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I Opened An Abortion Clinic in Amy Coney Barrett’s Indiana

We need to talk about what Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court means for the future of abortion access in the United States.

There is little to no doubt where Barrett stands on abortion and health care. Her deep ties to anti-abortion groups, such as St. Joseph Right to Life, pose a significant threat to long-standing constitutional protections for reproductive health care. She’s shown this in more ways than one: through judicial opinions, academic writing, and her personal advocacy attacking abortion.

Barrett’s views are the reason she was chosen by this president to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court.

I know what a pivotal role the Supreme Court plays in protecting those who historically are the least able to exercise their rights, especially when politicians and legislatures go too far in restricting those rights. Whole Woman’s Health’s victory against the state of Texas at the Supreme Court in 2016 (Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt) reaffirmed and strengthened the constitutional right to access abortion, and made it harder for states to limit access through needless restrictions and laws meant to legislate abortion out of existence. Since 2011, states have passed more than 450 such laws.

In 2014, a group of physicians, professors, and community activists reached out to me about opening a clinic to provide safe, compassionate abortion care in South Bend, Indiana, the city where Barrett happens to live. They understood the persistence this effort would require.

Since then, Whole Woman’s Health Alliance’s team in South Bend has become all too familiar with the extreme tactics and deceits of St. Joseph County Right to Life. The group, which has since changed its name to Right to Life Michiana, has continuously plagued Whole Woman’s Health Alliance’s efforts to care for our patients in peace—with the privacy, dignity, and compassion they deserve.

Right to Life Michiana does not provide “sidewalk counseling”—instead they harass and intimidate our patients and our providers by shouting insults, filming people entering our clinic, and displaying graphic and medically inaccurate images in an attempt to bully patients seeking abortion care.

This is the group that Barrett supports—a group that has organized protests and opposed Whole Woman’s Health Alliance’s efforts to open a clinic and provide needed abortion care.

It took two years to open, but Whole Woman’s Health Alliance now operates a clinic under a federal district court’s preliminary injunction, which was upheld by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in a unanimous decision. A trial is expected in the coming months.

Right to Life Michiana and the state of Indiana aren’t the clinic’s only antagonists. A crisis pregnancy center—a deceptive anti-choice clinic that does not provide comprehensive reproductive health services—attempted to open next door to Whole Woman’s Health of South Bend a few years ago. So Whole Woman’s Health Alliance appealed to Pete Buttigieg, then the mayor of South Bend, and he vetoed Women’s Care Center’s request for the necessary rezoning.

Soon afterward, however, they bought the building across the street. Clinic staff for Whole Woman’s Health of South Bend continue to hear from patients seeking abortion care who were duped into going to Women’s Care Center, only to be shamed, manipulated, and subjected to an anti-abortion agenda before eventually finding their way to Whole Woman’s Health Alliance.

Barrett’s personal views on abortion blind her to the truth as I see it: that abortion care is a necessary, compassionate service that should be available to everyone who needs it.

On most days when the South Bend clinic is open, as many as 30 Right to Life Michiana protesters are outside the doors, publicly shaming the people we serve in this large, historically underserved region. The clinic’s patients travel as much as 60 miles each way to see us and are forced to wait 18 hours after a mandatory ultrasound and a state-mandated information session by a physician in order to obtain access to the time-sensitive, essential, and constitutionally guaranteed abortion care they need.

Most recently, Right to Life Michiana has begun going door-to-door—in the midst of a pandemic—to spread disinformation and spout dangerous rhetoric about the medication abortion services Whole Woman’s Health Alliance provides.

As states have increased their attacks on abortion providers and our patients in recent years, the courts have been instrumental in maintaining access to care, especially in the Midwest and South.

Whole Woman’s Health Alliance was only able to open its South Bend clinic after a two-year legal battle (Whole Woman’s Health Alliance v. Hill). Our clinics in Texas are plaintiffs in three cases to secure our patients’ right to receive quality and compassionate abortion care.

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled in Whole Woman’s Health v. Paxton to strike down a Texas measure that would have banned the standard, preferred method for abortions after approximately 15 weeks of pregnancy, and the state is expected to respond to the ruling in the coming weeks. We’re also awaiting a decision any time now from the Fifth Circuit in Whole Woman’s Health v. Smith. One of these cases could easily end up in front of the Supreme Court.

Amy Coney Barrett will almost certainly be in a position to decide any of those cases. By now, we have a good sense that she will not rule in favor of abortion rights even when the law demands it.

Barrett’s judicial philosophy is fundamentally hostile to abortion rights, and her personal views on abortion blind her to the truth as I see it: that abortion care is a necessary, compassionate service that should be available to everyone who needs it.

Barrett’s confirmation should not be forced on us by politicians who have power but do not represent the views of most people.

How to Tell Your Partner What You Really Want in Bed

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Try as they might, Salt-N-Pepa’s message never quite got through—“let’s talk about sex” rarely elicit the kind of enthusiastic response the hip-hop trio’s fire track did back in 1990 because, well, no one really likes to talk about sex.

Sure, sex is everywhere in the United States. It’s on our TV screens, our smartphones, our computers. Yet most people find it an awkward and embarrassing topic of discussion, and therein lies the problem: While it’d be swell if our partners were sexually psychic, the truth is that if we want really good sex, we’re gonna have to talk about it.

Besides, that’s literally how consent happens, says sex educator Cassandra Corrado, the host of Rewire News Group’s You Deserve Good Sex series on YouTube.

In the latest episode, Corrado offers advice for how to make the “sex talk” less like that middle school lecture from your parents and more like a precursor to that really, really good sex we mentioned.

Amy Coney Barrett Isn’t a ‘Pro-Life’ Vote for Patients Like Me

Last week, my senator, North Carolina’s Thom Tillis, took part in the Supreme Court nomination hearing for Judge Amy Coney Barrett. My picture was pasted on a poster board at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing where Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) shared my story: how the Affordable Care Act (ACA) covered first the diagnosis of, and then life-saving treatment for, my breast cancer. Tillis heard my story, but appeared unmoved.

The ACA bars insurance companies from discriminating against people with preexisting conditions, like me. If it’s repealed, those protections go away as well. One week after the election, the Supreme Court will hear a Trump administration-backed lawsuit attempting to overturn the ACA. This would eliminate health insurance for more than 20 million people across the country, and threaten the coverage of over 4.2 million North Carolinians with preexisting conditions. People just like me.

During Barrett’s confirmation hearing, Tillis said Democrat senators were “falsely claiming Judge Barrett’s nomination would bring an end to protections for preexisting conditions.” Yet President Trump pledged to appoint a Supreme Court nominee to eliminate the ACA.

Barrett is committed to overturning the ACA. Her record clearly shows she has sided with both previous lawsuits to end it, and that she is prepared to dismantle it at the first opportunity, which could come as soon as one week after the election if she is confirmed.

The ACA saved my life. In 2014, I lost my job, and thus lost my health insurance. I was able to find a temporary job while searching for full-time work, but like most temporary work, it didn’t offer health insurance. The most affordable and accessible plan I could find was through the ACA, so I enrolled.

I was finally able to go to the doctor for a regular checkup. They discovered that I had cancer in my left breast. Being diagnosed with breast cancer was a total surprise. If not for the Affordable Care Act, I would never have had that mammogram. I could in no way have afforded that double mastectomy. I would still be paying the debt to this day.

Once you have cancer, even after you recover, you never stop thinking about it. I’ve had a couple of scares since my recovery. It scares me to think how far the cancer would have advanced if I didn’t have insurance. If I lose my insurance now, what will I do if the cancer comes back?

Tillis recently contracted COVID-19 from a reckless and maskless event at the White House. He now has a preexisting condition, like I do. But unlike me, Tillis doesn’t have to worry about being denied care in his future. Like Trump, he has access to top-notch care if he were to fall ill in the future, or if his COVID-19 symptoms relapse. That’s not the case for the millions of other people like me, whose fate hangs in the balance with the Barrett nomination and the upcoming Supreme Court case.

A Guide to Endometriosis You Can Actually Use

This week British lawmakers called for better research and support for people living with endometriosis, blaming the lack of funding, research, and adequate care on medical misogyny. The painful disease has a devastating impact, the lawmakers’ report found; many people with endometriosis wait years to be diagnosed, only to face a diminished ability to earn a living and a lack of mental health resources to help cope with the trauma of chronic illness and chronic pain.

This is not unique to the U.K.; the situation for endometriosis patients in the United States is equally abysmal.

Roughly 1 in 10 people who are born with a uterus will be diagnosed with endometriosis in their lifetime, though experts estimate the actual prevalence of the disease is much higher. And while menstruation pain is a common symptom, endometriosis is more than just bad periods.

About endometriosis

Endometriosis is a chronic reproductive condition that occurs when tissue similar to—but not the same as—the uterine lining grows elsewhere in the body. It can cause chronic pain, fatigue, organ dysfunction, and infertility. Endometriosis is incredibly painful; it can be one of the most painful health conditions a person can experience, along with a heart attack, shingles, and a slipped disk. And while bad cramps can certainly be part of endometriosis, the symptoms and pain vary broadly by patient.

In addition to pain, endometriosis can cause symptoms like gastrointestinal issues, brain fog, urinary dysfunction, and leg, back, and hip pain. Thanks to centuries of medical misogyny and women being told that pain is just a necessary and normal part of their daily lives, it takes the average patient almost a decade to be diagnosed. This is especially problematic since endometriosis is a progressive disease—the longer it goes untreated, the higher your risk of long-term damage to your organs, fertility, and nervous system.

Endometriosis can only be diagnosed surgically; it is uncommon for it to show up in ultrasounds or other tests, so never let a doctor tell you you don’t have it simply because they don’t see it.

Who can get endometriosis

Endometriosis is not a woman’s disease. Trans men and nonbinary folks can also have endo, and in extremely rare cases, it’s even been found in cis men.

Race also plays a role in care: Black women and people of color disproportionately receive poor endometriosis care because of racist beliefs—stemming from eugenics and slavery—about how Black people experience pain. This is also why Black people experience longer wait times in emergency rooms, poor access to pain management in general, and higher rates of maternal mortality.

What endometriosis feels like

For many, painful periods are a huge part of life with endometriosis. The disease is “estrogen respondent,” which means the presence of estrogen in the body aggravates and advances it; in others this can be the presence of progesterone or both hormones.

Think about endometriosis like gasoline, and the hormones like a match. This is why that time of the month is particularly bad for people living with endometriosis. But endometriosis pain is often not confined to a period or to the menstrual cycle; it can flare up at ovulation or at any point in the month.

And it doesn’t necessarily feel like “cramps.” Endometriosis can feel like a deep burning in your organs, or like they’re being stuck with shards of glass. It can feel like a stabbing pain or like a mind-numbing ache, as if your whole pelvis has a migraine. Some say it’s like having all your organs wrapped in barbed wire.

Depending on where you have endometriosis, your pain might be different: Bladder disease often causes lower back and lower pelvic pain and burning and an increased urgency to pee, for example.

Where endometriosis grows

The short answer is: anywhere in the body. While endometriosis is most commonly considered a reproductive disease, it can be and has been found pretty much everywhere. It can grow on the reproductive organs and other pelvic organs like the bladder and the bowel. It can also adhere to the pelvic sidewalls; adhesions and fibrosis are common in endometriosis patients and in more advanced cases can begin to fuse affected organs together.

But endometriosis has been found outside the pelvis as well—even, very rarely, in the brain and heart. Endometriosis on the diaphragm and thoracic endometriosis are other common manifestations of the disease, but it often goes undiagnosed because research still indicates this is rare. Endometriosis on the diaphragm and thoracic endometriosis can cause a host of different symptoms including chest, shoulder, and collarbone pain—usually, but not always, on the right side. Thoracic and diaphragmatic endometriosis can also cause shortness of breath and, in some cases, lung collapse.

How to treat endometriosis

Endometriosis is a chronic illness, which means a cure doesn’t really exist. And most OB-GYNs don’t have the skill or expertise to offer proper care; the go-to endometriosis treatments are hormone suppression—typically birth control to control menstruation—and ablation surgery, where lesions of the disease are cauterized (burned) off.

But here’s the issue with that: Some experts believe that endometriosis can its own estrogen, so while birth control can help to manage symptoms, the disease can continue to grow even in the presence of hormone suppression. And the lesions themselves are like icebergs—what you see on the surface is just the beginning. So ablation surgery only treats superficial disease, leaving the worst of it to continue to grow. Birth control and ablation really only serve as Band-Aids that can suppress the disease without actually treating it.

This is where excision comes in.

Excision surgery

Excision surgery is the gold standard in endometriosis care. It involves cutting out the lesions that endometriosis produces, as well as cutting away the adhesions produced by the disease. Excision is considered one of the most technically difficult gynecological surgeries to perform, similar to what cancer specialists do when they remove growths. It is not a cure, as endometriosis can technically recur, but it has the lowest recurrence rate of any other procedure. And with a skilled specialist, it’s possible for a patient to never need a repeat surgery, or to only need a small number of surgeries in their lifetime.

Only a handful of surgeons nationwide and around the world are skilled enough to do it.

To make matters worse, insurers code excision and ablation the same, which means a doctor who performs a quick ablation procedure is reimbursed the same as one who performs what can be a four- to eight-hour surgery requiring a high level of skill. (Think about it like reimbursing a doctor performing throat cancer surgery the same as someone removing someone’s tonsils.) This means that most endometriosis specialists operate out of network, making the cost of care astronomical, and access abysmal.

Hysterectomy

It’s a common misconception that a hysterectomy cures endometriosis. By definition, endometriosis occurs outside of the uterus, so removing it actually does nothing for the disease (it does for adenomyosis; more on that later). And like we’ve said, because the lesions can continue to grow in the presence of hormone suppression, they can continue to grow in a body without a uterus and without ovaries—so even a radical hysterectomy, where the uterus and ovaries are removed, would not provide relief for a patient.

Is adenomyosis the same as endometriosis?

Adenomyosis is when disease is present in the uterus. It’s a similar but technically distinct disease from endometriosis—and often considered endo’s evil twin. Symptoms of the two do crossover, but because adenomyosis is present in the uterus, the most common symptoms for it are heavy or irregular bleeding, severe midline (middle of the pelvis, under the belly button) pain, lower back pain, and pain that radiates down the front of the thighs.

Like endometriosis, adenomyosis is difficult to diagnose without surgery; it rarely shows up on scans and, while doctors can take biopsies to check for it, if they sample a part of the uterus where the disease isn’t present, it can produce a false negative.

Unlike endometriosis, adenomyosis does have an absolute cure: a hysterectomy. But for patients not yet ready to make that decision, an IUD can help manage the symptoms of adenomyosis. And some specialists offer a procedure called a presacral neurectomy, where the nerve that connects pelvic pain to the brain is severed—this can also be offered as an option for endometriosis patients.

How to manage the pain

Excision is the most effective treatment for endometriosis but, as noted, is incredibly hard to access—even with proper excision care, patients can experience long-term damage to their nerves and muscles from chronic pain and often develop comorbidities like pelvic floor dysfunction. Pelvic floor physical therapy is a routine treatment for endometriosis patients, involving a physical therapist doing deep tissue and internal massage to help relax the tension in the pelvic floor muscles that has built up from years of pain.

Alternative treatments like CBD and THC can be useful for pain management, and many patients also see results with treatments like acupuncture. Of course there are over-the-counter medications, as well as prescription painkillers.

Some patients see relief by following a low inflammation diet, but it’s important to remember that you are allowed to eat whatever you want. Restrictive diets can make you feel as though your pain is your fault, and it never—ever—is.

What to do now

A potential endometriosis diagnosis can feel really overwhelming, and it’s completely normal to feel scared. If you think you might have endometriosis, the first thing to do is take a deep breath; this is a big community and you are not alone. There are lots of great online support groups and websites that have more information to walk you through next steps. Talk to your doctor, prepare questions ahead of your appointments so you feel prepared and in control; never be afraid to get a second (or third!) opinion, and feel free to bring a loved one or friend to your appointments for support. Many endometriosis patients experience anxiety, depression, and other mental health effects of living with chronic pain, and therapy can also be a critical tool for living with this disease.

It’s common to be dismissed or disbelieved when you have endometriosis, but that does not ever mean your pain is not real. The most important thing to remember when you live with endometriosis is: you are the expert on your own body.

Amy Coney Barrett’s Confirmation Would Be Devastating for Disabled People Like Me

I watched intently last week as the Senate Judiciary Committee held confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett. These highly contentious hearings confirmed what many in the disability community already knew: Judge Barrett’s nomination is a devastating threat to disability rights.

On the final day of the hearings, Laura Wolk, a blind attorney and former student of Barrett’s, testified in support of the judge. Wolk described Barrett as someone with a “generous spirit” who helped her access reasonable accommodations during law school.

As a disabled attorney and law professor, however, I have a different perspective on Barrett. On the one hand, it is not surprising to learn that Wolk encountered bureaucratic barriers when trying to receive reasonable accommodations. Higher education, including law school, is notoriously inaccessible to students with disabilities, despite the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), which was passed over 30 years ago. According to the National Disabled Law Students Association’s Grace Burnham, “There is no way for disabled students to attend law school without being harmed by systematic barriers.”

On the other hand, while Barrett apparently helped her student access needed—and legally mandated—reasonable accommodations, kindness does not address the underlying issues that make law school inaccessible to people with disabilities. According to Wolk, after she told Barrett about the problems she was experiencing, Barrett responded, “This is no longer your problem. It’s my problem.”

A better approach, I believe, would have been working collaboratively with the student to gain the necessary support. Law school was likely not the last time Wolk encountered accessibility barriers, unfortunately, and Barrett had the perfect opportunity to teach her student real-world advocacy skills.

Moreover, Barrett should have used her position of power to ensure that the law school addressed the problems, so that future disabled law students would not experience similar issues. Indeed, as law professors, we have a responsibility to advocate for more equity in law school. Wolk’s testimony does not indicate that Barrett took such steps.

To be sure, Barrett’s approach is not surprising. But while she may be kind and helpful, kindness is not what disabled people need. Instead, we need rights, and that is not something Barrett is likely to ensure. Several disability organizations have issued statements opposing Barrett’s nomination, including the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, the Association of University Centers on Disability, and the Autistic Self Advocacy Network. Those groups joined 50 other national, state, and local disability advocacy organizations in a letter sent to Senate and judiciary committee leadership calling on them to reject Barrett’s nomination, citing her record in cases relevant to disability rights, which they say “raises significant concern.”

Barrett will likely be confirmed anyway and fill the seat of the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, someone who has been praised for advancing the rights of people with disabilities. Most notably, Ginsburg wrote the majority opinion for the landmark 1999 ruling in Olmstead v. L.C., which found that “the unjustified institutional isolation of people with disabilities is a form of discrimination” under the ADA.

In the ruling, Ginsburg affirmed two important principles. First, “institutional placement of persons who can handle and benefit from community settings perpetuates unwarranted assumptions that persons so isolated are incapable or unworthy of participating in community life.” And “second, confinement in an institution severely diminishes the everyday life activities of individuals, including family relations, social contacts, work options, economic independence, educational advancement and cultural enrichment.”

Disability cuts across gender identity, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, and other identities. As such, all types of oppression affect people with disabilities.

Conversely, Barrett’s more limited record is incredibly problematic for disabled people. Although Barrett has not yet ruled in a case involving the Affordable Care Act (ACA), she has publicly criticized the law and the judicial decisions that have upheld it. For example, in a 2017 article for the law journal Constitutional Commentary, Barrett wrote that Chief Justice John Roberts had “pushed the Affordable Care Act beyond its plausible meaning to save the statute,” in his 2012 NFIB v. Sebelius decision. Three years later, when the Court once again upheld the ACA in King v. Burwell, Barrett told NPR that Justice Antonin Scalia’s dissent had a better legal argument than Roberts’ majority opinion.

Once confirmed as a justice, Barrett will soon be able to rule on the validity of the health-care law: On November 10, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in California v. Texas, a case challenging the ACA’s constitutionality—and putting the health care of millions of people with disabilities at risk. While the Court upheld the ACA in 2012 and 2015, Barrett’s addition to the bench does not bode well for the law’s future.

The future of Roe v. Wade, and reproductive rights more broadly, are also in jeopardy with Barrett’s nomination. People with disabilities experience numerous threats to reproductive justice: They contend with presumptions about their ability to consent to sexual relationships, and they encounter health-care providers who hold negative attitudes about pregnancy among people with disabilities. Hospitals and doctor’s offices are often inaccessible, further limiting disabled people’s ability to access reproductive health services and information. And disabled parents are more likely than nondisabled parents to have their children placed in foster care and their parental rights terminated.

In short, reproductive rights are already quite precarious for people with disabilities, and Barrett’s confirmation will only put them more at risk.

Barrett’s judicial record is similarly alarming. Earlier this year, in Cook County v. Wolf, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a preliminary injunction against the Trump administration’s “public charge” rule, holding that it discriminates against disabled people by making it harder for immigrants with disabilities—who are more likely to receive government benefits—to come to the United States. Barrett dissented.

And in a 2019 case, Barrett joined a decision holding that the state of Wisconsin did not discriminate against children with learning disabilities by permitting school districts to exclude them based on their disability-related needs. The decision argued that the ADA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act prohibit discrimination based on stereotypes—but that treatment that was based on the “actual attributes” of people’s disabilities was not discriminatory.

Barrett’s views and record concerning the LGBTQ community and racial discrimination are equally troubling to the disability community. Disability cuts across gender identity, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, and other identities. As such, all types of oppression affect people with disabilities.

Undeniably, Trump’s nomination of Barrett is yet another assault on disability rights—as well as reproductive rights, LGBTQ rights, and racial justice. And while there may be little that advocates can do to stop Barrett’s confirmation, her nomination presents another opportunity for all of us to work together to push back against these ongoing attacks on our well-being.

Amy Coney Barrett Shows White Parents How Not to Talk About Race

For more anti-racism resources, check out our guide, Racial Justice Is Reproductive Justice.

While much has been made of Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s record on abortion rights and her potential impact on Roe v. Wade, after confirmation she’ll get to weigh in on Supreme Court cases immediately, deciding the future of immigration, voting rights, the Affordable Care Act, religious freedoms, and anti-discrimination laws.

And given the country’s heightened attention to racial injustice—and Barrett as a mother to two Black children—her hearings have touched on racial injustice more than once. Under questioning by Senate Judiciary Committee Democrats, Barrett acknowledged the persistence of racism in the United States and of implicit bias in our criminal justice system—but insisted those were lawmakers’ problems to solve, not the judiciary’s. When asked how the video of police killing George Floyd impacted her, Barrett said:

Senator, as you might imagine, given that I have two Black children, that was very, very personal for my family. [My husband] was with the boys on a camping trip out in South Dakota, so I was there, and my 17-year-old daughter, Vivian, who’s adopted from Haiti, all of this was erupting. It was very difficult for her. We wept together in my room, and then it was also difficult for my daughter Juliet, who’s 10. I had to try to explain some of this to them. … And for Vivian, you know, to understand there would be a risk to her brother or the son she might have one day of that kind of brutality has been an ongoing conversation. It’s a difficult one for us like it is for all Americans all over the country.

Although Barrett didn’t specify how she tried to explain it to her kids, most white parents struggle to have meaningful conversations about police violence and systemic racism. According to sociologist Megan Underhill, assistant professor at the University of North Carolina at Asheville, white parents “often refrain from speaking with their children about race, racism and racial inequality.” When those discussions do occur, she found, they are “characterized by a colorblind rhetoric.”

“White parents adopt these practices because they believe it will help them raise a non-racist child,” Underhill wrote for the Washington Post in 2018. “From a sociological perspective though, white parents’ racial messages may do more harm than good.”

We don’t live in a colorblind society, and as Underhill noted, research shows that talking to kids using the colorblind approach isn’t merely ineffective—it can perpetuate real harms and delay the work required to undo the systems of white supremacy and get closer to a more equitable world.

But if teaching white kids to be colorblind isn’t the way, then what is?

I took that question to Amy Hansen-Malek and Amanda Campbell, two organizers with the Kansas City, Missouri, chapter of Showing Up for Racial Justice. In their own words, here’s what they want other white parents to know when talking to their white kids about racism and the Black Lives Matter movement.

Acknowledge your shortcomings

Amy Hansen-Malek: As white parents, we do not have to be perfect at talking to our kids in order to start the conversations. What’s most important is that we are starting the conversations.

I’d also remind white parents that it’s necessary work if we are serious about raising up a generation of anti-racist white children. We can unpack our own implicit biases and consider the ways we’ve been affected by our white supremacy culture, and we can share this knowledge with our kids. We can teach them that white privilege isn’t something we asked for but something we inherited, and we can empower them by showing how they play a role in dismantling racism.

Most of us, including myself, were not brought up having conversations about race, racism, or white privilege. It can feel intimidating and uncomfortable, especially if we were taught that it is racist to even talk about race (which it’s not). However, there are a ton of resources to help us on this journey. EmbraceRace is a wonderful website with free webinars. Jennifer Harvey, in her 2018 book, Raising White Kids: Bringing Up Children in a Racially Unjust America, walks readers through why it’s harmful to not talk to our kids about race and racism, and then she provides examples of what parents can be doing. And I can’t speak enough about how helpful I have found Beverly Daniel Tatum’s 2017 book, Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?

I encourage white parents to find other parents who are serious about trying to raise race-conscious, anti-racist children. In 2016, I helped start Showing Up for Racial Justice Families Core, which is a part of the SURJ KC network. We exist to organize, educate, and support white caregivers who are trying to raise anti-racist kids, and we do this in accountability with BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color). This is a space where I learn from others, find accountability, and welcome others who are committed to this work to join us.

There’s no such thing as “too young”

Amanda Campbell: Studies show that children as young as 6 months recognize differences in skin color and hair. Between ages 2 and 3, many kids become more vocal about noticing those differences. This is really the time for us to both proactively use our world to celebrate differences and to respond positively when they do ask or comment. If our response is to shush or quiet them, they will learn that it is something not to be talked about.

By ages 4 to 6, kids will start to associate positive and negative traits with different skin colors; by ages 7 and 8, kids can better understand nuances, and we can have deeper conversations about those differences and similarities between people. This is also a good time to talk more about racial injustice, including police brutality, current events, and stereotypes about different groups of people. Books and media are great resources to show our kids great contributions to society made by BIPOC. Real-life examples help them understand, and having many positive examples will help them formulate positive associations.

For our middle school and high school kids, we can be more proactive about social media, what they’re reading, and where they get their sources of information. We should also engage with them about how they are showing up for and standing up for their peers at school.

Center Black voices

AHM: We must teach our white children to center the voices of BIPOC: Listen to their voices and respect the language they prefer; follow their leadership.

This can be teaching white children our history from BIPOC perspectives, teaching them to believe and support their Black friends when they tell them they’ve experienced racism, reading the current events from BIPOC perspectives, and showing them how to follow Black leadership at a protest. Those who have experienced and continue to experience racism are most knowledgeable about it.

With my 6-year-old, we watched some video clips of protests that were happening in Kansas City. We talked about the courage of Black folks to stand up and speak out against the ways they continue to be harmed by policing. As we watched the video clips, I pointed out how people of all races were at the protests, and we discussed how we want to stand with them and about the ways we could [participate], like sending bail support. We read children’s books together, written by Black authors around activism, and later we went to a protest together.

Our white kids need to know how to stand up and speak out when they see their peers experiencing racism. We need to help them see we can all have a role in dismantling racism, and that racism negatively affects all of us. In SURJ KC, we talk about doing anti-racism work for our collective liberation.

Lean into the hard stuff

AC: Police brutality can be a scary subject for kids. Children have an innate sense of fairness, and we should try to approach it by talking about how unfair it is for police to treat people differently based on what they look like, where they live, how much money they have, or anything else.

We are often used to teaching kids to respect authority, and learning about questioning authority is often a challenge. Being able to teach nuance and nonbinary thinking will help our kids in life, as will letting them know they can be helpers. Our white kids are empowered knowing they can stand by or with their Black and brown friends, and even strangers, during interactions with law enforcement. Letting our children imagine other ways to solve community issues that don’t include punitive measures can help them stretch their thinking and practice empathy.

[Bringing your kids to a protest] is a personal decision, and I believe it depends on the type of protest. I do believe it teaches them so much, and it’s an experience they will never forget. Our kids participated in an online children’s protest event this summer. This was a very positive and uplifting way to be safe at home with young ones during COVID-19 and unrest all over.

There are plenty of other ways to introduce kids to activism, too. They can learn by writing letters to city officials, lobbying lawmakers, making signs, posting and sharing to social media in support, learning about national and local organizations and donating or raising money for them, and donating and delivering supplies. My children have friends who did a lemonade stand to raise money for BLM [in Kansas City].

Dive in—then keep going

AHM: When I talk to my white child about the Black Lives Matter movement, I talk about it as an uprising led by Black people in response to the unfair, ongoing problem and pattern of police violence that continues to harm our Black community members across our nation. It’s important to communicate that racism is systemic, meaning it encompasses more than an individual being unkind to someone because of the color of their skin. We see racial disparities not only in our criminal justice system but also in our school systems, health-care systems, housing, employment, etc.

We’re not going to get it right every time. Unfortunately, this is not a one-and-done conversation. We need to have ongoing conversations, and we’ll get better at it the more we do it.

Make diversity the norm

AC: It’s so much easier these days to use Google and find lists for just about anything. There are book lists by age, television shows, movies, music, and much more. That is something you really have to sit down and intentionally do—it can fall off our priority list, so I often tell people to join diverse groups and be intentional in their own lives. Follow BIPOC on all of your social media and other media platforms. If we are living these values, we will naturally exude them.

When we celebrate Black culture and any culture other than our own, we are showing the way. Our family is currently into Beyoncé’s Black Is King, and we’re planning to watch Netflix’s Bookmarks and revisit Remember the Titans for our preteen and teen boys. Also, join groups like our SURJ KC Families Core. There are lots of local ways to connect with others who are doing the same and continually sharing resources like local story times, Black Santas around the holidays, music performances and events, and multicultural celebrations near you.

How Queering Parenting Helps All Families

andrea bennett identified as a tomboy growing up. In the opening essay of their debut collection, Like a Boy but Not a Boy, which is being released today, bennett acknowledges the problematic aspects of the tomboy label while also penning a love letter to it. The proximity to masculinity, they write, “provided a shortcut—albeit tenuous—to power in adulthood, and freedom in childhood.” Much of bennett’s narrative embraces the complexities of labels, of names that are, like all words, a site of simultaneous limitation and possibility.

Critique mixed with love letter is an ethos of Like a Boy but Not a Boy, which deftly explores class, mental illness, gender, and parenthood. bennett writes honestly about their experience with health professionals in various capacities, about the physicality of being pregnant and then chestfeeding their child, about creative work and physical work, and about not just navigating a cis- and heteronormative world but also creating a new one with more possibility for themself and their family.

bennett spoke with Rewire News Group about possibilities and limitations, the use of language around gender and parenthood, queerness as parenting liberation, and being present in one’s body. The interview has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.

Rewire News Group: You write about the possibilities and the failures of language, especially when it comes to identity and a sense of self, by exploring labels of identity—queer identity, gender identity, and parent identity. Can you talk about your relationship with language and labels as a nonbinary parent?

andrea bennett: Several years ago, for a piece that’s not in the book that I co-wrote with a friend (called “Beyond Mom and Pop”), we explored nonbinary parent identity, and people had different ways that they identified themselves as parents. “Baba” came up a lot. There were a few other examples, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot. I wrote that piece [in part] because it was something I was considering for myself, how I would deal with that hurdle of becoming a parent when your culture doesn’t actually have a label that’s suitable for you.

In response to that piece, someone said, “All these labels, aren’t they divisive? Why do you need them?” I think a lot about words and etymology. So I found that comment silly, but also funny, because all nouns are labels, every single one of them. [Naming] is a natural part of human life. So I don’t actually think that it’s labels that people are uncomfortable with, but that’s how the discomfort is often expressed about queer identities or about queer kinship.

Rewire News Group: You write, “As a parent of a young kid, your ‘real self’ is more often than not necessarily tethered to your relationship with your child and the way that relationship is read in the world.” How do you conceive of your “real self” as a parent? When do you feel that your gender or other identities are important to your sense of self as a parent, and when are they not?

ab: My partner and I are both at home with my kid all the time now. She would be in preschool if there wasn’t a pandemic. We lead a pretty simple life in a rural place. In the boundaries of our home, I can just be myself, and my kid calls us by our first names. So those two things don’t knock up against each other. It’s a privilege, and it’s nice, to be able to be yourself in your own home. I haven’t always had that privilege.

That said, I think things will get trickier when she goes to school because we still live in a pretty heteronormative and gender-normative society. It’s even been difficult to find books that reflect our family structure back to us. And because she calls us by our first names, just establishing how kinship relationships work is also kind of complicated. So many books that we have just have “mom and dad” in them. It’s still hard in 2020 to seek out a full shelf of books that reflect different family structures. So I might write a kids book next.

Rewire News Group: You also write, “I’m not sure if I’m queering parenthood just by being a parent.” Is that something you want to do? What does queering parenthood look like in your mind?

ab: I think queering parenthood for the benefit of queer people is always the number one goal, just making it feel possible to be a parent if you want to be a parent as a queer person. But I think that people in heterosexual couplings also benefit from the idea of queering parenthood—just the idea of being freed from the strictures of gender roles that put people into situations that they may not actually thrive in, but are just socially expected.

Parenting can look a lot of different ways. I think when you’re a queer person, you kind of have to negotiate [a bit more], what the structure of parenting is going to look like from the ground up. How you’re going to share responsibilities, how you’re going to communicate things to your kid, how you’re going to communicate the differences that they see in your household versus what they’re sort of socially seeing and how they navigate that, how love is expressed in your household, how work works, what your values are.

A lot of queer families, we tend to have less money, so how to make that work, how do you live your politics in a way that isn’t just about you but also about a broader community. What does it mean to have chosen family? What does it mean to decide to establish familial relationships with people I love and care about who aren’t my romantic partner? Not to say I’m doing all of them or doing all of them perfectly, but I like to think of our family as being in that kind of mix of things.

Rewire News Group: Can you talk about the role of the corporeal in your writing? How do you approach writing the body, the nonbinary body, the gestational body?

ab: There’s this book by A.K. Summers, Pregnant Butch: Nine Long Months Spent in Drag. It’s a graphic novel about A.K. Summers’s experience of pregnancy as a butch woman. I really appreciated reading that book before I was pregnant myself. And then the actual experience of pregnancy, some people experience dysphoria during that time. I didn’t; I was really fascinated by how strange the whole transformation was, and that even though it’s extremely normal—many of the things that we do in life that everybody does, like birth, illness, death, they’re by definition extremely normal—they’re also just these terribly unsettling things to go through. It could be grief-stricken, it could be a time of wonder, it could be both, but the experience of pregnancy, I just kind of found it fascinating. I rediscovered a love of overalls. I read a lot of forums, different transmasculine experiences of pregnancy, to get ideas about how to clothe one’s pregnant body, how to navigate conversations with health professionals, if that’s something you choose to do, about your gender, things of that nature.

I do experience dysphoria when it comes to my chest. That was something I thought I’d have sorted before the book came out, and I don’t. It’s really funny, I think in the copy for the book, it says how to navigate all these things at the end of the world; that was just kind of a joke because my brain is always thinking it’s the end of the world, but then the book came out in a pandemic, which threw things off. So I finally had a [top surgery] consultation recently, and I’m really looking forward to that next step of my life.

When it came to nursing or chestfeeding my kid, I don’t think it’s a totally healthy thing, but I sort of divorced part of my sense of self from areas of my body. It felt really important to feed her and so I fed her, and I was really focused on the practicalities of things. I didn’t experience the actual act itself as joy or trauma, it was just kind of like paying a bill or something, which is kind of weird, but it’s fine. And we got through that period of our lives and now it’s on to the next.

I do write about rehabilitating, just trying to be present in my body, because I think part of the way I’ve coped over the course of my life is to float above it. It’s really hard for me to be present and to experience something unless I’m alone. Interestingly enough, A.K. Summers writes about swimming while pregnant, and swimming is one of the things that allows me to feel at home in my body. I like cycling also. Sometimes doing is a way of being present. It’s really hard for me to be present while I’m not doing, but learning how to be a bike mechanic made me connect with some of the more proprioceptive aspects that I think you can lose touch with if you’re constantly distancing yourself from yourself. After a period of time, right, you can kind of start to forget yourself, which has to do with gender, and with other other aspects of personhood.

Led by Black Midwives, This Abortion Clinic and Birth Center Is Reimagining Health Care in the South

A reproductive health-care center in Memphis is revolutionizing what it means to offer a full spectrum of care.

With the unveiling of a new location in September, CHOICES Memphis Center for Reproductive Health is now the country’s first nonprofit organization to offer both birthing and abortion care, as well as the first birth center in Memphis with midwives as the primary caregivers. Midwives providing birthing care is especially critical in a city like Memphis—while the infant mortality rate decreased between 2005 and 2015, the city’s rate is still higher than the overall infant mortality rate in the United States.

CHOICES traces its roots back to 1974, when the Memphis Center for Reproductive Health opened on the heels of Roe v. Wade’s watershed Supreme Court decision that made abortion legal. In the ensuing two decades, the center operated as a first-term abortion clinic, and also offered free pregnancy tests and counseling.

Two key personnel hires charted the path to setting the standard for reproductive health services: Rebecca Terrell joined as executive director in 2009 (which also led to rebranding to CHOICES), and Nikia Grayson came on board as a nurse midwife in 2016; Grayson is now the director of perinatal care.

In 2013, talks about expanding the clinic’s location began, and now, around seven years later, the vision has become a reality—and during a pandemic no less.

What sets CHOICES apart is that it views abortion care and birthing in the same framework of a reproductive health journey that includes a pre- and postnatal care, fertility treatment management, teen health services, trans-inclusive health care, and more.

CHOICES operates in a reproductive justice model, “where we center Black and brown families and personalize the care around their needs, regardless of their ability to pay,” Grayson said.

That model is especially critical because CHOICES is the only center for miles that offers some of these health services to a majority of people of color and low-income patients. At least 70 percent of its patients receive Medicaid, Katy Leopard, external affairs director for CHOICES, said.

The new location is now central to major bus routes, which makes it ideal for people who travel from out of state; Leopard noted that patients from Arkansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Mississippi, and Texas have all received care at CHOICES .

The center has more than doubled in size to house three abortion procedure rooms, three birthing suites, examination rooms, and a laboratory. A wellness courtyard brims with foliage; green is the center’s signature building color. An outdoor seating area is located in the middle of the second floor, and the building has entrances in the back with additional parking spaces for patients to enter discreetly; it’s nearly impossible to escape the shadow of anti-choice protesters at any place that provides abortion care—and CHOICES is no different.

CHOICES has a resident physician who administers abortions. And because of the rising interest in midwives, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, the team of midwives has been expanded.

The new CHOICES opened its doors in September with significant COVID-19 precautions in place. Despite distancing measures such as substituting an in-person grand opening with a virtual tour, the sense of duty to the community persists.

“No one was performing first-term abortions here after ‘73, and there needed to be a lot of educating to be done about both abortion and birth control then,” Leopard said. “Now, wherever there’s a gap, we try and fill it, and it carries on to today.”

“We’ve found that if we give people factual, evidence-based information, people will make the best choices for themselves,” Leopard added.

All Your Burning Sex Questions—Answered

For more sex education resources, check out our Better Sex Ed guide.

We’ve heard a lot about the so-called new normal this year: the new normal of working from home, of wearing masks in public, of mass temperature checks, of staggered school days and remote learning and shopping online and virtual dinner parties.

But there’s no such thing as a “new normal” when it comes to having sex. For that matter, there’s no “old normal,” either. Everyone’s sex life is different, and there’s no sense in trying to conform to some kind of sexual standard that doesn’t exist.

So says sex educator Cassandra Corrado, the host of Rewire News Group’s YouTube series You Deserve Good Sex. In a recent Instagram Live, Corrado answered audience questions as a theme emerged: You and your partner aren’t on the same page sexually (thanks, pandemic), and you want know how to get back to the best part of the book, so to speak.

From assessing the state of your libido to finding a sex therapist to expanding your definition of what sex even is, Corrado offers a ton of helpful advice. Watch the event below.