Artists and writers respond to the assault on bodily autonomy and reproductive rights.
Reproductive rights are under assault in the United States. It’s an attack that strikes at the heart of bodily autonomy for anyone who can get pregnant and for anyone who challenges the gender binary. The poor and communities of color are the most vulnerable. With the current partisan make-up of the Supreme Court, fundamental protections in this country seem to hang by a thread.
Earlier this year, we reached out to the 7×7 community to send in creative work in response to the current, precarious state of our reproductive rights. The diverse responses published here are by turns elegaic, humorous, fragile, empowered, confessional, and defiant. Some tackle the issue of reproductive rights directly, while others take a broader critical look at gender, sexuality and the absurd contingencies of living in a body. We hope that readers might recognize themselves within this spectrum of understanding and from that recognition find inspiration and a sense of community: You are not alone. Access to reproductive health services is a human right, and 7x7LA stands in solidarity with all those who fight to protect this important ideal.
Losing it/ I am always the Virgin
I always virgin
even when we switch roles, fuck you
w/ infinite vectors I still the virgin
Isn’t sexy ?
I do my whores I virgin
Virgin chafes mommy suit;
whore and virgin resist mommy
I must eventually don Mommy, don Crone:
This has been decided for me
(Acts like a shed
I am going crazy! I duplicitous when I supposed to
be one flesh with specific use +/or exchange value,
clearly daddy issued
Have you peaked in my box? Beware:
I am both alive and dead: in me I contain
multitudes of virginities They teem up
They pop each other on the head
I schoolmarm them.
I box their candy ankles
I lipstick their bruises
I powder their no’s
sez we glimpse out the sublimate tears
We a muse me swallow them
“From a series called Educating Alice which is meant to raise questions about governmental laws concerning female citizens.”
Excerpt from WE LOVE VENUS!
People had begun giving birth to select body parts, often just a single, slippery organ. The most frequent cases were slimy eight-pound eyeballs, lumpy wet kidneys and rough, patchy tongues all streaked in the goo of birth when they slid out of the weeping pussies that bore them.
The kidneys and tongues were left on the labor table until they dried up, no longer emitting warm, soft livelihood; the emptied-out bodies of women carted off on stretchers, sobbing in fear and relief. While waiting for the tongues and kidneys to give their last lazy pulse of life doctors and nurses stood with their eyes down, silent.
It didn’t matter if you were a doctor or a midwife or a doula or an aunt three times removed, you kept your mouth shut and your eyes lowered. It’s called “non-denominational praying” and it’s allegedly the most “human and respectful” way to handle this particular nightmare but trust us, We think decidedly not.
That didn’t take long, maybe three or four minutes, the lonely dumped out tongues and kidneys gone hard and cold, mac and cheese left too long on a plastic dinner plate. Their mothers were encouraged to never set an eye or hand upon them, forget the whole mess entirely with a steady diet of woozy neon yellow pills that had the ripe side effect of giving you hyper-real dreams, which often had the side effect of making you piss and shit the bed you slept in, which was sometimes the stove or living room floor. Also recommended for their healing properties were soap opera distractions, but only ones that’d been running for going on hundreds of years. As the World Turns, General Hospital, plus a little-known Sarah Michelle Gellar outfit called Swan’s Crossing which We used watch in the mornings before school when We were elementary, having spent the night at one or the other’s house and splitting a packet of the jelly pink-flavored Pop Tarts our mothers bought for us. These were the great national treasures, relatively concise histories of the American psyche whittled down to their most distractionary elements.
The dumpy organs were discarded like cancerous tumors or breast tissue, flushed into the center of the earth where they begin to sizzle mid-way, bearing frighteningly close to that fire-hot core glowing at the exact center ‘til they settled somewhere into the layer of bony sediment to which we’ll never have access. These things couldn’t live– you couldn’t even transplant them into the sick bodies that needed tongues and kidneys. Their life was short, shorter by far than a May fly’s, and what could you do but accept it, because it was so.
The eyeballs, though, were a different story altogether, a Hans Christian Andersen tale so deeply and foreverly disturbing it made every kidnapping-rapist-torture horror film look like a pastel-filtered Disney affair.
Those who were piously led into their twilight zone eyeball horror show lived nine months with little, and then not-so-little, eyes in their uteri. What this meant, long term, was that a gnarly pet lived out its seemingly endless days with you and your beloveds. They didn’t grow, or mature, other than forming cataracts after 40 or 50 years. They’d hum along, silent, alive, and staring, for a regular human lifespan. Sitting in a box in your living room, blinking for decades, what We’d call “mildly sentient.” Long eyelashes matted together unless you brushed them with an extra-large eyelash brush at least once a week, which by the way also cost at least three times what a regular comb does which is such a rip. The bootleg versions you could buy on the internet for cheap were just as good, but obstetricians always talked the big virtues of the official products and, you know, those poor-ass souls with eyeballs for offspring lapped that shit up, hungry for something Right and Proper to be attached to the whole mess. Cleaning the crust that gathered at the lash lines’ phlegmy edges every day was a very real kind of care. Someone had to do it, and no, there weren’t usually ugly stepsisters there to do the work but yes, sometimes there were, and they were inevitably exploited. Some families had two, three, even eight of these sightless suckers to raise. The likelihood of a single part birth didn’t stop people from artificial insemination, which ended up in multiple eye-fetuses 34% of the time. The foster care systems nationwide were doing the best they ever had with older children, placing teenage people in homes were the families would actually be very kind and generous, but also tell you that the one condition of being their beloved new family member rested upon these teenage people’s ability to care for the shoulda-never-been-borned fuckin’ eyeballs. And that’s considered a healthy kindness.
Eyeball abortion wasn’t an option, philosophically, economically, or logistically, for many people. News stories would cycle in and out, pregnant people performing abortions on themselves or each other because one of the two clinics left in the country either couldn’t admit them in time or were too far away to make an affordable journey of it. Ten women would be on the news in a week, dead from septic pussy syndrome, aka the whole planet having had a worst-case-scenario makeover: Lookee Ma, we’re a real live hell on earth! Consciousness raising groups were working hard to offer safe at-home abortion tips for the masses but, you know, not everyone has access to their booklets, their flyers, their organized kinda-doctors running sneakily through big city streets at 2a.m., Jane 200.0. The thick gray air poisoned the appropriated medical tools as soon as they left their scratched plastic cases, which in turn poisoned your body and sometimes, despite our best latex-gloved intentions, everything just went to shit, shit and shit and shit and shit. Of course the news cycle ran these stories on a loop.
Don’t die! Birth your eye!
They went on and on with their rudimentary self-sustaining system. You could bear them, if you could bear them. All God’s creatures, blank staring not-babies pulsing along in your home, never saying nothing, just staring, reminding you that your whole body was just poison ricocheting off the atmosphere and laughing back at you. Understandably, some people started losing it, hacking their birthed eyes with steak knives, throwing them into the street in pulpy wet purple-red masses. Conservative, high-horsed eyeball-lovers with mean hearts would spray a big red eye on your front door and bury the eye in one of their mass eyeball graves. Tiny absurd headstones, all tear-stained plots eventually growing daisies or dahlias, whose seeds were dropped in during the large group funerals. Using flowers to shame people struck us square in the gut: an appropriation of some kind of natural joy flipped into a middle finger pointing brightly at all the already traumatized. The country looked more and more like a massive cemetery conceived by a cruel, sadistic version of those singing Alice in Wonderland flowers, all lined up to mock you with their beauty. Nobody liked to see daisies or dahlias anymore. All they meant were poison and gore and sad people and the distinct sense of finality floating around whatever concept was left of human decency.
There were therapy groups that dealt specifically with these unfortunate birth-based traumas; therapists were making good money despite how little money seemed to be circulating. To make someone carry and birth something like a large slug and then expect them to just get on with it, therapist in firm-gripped tow. Even worse, companies dedicated solely to building small chambers for the eyeballs who weren’t hacked or aborted, Barbie dream houses in gendered pink or blue satins and silks on which to plop mama’s ugliest emission.
God made the poison drifting aimlessly through the atmosphere, curly-q’ing into your nostrils and earholes and eyeball nooks, God made dicks filled with sick sperm filled with sick cells who’d tell your lonely masochistic eggs to do the wrong things, cook up the wrong dinner, lead your eggs down the bad, bad roads.
So We understand why people were leaving the planet in hoardes. 94% of those warm bodies getting loaded onto the proverbial Venus train were people who had been pregnant, warm, sick bodies that couldn’t take it anymore. We don’t wanna live here either! We wanna hop on the nearest truck headed for wherever, forever, and under pretty much any circumstance that, at the very least, promised complete physical separation from the planet that had done this to you.
A few months ago We sat on the toilet with wicked bad cramps and ended up pushing out a little tadpole of a quivering eyeball-ette. Still gummy and soft, with only a few short eyelashes and a translucent white film over the face, like a raw egg with a weepy iris in the middle. Could’ve fit fifteen of them at least on the palm of our hands, but there was only one. We remember, and consider, that rare encounter. Not, like, such a tragedy for us. We didn’t want a baby, we hadn’t even known We were incubating one. We didn’t think to check. We’re like that: letting life work its own way through the body, out the first available hole, flushed down the toilet. It’d never happened to us before. But of course We imagined what would’ve happened if We’d grown up with the wrong people, with our true enemies, who are tricky and could get us to do whatever whatever just to give them a little something to smile all rotten-gummed about. We don’t do that anymore– you better believe! But everyone’s young once, so long as they’re born with a selection of body parts. Not just one crummy piece.
In Idaho, in 1994, you believed you had never met a gay person. You were in college then, and you wondered how you would act when you finally did, whether you would be weird about it. You hoped not, but in Idaho, in 1994, homosexuality seemed, to you, like a foreign thing. You embraced acceptance abstractly, an easy belief that had not been fully tested.
In your Contemporary Literature class, you sat in the middle of the room. To your right were farm kids, recognizable by their quilted flannels and worn Wranglers. You watched for the cute guy wearing a sweat-blackened Redskins cap that testified years of unwavering fandom that you read as a sign of more general fidelity. Its brim broke through a frayed woolen edge, revealing the white plastic form that gave it shape.
To your left were lady-stoners. Their thrift store clothing and broken-down boots spoke of another place entirely, one that salvaged Idaho’s textiles and reinvented them into something wild. You’d stare at the green moon tattooed on the back of one girl’s neck. You envied her overalls and the bravery it took to wear her hair unwashed, pillow-coifed. You envied, too, the tall girl who you often saw rolling and smoking cigarettes on the steps of Brink Hall, listening to the old professor playing bagpipes on his lunch break. They were cooler than you, that much was certain. They walked into the classroom like it was the cheapest dive bar in the state, and no one it contained could say a word to them.
Except that wasn’t true. Not in Idaho. Not in 1994. She came in to class one day, the tall girl who rolled her own. She was not crying but had cried, her eyes puffy and red. The moon-necked girl asked what was wrong. She said that another kid from Salmon, her home town, had called her mother and told her that her daughter was gay. Her mother said she could not come home again. Not now. Not ever. It wasn’t that her mother didn’t love her, though that seemed an issue still up for debate, but that she was certain her daughter would be killed now that the truth was out. Her home could no longer be her home.
It was Idaho, 1994. Richard Nixon would die that semester, as would Kurt Cobain. You sat in between farm kids and stoners. You were neither. They seemed so untouchable, the cool group of girls whom you now recognized as gay.
On the class forum, one of the farm kids would comment that there were more slang words for penis than vagina, and the tall girl would counter with a list of vulgarity that was itself an education. You would wish you were as bold, though the girls didn’t frighten you. You wished they would allow you into a conversation, invite you to share a joint, but you’ve always had that thing in you that people recognized as other. Not farm kid, not stoner.
That year, a guy you had known as first chair flute from your high school band would attempt suicide, unable to reconcile his Catholic faith with his love of men. Tony? you would ask, realizing that you had always known. In another year, the manager at the store where you worked would be arrested for assaulting a stranger on the street for no real reason that he would specify. Four years later, Matthew Shepard would die on a Wyoming fence.
There are days when 1994 in Idaho feels like forever ago. How could you have ever been so naïve, so oblivious? You’ve changed in the years since. Learned. Grown. You thought the world had too, but this is another thing you were wrong about. Now, twenty-five years later, that fabric is wearing thin, and you see Idaho, 1994 peeking through its weft and warp. You see the old, hard, white hatred that you first became acquainted with then. It peaks through, giving this moment its shape.
Oil & molding paste on canvas
Oh Mother, My Monster
Within days, no mother was the same. For some, it was a rash: rosacea. For others, a fur—creeping, velveteen, down the dorsal fin of the face. For all, it was a morning shock, sighted in the mirror over brushed teeth. The obvious question: Was it age? But no. It moved too quickly, more quickly than time, with a sort of blind, furious rage. Like kudzu. Call it a plague.
The worst was in farm towns, where before one mother glimpsed another, she might have to wait days. At first she’d pluck the furs, brandishing her tweezers with years of expertise. But the hairs were too many and resurfaced too fast; soon, just to leave the house—no, to leave her own bathroom!—she was forced to bandage her face.
Was it a case of the nose job? Spreading like an evil capitalist craze? You began to see these bandages everywhere, aggressively marking who was a mother and who not. Some women’s biology seemed confused, but—
For some mothers, fish scales. For still others, the floral pattern of the best square of a beloved quilt. The part leftover from a baby suit. In Akron, Ohio, a woman lost control of her car; when she awoke from the coma, her face had erupted in greens. Dense as it was, the verdure appeared manicured: along her nose, a neat line of alliums had bloomed. (No children had been in the backseat.) She wondered about the growth, but not very much—she was mostly concerned with the contents of her daughter’s lunchbox. In the afternoons, when the lunchbox came home, its balls of used saran wrap had transmuted into marbles or eggs. Occasionally the eggs hatched lice before the box was opened up, evidence of what damp store-bought bread and salami breath could birth. This mother packed notes with her daughter’s lunches, love yous and I’m sorrys stamped on stationery shaped like business cards, but these alone found their way into the trash.
A majority of the mothers were pleased to bandage their faces. Loudly, they spoke of a new ease, of fifteen or forty extra minutes of sleep. A joke went around, then a series of jokes punning on mummy. SNL did a shtick where a giant, barrel-bodied man bandaged his face, but it didn’t go over. The new mummy was at once too varied and too easy to imitate.
In Brooklyn, Iowa, a group of mothers organized a march. Banding together for a collective face-reveal was the purpose; that it would soothe their addled families, the hope. Fathers lined the sidewalks of Main Street, stamping their boots. The mothers hoisted posters reading CARPET WAGON, PROTEST BABY, WHAT. YOU. BLEED., but hardly anyone could be bothered to read these. The crowd was captivated, instead, with the hints of disease. Some mothers’ faces had succumbed to the fetid darkening of slimy old lettuce leaves. One flaunted boxes of edible lingerie. Another, Maytag blue cheese. The mothers toted bags of Happy Meal toys for placating their children, but the children were uninterested, even bored by the parade; they busied themselves between the men’s cosseted feet. The men, on the other hand, were riveted by the grotesquerie. They caught the tossed plastic figurines reflexively, almost unconsciously; after the parade, they were surprised to find their fists full of bright tinker-toys.
No childless women lived in Brooklyn, thank god—by the age of sixteen, any woman without offspring had left that place, with its so-called “community of flags” and its too-full pie-case—but across the country, vast networks of the Bandageless took shape. That was the name of the Secret Group that swelled to the tens of thousands within days, then splintered into subgroups: Bandageless Albuquerque; Bandageless & Bitchy; Bandageless But Scarred (for those whose faces had taken on odd, too-subtle-for-bandaging marks, which outsiders dismissed as a hysterical response).
Of course, we could have bandaged our faces, too. Amid tedious debates about media coverage (too attentive to the mothers’ well-being, or not attentive enough), the possibility was discussed. Some women had never felt shame or even ambivalence about the so-called “decision,” which in most cases was less decision than omission, a certain critical window passed up. Before, we’d been the subjects of a polite if distant gaze; now, toddlers swiveled to stare long after their parents had shuffled past. Folks younger than me called it a gender shift: no longer women and men, society would re-divide into the bandaged and the not. The cis-correlative was only whether you’d ever given birth. It was a tidy upending of Freud’s legacy of haves and have-nots.
It was easy to diet, I heard. Easy to bite your tongue and avoid pronouncing that swear word. Easy to displease other people without betraying any hint of it first. You heard about the good-enoughs, the too-goods, and the not-good-enoughs. About mothers whose faces morphed merely into a persistent ache. They, too, bandaged up—following the dictum to rest, ice, compress, elevate. Everybody in my book club was bandaged; Sherri’s eye bags had sprouted zinnias, she said, and Sandi claimed her cheeks were stretched by the weight of seven tarnished and clanking spoons. No one else said what she kept under wraps, and who had the audacity to ask? At the country club, when the maître d’ poured our champagne, I was the only one with the ability to sip from a glass. Needless to say, I refrained.
“An Adjustment (Who Would Believe Me)”