a gay black woman's discovery of her jewish self

The Strength of the Female Voice

Posted on: May 30, 2012

There were several times in high school when I swore I was pregnant.  Even though I did everything right, I insisted on condoms, secret stash of birth control from Planned Parenthood.  Still, there were times when my period would come days late and I just knew I’d gotten knocked up.  Thinking back, I’m not sure what I was worried about-two types of birth control didn’t make the odds of accidentally getting pregnant very high, but the guilt and shame of sex that my Catholic education imparted worked wonders on my paranoia.  I purchased pregnancy tests and prayed to the Virgin Mary, Gd, Jesus, the great Goddess to keep that second pink line from showing up.

On one occasion I remember getting two pink lines-one was a bold pink and the other a faint mauve.  I panicked and wondered how much an abortion would cost.  I knew someone who’d had one and thought I could reach out to her and in an instant visions of the graphic pro-life videos I was shown in grade school flashed before my eyes.  Could I murder my child?

Of course I wasn’t pregnant.

In college I would argue with the pro-lifers who would flood the campus of the University of Toledo every spring.  They’d come with their posters of aborted fetuses and stand on low stools with a megaphone preaching about how abortion was murder.  Many times they’d come with their children and I thought that was real abuse-brainwashing your child into thinking that if they were in a pinch they’re own parents would turn the pitchfork on them-all because of a mistake.

When my sister got pregnant for the first time I wanted her to have an abortion.  She was in a bad situation and the idea of bring a child into her life that seemed to be crumbling down around her was a bad idea.  She didn’t and I supported her decision, even when it was hard-just as I would have supported her had she gone along with the abortion.

I’ve never had an abortion, and I support women who make the choice to have them.  I support women who make the choice to have children.  I support women who make the choice to give their children up for adoption.  I support women who have their children taken away.  I support women who have their children taken away and fight to get them back.  I support women who have their children taken away and don’t want them back.  I support women who don’t want children.  Why?  Because I am a woman.  Those women are my sisters and I’ll gladly stand by their choices so long as they respect the choices of other women.  The voices of women who make the choice to give up children for adoption, whose children are taken away, who don’t want children, who’ve had abortions are often silent or silenced by the loud roar of an “all-American” crowd that still firmly believes that a woman’s right to choice is not her right at all.

As we know I’m obsessed with having a child and obsessed with Kveller.  It would seem odd, then, that an article about an abortion moved me deeply.  Sarah Tuttle-Singer wrote a “My Jewish Abortion” yesterday and I applaud her for her voice.  Not for her bravery, not for her courage, but for her voice.  I don’t need you to agree with me on this, just as I don’t need you to agree with me on anything that I write.  What I need you to do is to stand in Sarah’s 19 year-old shoes and appreciate her truth.

From Kveller.com

It’s no secret why frightened looking girls walk into the social worker’s office on the second floor of the Student Health Center at UC Berkeley.

And while I sat there, vaguely nauseous and needing to pee (for the third time that hour) I avoided eye contact with the students walking by. After all, Nice Jewish Girls don’t get knocked up freshman year of college.

The social worker had a warm smile and a firm handshake. She was short and petite with close-cropped curly hair and kind eyes. She reminded me of my mom, and I tried not to let that bother me.

“So,” she said once we were seated across from each other. “You’re pregnant.”


“These things happen,” she said, “and it’s my job to make sure that you have all the resources you can to make your decision.”

“I’ve already made my decision.”

“And?” she asked, her face as neutral as the beige walls. On her wide wooden desk, she had one of those small water garden fountain thingies, and the sound of trickling water rattled the stillness between our sentences. Not very Zen. I had read somewhere that the sound of flowing water is supposed to make people feel calm in the face of chaos, but it just made my bladder spasm instead.

“I’m not ready to have a baby.”

“Have you spoken with the father?”


“Any reason not to?”

(Aside from the fact that I wasn’t really sure who the father was…) “No. There’s just no reason to involve him. Why mess him his finals schedule, you know?” I could feel my smile, shaky and lopsided, slide off my face.

“Ok. Well, we’re here to support any decision you make,” she said, reaching for a stack of brochures to her right on the desk. “Here is a list of outside doctors you can contact,” she added as I took the pamphlet. “Do you have SHIPP insurance?” she asked, referring to the student health insurance plan that most students opt into when they enroll each semester.

I nodded.

“Good. That that will cover some of the cost, but you will need to come up with around $250.”

I gulped.

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10 Responses to "The Strength of the Female Voice"

Excellent piece, Erika!

Thanks, Colleen!

Okay, I read the article. However, I am confused by what you mean when you say “stand in her shoes and appreciate her truth”?

Also, what do you mean when you use the word “support”? They have your approval, they have your encouragement? There are different definitions for the word and I don’t know which way you are using it. I can certainly say women do not have my approval just because they are women and I am a woman too. Jews don’t have my approval just because they are Jews and I’m a Jew too.

It’s one of my favorite things to encourage people to do. When I say it I mean to experience the physical sensation of literally walking in someone else’s shoes-something I think is very difficult to do. When you try to mentally put yourself in someone’s space and “wear their shoes” even if they don’t fit, they’re uncomfortable, etc. it allows you to be open to the possibility of experiencing things from their point of view.

Of course I had to look up the definition of support and you’re right-a lot of definitions! Thank you 🙂 My favorites are:
v.7.a. To aid the cause, policy, or interests of
b. To argue in favor of; advocate
a. The act of supporting.

I would also add solidarity and mutual respect. I agree, I don’t agree with everyone who is like me solely based on gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, religion-though I would be inclined to stand in solidarity with them, support them if they’re respectful. Does that make sense?

It makes sense in that I understand what you are saying but I suspect we are different in the regard. I am not going to stand in solidarity with a person or support them in all they do just because they are female or Jewish.

I guess I don’t know what I was supposed to get out of the original article. It wasn’t deep or thought provoking for me.

Right. And I think that’s fine. For me, personally, I think it’s great to hear experiences that are different from my own. Which is what I appreciate about the piece on Kveller. For me it’s all about her being both a woman and Jewish in that it’s a subject many people don’t talk about openly and honestly. For that I appreciate her and her story.

I think there are many situations in which we can stand on either side of a line. Since I find myself often on one side of a line-whether it be in the Jewish community because I’m black, gay a woman, the black community because I’m Jewish and gay, society at large for all of my born “offenses” I’m quick to stand on the side of “an underdog” or someone who’s up against opposition solely out of solidarity because I’m often on the same side-in some way.

I appreciate her piece because she gives a voice to something that is often silent.

Would I have an abortion? I have no idea. I would hope that if I did that I would have the voice and the conviction to not hide that part of me, as if it’s something to be ashamed of. When Kveller posted the piece about a couple’s struggle with miscarriage several months ago I felt the same sort of solidarity for that writer. I know the woman who wrote the miscarriage piece and reached out to her in the same way that I reached out to Sarah-to thank her for giving a voice to a perspective that is often not heard. No screaming in the face of opposition, no ugly signs or ugly words-only her truth.

Obviously, this is just my opinion.

What do you mean when you say that you would support women whose children are taken away? You frame your article by talking about choice but, by definition, that is not her choice. I think that it’s mention that, in many cases, a woman’s children are taken away as a result of severe neglect or abuse on her part. Can you support her without supporting that?

Also, I don’t think you mean ‘literally walking in someone else’s shoes’, do you?

I’m not sure if you’re a new reader or just around for this piece. At any rate-yes, I like the imagery of literally walking around in someone’s shoes because most of the time when you do this it’s uncomfortable, it can be painful, it’s not pleasant-so yes.
I’m speaking from personal experience when I say that I support women who have their children taken away. Sometimes things go very wrong and sometimes things are out of your control. This is VERY personal for me, so yes, I do support women who lose their children because I know folks where this has happened and sometimes it’s not a black and white situation. I support my sister, who has had years of drug and alcohol abuse and as a result lost her children for a time. She was in a bad place and having those children safely out of her care has resulted in her full recovery, B”H. So yes. I support those women-especially those who have substance abuse issues.

I am a long term reader and a big fan of your blog. I too come to this issue from a very personal perspective. As someone who was taken away from an abusive home, I cannot be more glad that no one supported my mother in her plight to get us back. It was her cruelty, her violence, no one else’s, and she did not deserve an ounce of ‘support’ for what she did to us. Just as nothing is black and white, I don’t think that anyone should roundly say that they definitely would support someone in a certain situation.

I wrote that sentence from my perspective, as a sibling of an addict. It took me a long time (years) to get to a place to support my sister-her decision to keep her three kids through her decade’s-long addiction, the hardship that she caused my family, the hardship she put her kids through, my disappointment. I realized that I didn’t think about in any other way except from where I was sitting. To me she was selfish, lazy, stupid, a terrible mother-you name it I thought it. I told her many times as well. While I didn’t approve of what she did, her life choices, etc. I learned that I needed to supported her. Her recovery, her decisions and the consequences of those decisions. I cannot imagine what would’ve happened if my sister didn’t have the support of me and my family through her hard times.

My situation is very different from your situation. I’ve never experienced it in any other way than from my view-point, so I thank you for your openness and your willingness to share your perspective.

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