Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Coming Out of the Closet

This article from helps put into perspective that there’s a lot of “othering” that goes on with regard to the abortion question. Many Americans paint themselves a sour face and hold their nose about a “distasteful” procedure because some other person might need it. The tendency to “other” stems from the fact that, as the author points out, women who have had abortions remain closeted, and as such, abortion remains an abstract concept to most Americans.

One of the tactics employed by the LGBT community to gain acceptance in society was simply to come out of the closet. Though it remains stigmatized and demonized in many parts of the country, supporters and bigots alike had to come to terms with the fact that they knew, really knew, a gay person. It’s harder, unless you’re truly a monster, to abuse and discriminate with your words or with your votes if the person you attempt to demonize is your daughter, niece, or grandson.

I think that same sort of openness might lead to the de-stigmatization of abortion if we would simply realize that we know a woman who has made that choice for herself. Abortion is not something that a low-income woman somewhere in the country or world seeks—it’s a medical procedure that has improved the lives of and empowered our mothers, sisters, and friends. If more women could discuss it frankly and openly, then I think we’d see a shift. Maybe we could stop talking about stripping abortion of its legal protection and have a more serious and heartfelt conversation about how to safeguard the reproductive rights of all people.

It’s a difficult first step to take—to stick your neck out when it’s simply easier to remain silent, but rarely has the course of history found itself offered by those who fell victim to timidity. Better to be thought outspoken then to say nothing at all.

1 comment:

The Imp of the Perverse said...

I like the "universal" language being employed by in regard to the LGBT community - it's easier to understand a woman who has had an abortion from my gay perspective because there's a shared closeted "space" that is difficult to escape. I think that discovering these communal similarities works extremely well, rhetorically, to help different people understand this situation. But it's enlightening to hear women who have had abortions are even "more closeted" than gay people, and it urges me to be a bit more outspoken in my support of these women. I'd always imagined that, being male, I didn't deserve much of a voice in the debate after all. As a gay male advocating the shattering of fellow LGBT closet doors, I can put my hammer to the closet doors of other oppressed communities, too.

Secondly, the nature of silence is an obvious one that has plagued women since before the 18th century, when their anatomy didn't even have a name, to the subsequent erasure of their sexual agency once named (an irony, right? A simultaneous naming and erasure?). I recall a certain Danish film, "The Question of Silence," in which women are seen as victims of an incredibly oppressive, patriarchal regime. That sounds familiar. Theorists such as Beauvoir, Irigaray, and countless others have been dealing with this question for decades. It's telling, of how far we need still to go, when the author of the feministing article finds that she, too, is surrounded by, and perhaps muffled by, that same silence.

I agree with the author, though, that merely being "out" and taking that leap to say the "un-sayable" will do much to help de-stigmatize, but I wonder if it is enough. After all, some people who know me just try to ignore that part of my "identity." Foolish notion, yes, but what more can be done? Can this movement continue with modeling the 1970's gay movement slogan, not just "coming out," but "Out of the closet, and into the streets"? Does the political rallying hold any sway, though, if a woman by default is still faced with such a wall of oppressive silence?