moment in which you describe your lips going numb in that moment of tension? I can really relate to that. That exact thing happens to me!

    Kudos on such an outstanding piece about how the personal truly is political!

    • HAVEN November 8, 2013 at 11:08 am

      Thank you! I appreciate your kind words and feedback. I often break the number one rule of blogging and write painfully long scripts; however, I felt that this story deserved the descriptive narrative and I’m glad it was able to convey the sensation and emotional aspects. Yes, the personal is political. :) – Kole

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