Andrea Grimes: Reproductive Rights Crusader

If Andrea Grimes raises $5,000 for abortion access and education, she will touch a live batAfter she livetweets local legislative debate over reproductive health in her home state of Texas, gently rebukes cis-essentialist abortion advocates to be more inclusive in their language and rhetoric, and maintains the platonic ideal of the flowing pink mane that graces her head. 

In Arizona, a school lunch came with a side of gory aborted fetus plastered on posterboard—even the vegetarian option. We didn't learn about pregnancy—or queerness, or STIs—in sex ed. We knew only that boys weren't allowed to hold hands and some people had pictures of what happens when a woman didn't marry the man who impregnated her. Those murky voids prick at your mind—there are things you know you should know, but don't. You feel suffocated. Lied to. Some disengage. Others volunteer at the gory abortion billboard booth, and others just become angry. I would yell, I would tear flyers. Sometimes I would just moo, at the top of my lungs. Like a cow stranded at the bottom of a canyon. 

"I know you think they're evil, but to them, you're the embodiment of evil. What's the point? What are ya gonna do?" My brother prized, maybe above else, his neutrality in social debate. 

For a long time, I did nothing. I "stayed in my lane" I ranted against Prop 8 and gave workshops on getting hormones through Informed Consent. I put any aid I could provide the countless women deprived of a basic procedure that can preserve the quality of life and sometimes save it out of mind. What can I add? What do I know? The accusations of my impostoring womanhood are so mutually replete, it's hard to tell what side of the line I'm actually on.

Uh, hi, yes, yes I know that I have a penis and thus a literal rape in progress, but could you please tell me if this is the line for the medical horror chapbooks or the handmade hemp purses?

Meeting Andrea helped bring a percolation of unsurety to boil. And I know this, now: there is room to be compassionate, intersectional, and even fashionably fearless in fighting repressive reproductive totalitarianism. The more-than-occasional blip of her hot pink forever-perfect hair is a grace note of hope in an digital sea of despair and ignorance and fear. 

Texas has a population of almost 27 million people. There are 9 listed legal abortion providers. That's one clinic to service 3 million people—lack of funds and legislation threaten to reduce that number to eight. Abortion care is health care, and no person, anywhere in the country, deserves to be deprived of that essential education and care. Reproductive rights are for all—Andrea Grimes has, through her work, shown me that such rhetoric is actionable. 

She walks the walk. She talks the talk. And for $5,000, all of which will go to help people access abortions, she will touch a creature of the night with her bare hands. 

When I wrestled, I billed myself from Corpus Christi, TX. Your state is a sure-fire stand-in for the evils of American capitalism—and it's overwhelming media visibility enables us from the lesser Southwestern states to pass as Texan with but a twang and malicious mustache twirl. I imagine your decision to stay and fight is oft-interrogated by those with the economic mobility to just leave a place they don't agree with anymore.

Most often, the people who pull the "why don't you just leave!" line aren't Texans who've decamped for bluer climes (many of who have done so because they literally could not live here safely, which I throw no shade whatsoever on, people need to live the healthy, fulfilled lives that they deserve), but from people who have never lived in "red" states or areas to begin with, and that's frustrating because they seem to be fundamentally unfamiliar with what it's like not just to want change for the place you live, but to need change for the place you live.

There's a real lack of empathy, compassion and understanding from those folks—which is funny/not funny, because they often hop into my Twitter mentions with a "#uniteblue" hashtag in the vicinity—and a presumption that a person's birthplace necessarily makes them a smarter, better person by default. I also reject the notion that progress is a straight line that is correlated to geography; racism exists everywhere. So too homophobia, transphobia, ableism, misogyny, the list goes on.

I love this state despite its flaws, and I know it can be and do better, but only if those of us who can live here safely and healthily don't give up the fight.

There's this thread that runs through a lot of the bullshit people throw at me about what a shithole Texas is, why don't I just leave this redneck cesspool, blah blah blah, and it completely presumes that there aren't deliberately engineered systemic factors that serve to perpetuate the oppression and marginalization of Texans. (See: Texas' voter ID laws, our shitshow of a social safety net, etc.)

I'm supposed to leave? To join my enlightened betters? Do I take my parents with me? What if they don't want to go? What about my aunts and my cousins? What about my friends? Are we all going to load up in the RV and live in some disdainful progressive's driveway for the rest of our lives, and thank them for their benevolence? Fuck that. I'm doing the work here, because Texans shouldn't have to leave their homes to enjoy the same benefits, rights and freedoms as other Americans.

So: your hair. It is perfect, and in a shade I've yet to see repeated. Colored hair has become one of the men's right's movements premiere grievances with modern women. Perhaps because it establishes our signature presence in fields where white cis men are presumed the default.

There's nothing I love more than looking and feeling so goddamned fabulous that it makes a fedora bro piss his pissy little piss baby pants. It's great when some dude rolls up to try and troll me by telling me my pink hair is a desperate cry for attention—like, well, here you are hollering at me dude, so I guess it worked? Thanks, friend! Keep feeding the bitch beast!

To what extent is the $30,000 Millionaire's behavior enabled (or coerced) through toxic masculinity? I mean, a preoccupation with the expression of wealth is a universal affect under capitalism. But most women I know just order an overpriced monthly snack box or get the manicure that will survive being run over by a truck.

You know, I actually haven't thought about the 30kM's in years, but certainly the cultural mandates/behaviors that are dictated/encouraged by toxic masculinity are supremely manifest in the 30kM's lifestyle: aggressive showmanship thought material acquisitions, self-destructive adherence to a capitalism-fueled work hard/play hard dichotomy, a "conquest"-centric approach to heterosexual relationships, etc.

Society doesn't give men a model of masculinity that is nuanced, approachable and livable (though, newsflash for the bros: feminism and feminists want you to have one!). Which isn't to say that it isn't achievable—the terrible thing about the 30kM is that it presumes that the performance of a certain kind of idealized masculinity is just as good as the actual embodiment of that kind of masculinity.

Society doesn't care if you make it, so long as you can fake it—and we've certainly given guys the means by which to fake it. All they need is a line of credit and access to a mall.

With Patricia Arquette and now Madonna, white women bemoaning how queer folk and people of color aren't showing up for them is becoming a cause celebre. Is white woman feminism returning to its roots of ensuring the divide? And did we ever really leave home, I guess.

I don't think we ever really left home, as you say, on this point. Feminism! (TM) has always been about white women, specifically white middle class and affluent women. And we know white people, and affluent white people, have problems with empathy and compassion. But non-white, non-cis, non-hetero people have been building and crafting their own (successful!) movements for change for decades, even centuries, only to have that work co-opted and appropriated once it makes it on the Feminism! (TM) radar. I think if you look at the history of when and where radical change has happened, you will find that change came from people who were the most marginalized doing the hard work, though that becomes obscured by remade narratives steeped in appropriation.

I think Feminism! (TM) is a timid, even fearful movement: it wants time to think and negotiate and bargain and dither, because its participants have the privilege and luxury of not needing change right now. Is it any wonder that when shit gets done, it gets done by people who literally cannot wait?

Has a background in standup comedy prepared you for men incessantly inserting their opinions into your space while you try do to your job as a journalist? Would it be uncouth and unruly to request an excerpt from your graduate thesis on gender issues in stand up comedy?

I actually only ever started doing stand-up as a gag for an article—it wasn't really ever supposed to be an actual hobby or career pursuit. But I came to love it because the stage was a place where I could dick around and play and be funny or sexy or silly or ugly or goofy or snarky or mean and I didn't have to apologize for any of it.

I started off in both journalism and stand-up as a young, sort of anxious woman who wasn't sure that she would ever fit in with the Hunter-S.-Thompson-and-Bill-Hicks worshipping crowd, but who felt obligated to try, anyway, because I didn't know there were ways of being a journalist, or a comic, that weren't through these very trite, very old-school, very dude-y means.

But I was discovering standup around the same time that I was discovering the feminist internet, and both my writing and my stand-up benefited from those contemporaneous discoveries. Now, looking back on it? My material was terrible. I'd never tell the jokes I told seven years ago today. But there was something in those fleeting moments onstage, when a whole room was rolling with laughter, that taught me that I could be my own person and be worth listening to.

(The downside to that is that if you get people drunk enough, they will laugh at just about anything. I mean, Carrot Top has a career.)

My thesis is actually fairly boring and unreadable, laden as it is with academic anthropological shenanigans, but it basically takes on the question: How are women (specifically cis women; I didn't interview trans or genderqueer comics in my research, which I wish I had done and probably would have done if I'd pursued a PhD) marginalized in a community that already, fundamentally, sees itself as marginalized?

Comics view themselves as underdogs who speak truth to power, and yet in comic communities, you see a lot of deliberate marginalization of women and femininity. So I examined the trickle-down marginalization that happens when you're always introduced as "a lady comic!" or "a very funny female!", and the ways in which that influences how women present themselves on stage, the material they are and aren't willing to use, etc. There's a real tension between wanting and needing to create space for femininity in stand-up comedy and/but also wanting to not be further isolated or marginalized.

Promoters, for example, are often careful not to have more than one or two female comics on a bill, because there's an idea that it'll turn off audiences who don't want to see one of these silly lady comic shows—of course, nobody thinks an all-guy bill is going to turn off a mixed-gender audience, but there you go. Masculinity is the default; navigating in and around that default is difficult but can also be tremendously empowering.

Laughter is a great unifier, and storytelling is an extremely powerful thing. I've seen Bro's Bro type guys groan and shift uncomfortably when a woman comes to the stage, rolling their eyes and going to grab a drink, but by the end of her set, they're not rolling their eyes, they're rolling on the floor laughing. That is a beautiful, wonderful thing. I'm not a bridge builder—I tend to be confrontational and proudly bitchy—but if anything can bring people together, it's a funny-ass joke. (Or a funny ass joke.)

I have heard that Austin has good BBQ but that under no circumstances should you eat the pulled pork.

Beef is definitely the ur-meat of Texas barbecue, but I'll come right out and say it: I LIKE PORK RIBS BETTER THAN BEEF RIBS. IDGAF.

You used your monthly column at The Frisky to express your frustrations with weddings and marriage as a patriarchal tool--did you have these same worries and anxieties in having a public-facing relationship with a man? I'm a dyke. I get tripped on these things sometimes.

Not in this public-facing relationship with a man? I've definitely had relationships where I questioned what the fuck I was doing, not only because the relationship sucked or whatever, but because I felt like that the relationship was not helping me live my best life as a feminist person, or setting a good example for other people.

The personal is political and all that—I do actually think feminists have a responsibility to own their personal choices and acknowledge that they can have both positive and negative impacts both on the micro and macro levels in terms of how we're perceived by others—whether that's our friends, our family members, or the people who follow us on Twitter. But life in the world as a feminist person is a series of negotiations no matter what.

Patriarchy is real, and I'm a straight lady, so I have to do the best I can with the choices I have while staying true to the person I am. My husband is a wonderful, feminist man and I feel valued in my relationship and I believe my husband is thoughtful and deliberate about wanting (and having) an egalitarian relationship within the existing confines of the larger patriarchal structure. But you know mainly, he is just a badass dude who is my favorite person.

We all choose our choices. The question, for me, is whether the aggregate of my choices makes the world a more just place. That's a thing I worry about all the time—and a thing I'm glad I worry about all the time.

How do you maintain a safe, healthy relationship with sex and intimacy, both internally and with another partner, while living in an environment where a man wants to appoint lawyers to represent the fetus inside you should you ever, and let's be frank here, make the mistake of having sex for enjoyment and get pregnant instead.

The "how" there is so laden! I mean, honestly, "how" you do it in a place like Texas is you just be a person with enough resources and privilege to have access to health care. I'm a straight white married lady with a job who works in a major metropolitan area. Abortion care, if I need it, will always be available to me.

The question I'm interested in is how can I help make my reality the reality for every Texan? That, of course, is a much more difficult question, and I think the answer is multi-faceted. Yes, we need scientifically sound, evidence-based laws and better, more reasonable lawmakers, but we also need sex education (like, sex education period) and healthy relationships education (like, health relationships education period). We also need to think way, way outside the box: maybe it's not a bad thing if Texans know how to take misoprostol to self-induce an abortion.

It's not a bad thing to de-medicalize childbirth and empower pregnant people to labor on their own terms. We have to find ways to stop waiting on our government to give us our autonomy back; we need a radical reclamation of autonomy. And many people are already working toward that—for example, there's the Mama Sana/Vibrant Woman clinic here in Austin, which is a women-of-color founded and led group that provides full-spectrum options counseling and resources for the community, in the community, of the community.

On a personal level, though, it sucks to get nervous when my period's late. My husband and I have decided not to have kids, and he got a vasectomy—which was a weird adjustment, because I've always been in charge of my own birth control. How much do I trust his doctor's skill? What if I end up with (I hate these terms) one of those "miracle" or "surprise" vasectomy pregnancies?

But you know, in terms of long-term sustainability and cost, for people who are in committed hetero relationships who don't want kids, vasectomy is a fan-fucking-tastic option. Trust—in myself and in my partner—is a huge part of feeling safe and healthy. Knowing that my husband would support me if I needed an abortion is a huge relief; I also think we have the kind of communication that would make a conversation about continuing a pregnancy totally something that could be on the table if we ever got to that point.

But this is just one good relationship. It's the result of learning from mistakes I made in a dozen shitty relationships before it. But fundamentally, I made the same mistake over and over: sacrificing love for myself and my future for the idea that any relationship was better than no relationship. Not trusting myself, my instincts, when I knew something was wrong. Thinking that "relationships take work" meant "relationships have to be hard." They don't. They do take constant attention, but they don't have to be a struggle. It was a long road learning that, and it's not something you learn without walking that walk.

I have tried, and failed, to kick "true crime" television numerous times over the span of my adulthood. It's so kitschy and over the top, but laying in the refuge of that trashiness is a message to you, the reader: You will never meaningfully resist the police state. Can true crime, as a media genre, exist without or after rape culture?

Oh man, how easy is it to fall into a deep, dark hole of SVU marathon-ing? SO EASY. Give me a Dateline special! GIVE ME ALL THE DATELINE SPECIALS. But if you think about why true crime appeals to people, you have to think about cultural taboos, salaciousness, exploitation.

If rape culture were to be dismantled, I think "true crime" as a genre would lose some of, or perhaps a lot of, its appeal. I think it's natural to be curious about the sinister side of human nature, but I think that "true crime" as a cultural institution often obscures the fact that rapists, for example, aren't monsters-of-the-week but brothers, fathers, uncles, even sisters and daughters and mothers. Ending rape culture would mean, in part, acknowledging that there is no monster. That the "bad guy" is the boy or girl next door, or in the next room.

And you can't take white supremacy out of the equation, either: We have very clear culturally defined ideas about who is a "real" victim, and who is a perpetrator.

What's "true" about "true crime" shows? Nothing, if you consider the fact that police violence is real, that police brutality is real, that crime also means people of color being gunned down in the street and in their homes by cops. That's crime. But what's the CSI team going to do with the sheer volume and mundanity of state violence? Better to have another pretty, skinny white woman raped by a man in the bushes, I guess.

If I were to get in the kitchen and make you a sandwich, what would you want? Do you prefer potato salad or coleslaw?

Baguette. Turkey and salami. Colby cheddar. Vine-ripe tomatoes and fresh lettuce. Sprinkle of vinaigrette, sprinkle of ranch dressing. No potato salad, no coleslaw, just Cool Ranch Doritos.

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