March 13th, 2012

corset & bougainvillea

Your body is a battleground. Your mouth is an unloaded gun.

Today was surreal. Let me explain.

Last week, a woman I know here in Austin, a long-time poet and heavily involved Democratic political operative, contacted me to ask if I'd be interested in performing a spoken word piece on the steps of the state capitol. This would be to protest the decision by Gov. Rick Perry and Republican state legislators to take a pass on the $35 million dollars of federal funding the state would receive for the Medicaid Women's Health Program. This program funds health clinics throughout the state that serve more than 130,000 women, and mostly those who are poor and working-class. The federal funds are TEN TIMES the amount of money the state itself spends on women's health.

However, some of those clinics (but not all) are run by Planned Parenthood. Some of those clinics (but not all) provide abortions. And the main goal of the Texas GOP in supporting these cuts is to starve Planned Parenthood and any other organization that dares to keep women's reproductive healthcare (including but not only abortion) accessible and affordable.

So, of course when I was asked about reading, I said "hell yeah." I spoke with one of the rally's organizers yesterday, a woman employed by Planned Parenthood of the Texas Capitol Region, to discuss logistics (where, when, and for how long I'd be reading), and she asked me to send her a copy of the poem I planned to read. I sent it this morning while I was working from home.

In the meantime, I stumbled upon a post lowhumcrush had posted over on Facebook about the different experiences women and men have in slam, inspired in part by the Women of the World Poetry Slam last week in Denver. (I caught the finals on Ustream Saturday, and they were pretty amazing.) Of the many things Rachel mentioned in the note--the presence of male coaches feeling unsettling in the green room, the extent to which a woman's appearance influences the scores they receive from judges, the tendency for male poets to be seen as more authoritative and enlightened when writing about women's physical and sexual abuse than female poets are themselves--were her comments about content and what kind of content women are "allowed" (by the audience, by other poets, by coaches) to present for fear of alienating judges and getting fewer points. A lot of what she wrote resonated, and I've had that conversation many times over the years--both when I still competed in poetry slams and since.

So there was nothing more ironic than the phone call I received a couple of hours after sending my poem from the rally organizer asking me to explain the piece and to express concern that it "wasn't on message." She'd have to let "marketing see it" before she could say yay or nay. You see, as I was told via text message many hours later, while the rally was happening downtown and I was drinking beer at a bar around the corner from my office shaking my head, disappointed:

"Hi-I'm sorry. I feel like I'm not being very articulate in my phone messages/conversations. This is a complicated issue, and we just know that our political attackers use stories of remorse as an attack on the movement as a whole. We would love for you to preform[sic] another poem if you have it. I apologize for all of this."

And she's right. About all of it. It is a complicated issue--and my words, my experience are too complicated for the soundbites. They need simple, uncomplicated. Women, even when they are pro-choice--and that poem is, at its core, about acknowledging and demanding respect for our choices, whatever they may be--can't bring the complicated bits of their experience to the conversation. And I'm not sure who that makes me madder at, honestly.