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    Roe v. Wade v. Me

    By Jewelle Gomez–

    It’s disturbing to think and write about my first girlfriend, my older male lover, and my teenaged abortion. I lived the complexity of being a teenaged lesbian in the 1960s without having any understanding of the context. I, like my secret high school lover, dated guys because it was what girls did back then. And I thought I was relatively safe going out with a guy who was almost 20 years older.

    He was charming, smart, working class (and working) in a poor Boston neighborhood that was in the grip of crime and urban decay. He took me to nightclubs where I was never carded, even though I was only 17. He introduced me to baseball and cocktails, and taught me to drive.

    My great grandmother who raised me was born in 1883 and wise about much of life. But she left my education about intimate things to the thin, inadequate pamphlets given out in high school. So, in my first year at college, as the Summer of Love launched, as the second wave of feminism was creating a disturbance, I was trusting and ignorant: the “rhythm method” should have been a dance. The only lesbian movies I’d seen were The Children’s Hour and The Killing of Sister George, and my high school lover was making plans to abandon me and marry her boyfriend.

    My emotional and hormonal maelstrom left me both bold and vulnerable, but when I found myself pregnant, the image of my future finally snapped into focus: I wanted to finish college—to have a career, not a baby.

    The crude, illegal abortion (before the Roe v Wade decision in 1973) was the most the horrific experience I’ve ever had. I won’t detail the hours of physical agony when I thought I’d die alone in a dark room. At the end, I was so weak I couldn’t walk and so sad it was almost unbearable.

    Then, hours later, unexpected pain sent me in panic, back to find the decrepit tenement where the abortionist lived to determine if, in fact, I was going to die. In the end, I told my boyfriend I would never go through that again; I was a lesbian and was going to be a writer.

    Some months later I sat with my female lover for hours as she endured the labor following her own illegal termination after discovering that her erstwhile fiancé was already married with four children. Even though we’d both thought of ourselves as mature for our age, neither of us had any experience or knowledge.

    We hadn’t yet learned about the larger world of women fighting our rights. The book Our Bodies, Ourselves hadn’t been published yet. We didn’t know that, if we could have managed to travel to Chicago (unlikely), we might be saved by the brave underground collective there that performed abortions, Jane:

    We were just two raised poor, girls of color—one straight (as it turned out), the other not—who were stuck in the backwater of ignorance, religious oppression, and male manipulation of information. Each of us was willing to risk death in order to have the life we wanted.

    Despite being a recovering Catholic, I never felt guilty about making use of an abortionist as a path to living my meaningful life. I’m grateful that I was determined about that huge choice to terminate my unwanted pregnancy. It was okay to be sad; I recovered from it. The moral high ground that some take against women’s right to choose is just that: a place they stand rooted, demanding you stand there too. It’s a position, not a truth.

    With conservatives taking a giant step backward, I’m afraid for the young, poor, adventurous girls (like me) who get trapped by their own desire along with the cultural and religious proscriptions that leave them unable to imagine a way out. Or more precisely: a way in to their own lives.

    Abortion is as old as time and never goes away—law or no law. The real shame is that this culture is still willing to risk the lives of girls and women in order to hold power over us.

    Jewelle Gomez is a lesbian/feminist activist, novelist, poet, and playwright. She’s written for “The Advocate,” “Ms. Magazine,” “Black Scholar,” “The San Francisco Chronicle,” “The New York Times,” and “The Village Voice.” Follow her on Instagram and Twitter @VampyreVamp

    Published on May 19, 2022