Abortion Contradiction

Abortion laws in the United States are predicated on a simple, contradictory premise: women are not competent to make life choices, yet are prepared to be mothers. Obviously, abortion rights issues impact everyone with the right equipment to get pregnant, regardless of gender, but it is contempt for women which fuels the anti abortion movement. Further, studies report conclusions using the terms women and maternal. I will be primarily using gendered language in this post as consequence. 

Many abortion rights opponents try to frame the issue by focusing on the humanity of the fetus. They talk about its potential and its future. The humanity, potential, and future of pregnant people are ignored or else demonized. Even this baby-centered message relies on devaluing women’s lives and choices, and portraying women’s goals and desires as selfish.  

While they do endorse adoption, especially to women they deem unfit, very few US women facing unplanned pregnancies make this choice. Less than 1% choose adoption placement, much to the consternation of highly profitable adoption agencies. About half of unplanned pregnancies are terminated, usually as soon as possible after pregnancy is detected. 

It’s been seven years since I had my abortion. In that time I’ve moved cross country, lived with and left an abusive man, and figured out that I’m gay. Like the statistical average of a US abortion patient, I was a white woman in my twenties, and already a single mother in poverty. I never regret my choice. 

Either we can trust women to be nurturers – primary caregivers, teachers, nannies, mothers – or we can view the whole sex as treacherous monsters who can’t be trusted not to kill babies. Villainous wretches who must be stopped by any means necessary, including assassinations and bombings, who we somehow trust to care for infants if only they can be forced to birth them. It’s evil and inconsistent to force every fetus to be born to a monster who wants to kill them. On some level, they recognize that’s not who women as a group are. 

My Grandma The Killer, part 2

This biographical passage about my cult leading grandma Carol Balizet includes mention of child death. You can read part one here. 

It was the mid 1950s when my grandparents married and moved to the Midwest. He worked for his father’s livestock feed company, which he’d later inherit. She had a housekeeper so she wasn’t chained to the drudgery of cooking and cleaning. They were well off. My Giggy joined the Democratic Women’s League of Nebraska and became a lady who lunched. 

They started growing their family right away. In 1956, 1958, and 1959 they had three healthy daughters, with my mother in the middle. There isn’t much oral tradition in the family about those years of economic stability. Several years ago I transferred all the aging photos and captions from my mother’s baby book to archival paper to preserve it. I read in my grandmother’s own hand frustrations, and jealousy that my mom was a daddy’s girl.

In 1961 my grandmother gave birth to her fourth child, a daughter named Natalie, which means “childbirth”. Natalie was born with a congenital heart defect. She died within a month. I don’t think Giggy ever really recovered from that loss. Psychotherapy and counseling hadn’t yet found the measure of acceptance they have today. No one talked things through with my mom and aunts, who became quite morbid in the years following. 

My grandma must have felt truly crazy, driven mad by grief. She resented her husband for not appearing to feel the loss as deeply as she did, and I don’t think she believed she could stay in that house. She took her daughters off to her parent’s home back in Florida, never to return. Like the death of their sister, the abrupt removal of their farther from their lives wasn’t discussed. It just was. 

The Past and Literary Heroines

Condervatives love the past, or an idealized version of it. “The Past” is an important but imprecise concept for Christians convinced a “return” to Biblical morality will solve all that ails us. They may mythologize certain archetypes of American ancestry: cowboys, tycoons, pilgrims. They tend to favor historical or classic fiction to history texts. 

While many raised in conservative Christian environments have low literacy, especially children homeschooled by under educated parents, I was blessed with books and a family who love to read. I read Shakespeare and Poe, C.S. Lewis and Jo March, Robert Lewis Stevenson and Lewis Carol, all before middle school. 

We also had an amazing video library. Before Netflix and TiVo, there was my Giggy. She’d comb through the TV Guide movie listings to decide what to record on VHS that week. Tapes were labeled using a color coded system by genre, and she’d tape the synopsis from the Guide on the side of the box. I always had something wonderful to watch.  

I realize now how many literary heroines helped me stick up for myself, rebel, and fight for what I believed. Because they were women of the mythic godly Past, I was allowed to read about them or watch movie adaptations and learn from them. So long as a feminist icon wears long dresses and can’t vote, she can be snuck past ideologically entrenched parents. 

Jo March with her tomboy streak, Anne of Green Gables breaking her slate over Gilbert’s head, Sarah Crewe finding hope in despair with the power of her imagination. Real life Hellen Keller and Anne Sullivan were celebrated for their “miracle”, so I was able to learn about their socialism.These girls and women were role models I was allowed to have. It shouldn’t surprise me how connected I feel to the eras they lived in.

Memories of Major Events

This post reflects on significant traumatic events including the shooting at Columbine High School, the twin towers attack of 9/11, and the shooting death of an Iranian women during the Arab Spring. 



“Where were you when JFK was shot?” It’s an American question people of a certain age can answer. Some events feel so monumental as they happen, our minds preserve the moments in all their incongruous context. I was born well after that assassination. But this idea of a significant event everyone could have an inconsequential story about stayed with me. 

I was sixteen, sitting in the art classroom at my high school. It was the teacher’s free period but he let advanced students come in to work on projects, so long as our others teachers approved. Mr. R. was a Volvo driving hippie with a chip on his shoulder. He had the radio tuned to NPR. Suddenly the song cut out and a live reporter was talking breathlessly about a school shooting in progress. Screams of children in the background almost drowned her out. 

And I knew I’d remember the moment, even before the dead and injured were all accounted for. The victims and killers were all my age, my lover’s age, my best friend’s age. It was impossible not to think of myself and people I loved in either role. “This is my generation’s shot heard round the world” I thought. 

I was eighteen. It was morning and I worked the graveyard shift at a diner the night before. I was asleep and didn’t understand why my mother was getting me up. She was crying, a rare thing for her. “A plane hit one of the twin towers and people are trapped.” I walked out to the living room just in time to see another plane hit the second tower. I retreated to my bedroom, pulled out a bottle of vodka I kept hidden in my closet, and drank. After a few shots I was able to face the live broadcast again. 

My brother went into survivalist mode, filling all the family vehicles and a few handheld tanks with gasoline, and bringing over his small arsenal of hunting rifles and ammunition. I couldn’t stay in the house with all those guns, so I went out driving with my friend and some boy I was seeing. (I can’t remember his name or what he looked like.) My friend and I drank wine in coffee cups in the backseat of his car and noticed which things stayed open that day: strip clubs, liquor stores, and churches. 

I was 26 years old and sunning myself by a pool in Florida. No one else was there on the weekday afternoon I spent furiously retweetung first aid instructions and updates on the Iranian election protests. It already felt strange to think of panic and chaos and tear gas in the night from that idyllic scene. A woman almost exactly my age Neda Agha-Soltan, born five days before me, was shot in the back and killed. Over the next three or four minutes I saw her name become an international hashtag, and I could feel how symbolic her death would become. 

I remember it was sunny. 

Women Who Ruled: Queen Victoria, part 17 (FINAL)

‚ÄčOver the next few years Queen Victoria visited mainland Europe many times, though by 1900 European opposition to the war over gold in South Africa (known as the Boer War, the Second Boer War, or the South African War) made such visits inadvisable. She took her first trip to Ireland since the Famine, to thank Ireland for its military contributions. 

In July 1900, Victoria’s second son Alfred died at a week shy of 56, of throat cancer. His only son to survive to adulthood had died the year before, following a suicide attempt. In her diary she wrote, “It is a horrible year, nothing but sadness & horrors of one kind & another.” She spent Christmas with her family, then early January weak and sickly. She died January 22, 1901 and 81 years of age.

By the time of her death Queen Victoria had outlived a father, mother, husband, daughter, two sons, and eleven grandchildren. She lived for the births of all 44 of her grandchildren, and the first several births of her 87 great-grandchildren. Her empire expanded, stretching across the globe. The monarchy survived rebellion, industrialization, and an expansion of voting rights to more men. 

At the time of her death, Queen Victoria’s reign of 63 years,  seven months, and two days made her both the longest reigning British monarch and the longest reigning queen regnant in world history. A queen regnant rules in her own right, not by virtue of her husband or son. Both titles remained Victoria’s until sixteen months ago when, on September 9, 2015 her great-great-granddaughter Queen Elizabeth II surpassed her. 

When she passed away Victoria was at one of the high points of her popularity. She was seen by nationalist and imperialist Britains as a kind of maternal, benevolent figure, a mother hen watching over her territories. The Grandmother of Europe ensured there would be future royal generations by her prodigious reproduction, and by the marriage alliances she brokered for her children and grandchildren. The last of her children Princess Beatrice lived until 1944, and her last grandchild Princess Alice of Albany lived until 1981. 

Women Who Ruled: Queen Victoria, part 16

Only four British monarchs before Queen Victoria had reigns of fifty years or more: King James VI of Scotland and I of England (57 years), King Henry III (56), King Edward III (50), and King George III (59 years) who was Victoria’s grandfather. In 1887 the fifty year anniversary of Victoria’s ascension to the throne was celebrated with a two-day Golden Jubilee. 

She began the day with breakfast outside at Frogmore, the estate were her beloved husband Prince Albert was buried. Then she took a private train to Buckingham Palace. A banquet hosting fifty kings and princes was held in Victoria’s honor, followed by a ten mile royal procession the next day. Fireworks finished off the evening. This was a time of renewed popularity for the aging monarch, and the celebrations and cheering crowds lifted her spirits. 

She employed two Muslim Indian waiters from the festivities to work in her household. One of them was Abdul Karim, a scholar she promoted to be her Munshi, a Persian word adapted by British colonials for a language tutor domestic servant or Indian personal secretary. Rumors circulated that Karim like John Brown before him had an inappropriate relationship with the queen. Victoria brushed off such complaints as racial prejudice. 

In September 1896 Victoria became the then longest reigning monarch. She asked that no special commeration of that fact be observed until her Diamond Jubilee, or sixty year reign anniversary, the following year. The Diamond Jubilee was a somewhat smaller celebration owing the Queen’s deteriorating health. A six mile procession culminated in an outdoor service in front of St. Paul’s Cathedral, to spare the monarch climbing the steps into the church. Still there were crowds of supporters cheering for her. 

This time the banquet guests were the prime ministers of self-governing dominions of the British Empire, rather than foreign heads of state. Victoria’s eldest child Vicky had become widowed only 99 days after her husband became King of Germany and Prussia. Victoria’s hot-headed 29 year old grandson Wilhelm was now the ruler of those nations, and he was not trusted to behave at such a gathering  

Women Who Ruled: Queen Victoria, part 15

“In case an exaggerated report should reach you, I telegraph to say that, as I drove from the station here a man shot at the carriage, but fortunately hit no one. He was instantly arrested. I am nothing the worse.” 

That telegraph was sent March 2, 1882 following the seventh and final assassination attempt against Queen Victoria. The shooter was a poet named Roderick MacLean, who first told police he was London born before they determined he was an Irish native. MacLean had written the queen with a poem and did not find her reply sufficiently appreciative. He shot at her carriage in the yard of Windsor station as she entered her carriage. Three or four policemen immediately apprehended him. 

When he was found not guilty due to insanity, Victoria was incensed. She asked Parliament to allow such would-be assassins to be found “guilty, but insane” leading to the Trial of Lunatics Act of 1883. MacLean himself was “detained at her Majesty’s pleasure” in the Broadmoor Asylum for the remainder of his life. The attempt and her survival raised the monarch’s flagging popularity. She said it was “worth being shot at, to see how loved one is.” 

Victoria had from the death of Albert in 1861 increasingly relied on a Scottish manservant named John Brown. Rumors of a romance or even a secret marriage persisted for years. In 1883 Victoria fell down a flight of stairs, causing a long recovery and permanent damage. Ten days later John Brown died. She began eulogizing him in a book about their friendship, to the consternation of advisors and relations who feared it would only fan the flames of scandal. The first volume was destroyed but she published the second in 1884. 

On the first anniversary of Brown’s death, Victoria got word that her eighth child and youngest son Leopold had died of a slip and fall at age 30. The following month came the wedding Victoria’s granddaughter Princess Victoria of Hesse and by Rhine, daughter of Victoria’s deceased daughter Alice, to Prince Louis of Battenburg, who was her first cousin once removed. Prince Louis’s younger brother Prince Henry and Queen Victoria’s youngest child Princess Beatrice met and fell in love at that wedding.