A Box of Bracelets

Tesla Cariani, CSWGS Postdoctoral Fellow

What I remember most vividly are the strands of tiny glass beads. A wooden box of them glimmered faintly on our bookshelf for years. They were the remnants of my cousin’s days spent in a psychiatric unit where crafting is one way to pass the time.* She would later tell me she attempted suicide because whenever she closed her eyes, she would see images of hell—nightmares of fire and brimstone that she couldn’t seem to shake. She would say she was terrified of coming out to her Catholic mother and that fear had made her feel reckless with her own body—and with men. 

Photo by mollycakes.

My cousin’s time in the hospital is also my first memory of abortion. When I was 8 or maybe 9, my cousin sought an abortion at a local Planned Parenthood. Due to persistent heavy bleeding, my mom went to make sure my cousin was okay. My mom was called in because she was close, an atheist, and always fierce in her support of abortion access. But I did not know any of this at the time. It wasn’t until a few months later that we would visit my cousin in the hospital, leaving with handfuls of beaded bracelets. Though my cousin’s abortion preceded her stay in a psychiatric unit, the two are linked in my mind as if no time passed. For me, there is no separation, and the stakes have always been clear.

In the wake of Roe v. Wade, I find myself returning to this first memory—a memory from before I came out myself and well before I became embedded in activism and reproductive justice. I turn this memory over like the strands of beads spiraling in on each other. I wonder why it is this story, out of the many I have lived and could tell, that feels most present even though it is also the haziest. 

My cousin’s experience informed my early understanding of the world around me. I learned that abortion and LGBTQ+ issues are two sides of one coin. It was not the medical procedure itself that gave rise to relentless nightmares but the ongoing rhetoric that casts both abortion and queerness as immoral, unnatural, a sin. I also learned that isolation and shame can be as dangerous as lack of access for those who seek abortion services. 

But on an embodied level, it is that feeling of worry just below the skin that I recognize as familiar in this current moment. It is the voice that wonders what would have happened if things had gone differently or if she lived elsewhere. It is a voice that knows how too often things do play out differently. 

Here in Texas in the midst of change, I worry about the additional roadblocks to abortion that queer, trans, and nonbinary people will face. Even for those who have health insurance and are able to take time off to use it, competent LGBTQ+ healthcare is elusive at best, especially so for people who experience economic precarity. Then there is the problem of disclosure. We may not wish to disclose non-monogamous relationship structures or sexual practices. When you are a patient, there is always apprehension of what other people will think or the judgements they will make. Heterosexist assumptions about gender and sexuality can make it difficult for providers to give the correct care, let alone for patients to navigate services targeted towards cis women

For those of us who can travel, costs and unpredictability during COVID exacerbate existing challenges like when a person’s photo ID does not appear to match their gender expression. Time is another factor. For trans and nonbinary people who take testosterone, awareness of a pregnancy can be delayed. Though testosterone often stops a period from happening, it is still possible to become pregnant. And we know that any lag time in identifying a pregnancy can impact the feasibility or complications arising from different types of abortions.

I think, too, about how the political landscape has already begun reifying binary gender in national discourse around abortion, and I worry about the fallout from such exclusions. I worry about worrying. 

When we worry, it is usually as a means of anticipating harm, trying to prepare for all possible future outcomes. There can be an inertia to the act of worrying that immobilizes response in an endless, anxious spiral. But there is also a persistence to worrying as a verb—like pushing against a loose tooth or when a dog worries a bone. And perhaps such dogged persistence will unearth more stories, objects, or memories of bracelets that lie buried in our families and communities. I wonder what else we might find.

*Note: story shared with permission.