Attacks on Planned Parenthood have been unrelenting for the past few months, and that means that once again women’s health is a topic of national scrutiny. But what the poorly edited, completely manipulated video footage of PP’s “wrongdoings” don’t leave room for are stories about how treasured a resource a PP clinic can be to a woman, a queer person, a poor person — every person.
In response to a national conversation that’s eclipsing the very real and very tangible need for PP’s services, women around the country have been stepping up and sharing their stories about Planned Parenthood and what it means to them. But, as often happens in conversations about sexual and reproductive health, most of the stories are by straight and/or cis women — and completely erase the very real and very tangible need queer women and LGBT folks of all genders have for their services.
So now it’s our turn! Autostraddle and A-Camp staff and family members are here to talk about what PP means to us as queer women, and why we need it to be around for a very, very long time. When you’re done reading about our own adventures in health care, share your own stories in the comments!
Laura M., Contributing Editor, 28
Planned Parenthood Locations: South Austin Health Center, Brooklyn Boro Hall Health Center
Honestly, I’d support Planned Parenthood if the only service they provided was abortions. I’ve never needed one, but part of the reason for that is that I was able to go to Planned Parenthood to figure out birth control! I don’t have a primary care physician, but I’ve been visiting Planned Parenthood centers for well woman exams and gynecological services for the past four years. I got my first pap smear at a Planned Parenthood. I got my IUD at a Planned Parenthood. I rely on them for reasonably priced, non-judgmental medical treatment, and so do thousands of other people. Planned Parenthood provides a vast array of essential medical services, and it disgusts me that anyone would want to limit access to that.
Stef, Music and Vapid Fluff Editor, 31
Planned Parenthood Location: Margaret Sanger Center
I’ve worked piles of low-wage, part-time, often cash-based jobs to scrape by over the last decade or so, and I didn’t have proper health insurance from the time I graduated college in 2004 to just about two months ago. For a very long time, Planned Parenthood was the only healthcare I could afford. Their financial office hooked me up with reproductive health Medicaid so I could receive annual exams, pap smears, HIV and STD screenings and anything else I could possibly need while I was there — I even got my IUD taken care of there. I never felt like I have at other clinics for low-income, insurance-challenged folks, where long wait times and indifferent, inattentive staff can make you feel like human garbage. I avoided doctors like the plague during this time in my life, because the care I received would almost always be prohibitively expensive and make me feel worse. On the contrary, everybody at Planned Parenthood was always friendly and encouraging, happy to answer questions or offer advice if I needed it.
Robin, A-Camp Co-Director and Photographer, 34
Being a young freelancer, I spent OVER 10 years without health insurance. I cannot fathom what my life would have been like without access to birth control and regular check-ups and pap smears that I could not afford otherwise. A PP nurse taught me how to protect myself properly when I was a freshman in college, an education I never could have received at home or at school, and I will be forever grateful for their NON-JUDGMENTAL counseling that taught me how to have a healthy sex life that I didn’t have to feel ashamed of. So FUCK anyone who doesn’t stand with women’s health and family planning. I Still Stand with Planned Parenthood and always will. Stop believing the bullshit and educate yourself on the complexities of women’s reproductive health.
Morgan, Autostraddle Calendar Girl and A-Camp Staff, 28
Planned Parenthood Locations: Chapel Hill
Now when I’ve told this story, people frequently hear it as an underdog story. “The Plucky Trans Gets One Over On The System For Once.” But y’see, this isn’t a story about me, this is a story about a medical organization that is structured in such a way that is flexible enough to hear people, as well as help them. That program went on to help more people than just me, so the hero of that story is the one that leveraged its resources that made good people sense (because helping the community) as well as good business sense (because the community has moneys). And people are trying to attack and dismantle it why? Not to start crying tears of red, white and blue, but America was founded on diverse voices being heard to foment change. Most political rantings and ravings boil down to “I don’t feel you are hearing me enough right now so I’m going to do loud things until you do hear me!” Here we have a rare instance of organization that does hear people out and helps them with one of the most fundamental aspects of the human experience: health. If it weren’t for Planned Parenthood, I wouldn’t be here now as quite the woman I am. And I like the woman I am. Thank you, Planned Parenthood, for helping me live.
Riese, CEO/Editor-in-Chief, 34
Planned Parenthood Locations: Golden Gate (now closed), Boro Hall, The Bronx Center, Margaret Sanger Center, Ann Arbor Health Center, Walker Health Center
I wrote a pretty extensive essay about Planned Parenthood in 2011 — because PP was facing a pretty heavy assault back then, too, and I wanted to do whatever I could to throw support towards the only thing the government has ever done to demonstrate any interest in my physical health. I made my first visit at 16 to go on the pill, and stayed on it for seven years, always via Planned Parenthood. For many years, the only element of my health I could afford to pay attention to was my sexual and reproductive health, because Planned Parenthood was the only health care provider I could afford to visit. I grew up in a liberal area with excellent sex ed, which means that most of my friends were on the pill — and if we’d had to go through our parents to get it, we probably wouldn’t have. That’s the stupidest part of this whole thing, that the most frequent service provided by PP isn’t abortions, it’s the methods we use to avoid ever needing one. (But even if 97%, rather than 3%, of PP’s services were abortion services, I’d still support their right to exist and deserve government funding.)
I don’t take birth control anymore since transitioning from bisexuality to lesbianism in my mid-20s, but I still go to Planned Parenthood for my exams because I trust them not to stigmatize my sexual history and to be sensitive to the needs of a queer patient. But mostly, I don’t know what I would’ve done without them as a teenager, and I’m petrified to live in a world where girls like me won’t have those options.
Regina Phalange, A-Camper, 25*
Planned Parenthood Locations: Isabella Health Center
To understand this story, you have to realize the following things about me: 1. I’m a very sex positive, open kind of person with very little embarrassment about anything most of the time, and 2. before the beginning of this story, I’d had really mediocre sex for two years. It was very sad but unavoidable at the time. So, when I started having awesome sex, there was an adjustment period and I was definitely confused about a couple things. The main one being: squirting. I had heard about squirting, and seen it in porn but had read a lot of things that kind of indicated that it was not real, and I really bought into that. The fact that it was not happening in my own life likely had a lot to do with that.
So! I start dating current girlfriend and start having really large amounts of really good sex. No complaints there. But then I start… doing something unfamiliar. I wonder if it is this squirting thing I’ve heard of but I’m still fairly certain that’s not real. I start to freak out and wonder if something is wrong with me, because that’s the person I am. Eventually, I make a doctor’s appointment with my GP, who’s a very kind, but apparently not very “with-it” older woman. I describe it to her and she seems concerned, refers me to a specialist. I am more terrified, but don’t want to go to the specialist. My girlfriend seems totally calm and hasn’t commented on anything and I wonder if I should just go to Planned Parenthood since I have heard they are good at having real talks about things. So I go, and the doctor I see is in her 20s, with straight brown hair, no makeup, and kind of a run-ragged air about her. I tell her what’s going on. She pauses and starts to tell me it could be a few things. I interrupt her and ask “Is it squirting? Is that real??” She looks relieved, probably because she really didn’t want to explain squirting to a 25 year old woman, and says yes, that’s what it sounds like. She assures me that I’m fine and goes on to tell me there are a few studies that are kind of inconclusive but that what really matters is my own experience. We talk about some of the various studies that have been done, because I figure as long as I’m there I should have some fun shop talk. We have a good conversation and get comfortable and she tells me to enjoy it, cause there a lot of people who desperately wish they could squirt. It’s a weird thing to hear from a medical provider but I’m strangely OK with it since, as mentioned, I don’t have a lot of boundaries. I walk out feeling kind of dumb for not understanding my body, but also pretty smug because fuck yeah body, let’s keep working together.
*Name has been changed.
Julie Goldman, Comedian and A-Camp Talent
Without Planned Parenthood I would never have been able to remove a tumor from my puss. I don’t need birth control and I’ve never been pregnant. What I needed was low-cost subsidized care at a time when I didn’t have health insurance or an extra penny in the bank. They gave me medical attention and care and are the one place a woman and gay women and couples and all people can go without feeling judged, while being helped for a myriad of issues, the least being abortion.
Liz, Autostraddle Reader, 24
Planned Parenthood Locations: Margaret Sanger Center, Southern Finger Lakes
When I was 14 an older cousin told me about Planned Parenthood saying “If you ever need birth control or anything, you can trust the doctors there.” Ten years later, we now both work at Planned Parenthood.
The first time I ever went to Planned Parenthood I was 19 and after learning a partner had an STI, I suddenly realized that being a queer lady didn’t make me immune to STIs or HIV. I basically ran to my local Planned Parenthood in New York City in tears. I felt stupid and vulnerable and too ashamed to go to my campus’s health center. The Planned Parenthood staff very compassionately told me that since I didn’t have an appointment it would be a long wait. After bursting into even more tears, their staff referred me to a local clinic that usually serves gay men and gave me supplies and literature on safer queer sex. Even though I didn’t receive healthcare at PPNYC, the respect and compassion from their staff made me feel incredibly safe and cared for. Three years later, I spent every Saturday volunteering at Planned Parenthood of New York City’s health center, and I recently moved upstate to Ithaca and landed a position working for Planned Parenthood as Director of Public Affairs for Planned Parenthood of the Southern Finger Lakes — the first PP in New York State to offer LGBTQ-specific healthcare and education. Planned Parenthood has provided me with health care and education, given me a purpose and a fight I’m passionate about, and introduced me to an amazing community of activists. I am proud to stand with Planned Parenthood and always will be.
Maddie, Contributing Editor, 24
Planned Parenthood Location: Southeastern PA
I have never been to Planned Parenthood, but just knowing it’s there makes me feel slightly less terrified of the moment in less than two years when I’m no longer covered by my dad’s health insurance. I stand with Planned Parenthood because it provides the type of care that should be the norm, not the exception, and I dream of a world where access to good nonjudgmental patient-driven care is treated as a human right, not as a commodity, and not something that can be legislated away.
KaeLyn, Contributing Editor, 32
Planned Parenthood Location: Central and Western New York
I never had to go to a Planned Parenthood as a client because there wasn’t one in the county I grew up in. I went to our small county health clinic for my birth control, instead, sneaking behind my parents’ backs to get birth control pills. But I might as well have gone to Planned Parenthood. The vast majority of their services are preventative care. Years later, after college, I worked at a Planned Parenthood affiliate in upstate New York in the public affairs department. I cut my teeth as a (paid) community organizer and advocate at that job. I discovered and embraced reproductive justice. I met some of the fiercest feminist activists. And I walked through screeching protesters every day on my way in, which you get used to as a staff member, honestly. But it never got easier for the patients, who were there for their birth control or exam or STD test or to have an abortion. Some patients would give the protesters the finger. Some would try to hide their face. Some would cry. We had clinic escorts who met patients outside and provided a friendly face. Our facilities manager put up tall hedges at the entrance to create a literal barrier. But there was no way to escape the shame and stigma being hurled through those bullhorns.
It doesn’t baffle me that we are still fighting for Planned Parenthood, because the vocal minority who values religious ideals over people’s lives is still out there. Shouting. Hurling shame and stigma. However, I’m tired. I’m tired of having to fight for the basic right to healthcare, for people to be able to make their own medical decisions without government interference, and for an organization that just wants to provide life-saving, life-affirming healthcare. I wish we could stop talking about reproductive healthcare as a polarizing political issue. No other healthcare area is politicized like this and it has everything to do with sexism and patriarchy.
I hope for the day when cultural stigma around abortion is gone, when sexual healthcare is as straightforward and apolitical as going to the dentist, and Planned Parenthood can do their work in peace.
Emily, A-Camper, 28
Rebel Girls is a column about women’s studies, the feminist movement, and the historical intersections of both of them. It’s kind of like taking a class, but better – because you don’t have to wear pants. To contact your professor privately, email carmen at autostraddle dot com. Ask questions about the lesson in the comments!