Wednesday, August 28, 2013

My Reluctant Texan Pride

By: Molly Wadzeck Kraus

I spent my formative years in the Lone Star State, from birth until 18.  When I think about my past, fond memories of the scorching summer days, bluebonnets in the field across the street, and cotton candy at the State Fair play like a slideshow loop in my head.  My Texas heritage runs deep.  I still have my flag; I know how to properly fold it.  I still cook my favorite versions of Tex Mex.  I’ve always taken pride in being a Texan first, American second.  When I traveled alone for the first time (to New Zealand), I beamed when a Kiwi server at a restaurant exclaimed “Wow! I’ve never met a real-life Texan before.” 
But the Texas I knew then is not the Texas I know now.  I knew my Northern and non-American friends had an image of my state that I felt was unfair, an inaccurate portrayal of my beloved home.  I thought, of course it has its flaws- it is still a Southern state, after all.  Like most of them, it has race, human rights and religious issues that linger.  But it’s getting better all the time, right?  Our whole country is progressing… right? Thanks to social media, I have bared witness from afar to the non-stop coverage of the events unfolding in Austin recently. And I see, along with millions of others, the exposed, gritty, unpolished truth.
I grew up in Waco and left for New York at 18 for an internship near Ithaca. My father passed away soon after, and I took this as a sign that I should accept a job upstate and start my adult life there. It’s been 7 years, and I have always looked down south fondly, reminiscent of my upbringing.  My mom still lives there. My best friends are scattered throughout the state.  Women.  Men who have women they love. Women and men I've known from childhood, from church, from school, from punk shows, or met during my brief time in college. A diverse group of different races, religious affiliations and sexualities.
I've watched them on Facebook, and enjoyed countless phone dates. I’ve flown back for weddings and visits. I've seen them have children, find their life partners, excel in their careers, lose parents, divorce.  I’ve seen them struggle to find affordable healthcare and childcare in a place that offers practically NO sexual education, makes it difficult to obtain and afford birth control, and makes women jump through hoops to meet their basic needs. 
I've seen many friends become unprepared young parents because of the complete absence of sexual health literacy programs and the limited access to factual, accessible pregnancy prevention resources. Some of them needed abortions. And though their children are here now and loved, they deserved to have a choice.  They deserved the tools and the education to prevent the pregnancies in the first place.  They were owed that information.  It was their right. Their state failed them.  Their schools failed them.  Their families failed them. 
A woman I know developed cervical cancer because of these failures. The unnecessary and religiously-motivated barriers have created an American Ninja Warrior-type obstacle course to healthcare access.  The pontificating of the misogynist politicians and educators knows no bounds; the outright REFUSAL, or willing ignorance, to ensure our youth are taught scientifically correct information regarding their sexual and emotional health runs rampant. Make no mistake, this statement is not an embellishment:  women suffer and women die because of these failures. Because a governing body comprised of people who think the solution to abortion is to teach youth to not have sex until marriage. They see it their moral imperative to deny them information, protection, prevention and support. And when their reckless system fails to curtail the increasing rates of teenage pregnancy, STIs and need for abortion, they turn back toward the women they failed, wagging their fingers, and attempt to force them to carry a pregnancy to term, while shaming them for the “consequences” of their actions.
My friend who developed the cervical cancer could afford regular pap smears when the Planned Parenthood within reasonable driving distance was open. But then came the big defunding of Planned Parenthood, and with it went her clinic and ability to afford routine check-ups.  Because she was without insurance, she waited until she had the money to pay out of pocket and the time to drive to a different clinic. She had high-grade lesions. It was too late. It was in the beginning stages of cancer. One in 3 women in Texas is without insurance. She is not the first to suffer this outcome, and she will not be the last.
I’ve seen the system work for kids. When I worked in the public schools in Manhattan during my assignment in AmeriCorps, I helped lead workshops for middle and high-schoolers. We offered comprehensive, interactive sessions about STIs, healthy relationships, puberty, pregnancy, birth control, abstinence, domestic violence, and gender.  We made condoms and pamphlets accessible.  Our doors were also open for counseling.  Kids in the SEVENTH grade were asking questions I did not have the wherewithal to even conjure when I was a Senior.  They were engaged and empowered.
My friends and my family deserve better. My friends’ kids deserve choices and autonomy and education and insurance and the pursuit of their own goddamn happiness to live a life BETTER than their parents. But it's going to be worse.
The Texas government does not care about my friends. They do not care about my family. They care about their religious zealotry. They create laws they erroneously believe are sanctioned by God.  They do not have open ears, open hearts and open minds to listen to what the people of Texas are telling them.  If they truly wanted to “protect women” and “improve their health” as the supporters are claiming, then they would listen to them.  They are telling them their stories of struggle, their honest truths and experiences.  But all they hear is “abort more babies”.  They do not hear the loud cries of the women who needed better healthcare, who desperately needed information, and who needed their state to treat them not as second-class citizens, but as humans who should be trusted to make their own decisions about their bodies and families. They do not listen to the harrowing realities I have written out here, which amass to barely the tip of the iceberg.
I weep for my friends tonight. Yet, at the same time, I am happy to say that I live in state now that routinely provides me with affordable, preventative healthcare at my OBGYN, and that when I wanted whatever birth control I wanted, I could get it. I had access. Clinics in NYC and upstate made it affordable. Planned Parenthood prevented my own cervical cancer, because they helped enroll me in a program that would lessen the financial burden. They were prompt, informative and supportive. When I wanted an IUD at 20, they told me "Here are the facts. Here are your options. What is your decision?" and did not lecture me on something about God, on marriage, on my relationship with my boyfriend, or shame me like the clinic did in Huntsville, Texas did when I first tried to obtain birth control at 17. They did not try to intimidate, coax, deceive, deny or patronize me. It was MY decision and I thank New York for trusting me with it.
These decisions should remain solely between a woman and her doctor. But in a state like Texas you may not be able to trust that your doctor is providing you with unbiased and all-inclusive care. A physician that has a moral objection against providing information or offering certain services (emergency contraception, IUDs) can wield their power and change the course of a woman’s life. Of course, a Texas woman is welcome to find a physician who will better serve her needs. But the time and money spent on finding one is a great barrier, especially for poor, rural or teenaged women, or women who struggle to take care of their already existing children.

And now that I am a mother, I am even more enraged by all this. No one should have any say in what I carry or do not carry in my body. The people with the power who think otherwise are the ones denying girls the right to education and preventative care in the first place. Deciding to have my (unplanned, unexpected - I got pregnant with an IUD) daughter was the most momentous, difficult decision of my life. I love her fiercely with all my being. But I got to make that choice. New York let me make that choice. And that choice in and of itself has made me a better, stronger, happier parent.  Every woman deserves that choice.  I know a great amount of people in my home state hold these same beliefs. They are still fighting for their government to hear their voices and serve them accordingly. And for that, I still have some Texas pride, however reluctantly.

No comments: