Commentary Sexuality

An Open Letter To My Mother

Stigma Shame and Sexuality Series

So, Mom, the reason why we may feel this anxiety, this pressure prior to revealing ourselves, is due to the fact that we were born into a social culture that does not approve of the ways in which we are different.

This post is by Jessica Borusky, and is part of Tsk Tsk: Stigma, Shame, and Sexuality, a series hosted by Gender Across Borders and cross-posted with Rewire in partnership with Ipas.

Dear Mom,

Throughout my entire life I’ve watched you navigate the very difficult task of informing strangers and peers about your unique way of perceiving and engaging with the world. The anxiety that came with meeting my friends’ parents, going to shows I’ve performed in, talking on the phone, being in crowds or the grocery store was all a routine part of your/our life. So much of that anxiety was wrapped up in revealing this quality about you; not necessarily what the actual physical difference produced.

Though, of course, that physical difference abetted the anxiety, therefore a product of your unique body. Part of what generated this anxiety was the fact that you carry no physical signs of your difference. It is only noticed upon the movement of your hair, the ringing that sometimes occurs, the adjustments that would have to be made on your small electronic apparatus.

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Moreover, your ability to communicate in a normative way- not having to use your hands as your primary mode of expression- generated a more complicated relationship with the way in which you are unique. In short, you do not fit into the “able-bodied” community, but you also do not fit into the differently-abled, either.  This liminal space has generated a serious angst for you.

At what point, with perfect speech and articulation, having been raised in regular schools, being able to read lips, did you become comfortable revealing your hearing impairment to the hearing community? So much anxiety becomes wrapped up in the moment you gesticulate the fact that your body is different. In this sense, this difference becomes the unfamiliar. And, I would suggest, queer, for you reside outside the majority through your differently-abled body.  And, yet, after the reveal, I have witnessed a kind of calm that settles into your conversation. Neither party becomes offended. And, although a qualitative difference occurs between you and the other person, it is usually met with an open, understanding connection.

This is where I come in.

While I cannot claim an identical experience to yours, I sympathize with this anxiety. I sympathize with living within the space between dichotomous definitions.

Mom, I am bisexual,

And often, that brings with it a lot of assumptions.

You cannot “read” it on my body, but there is a moment within social circumstances that the reality of my sexual preference and who I am need to be revealed. Sometimes, there are consequences for this reveal: friendships have ended, respect has been corrupted, and a distinct difference occurs within the conversation.  I get anxiety when in certain social spaces; I often feel irregular and perverted.

I realize that you and I have a commonality that I’ve never understood before- the anxiety that we build in ourselves due to what we think the other person may think of us when we reveal ourselves.

So, I started looking into this concept on stigma. Mom, there is this really great book I am reading that has been super helpful in terms of understanding how and why we both become anxious when introducing our difference to others. It’s called “Extraordinary Bodies” written by Rosemary Garland Thomson, which highlights that anxiety-driven connection I feel both of us share in social situations:

“An invisible disability, much like a homosexual identity always presents the dilemma of whether or when to come out or pass. One must always anticipate the risk of tainting a new relationship by announcing an invisible impairment or the equal hazard of surprising someone by revealing a previously undisclosed disability.”

Later, she tracks how these kinds of anxieties develop in the informer through the lens of this concept called stigmatization theory:

“Stigmatization is an interactive social process in which particular human traits are deemed not only different, but deviant. Stigmatization creates a shared, socially maintained and determined conception of a normal individual, sculpted by a social group attempting to define its own character and boundaries…Stigmatization reinforces that group’s idealized self-description as neutral, normal, legitimate, and identifiable by denigrating the characteristics of less powerful groups or those considered alien, the process of stigmatization thus legitimates the status quo, naturalizes attributions of inherent inferiority and superiority, and obscures the socially constructed quality of both categories.”

So, Mom, the reason why we may feel this anxiety, this pressure prior to revealing ourselves, is due to the fact that we were born into a social culture that does not approve of the ways in which we are different. What makes this even more difficult is the fact that we do not quite fall into the “minority” camp either- which can feel limiting in terms of where we can find allegiances. It is as if there isn’t a language for our position; we cannot articulate or materialize that space we sit in.

Our existence is a constant challenge for those who understand themselves in tidy lines and spaces. We represent limits that people do not like to consider. We are messy bodies that are fluid and porous.

But Mom, the cool thing is we can adjust our attitudes to our own uniqueness. If, instead of placing an internal pressure on ourselves while engaging with another person, we treat our difference as the complex and beautiful truth that it is, we may be able to adjust the attitudes of those we converse with. Ultimately, this shift may carry on into their conversations with other people as well.  The less we treat ourselves as carrying secret markings of stigma, the more we help to alleviate stigma of the silently queer body and mind.

I know you might think that your hearing impairment and my bisexuality are not on the same stage, but there is something common we share in this anxiety that greater society makes us feel. More importantly, there is something we share in our ability to change that conception, beginning with our own relationship to it.

Mom, I totally know that it is a difficult thing to do. It requires a re-writing and carving out of space we don’t quite have a vocabulary for. But, I think it is completely doable. What do ya say, Mom? Can we try this out, together?

Love you,

Jessica

Jessica Borusky is a Floridian Feminist currently residing in Boston, MA and working toward her MFA in Studio Art at Tufts/School of the Museum of Fine Art. 

Analysis Law and Policy

Indiana Court of Appeals Tosses Patel Feticide Conviction, Still Defers to Junk Science

Jessica Mason Pieklo

The Indiana Court of Appeals ruled patients cannot be prosecuted for self-inducing an abortion under the feticide statute, but left open the possibility other criminal charges could apply.

The Indiana Court of Appeals on Friday vacated the feticide conviction of Purvi Patel, an Indiana woman who faced 20 years in prison for what state attorneys argued was a self-induced abortion. The good news is the court decided Patel and others in the state could not be charged and convicted for feticide after experiencing failed pregnancies. The bad news is that the court still deferred to junk science at trial that claimed Patel’s fetus was on the cusp of viability and had taken a breath outside the womb, and largely upheld Patel’s conviction of felony neglect of a dependent. This leaves the door open for similar prosecutions in the state in the future.

As Rewire previously reported, “In July 2013 … Purvi Patel sought treatment at a hospital emergency room for heavy vaginal bleeding, telling doctors she’d had a miscarriage. That set off a chain of events, which eventually led to a jury convicting Patel of one count of feticide and one count of felony neglect of a dependent in February 2015.”

To charge Patel with feticide under Indiana’s law, the state at trial was required to prove she “knowingly or intentionally” terminated her pregnancy “with an intention other than to produce a live birth or to remove a dead fetus.”

According to the Indiana Court of Appeals, attorneys for the State of Indiana failed to show the legislature had originally passed the feticide statute with the intention of criminally charging patients like Patel for terminating their own pregnancies. Patel’s case, the court said, marked an “abrupt departure” from the normal course of prosecutions under the statute.

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“This is the first case that we are aware of in which the State has used the feticide statute to prosecute a pregnant woman (or anyone else) for performing an illegal abortion, as that term is commonly understood,” the decision reads. “[T]he wording of the statute as a whole indicate[s] that the legislature intended for any criminal liability to be imposed on medical personnel, not on women who perform their own abortions,” the court continued.

“[W]e conclude that the legislature never intended the feticide statute to apply to pregnant women in the first place,” it said.

This is an important holding, because Patel was not actually the first woman Indiana prosecutors tried to jail for a failed pregnancy outcome. In 2011, state prosecutors brought an attempted feticide charge against Bei Bei Shuai, a pregnant Chinese woman suffering from depression who tried to commit suicide. She survived, but the fetus did not.

Shuai was held in prison for a year until a plea agreement was reached in her case.

The Indiana Court of Appeals did not throw out Patel’s conviction entirely, though. Instead, it vacated Patel’s second charge of Class A felony conviction of neglect of a dependent, ruling Patel should have been charged and convicted of a lower Class D felony. The court remanded the case back to the trial court with instructions to enter judgment against Patel for conviction of a Class D felony neglect of a dependent, and to re-sentence Patel accordingly to that drop in classification.

A Class D felony conviction in Indiana carries with it a sentence of six months to three years.

To support Patel’s second charge of felony neglect at trial, prosecutors needed to show that Patel took abortifacients; that she delivered a viable fetus; that said viable fetus was, in fact, born alive; and that Patel abandoned the fetus. According to the Indiana Court of Appeals, the state got close, but not all the way, to meeting this burden.

According to the Indiana Court of Appeals, the state had presented enough evidence to establish “that the baby took at least one breath and that its heart was beating after delivery and continued to beat until all of its blood had drained out of its body.”

Therefore, the Court of Appeals concluded, it was reasonable for the jury to infer that Patel knowingly neglected the fetus after delivery by failing to provide medical care after its birth. The remaining question, according to the court, was what degree of a felony Patel should have been charged with and convicted of.

That is where the State of Indiana fell short on its neglect of a dependent conviction, the court said. Attorneys had failed to sufficiently show that any medical care Patel could have provided would have resulted in the fetus surviving after birth. Without that evidence, the Indiana Court of Appeals concluded, state attorneys could not support a Class A conviction. The evidence they presented, though, could support a Class D felony conviction, the court said.

In other words, the Indiana Court of Appeals told prosecutors in the state, make sure your medical experts offer more specific testimony next time you bring a charge like the one at issue in Patel’s case.

The decision is a mixed win for reproductive rights and justice advocates. The ruling from the court that the feticide statute cannot be used to prosecute patients for terminating their own pregnancy is an important victory, especially in a state that has sought not just to curb access to abortion, but to eradicate family planning and reproductive health services almost entirely. Friday’s decision made it clear to prosecutors that they cannot rely on the state’s feticide statute to punish patients who turn to desperate measures to end their pregnancies. This is a critical pushback against the full-scale erosion of reproductive rights and autonomy in the state.

But the fact remains that at both trial and appeal, the court and jury largely accepted the conclusions of the state’s medical experts that Patel delivered a live baby that, at least for a moment, was capable of survival outside the womb. And that is troubling. The state’s experts offered these conclusions, despite existing contradictions on key points of evidence such as the gestational age of the fetus—and thus if it was viable—and whether or not the fetus displayed evidence of life when it was born.

Patel’s attorneys tried, unsuccessfully, to rebut those conclusions. For example, the state’s medical expert used the “lung float test,” also known as the hydrostatic test, to conclude Patel’s fetus had taken a breath outside the womb. The test, developed in the 17th century, posits that if a fetus’ lungs are removed and placed in a container of liquid and the lungs float, it means the fetus drew at least one breath of air before dying. If the lungs sink, the theory holds, the fetus did not take a breath.

Not surprisingly, medical forensics has advanced since the 17th century, and medical researchers widely question the hydrostatic test’s reliability. Yet this is the only medical evidence the state presented of live birth.

Ultimately, the fact that the jury decided to accept the conclusions of the state’s experts over Patel’s is itself not shocking. Weighing the evidence and coming to a conclusion of guilt or innocence based on that evidence is what juries do. But it does suggest that when women of color are dragged before a court for a failed pregnancy, they will rarely, if ever, get the benefit of the doubt.

The jurors could have just as easily believed the evidence put forward by Patel’s attorneys that gestational age, and thus viability, was in doubt, but they didn’t. The jurors could have just as easily concluded the state’s medical testimony that the fetus took “at least one breath” was not sufficient to support convicting Patel of a felony and sending her to prison for 20 years. But they didn’t.

Why was the State of Indiana so intent on criminally prosecuting Patel, despite the many glaring weaknesses in the case against her? Why were the jurors so willing to take the State of Indiana’s word over Patel’s when presented with those weaknesses? And why did it take them less than five hours to convict her?

Patel was ordered in March to serve 20 years in prison for her conviction. Friday’s decision upends that; Patel now faces a sentence of six months to three years. She’s been in jail serving her 20 year sentence since February 2015 while her appeal moved forward. If there’s real justice in this case, Patel will be released immediately.

News Politics

Former Klan Leader on Senate Run: My Views Are Now the ‘GOP Mainstream’

Teddy Wilson

David Duke has been a fervent support of the Trump campaign, and has posted dozens of messages in support of Trump on Twitter. Duke has often used the hashtag #TrumpWasRight.

David Duke, convicted felon, white supremacist, and former leader of the Ku Klux Klan, announced Friday that he will run for U.S. Senate in Louisiana, Roll Call reported.

Duke said that after a “great outpouring of overwhelming support,” he will campaign for the open Senate seat vacated by former Republican Sen. David Vitter, who lost a bid for Louisiana governor in a runoff election.

Duke’s announcement comes the day after Donald Trump accepted the GOP nomination in the midst of growing tensions over race relations across the country. Trump has been criticized during the campaign for his rhetoric, which, his critics say, mainstreams white nationalism and provokes anxiety and fear among students of color.

His statements about crime and immigration, particularly about immigrants from Mexico and predominantly Muslim countries, have been interpreted by outlets such as the New York Times as speaking to some white supporters’ “deeper and more elaborate bigotry.”

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Duke said in his campaign announcement that he was the first candidate to promote the policy of “America first,” echoing a line from Trump’s nomination acceptance speech on Thursday night.

“The most important difference between our plan and that of our opponents, is that our plan will put America First,” Trump said Thursday night. “As long as we are led by politicians who will not put America First, then we can be assured that other nations will not treat America with respect.”

Duke said his platform has become “the GOP mainstream” and claimed credit for propelling Republicans to control of Congress in 2010. He said he is “overjoyed to see Donald Trump … embrace most of the issues I’ve championed for years.”

Trump in February declined to disavow the support of a white supremacist group and Duke, saying he knew “nothing about David Duke” and knew “nothing about white supremacists.” He later clarified that he rejected their support, and blamed his initial failure to disavow Duke on a “bad earpiece.”

Trump’s candidacy has also brought to light brought many incidents of anti-Semitism, much of which has been directed at journalists and commentators covering the presidential campaign.

Conservative commentator Ben Shapiro wrote in the National Review that Trump’s nomination has “drawn anti-Semites from the woodwork,” and that the Republican nominee has been willing to “channel the support of anti-Semites to his own ends.”

Duke took to Twitter after Trump’s acceptance speech Thursday to express his support for the Republican nominee’s vision for America.

“Great Trump Speech, America First! Stop Wars! Defeat the Corrupt elites! Protect our Borders!, Fair Trade! Couldn’t have said it better!” Duke tweeted.

Duke has been a fervent Trump supporter, and has posted dozens of messages in support of Trump on Twitter. Duke has often used the hashtag #TrumpWasRight.

Duke was elected to the Louisiana house in 1989, serving one term. Duke was the Republican nominee for governor in 1991, and was defeated by Democrat Edwin Edwards.

Duke, who plead guilty in 2002 to mail fraud and tax fraud, has served a year in federal prison.