sensationally awful & terribly typical.
radical love letter #63
When I was 21, in between a morning run and a call-center shift, I sat with my legs spread on the floor of a summer-hot basement apartment bedroom. With one hand holding open the pages of a feminist zine I’d borrowed from some punk house, checking the instructions just once more, my other hand wedged a rinsed bunch of parsley into my vagina. My period was only a few days late, but I’d been doing the pull-out method with my neighbor nearly every other night for weeks, and I kept missing my exact birth control pill time. Because we are so rarely taught anything about how our bodies work (like the teeny tiny window of ovulation, for example), in my early 20s especially, I was constantly afraid I was pregnant, and very grateful that this zine of DIY herbal remedies included termination methods.(1)
The next day, I bled. Drawing tiny soiled leaves from myself, I let out the breath I’d been holding with deep relief. Crisis –real or imagined– averted. I put in a tampon and went to band practice.
Not long after, I accompanied a good friend to her appointment for home-administered abortion pills. We took the train back, the secret savior tucked in her canvas tote. Then, in the spring-lit light of a Chicago afternoon apartment, we waited. We didn’t talk much, she wasn’t hungry, we couldn’t focus on reading or even TV, but she said she was grateful for me being there. When she eventually had to sit on the toilet to pass the pregnancy, I continued to do nothing on her couch with the realization that this boring afternoon would be one that I would always remember. My memory of this day is surely different from her own, but I think we both knew that this was extremely significant and also not at all. We both went through the motions with a kind of redemptive nonchalance. This, we knew, was a huge deal and also so very typical. A thousand times over have friends sat on a train together with abortion pills in tote bags or designer purses or pockets or scrunched in sweaty fisted palms. This was both a day to remember and also, it was any other day.
Obviously I am thinking about this because of the recent Supreme Court leak. I am having a similar ambivalent reaction to the news as I did to the day with my friend – this is both catastrophic and also, it is expected. I do not mean to conflate abortion with the state’s criminalization of it, but I think there is some lesson about the construction of catastrophe that we can glean from both. For those who have faith in a twisted version of God(2), abortion is the end of the world. For those who have faith in the system, it failing us is the end of the world. But I know that god exists in abortion pills, and I know that the system was never meant to take care of us. And so the news is terrible, but the news is also boring. Of course the Supreme Court made a fucked up decision, but of course friends will continue to take care of each other on train rides home from abortion centers (underground as they may need to go).
People get very upset when we don’t seem outraged enough about something that will undoubtedly impact millions of people negatively. I am outraged, absolutely I am outraged, but I am also not surprised. And I think there is something to be said for a less activated nervous system response to the headlines. I am not complacent to this news, but my body is better prepared to process it. From this place, I consider next steps: I am willing to support in-the-system fights to ensure that more states have elected officials who won’t criminalize abortion practitioners or patients; (I am an anarchist who thinks voting is both a horrific distraction and also a boring task that I won’t refuse to do). I am eager to support organizers who have been working for decades to create backup plans (like self-managed abortion, transportation to cross-state clinics, and so on). And I am hell-bent on supporting non-state, care-centered responses to our survival. And on using this as another opportunity to point out that we can clearly never rely on the State. (A message from this newsletter that is at this point boring, typical, expected; and also still extremely urgent.) It is a platitude to say that ‘we take care of us’ – and so often we fail at it – but it is also, truly, our only hope.
The pull-out sex I had with my neighbor was also everything and nothing. My senior year of college is one of the only years in my adult life that I have been single, and I had short-term sexual relationships with a lot of people during that non-committed time. I was grieving a year-long love when this freckled artist ginger who lived across the courtyard was sweet to me. On lonely broken-hearted nights, listening to Simon Joyner’s “Love is Worth Suffering For” on repeat, his comfortable kindness was a welcome respite. Our sex, we both knew, was mostly just a place-filler. A big deal but also just a Tuesday night, and then a Thursday night, and then a few weeks later, non-existent. I’d had casual sex relationships that felt a lot heavier than this, for me or the other person, but in this one, we both chose to see for what it was. (Which was basically ‘nice’, and definitely nothing we’d want to turn into co-parenting.)
We have the opportunity of perspective toward the Supreme Court decision, too. This is horrific, and also (as Arendt reminds us) it is banal. This is a moment to bolster our mutual aid giving to local abortion funds and radical abortion activists, and for getting more comfortable with being part of criminalized carework. (This is, of course, another opportunity to listen to and learn from sex workers and drug users!) It’s a time to continue to fight against repressive sexual mores, transphobia, and misogyny. It’s a chance to think expansively about bodily autonomy, and autonomy more generally; to really consider what it might mean to be free. This is a chance – in this sensationally awful and terribly typical time – to imagine and to build otherwise.
I love you.
love & solidarity,
(1) I am a doctor but not the kind that helps people (that’s a PhD joke), so obvi don’t take this as medical advice.
(2) I am well aware that these decisions, from the top, are about power and control, but it is also extremely true that many anti-choice folks are fueled by a terribly sad (and horrifically harmful) iteration of spirituality.
(If you made it this far, hi, thank you for reading! I am slowly getting back on a regular publishing schedule, and I’ll be bringing back more features (like Recommended Reading and the Joy & Attention list, etc.). I may also have a paid version coming soon, but for now, enjoy these essays entirely for free & share widely, it’s a big help! <3)