Monday, January 27, 2014

"So Polite."

In the past week I have given over 30 interviews about my solution to some anti-choice bus ads that are currently on my city’s public transit. I lived off steak and weird ending with -atte drinks I’ve never had before that I felt compelled to buy whichever coffee shop student journalists directed me to. I had to correct reporters with the wrong information on air, I read hatemail laden with the word “cunt” on request, I watched as hour long interviews turned into ten second lines. It was an intense, interesting experience. The crux of it seemed to be a radio show where both “sides” of the “abortion” issue gave their perspective one after the other in prerecorded interviews.  

“I loved it,” I was told by a mentor minutes after it was played. “It was so polite.”

I like polite. Polite is both nice and strategic; everyone involved in this debate knows that everyone except those with sick obsessions with car crashes and bull fighting will tune out if the becomes a mudslinging mess typically wrongly associated exclusively with the Southern United States. Acknowledging this subtle, strategic decision that both parties in this debate silently made does not mean I don’t like the anti-choice people at a personal level nor does it make it less authentic, but at the same time, ‘polite’ posed a new set of problems because the conversation around removing a person’s rights to autonomy over their bodies is not polite.

You can’t rely on the media to tell your story, but I am still curious at the story they told; the 30 seconds of me that they deemed worthy always seemed so strange. From both sides the focus of the story always ended up being more about the methods of information than the actual cause. This isn’t a criticism; I was happy with the various people in the media that I worked with, but I question the climate when the conversation is more rooted around the presence or lack of trash talk than the actual issue itself. With something like abortion, the conversation seems so hot topic that it can only ever be referenced so people can feel comfortable in one of the only two boxes that are apparently acceptable to sit in.

The reality that isn’t quashed into sound bites is there are people who believe in access to more information and people who believe in access to less. There are also lots of people in between who represent many other views, sometimes passively. Everyone believes theirs is the answer. I think that when we give people access to good, proven information they can make the decisions that are right for them. Others answer to a power that defies understanding; they very nature of some peoples’ perceptions of God is that you do not need to know the answers to continue doing good. As someone who believes in God, I too try to occasionally be inspired by the wholly illogical urge to do good, but as someone who is just empathetic enough to realize that I can never truly empathize with people in situations, all I can hope for is that they have access to everything they need to make their own decision. Lacking this level of empathy is not about a lack of respect; it is insulting to pretend we could ever actually put ourselves in the shoes of someone who has been sexually assaulted, someone facing a healthcare crisis, or even just someone who is not ready to have a child and might never be. We could all benefit from not passing off our theorizing about others’ real lives as some sort of common experience.

Still, I think we can have a polite conversation about abortion; a conversation that discusses more sexual education in school, a conversation that leads to more access to birth control, a conversation about Plan B, a conversation with real solutions. 

Because here’s the reality: medical procedures in general are frequently physically uncomfortable. Less abortions would be great! Birth control is so much more convenient than a hospital visit. As long as we accept that the right to choose isn’t going anywhere, at all, ever, I’m all for being pragmatic to help the person whose condom broke as long as it’s not at the expense of the needs of the rape victim.

But this hasn’t been the conversation I’ve been having. Journalists’ questions and research has come out to show that this is a conversation based in medical inaccuracies like cancer scares and anti-birth control comments.

The conversation I’m willing to have is one where we acknowledge the rights that people currently have as long as it is without shaming, without judgment, and without valid but intangible missions trumping the needs of people who may not have the same beliefs. Right now, this conversation can happen through bus ads.

South House is always going to have less money for marketing than an anti-abortion group because South House actually provides resources and services for all people. The information they provide is based around choice, not abortions, but also acknowledging abortions. This campaign will not keep the ads on the bus forever, but raising this money will make the statement that Pattison Advertising and Metro Transit are afraid to make: that misinformation, especially pertaining to health, is unacceptable even if you find it offensive.

So I’m going to keep being polite because I prefer it, because I like feeling better than the people who contact me or the news source anonymously to tell me some variation on deserving a coat hanger to my vagina, and because it keeps people tuning in, but I need you to understand how impolite the reality of this conversation is.

“The public is on our side,” everyone involved in this campaign reminds ourselves (they are). “We just have to get them to do something tangible about it.” You do that by donating.

Here I am trying to get you to donate in a very honest, largely unedited, definitely not a soundbite, definitely ‘controversial’ way. I think you’ll agree I’m still very polite. Statistically, I think you agree with me. I need you to show us that this way works, because the pro-choice message is not going to die down.

You can also:
  • Share our donation page or this post on your social media
  • Share something in support of choice in a post of your own
  • Set up a similar campaign in your city
  • Volunteer at South House
  • Donate by cheque
  • Donate again