Why I Stopped Believing in God

“Are you Christian?” one of the protesters asks any person he’s met and can lure into a conversation. I was also asked this the first time meeting this particular protester.

When you have researched, observed, and conversed with a religious protesting group for months, I suppose it’s easy to end up looking at your own beliefs and wonder why yours differs from theirs. Least that is the case with me.

Somewhere along the way, those men outside my clinic reminded me why I’m not a Christian like they are.

My religion origin story starts when I was baptized. Supposedly, the Catholic Church my mother attended refused to baptize me. Mother claims it’s because she had previously been married and later got divorced. She had paid the church to obtain an annulment (meaning the church would consider the marriage void to begin with), but they refused to baptize me. Although, I don’t think the fact that my parents weren’t married when I was conceived or birthed or that Dad wasn’t religious didn’t help either. Despite my mother’s church refusing to baptize me, I ended up being baptized anyway when my grandmother was able to set one up for me on Easter Sunday at the Christian hospital she worked at.

Memories of going to church during my childhood are quire vague. I sort of remember going to church regularly early on, but eventually was reduced to holidays or whenever I stayed over at my best friend’s house on the weekend.  I think Mother’s experiences with the church caused her to distance herself from the religion until she was more of an agnostic than a true Christian.

Still, I had been taught to believe the basic stories of the Bible like the plagues, the flood, and the birth and death of Jesus. I believed God and Jesus were real.

When I was in the fourth grade, I was relentlessly bullied for liking the wrong pop band. Everyone else liked Spice Girls and the Backstreet Boys while I liked Hanson. It was around this time that a friend of mine invited me to go to her church on Wednesday evenings after school. A large blue van would come to our income based town house complex to pick all the kids up and drive to the tiny church on the outskirts of town. Afterwards, we’d go to McDonalds—I remember the chicken sandwich meal was five bucks.

Truthfully, I was probably initially in it for the McDonalds. But the more I went, the more I really believed that God could help. Every week the pastor would ask if anyone was in need of prayers and we would pray. After Grandpa had fallen off his semi-truck and broke his arm, I asked the pastor to put in a good word to the Lord to help heal him. I eventually began praying to God to make the bullies at my school leave me alone thinking that if I believed enough that my prayers would be answered. I believed what they told me about the Bible, but I admittedly didn’t understand everything being told to me. “But it came from the Bible so it must be true” I thought. I learned the songs being sung between sermons. Everyone singing hymns in unison seemed so strange to me, but still I thought singing would make God happy. I’ll never forget the chorus of that damned “Crayon Song” being led by the father of one of the Christian families that attended the church.

Red is the color of the blood that he shed

Brown is for the crown of thorns they laid upon his head

Blue is for royalty, within him did dwell

Yellow is for the Christian who’s afraid to tell

So don’t you be a Christian who’s afraid to tell…

 

I suppose I continued to go for another reason: the eldest daughter of the father who led the hymns. She was older than me and deaf, which I found fascinating. I knew a little bit of sign language because the doctors thought I was deaf and would never talk so I began to learn sign language. (It turns out I had mild autism and it just took me longer to speak properly.) I tried practicing what I could remember and learned more so I could “talk” to her. Most times I couldn’t sign more than a “Hi, Amber”. I’d get so flustered and feel all the blood rush to my face because I thought she was so pretty and amazing and I was a total dork. I liked her. I mean, I really liked her.

I can’t help but laugh when looking back on this: I began learning I was bisexual in church. At the time, I didn’t know what “homosexuality” was and no one had told me it was wrong. It didn’t feel wrong. I didn’t feel different. It felt natural. It’s a feeling that didn’t phase out with time.

I continued to learn about God’s glory. I was proud when I earned a leather bound Bible with its pretty gilded edges. I continued to pray to God to make my school tormentors stop bullying me. I really believed that God would protect me if I put all my faith in him. I thought God accepted me for who I was and that he didn’t see me as “different”. God loves everyone ….right?

I stopped going to church the day I got made fun of.

We had got done with church and I was sitting in the van waiting to head out to McDonalds. I had a biography on Hanson with me and was looking at the colorful pictures in the middle. The picture I was looking at had Zac wearing bright yellow vinyl pants that had a black stripe going down the sides. I thought they were cool.

The driver got in his seat and turned to see what I was reading. When he saw the picture with Zac in his vinyl pants, he commented on how ugly and stupid they looked.

“But….I like his vinyl pants. I think they’re cool.”

“That’s what they make car seats out of! I can’t believe you like pants made out of car seats!”

As he laughed about it, I felt the same humiliation I felt whenever I was bullied at school. Was there any reason not to? It was exactly like how the bullies at school laughed and made fun of me for enjoying something. The only difference was it happened at a place where I thought I was accepted and loved. I was so embarrassed that I stopped going altogether.

It was such a small moment yet rocked my beliefs to the core. Up until that moment, I had followed blindly without question. That day, I learned to question Christianity.

God hadn’t made the bullies stop despite my prayers and believing in Him. Why? Wasn’t I good enough? I followed the rules. I learned the songs and the stories. I was a kind person. What did I do wrong? That day, I had saw a bully in one of His followers. Why would God not stop a bully in his own church? If he won’t stop someone from making fun of me in a place of the Lord that teaches love and acceptance, how was I supposed to believe he would stop the bullies at my school? And isn’t this man a Christian? Do Christians make fun of others? Does God think this is okay? If not, why doesn’t he stop it? Is he powerless or does he not care?

Maybe the Dicktator would assume that God didn’t help me because I was somehow a “lukewarm” Christian following false leaders, that my parents hadn’t taught me well, I had feelings for someone of the same sex, or that being bullied was a part of God’s plan. Why would God hold a 10 year old accountable for unknowingly following false leaders or not knowing that being gay was “wrong” within the terms of the religion? Why would God’s plan include getting tormented?

Then again, maybe I shouldn’t be surprised at a plan involving verbal torture considering His plan to forgive people for their sins involved sending His only son die. People were horrified when Stannis sacrificed his daughter on Game of Thrones, but are perfectly okay with God letting his son be lead to death for the sake of humanity.

As I got older, I saw how Christianity is used to validate their hate or deny rights to others. Right now, I’m seeing Christians using God to justify harassing female patients every week. They are the sort of people that caused me to stop believing in the first place. As I watch them every week, their actions only convince me that not believing in all-powerful sky monsters was the right choice.

Meet the Protesters: The Pastor

As I mentioned in my last post about the protesters, there are two people that have been a mainstay to the demonstration outside my women’s clinic since the beginning. One, as the last blog post described, is a major dick with hardcore Christian views and preaches gospel like he’s a pastor.

The other protester actually is a pastor.

The Pastor runs the Countryside Evangelical Free church in Merrillan, WI. Besides demonstrating outside the local women’s clinic on Wednesday afternoons, he also is in charge of the Life Chain for Black River Falls, a nationwide event where pro-lifers stand outside for an hour in a line with anti-abortion signs “standing for life”. I eventually found out the Life Chain organization is where the group gets all their signs from.

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I had the displeasure of meeting him during one of my first activist attempts when I still had no clue what I was doing. There was a story of a woman who got so fed up with anti-abortion protesters that she wrote a sign telling women that they are beautiful and not to listen to those assholes. It inspired me to create my own positive message sign and I ended up meeting The Pastor when I debuted it towards the end of May.

The whole experience was awful. For an hour and a half, I tried standing with a message of encouragement to the women who get harassed by these stupid, old men every week and ended up getting harassed myself. First, after introducing me to The Pastor, The Dicktator tried offering me another one of his cards. When I politely refused, he asked me “Are you literate? Can you read? If you can’t, I can read this to you.” The Pastor questioned me about my personal life and faith, which I had made the Dicktator believe were of a Satanist nature after he had called me ignorant three weeks beforehand. The Pastor tried to force feed me his beliefs while have little to no respect towards mine. I got the run around and excuses when I questioned the holes and contradictions their agenda. They both tried convincing me that they were “for women” and that if I was for women that I should hold one of their signs. It was non-stop noise with a protester questioning me through my right ear and listening to Otep blast out of the ear bud inserted into my left ear. I think the music in one ear is what kept me from having a panic attack with all the anxiety this social situation brought to me.

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This took me 7 hours to build and I haven’t used it since the day the two protesters ganged up on me

I went home feeling utterly defeated by the whole nerve wracking experience. I questioned whether I should continue standing up to a stubborn, unwavering enemy that was likely to insult me even further. The only thing I was sure about was that they did not care about women’s health or respecting women, their feelings, or personal lives. Also, that the Dicktator was a complete asshole.

Like the Dicktator, he’s preachy about the Christian faith and his pro-birth view, but without the outright aggressiveness and insults. Talking with The Pastor has always been a bit strange. He has an extremely polite tone when he speaks, but in a way that reminds me of how my co-workers behave when they’re dealing with a rude customer. I’d call it slightly passive aggressive hidden underneath a mountain of fake kindness. Because of this, I also call him the Stepford Wife.

I used to get in religious or abortion debates with him on a regular basis. Being that he’s a Pastor, I was always guaranteed to lose whether he was able to talk his way around the points I brought up or his stubbornness made him believe that he was right even when he didn’t have a proper answer.

For example:

The Pastor always holds a sign that says “Abortion Hurts Women”. The group’s cards say that a woman is likely to suffer from PTSD and engage in self-destructive activities as a result from her abortion. There hasn’t been a study that proves a definite link between abortion and mental illness. A more recent study had shown that most women—up to 95%—don’t regret their abortions. I don’t deny that there are women who do regret their decisions, but I also won’t deny the facts that tell me something different than what the protesters are feeding people. So I told him, “Studies show that *most* women *don’t* regret their abortions”. His response? “Well, who is going to admit that they regret something?”

The only reason I even bothered with these debates was that he would lose focus on preaching his anti-abortion view and being a general nuisance to the patients going in and out of the building to focus on me challenging him. Sometimes he’d even put down that damn sign of his. Eventually I ran out of things to talk about and it got tiring going around and around in circles every week.

Behind the fake politeness, there may be a darker side. I have heard some things about him that are not too flattering. A childhood friend explained she used to go to his church with her mom. The Pastor had apparently kicked out a loyal member of the congregation after she remarried following the death of her husband and the new husband was not very religious himself. A supporter of mine described going to one of his services at the church a Memorial Day service or a veteran’s funeral—I don’t remember which, but something involving the military—and the Pastor used it as a platform to say some pretty hateful things about gays and lesbians (and Muslims, if I recall correctly). It doesn’t surprise me that much considering the “take the Bible literally” nature of both the Dicktator and the Pastor.

He’s only dropped his Stepford Wife persona on one occasion. He reminded me of their annual Life Chain protest on the bridge the Wednesday before it happened so I set out to make a sign to counter protest them. When he read my sign that said “They’re not pro-life. You know what they are? They’re Anti-Woman!” (to quote the late George Carlin) he got short with me, made a comment I didn’t quite hear because I wasn’t paying attention and the top of the bridge was noisy, and stormed off in a huff. I had never gotten under his skin before so I found it to be delightful.

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This was worth the 3 days it took to build on such short notice.

So for protesters we have an asshole who acts like a pastor and a pastor who may secretly be an asshole.

Reproductive Rights Questionable with Trump Presidency

These are troubling times for women’s reproductive rights.

In the wake of Trump becoming our president elect, there has been a surge in women getting IUDs, a long term birth control that’s inserted into the uterus. Women’s rights advocates have even been suggesting that women get an IUD before Trump’s inauguration. The point being that its birth control that will last through Donald Trump’s first term in office (two terms for the copper models). Women are scared of the backwards steps he’ll make to women’s reproductive rights.

Their fears seem justified. Trump picked Governor Mike Pence to be Vice President, a man who has signed every anti-abortion law to come across his desk. After the election concluded, Pence confirmed that the Trump presidency would work to reverse the birth control mandate requiring insurance companies to include birth control in their coverage. Trump himself has made comments about plans to de-fund Planned Parenthood, picking justices that would reverse Roe v. Wade, and punishing women who got abortions. He’s spread the common misconception of “9 month abortions” at the presidential debates, which got gullible people riled up and activists trying to set the record straight.

I’ve had people tell me “Oh, he won’t be able to do that” and “He’ll have too many hoops to jump through.” I consider it wishful thinking as attacks have already been made to women’s reproductive health and conservative law makers continue to do so despite any “hoops”.

*Here in Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker made cuts to family planning funding. It caused five family planning clinics to close down.

*When the birth control mandate passed, Hobby Lobby fought it by citing religious reasons for not wanting to provide birth control methods that THEY—not facts or science—believed caused abortion on their company’s insurance. And won.

*Laws have been passed under the guise that it helps women’s health when actually its purpose is to make getting an abortion harder or force otherwise up-to-code abortion providers to shut down. These are known as Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers laws (TRAP laws for short).

*Some tax dollars (YOUR tax dollars, mind you) go into the unregulated pro-life Crisis Pregnancy Centers that are able to lie to women about abortion and birth control because they are protected by free speech.

*As governor, Pence took $3.5 million from the state’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program and gave it to the anti-abortion group “Real Alternatives”, which lies to women about abortion and spreads their message through Crisis Pregnancy Centers that also lie to women about abortion.

*Pence tried passing a bill that would have forced women who got an abortion to hold funerals for their terminated fetuses.

This is not a complete list of things that have been done against women’s reproductive rights.

I’d like to believe I can breathe easy and assume the things the president elect and his anti-choice VP pick are proposing cannot be done. But I am unable to knowing of the measures taken against women’s reproductive rights. I’m deeply worried that the Trump presidency will find a way through TRAP laws or some other loophole they can jump through.

Even if Trump and Pence are truly unable to make their intended plans a reality, I cannot ignore they stated they wanted to go forward with them. This is not a president or vice president that’s for the rights of women.

#NotMyPresident

Meet the Protesters: “The Leader”

 

There are two main protesters that have been a mainstay to this demonstration from the beginning. One of them was the first protester I interacted with. Initially, he was nicknamed “The Leader”.

You can normally see him outside the clinic on Wednesday in the afternoon about an hour or so before the clinic closes. He always wears a camouflage hat and holds a sign that reads “ABORTION KILLS CHILDREN”. Whereas other protesters are fairly stationary, he’ll pace up and down the street and hold out his sign to make sure his message is on full display. For the most part, he only stands still when locked in conversation with a member of his group or when confronted by someone who disagrees with what they are doing. His other demonstrating tactic has been to make sure there’s coverage on the three sides of the building accessible from the sidewalk when there’s been more than a couple of people. Besides increasing their visibility, I believe this is because they realized someone could cut through the alleyway on the sides of the block and get in the clinic through the back entrance without having to be confronted by protesters. Clinic staff told me that they had heard him shouting that they needed someone on the side of the block because “they’re letting people through the back.” His goal seems to be to catch/harass as many patients as possible coming in and out of the clinic. When he’s brought his kids with to hold signs, I’ve seen him instructing them on how to stand and hold their signs. During one of my more close-up encounters, he was scolding the boys because they were dropping cards on the ground.

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A rare moment of him standing still as he chats it up the only other protester (not pictured) that was there that day. Even then he’s making sure he’s still holding up his sign for the people to see. 

With his preachy attitude and criticisms, you would think he was a pastor. Nope. Just a zealot who believes women have been brainwashed into thinking that abortion is an option because her parents and church didn’t properly teach her the way of the Lord. Therefore, he believes that he must stand outside a clinic that doesn’t offer abortion to try and turn women away from their wickedness.

He’s one of the most judgmental people I’ve ever had the displeasure of meeting. He’s certainly critical of anything that’s not Christian, but he’s particularly critical of other Christians. I’ve noticed between my own experiences and speaking with others who have encountered him that he asks “Are you Christian?” to just about anyone who confronts him. He preaches about the majority of Christians being watered down and cherry picking the teachings and most of the church leaders being lukewarm so they don’t offend anyone because they’re not taking a pro-active stand at abortion like he is. There was a conversation where he criticized the Catholics and Jehovah’s Witnesses for having “warped the teachings”. I also recall him being negative towards Muslims and criticizing their teachings in comparison to the almighty Christianity, which is apparently so superior with its 2000+ prophecies and promises of salvation. On Facebook, he’s even more of a hardcore Christian by only preaching about the faith on that medium (or at least that’s what he presents to non-Facebook friends) while continuing to criticize other Christians. For example, after the big Life Chain event in October where pro-lifers protested on the bridge, he wrote about there being about 50 people, including 4 church leaders, who came to “stand for life”….and then went off to call the turnout pathetic in an area with 20+ church leaders and about 1,500 people. With every post, he asks what people are doing about the “torture and murder of over 3,000 innocents a day” (abortion statistics) and says people who aren’t opposed to abortion or don’t protest against it beyond prayer had parents and church leaders who failed them. Politically speaking, he says true Christians cannot be Democrats because they support homosexuality, transgender, abortions, etc and has called Democrats “soul less”. He told a commentator that he shook hands with the devil when the person admitted he was a Christian and voted for a Democrat.

And yet, there’s no indication he’s doing other things that would actually be of help to people. No conversations or Facebook posts about charitable acts he’s done to help the needy or preaching to others they should do the same. He only asks people what they’re doing about abortion and informs people when he’s going to be strutting outside the women’s clinic with his sign. Maybe he does charitable things, but why wouldn’t he be as vocal about it as he is about abortion? Or maybe he really doesn’t considering he shared a post criticizing churches of being too busy with pot lucks and other organized events that seem to benefit the church or others instead of standing against abortion. It gives the impression that he only cares about the unborn and not human beings outside the womb.

If I am to be honest, he reminds me of Frollo from Disney’s “Hunchback of Notre Dame”. Frollo is a character who is deeply devout and tries to convince people that his actions are justified because they are God’s will. He’s also very critical of religious leaders and because believes himself to be superior to them and the more religious than they are. But ultimately, he’s a dark, cruel, and hateful person with a lot of pride in himself and looks down on people he thinks of as lesser than himself. I see a lot of those qualities in this particular protester. As Esmeralda put it, “You speak of justice, yet you are cruel to those most in need of your help!”

The thing about this protester is he’s initially approachable and polite enough, even if he is preachy, just as long as you listen to what he has to say and don’t outright disagree with him. Even then he can become a bit of an asshole: I remember during my first encounter with him he made the assumption that my friends were drug addicts despite not knowing anything about them on top of criticizing my lack of faith. Yet, being naturally shy, I didn’t fight back when he was a little bit a dick so he didn’t become aggressive.

Second encounter? Not so polite. A week after my letter had been published, I went to the clinic to donate a few dollars and ended up running into him on the way out as he paced up and down the side of the building. He recognized me from a month earlier and asked me in idle chit chat what I was doing that day. I explained I had donated money to the clinic so they can continue to provide services to women in the area. There was a slight pause where I could see the irritation boiling underneath the surface at the audacity that I donated funds to the women’s clinic he was protesting. The tone in his response to my contribution was peeved.

“So you took nothing from our conversation? You continue to live in ignorance!”

I was called ignorant by a man that doesn’t do research on anything outside a Bible, spreads false information about the clinic and abortion because he believes it to be true and won’t listen to the facts, and relies on blind faith to assure himself that he’s somehow helping women by doing God’s will when in reality his presence has been intimidating and not helpful at all. Who’s really continuing to live in ignorance?

I figured it was useless to point such things out so I decided to have fun instead, which only made him more ticked.

“Thanks, but I have embraced Satanism. Hail Satan!”

I must admit I couldn’t believe I had the balls to say that, but it was absolutely worth it. His face was priceless and he yelled that Satan wouldn’t save me as I headed up the street. I think I made him feel as uncomfortable as he and members of his group have made some of the patients feel.

I had nicknamed this protester “The Leader” because he seemed to be in charge of the demonstration. He eventually went by a new nickname after a few personal encounters, hearing what the clinic staff had to say about him, and watching him interact with people on the sidewalk: The Dicktator. The nickname seems appropriate for someone who acts like he’s so righteous and superior for being this hardcore, God serving Christian, but really is a pushy douche bag.

Story time: My first Letter to the Editor

This is a continuation of “Accidental Beginnings”, which described how I ended up becoming an activist in April 2016. 

The day after the inspirational Otep show, I began furiously typing out a Letter to the Editor. It was completed the next day after hours of careful thinking, typing, editing, and blasting the three Otep albums I owned at the time from my computer speakers.

I admit I was pretty scared about submitting it. A few years ago I had written a Letter to the Editor, but it was a fairly safe topic encouraging gardeners in our area to grow a little extra to feed those who were food insecure. Definitely a far cry from this letter explaining the truth about what the local women’s clinic really does and to clarify that it’s not an abortion provider or has any connection with an abortion provider while calling out the protesters on their bullshit. 

So when I submitted the letter I was nervous about some sort of retaliation, but felt like it was important to send it in. I wanted people to know the truth, something I would continue to seek out the further I dove into activism. 

The following week, it was published in the May 4th paper. It read as follows:

Years ago when something was medically wrong, I went to the women’s clinic across from the library. They were able to help me and I have been going to them ever since for my reproductive health.

But recently, Essential Clinic has come under attack for a service that’s not offered: abortion.

A man (sometimes with several others) has shown up every Wednesday with a large sign that reads “ABORTION KILLS”. I asked him about why he’s protesting a women’s clinic that doesn’t offer abortions and never has. He says they do “abortion referrals”. I think he’s confused on what a referral is. A referral means a doctor sending their patient to a recommended specialist. For example, a pap came back abnormal so the clinic set up an appointment for me to have biopsies done to check for cancer. Their involvement with abortion is purely educational, sharing information on abortion and discussing that information. However, the clinic has zero involvement in assisting a woman with getting an abortion.

The services Essential provides can be offered for a low cost or free, making these services available to women who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford them.

I’m appalled that a few individuals have chosen to ignore the benefits in favor of demonizing it for supporting a woman’s right to choose and supplying information on an option they don’t agree with. They could be advocating for increased availability of contraceptives to lessen the need for abortions, actively supporting services that help mothers who are struggling or becoming foster parents for children who need parental figures. Instead, they stand outside the clinic with their signs and touting a God not everyone believes is their savior. They call it “pro-life”. I call it “pro-birth”, narrow-minded, and foolish.

Of course, they have the right to protest. But don’t people have the right to a safe and comfortable healthcare environment? Even if they remain peaceful, their presence is invasive and intimidating.

Women shouldn’t have to call the clinic feeling uneasy about going to her appointment because of the protesters outside. Women shouldn’t have to feel that there are judgmental eyes on her when she walks in and out of the clinic. Women shouldn’t have to be anxious that she will be approached and be made to feel awful about themselves, guilty, or embarrassed. It may not be the intent, but that’s the effect they’re having.

Remember: This is a women’s health clinic we’re talking about; not an abortion clinic.

Unfortunately, the Editor had chosen to delete the part where I listed the specific services Essential Clinic  provides (exams, contraceptives, treatment, education, etc). Other than that I was happy seeing it in the paper. 

Instead of receiving the retaliation I feared, I got support. Many congratulated me on writing the piece and told me it was well written. Some became educated on what was happening. Most agreed that the protesters were being invasive.  

There was a part of me that hoped that the protesters would read my letter and leave these women alone. Being the religious zealots they are who feel they need to tell women about Christ and what women should do, they didn’t budge. It wasn’t like the protesters hadn’t read it. I would later learn one of the main protesters, the one who seems to be in charge of this demonstration, had indeed read my letter and even wrote a letter of his own in response, which was published the week after mine had been.

It seemed to prove that their agenda of harassing women with religion and anti-abortion signs was more important to them then women having access to safe and comfortable healthcare. That they would rather stand outside with a sign instead of proactively doing or supporting anything that would reduce abortion rates.   

Because of their refusal to leave women alone, I ended up diving deeper into the fight for women’s reproductive and health rights.  

Accidental Beginnings

When I look back on concerts I’ve attended, there’s usually one strong image that sticks out in my mind. Paul Stanley flying on a trapeze over the crowd to perform on a giant turntable on the other side of the arena, video footage of the horrible aftermath of the atom bombings projected at the Dir En Grey show, Ben Faust of Goatwhore flashing me an “okay?” sign during their last song when I was in obvious pain from my legs getting slammed into the edge of the stage….you get the idea.

This is a story of how a mental concert image turned me into an activist for reproductive rights.

I never imagined being an activist of anything let alone something that’s so shrouded in controversy. I’m shy and timid with a profound lack of confidence and dislike for confrontation to the point where I avoid it whenever I can. I’m also afflicted with social anxiety and certain situations cause an overwhelming sense of terror. When I reflect on it, I find it so strange that I’m doing this activism. Though I’m supportive of many causes, in most cases I’ve never done anything more than donate a few dollars to show that support. Probably the most activist thing I’ve ever done up until this year was wearing a handmade shirt that read “Homosexuals have rights, too!” after coming out quite publicly in high school and was getting made fun of for being bisexual, an act that earned me a trip to the principal’s office and a warning not to wear the shirt in the future.

So what happened? It started with my women’s health clinic and ended at a concert.

I started going to the local women’s health clinic about a decade ago when it was called Western Dairyland. The staff there was helpful and kind so I have trusted them with my vagina ever since. They’ve been there when I’ve had pregnancy scares, vaginal infections, and one cancer scare after a pap came back abnormal enough they referred me to a doctor that could do biopsies. They offer exams, birth control, testing, and treatment for little to no cost and don’t turn anyone away because of an inability to pay, which was certainly my situation when I began going there. The clinic became Essential Health Clinic (formally Options Clinic) shortly after our governor made budget cuts to family planning, but thankfully nothing changed in terms of receiving care and contraceptives.

However, one thing did change in 2016: anti-abortion protesters.

In mid-March, I went in to schedule my annual exam. Not only did I find the clinic had changed its hours and were already closed for the day, but also found a middle aged man standing just a few feet from the entrance holding a sign that said “ABORTION KILLS CHILDREN”. I was greatly confused as the clinic is NOT an abortion provider. Not that I ever needed/wanted an abortion anyways thanks to them offering birth control pills along with a never ending supply of condoms after my first major pregnancy scare.

I passed him and his large, intimidating sign as I headed back home. After nervously passing him like a scared little rabbit, I stopped. To this day I still have no idea what compelled my brain to override my social anxiety protocol so I could turn around and timidly inform him, “They don’t do abortions here and they help a lot of people.” It led into a half hour conversation. “Conversation” being a figurative word as he did most of the talking— about God, Christianity, Hell, and apparently how the clinic does “abortion referrals” while questioning me on my beliefs—and I barely got a word in. During the conversation he gave me a card: one side with six “facts” on about abortion and the other side begging me not to kill my baby and surrender myself to Christ.  

Probably as this one-sided conversation occurred, a Los Angeles based metal/rap artist/activist by the name of Otep Shamaya was preparing to release her seventh album “Generation Doom” and planning out a tour to support its release.

The week I bought the “Generation Doom” album, which I admittedly became obsessed with, I had an appointment for an annual check-up at the Essential Health Clinic. The protesters hadn’t given up since my first encounter with one of them. There was still the one lone protester standing outside with his sign, though I had heard of more showing up at other times. After going through the usual routine of going through my medical history, determining that I didn’t need a pap smear that year according to the new guidelines, and renewing my birth control prescription, the RN informed me about my rights as a patient and the rights of the protesters. Basically, thanks to Free Speech, it’s well within their rights to harass patients outside the building as they please as long as they don’t physically block entrances or physically harm anyone. She told me its best to ignore them, a statement I’m sure her superiors told her to say, and that I shouldn’t let them bother me.

Ignore them? How do ignore someone that stands near the door of your healthcare provider so you’re forced to walk past them? How do you ignore someone that puts a large anti-abortion sign in your face while trying to get you to take literature and talk about Jesus while criticizing aspects of your faith and/or life? When I was a kid, I was told to ignore the bullies that tormented me based on the logic that they would eventually get bored with me and move on, but such advice never worked. Why would it be any different now that the bullies were now grown men on the sidewalk?

I found it upsetting that I had to be told my rights as a patient because of stupid, old zealots who think they can tell women of reproductive age what to do with their bodies and their faith. I figured there had to be a reason why the RN was telling women of their patient rights and to ignore the protesters.

I asked, “Are they…scaring women?”

She went onto explain that there had been patients who were intimidated by their presence, including a young woman whose relative had called to explain she was afraid to come into her appointment because the presence of protesters scared her. I never imagined women not coming to the clinic for help because of a group of men demonstrating outside the building intimidated them. I asked about the abortion referral claim and learned they have nothing to do with abortions other than providing information about it as part of their all-options pregnancy counseling (which also includes parenting and adoption). “Refer” can mean “to mention or allude to” so technically they do refer to abortion, but they don’t do “referrals”, meaning a medical facility transfers your care to a recommended provider. I’m not entirely sure which one the protester really meant.  

I quietly slipped out the back entrance after my appointment. It only occurred to me after I had gotten halfway home that the reason I sneaked out the back was also the reason why there were women who admitted they were scared about coming in: they didn’t want to be confronted or harassed by the protesters near the entrance.

Two days after my appointment, I saw Otep perform in Ringle, WI. It wasn’t the first time I’ve seen her perform yet something about that show lead me to the activism I do now. Without this catalyst, I’d probably still be sneaking through the back door of the clinic to avoid being harassed by protesters about abortion and religion.

As I mentioned earlier, there’s usually one strong image in my mind when I reflect on the shows I’ve been to. The mental image that sticks out in my mind when I think about this show is strangely not of Otep herself. Instead, it was something not as obvious and extremely peculiar: a microphone stand.

Yes. A microphone stand.

Otep had two of them (I’m guessing for aesthetic rather than necessity). They were positioned on the front corners of this box that she stands on. Both stands were wrapped with thick, orange rope light, but the one to my right had been decorated with a couple doll heads that were vandalized with black Sharpie marker. As the crew set up the band’s gear, I couldn’t stop staring at this stand. In the moment I was mesmerized by these decapitated doll heads, I recalled an article I read where anti-abortion protesters had pelted a woman going to get an abortion with torn apart and fake bloodied doll parts. The image of the microphone stand stuck with me even more than Otep raising her black gloved fist in-between songs and declaring “This…this is the universal sign of protest”. Not to say that the protesting imagery of her set had no effect on me, but I couldn’t stop thinking about those doll heads and the story they reminded me of. Combined with her songs with themes of rebelling against tyrants and meeting the woman in all her bad ass glory after the show, I left the venue fueled with the desire to confront the zealots that showed up every Wednesday to harass woman.

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Otep with the microphone stand decorated with doll heads.

The next day, I furiously typed out a Letter to the Editor about the services the clinic provides and the actions of the protesters. To be honest, I was terrified about submitting it for fear of retaliation, but felt I needed to send it in. There was a part of me that hoped it would convince them to leave these women alone and let them go to their appointments in peace, but they are extremely stubborn so they continue to demonstrate, lie, mislead, and bully.

But I have been just as stubborn because I believe in women having the right to choose and, more importantly, I believe everyone should be to go to their health care provider without being bullied by anti-choice protesters near the door and that women don’t deserve to be lied to about their options. Thus, I have continued to fight despite being timid and shy.