Friday, May 31, 2019

Bad Religion is a Much Better Band than Bad Faith - Snapshots from Days 24-31 as an Escort at a Women's Clinic

(Escort names have been changed to protect their anonymity. Opinions below are mine and do not necessarily reflect those of the leaders who run our team. In other words, if you have an issue with something I've written, talk to me. Absolutely feel free to share. Links to previous entries in this series: Start here with Day 1. Day 2. Day 3. Day 4. Day 5. Day 6. Day 7. Day 8. Days 9/10/11. Day 12. Day 13.  Day 14. Days 15/16. Day 17. Days 18/19/20. Days 21/22/23.)

(writer's note: please accept my apologies for the long stretch of time between posts. If the material isn't there there's not much I can but wait until there's something to write about. Despite the claims of the protesters, I don't make stuff up. Also, my fellow escorts are awesome. If you're interested in being an escort please search for a local team or hit me up and I can help you go in the right direction. Thanks for reading and feel free to spread these essays far and wide - Kit)

(Day 31)
"So you say terrible things about our President, say he's bad and evil, yet you're down here helping people murder babies, what does that say about you?"

I love the smell of logical fallacies in the morning. Smells like . . . ignorance.

It's a miserable morning outside the clinic. The rain is steady and, aided by the wind, coming in sideways. Despite an umbrella the left side of my body is soaked fifteen minutes into the shift, my third as a team leader. Others have much more effective rain gear and I'm not going to dwell on my extremely poor choice of footwear. At least it's not too chilly. Plus the Pride flag I'm using as a cape keeps flapping up near one of their speakers.

I helpfully point out Alex's mistake, an assessment he doesn't agree with. For the next ten minutes or so I try to have a serious debate with him, which is *my* mistake. Sure, it keeps him from yet another droning monologue on his loudspeaker, but it also serves as a reminder of the folly of attempting to have rationale discourse with the protesters. It's simply not possible.

Why? It's not necessarily an intelligence issue (although it might be) but rather a spiritual one. They consider their belief in the Bible and all things it contains to be factual. Adam and Eve, Noah's Ark, Lot's wife turning into a pillar of salt . . . they flat out believe these things happened because a poorly written book tells them so. Hence, every discussion shared with them starts in bad faith on their end. They won't accept any facts or logic that are at loggerheads with their beliefs. When they have no legitimate rebuttal they fall back on their version of  'A wizard did it!' It's wearisome.

Alex and I go back and forth for a while as he does his best to lay semantic bear traps. Later one of the escorts stationed up the street asks me what was going on, since she could only hear the part of the conversation being broadcast over his loudspeaker. Lots of 'no,' and 'you're wrong,' both of which are better than moral parables and judgmental rants.

It's a fair trade-off. I'll take it.

* * *

(Day 30)
"All women *always* regret having abortions for the rest of their lives."

That's right, females of the world, a man is here at the clinic to tell you what you think and how you feel.

Aren't you relieved?

Early morning showers have given way to something acceptable, pleasantly warm and dry as the sun keeps trying to break through. It's my fourth shift as a team leader and with a crew of seasoned vets today I'm feeling pretty relaxed, despite the increased saltiness of the protesters. One of their higher-ups is here today - maybe the Northeast Regional Overseer or however they rank themselves in their weird little cult - and the regulars are peacocking around, trying to impress him. It would be sort of adorable, like goslings around a goose, if the bile they're all spewing wasn't so repulsive.

"Are you going to go home and post about this on social media, m'aam? Are you going to put this up on Facebook?"

The woman who exited the clinic stops and looks back at him. "I'm sixty years old. What is it you think I'm here for?"

NRO (I know his name, but since his ego desperately wants attention I'm going to eschew mentioning it) ignores her response and continues trying to shame her, working his online angle like a dog gnawing a bone. His tone drips condescension and as he drones on during his second turn on the loudspeaker it becomes somewhat obvious that he *likes* this, likes being in this role, with others kowtowing to him as he berates women via amplification. There's nothing new or witty about his approach - same old tired tropes, same old shaming tactics.

"These deathscorts are out here laughing and giggling at you, they think what you're going through is funny."

It's true, we have been laughing a lot today. I'm running an experienced and amicable crew, or rather it's running itself, and the protesters have been particularly incongruous. Still, we're mindful of our surroundings - nobody is cracking up while we're bringing someone in or escorting them out. We understand the gravitas of what's happening, of what the patients and their companions are going through, and aren't going to belittle it in any way.

Once they're safely delivered, though? Damn right we're going to laugh in the faces of the cultists who were just crowding us, screaming horrible things, waving gruesome and misleading posters. For f*cks sake, Alex is carrying one that says, "EVOLUTION IS A HOAX."

How do we *not* laugh?

* * *

(Day 27)
"Why do you have to try to tie homosexuality in with murdering babies?"

It appears that the protesters aren't fond of our new rainbow vests.

The warm-up we've been promised didn't appear to get the memo about making an appearance and instead we have a bone-achingly cold morning. I'm extremely humbled and honored that the kick-ass warriors who lead our escorting group have decided that I'm worthy enough to be promoted to team leader, and nervous energy is doing its best to keep me warm as I make my debut in that role. I've gotten the first part down - I showed up with bagels and hot chocolate - but now it's time for juggling the tricky tasks of spotting incoming patients, getting them through, and not losing my cool with the cultists clogging the sidewalk.

And clogging they are. There's a whole slew of them and they've been pushing the envelope lately by using their signs to make getting by as difficult and traumatic as possible. They're not straight-up blocking the door - they know better than that - but they push in from all sides, either shaming patients for making a choice with their own bodies or begging them to keep the baby with promises of support and aid. For the latter, all you need do is join the cult. What could possibly go wrong?

Parker is standing behind me by the door, his balaclava askew as he mutters in my general direction. The Pride flag I'm wearing as a cape is irritating him, as usual, so he's telling me that I'm just wearing it for attention before launching into a 'fake news' rant.

Is he right? Sort of. First and foremost it's to show support. We have LGBTQ members on our team, and if you'd like to hear Jesus' teachings twisted and perverted beyond belief stop by when the protesters know we've got, in their words, 'one of them' out here. They're even more vicious if a pair of partners are on duty. They lead with a bad faith argument - apparently the theme of this post - in that they, the protesters, are the good people here because they want to 'help' the homosexuals. They want to make them see 'the error of their ways' and to find salvation in Jesus.

It's an approach that sounds chillingly like the base tenets of the loathsome 'gay conversation therapy' that has been rightfully getting banned in states all over the country. That's not surprising when given the knowledge that the lawyer Luis used to battle a harassment charge was the same one who was the legal representation for a couple who tried to get GCT overturned in New Jersey so they'd have the right to have their child legally tortured. It underlines what appears to be their outlook - you don't get to make choices. Only God does. If that's the case, then hasn't God or Jesus or St. Somebody already made the celestial decision for that person? Indeed, aren't they invoking wrath by questioning their savior's plan?

So to answer the query that started this section - because hatred is hatred, and it needs to be fought at every level, no matter what gender or orientation it's being directed against.

Plus the vests look pretty cool.

* * *

(Day 29)
"Yeah, you know, you're so proud of Planned Parenthood, do you even know about the founder?"

Oh, boy. Here we go again.

There was a time when I thought Alex was a little smarter than the rest of the protesters. Maybe he is, but after repeated exposure to his rhetoric I've come to realize he's more akin to a jukebox that's no longer can be opened to change the contents inside - it's just the same limited playlist, over and over, never changing, never evolving. Definitely one from some good ole' boy diner in Alabama or Georgia, where they're evidently trying to become Gilead. I have no doubt the protesters will be cackling with glee over those soon-to-be-quashed laws, bits of ridiculous jurisdiction created solely to be struck down and used against Roe v. Wade. They'll say their joy is because of the babies, but we know the truth - it's about more agency over women.

Am I making it up? I could ask some of the women the protesters allow to preach on their speakers - if there had actually been one in the two-plus years I've been doing this.

"Yeah, this guy should do some research into Margaret Sanger, he'd find out she was all about eugenics."

This raises the question - are Alex and the others willfully ignorant of the truth, or do they just believe what they're told without doing the research themselves? It doesn't matter, I suppose. The disinformation about Sanger was exposed as a hoax years ago, yet still the protesters try to beat this drum (the clinic we escort at isn't Planned Parenthood anyway, but the cultists seem to forget that from time to time). The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, yet still they slander an organisation that provides healthcare - not just abortions - to millions of women by touting a discredited story and ignoring the truths about Sanger and her life.

This can be applied to the 'picture' of Sanger at a KKK rally as well, which was also patently faked. So eager to strike down anyone who might champion the right for women to have control over their own bodies, the protesters will take quotes by people such as Dr. Martin Luther King and twist them out of context for their placards. Words may be better than being forced to see images magnified hundreds or thousands of times, but that doesn't make them any more truthful. When Parker offers his wildly inaccurate fetal development timeline (usually multiple times during each turn on the mike - it's his oratory version of comfort food) it's not just a mistake - it's deliberate misinformation, dangerous and misleading.

"There's a professor, Richard Lewontin, he's one of the leaders of evolutionary biology, and he says that scientists 'cannot allow a Divine foot in the door' when it comes to finding material explanations in the world. Think about that!"

Okay, Alex. Let's do that.

This is a textbook example of how the protesters attempt to twist and manipulate actual science to support their religious beliefs. The statements he's shouting about are from an article written in a pro-creationist magazine dated over twenty years ago. Is Alex aware that Lewontin's words are taken from . . . a book review? Probably not - the 'magazine' footnotes it but doesn't provide a link, increasing the likelihood that readers would never bother to do the research.

But let's think, as Alex says. Forget for the moment that the quote is taken out of context, and instead view it as it's presented. 'Cannot allow a Divine foot in the door.' For the cultists, it's proof that science a the foe of religion and further stokes their fervent desire to view themselves as persecuted, their beliefs viewed with unfair perspective. In truth, isn't it a viewpoint that has enabled us to grow and thrive as a species? The death toll from diseases has steadily declined as cures/vaccinations are developed and implemented. It's a certainty that solutions weren't discovered the first time, the second time, or even the one-hundredth time the issue was approached. What might have happened if they'd embraced Alex's viewpoint? "Well, we tried, but we haven't figured it out yet so it must be God's will that people are dying from Disease X. Let's not try to find a cure anymore."

That is a dangerous, chilling approach to science and, truth be told, to life as well. Scientific discovery is about trial and error, about failure and persistence. It's not about hitting a setback and being allowed to say, "I don't know why we haven't been able to isolate that pathogen yet, so I guess it's supernatural in nature." Science deals in facts, not bad faith arguments. Do the protesters pause, even for a second, as they take a pill for high blood pressure or get a flu shot, and consider that they are being spared sickness and/or death because a scientist somewhere refused to believe the answer they were seeking was something divine?

::sigh:: I know the answer.

* * *

(Day 31)
"Billy. C'mon now, Billy. You know what you need to do, Billy. You need to be a man now, Billy."

And thus we reach the portion of a shift where the protesters actively try to goad someone into committing physical violence.

Sherlock, aka the Queen of the Sidewalk, is running the team today and I'm content to be nothing more than just the guy on the door. The weather gods have finally decided to bestow a nice Spring morning on us, and for the first time in a while sunscreen had to be broken out in our prep room. The ranks of the protesters are swollen today with a number of older folks I haven't seen before, including one particularly charming fellow who offers such discourse as, 'It's Summer, let's murder babies!' Everything he says to a woman ends with either 'sweetheart' or 'honey.' He brags about the stories that he tells his grandkids and my skin crawls a bit at the thought of him being allowed near children. "Hi, Grandpa! I lost a tooth! Wanna see?" "Sure, but first let me tell you how I slutshamed some whores at the murder mill today!"

Billy is a young guy, late teens or early twenties. He keeps coming back outside, either to feed the meters or have a smoke, and once he showed he was either too nice or too laid back to shoo the protesters away they latched onto him like leeches on a swimmer's leg. When he wanders down the sidewalk a couple follow him, rattling away while he nods absently. There's not much we as escorts can do in that situation - unlike the protesters, we recognize that patients and companions are adults that respect that they have the right to make their own decisions about their lives.

The cultists? Not so much.

"Be a man, Billy. Don't be feminine like the guy standing next to you."

He glances over at me, chuckling. Either he agrees with their assessment or is laughing at the absurdity of the statement, but either way he shakes his head and takes a long drag. It's not a great idea for him to stand in front of the doors like this, but I'm loathe to shoo him away and have him out there in the thick of them again. At times he seems like he might be paying attention what they're saying, but so far they haven't seen the results they're hoping for. It's not the first time I've observed them working on a companion like this, calling him 'Dad' and trying to shame him into doing something potentially dangerous, but today it feels like there's an extra bit of venom in their patter.

"Billy, you know what you need to do. Go up there, grab her by the hand, and drag her out of that place. Do it, Billy!"

And there it is. I blink a few times behind my sunglasses, processing what I've just heard. No respect for a woman's sovereignty over her own body, no respect for law. Drag her out, as if she's an unruly toddler who won't sit still during Mass. Assault her, forcibly remove her against her will, force her to bear to term a pregnancy she doesn't want. This is the true face of the anti-choice protesters, and it's an ugly one. I keep silent because it's not my right to tell Billy what to do with his life, but you can be damn sure if he nods his head and goes in under a full head of steam I'm going to give the security guard a heads-up.

After a few tense seconds, Billy dons an 'aw shucks' grin and waves a hand in their direction. "Nah, I'm not gonna do that. I can't afford any more child support. Unless you want to pay it?"

There are no takers, and Billy shrugs while stubbing out his cigarette before slipping inside without a word. Later, when he emerges with the patient he arrived with, the protesters' previous demeanor towards him takes a markedly sullen turn. His smile at their attempts to further shame him with their disappointment causes one to yell out, "You won't be smiling in Hell!"

Since he won't be forced to smile from the prison he'd have been sent to if he'd listened to them today and attacked someone,  I guessing that dire proclamation won't have much effect on Billy. Flanked by a pair of escorts, Billy and the patient head towards their car, holding hands.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Be Like Willie

(name changed to protect the identity of a minor)

You might have a difficult task before you right now, or perhaps looming in the near future. Something daunting, terrifying, seemingly impossible. Formidable. Staggering. Intimidating. A challenge you don't want but can't avoid.

I'm going to try to help.

I'm going to tell you about Willie.

7:40, Sunday morning at a rink in northern NJ. I have an 8am game and am the only person in the referee locker room, almost ready to go. The door starts to open and I catch a glimpse of a mother for a second before something pulls it shut again.

A few moments pass before there's a knock. I say to come in. The door opens again and a young girl enters, decked out in a full kit of reffing gear. She's a wee slip of a thing, tiny, with a sheet of white-blond hair hanging down one side of her face. The woman I glimpsed and assume to be her mother has followed her in and is standing quietly off to the side. I smile as benignly as possible.

The girl unshoulders her bag, plops down in a seat, and pulls out her skates. "Hi! This is my first time reffing." There's a pause. "I'm kind of nervous."

Indeed, she looks very much so. Doing my best to set her at ease, we launch into conversation. She's eleven years old but small for her age. She plays PeeWee hockey and has been skating since she could walk. She passed the online test, watched all the videos, attended the seminar. Now it's time for her first game, and she's a little scared.

The assigner has given her half-ice Mites, which is the perfect place for her to start. Technically it's the *only* place she can start, since she has to be at least two years older than the kids she's officiating for. Generally, reffing half-ice Mites is a task akin to herding rambunctious puppies. There's no offsides, no icings, no checking, no real penalties. Still, that doesn't make it any less important of a job. She's responsible for the safety of a few dozen kids while attempting to teach them the rules of the game and trying to make sure they have fun  - all at the same time.

The other two refs arrive - one to work with me and the other to work the other half of the ice with Willie ("My name's Wilhemina, but I prefer Willie, if that's okay") - and her mom senses that her daughter is going to be okay. She leaves without making a scene, letting her know she'll be there watching. Willie asks me for advice, which is a bit humorous as I've only had my crest for three months, but I give her what others were kind enough to teach me: Be decisive. Be confident. Err on the side of caution. Hustle, hustle, hustle. Keep your head on a swivel. Deescalate. Have fun.

I check my phone. It's time. She asks me which route she should take to her rink and I offer to walk her over while her partner finishes getting ready. At Rink 3 the Mites are waiting, eager, itching to get out on the ice. She's not quite ready to head out yet - she wants to wait for the other guy to arrive. The coaches look over at her and offer smiles, which she returns. She spots her mom along the boards and waves.Yeah, she's going to be fine.

This story might have a much more satisfying ending if I could hang around and watch how she does (or lie about it), but I have my own game to get to. That's not really the point, anyway. I don't know which particular dragon you have to slay and I'm not here to belittle either it or your discomfort in handling it. I'm here to say I watched an undersized eleven-year-old girl face something that frightened her in order to step into a new world that most kids her age wouldn't dream of being able to attempt.

Willie did it.

I bet you can as well.

Go do it.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Summertime and the Lying is Easy - Snapshots from my Twenty-First, Twenty-Second, and Twenty-Third Days as an Escort at a Women's Clinic

(Escort names have been changed to protect their anonymity. Opinions below are mine and do not necessarily reflect those of the leaders who run our team. In other words, if you have an issue with something I've written, talk to me. Absolutely feel free to share. Links to previous entries in this series: Start here with Day 1. Day 2. Day 3. Day 4. Day 5. Day 6. Day 7. Day 8. Days 9/10/11. Day 12. Day 13.  Day 14. Days 15/16. Day 17. Days 18/19/20.)

(Day 21)
"They're going after them again. Watch the door. I'll be right back."

With that, my Team Leader darts across the street, weaving through traffic.

The Mean Girls are stalking a couple and Ronnie's had enough.

It's hot and humid, the default setting for this summer, and I wipe sweat from my brow as I watch Ronnie make it to the other side. One of the usual Mean Girls - Sad Eyes - showed up this morning with a friend sporting some sort of hat - trilby, fedora, I don't know, I'm no expert - and together they've been super aggressive so far. Their ranks are further bolstered by a young couple - her with long hair in tight cornrows and a propensity to hold her protest sign upside down; him tall, awkward, and given to low-talking in my general vicinity so that I'm not sure if he's trying to engage me in conversation or chatting with himself. He moves about five feet away and begins mumbling what sounds like an inner monologue, questioning how I could do what I'm doing and so on. At times I can make out questions but he never pauses, so I don't know if I'm supposed to respond or not. He seems satisfied to ramble on uninterrupted, so at least one of us is interested in what he has to say.

The subject of Ronnie's concern is a young couple with an apparently shaky grasp of English who had the protesters set upon them like a pack of starved hyenas the first time they tried to approach the clinic. While we've been blessed with a lack of The Runner the Bread of Life gang has more than taken up the confrontational mantle in her absence. Spooked by the yelling and perhaps not comprehending that the people in the pink vests are here to help, the couple turns around and retreats, disappearing around a distant corner. After a while they try coming in from a different direction but once again flee after being spotted.

Now they're across the street, walking past the Mushrooms and the other Catholics. They keep looking in this direction, clearly wanting to come over but intimidated by the religious mob. Sad Eyes and Bad Hat peel off from the group and head over, and seeing them buttonholed is what sets Ronnie off. There's a animated conversation, words drowned out by distance, traffic, and the droning of the shouter currently on speaker. After a bit the couple crosses the street with Ronnie, but pause by the southern corner of the block. About thirty seconds later one of the security guards, an ex-cop who radiates calm and professionalism but also clearly isn't interested in taking shit from anyone, emerges from the clinic and makes his way down. Flanked by three escorts and the guard, the pair finally makes their way inside.

As I shut the door behind them Ronnie takes up the post opposite me, and for the first time in several sessions of having had her as my team leader I spot actual anger in her eyes. She shakes her head, glaring in the direction of the Mean Girls.

"They were lying! Flat out lying! They told her the procedure is very painful, and that the discomfort lasts for days! That's not true." Ronnie takes one deep breath, then another. "Sorry. I was already upset with the way they were hounding them but when I got over there and heard what they were saying, well . . ." She trails off with a wave of her hand.

Mumbles comes back over near me and starts up again, but is quickly drowned out by a produce truck that has pulled up to supply the restaurant next door.

That's okay. I'm sure I can guess what his message is.

* * *

(Day 22)
"There's murder going on behind those doors! Babies are being murdered and you Deathscorts are out here because Satan is your father! Satan was the first murderer! Oh, he's a murderer, the very worst!"

Is he, though?

Over my past few shifts I've been trying to lessen the amount of interaction I have with the protesters. Pseudo-debates littered with their logical fallacies and outright falsehoods are pointless in the first place, and aside from distraction engaging with them seems foolhardy. It can be frustrating to let their grandiose lies go unchecked or to ignore when they project and refer to *me* as 'fake news,' but that's not why I'm out here. We escorts are essentially their only audience - their sermons are unintelligible in the waiting room, a vague murmur easily drowned out by a TV. When they're bragging about someone from a year ago who changed their mind and had the baby instead, it seems clear that their shaming and harassment tactics have an extremely high failure rate on their own and don't need me shooting my mouth off.

Still . . .

For people who refer to and quote the Bible CONSTANTLY they seem to have curious gaps of knowledge, intentional or not. Despite the fact I'm certainly no scholar of the Scriptures, Parker's statement about Satan's murderous ways seems off to me. It's late in the morning on another scorcher and there's not a patient in sight, so I figure that maybe it's okay to relent just a little.

It's not, but I do it anyway.

"Who did Satan kill?"

Parker pauses in his oration, donning a smirk. "Have you never heard of Job's children?"

"Yes, but he was commanded by God to do that, no? In that insane bet where they destroy Job's life, torture him, kill his kids, and so on? Was he supposed to not obey God?" If I'd been more well-versed I would have remembered that the kids got resurrected anyway. Mea culpa.

There's a pause that draws out as Parker is clearly trying to bring up other instances of Satan murdering but perhaps finding himself unable to do so. I wait patiently. When the silence is broken it's not Parker but rather Alex, who's sidled up near my elbow.

"Satan crawled into Judas' heart and caused him to betray Jesus, which led to Christ being murdered by the Romans."

I tilt my head and give him the hairy eyeball before turning back to Parker. "So, anything else?"

He pulls his mike back in front of his mouth. "Satan is a liar, the greatest of liars, much like you and your fake news."

I lean back against the wall as he takes off on another tangent. It appears that Satan is not the serial killer they've made him out to be.

Wonder if there's any other people they falsely name 'murderers.' Hmm.

* * *

(Day 22)
"Look at this guy, out here trying to get attention. Just like when he puts all that fake news in his little blog."

The anti-choice folk are not fond of my new cape.

I must give credit where credit is due. Evan, one of my fellow escorts, showed up a few weeks ago wearing a Pride flag as a cape. The fashionable clothing he sports draws their ire in and of itself, but the flag proved an absolute lightning rod. It seemed logical to get one of my own to show support for his bravery and strength.

So I did. 

I've become aware that Pride flag capes are extremely useful in a number of ways. For instance, it hangs down far enough in the back to protect my legs from harmful UV rays. You become a better beacon for people trying to find the clinic entrance - 'Walk toward the guy with the rainbow.' Also, it turns out that if you hold the flag with the same hand of the arm you extend out, it forms a barrier that's difficult to get cult-related propaganda past. Hard to see though as well. All in all, a pretty handy bit of apparel.

"Hey. I gotta show you something."

When Alex says something like that while reaching into his backpack, there could be cause for alarm. However, it turns out he just wants to accessorize as well. 

"So, does this make you angry?" He's sporting a large grin as he pulls out a MAGA hat.

I frown. "I mean, it does in the sense that it exists at all and because of the idiot it stands for, but I'd always figured you folks as Trump voters."

He shakes his head as he zips his bag up. "I didn't vote for Trump."

That's right. He's told me that before. He's a Cruz guy, which is somehow worse. "Then why do you have the hat?"

Alex flashes a smile. "To trigger you guys," he says as he waves it in my direction. With that he heads off down the street to try to provoke the pair of escorts stationed there.

Yes, *I'm* the one looking for attention.

* * *

(Day 23)
"Take a look at all these deathscorts out here and what do you see? They're all white! They're here to help murder black babies! What does that say about them?"

87, 84, 88.

When Parker blows his racist dog whistle, he blows it with volume.

I'm not ruffled by Parker's tirade - while I haven't conducted a detailed analysis on the ethnic breakdown of today's team, he never trots out this tripe when we have obvious PoC in our ranks. The more pressing issue is the noise level, particularly for someone like me who spends most of the morning directly in front of the speakers worn by the screamers. It's amazing that such little boxes can be so effective at amplifying hate and ignorance, which just goes to prove not all technological advances are good ones.

"Any doctor will tell you that at conception all the baby's parts are there!"

88, 83, 87.

Maybe he thinks that if you tell a ridiculous and easily disproved lie loudly enough that magically makes it true?

As per this study, exposure to a decibel level over 85 is considered unhealthy. I've installed a sound meter on my phone and the results are somewhat disturbing. He's regularly spiking over 85 today and it doesn't feel like he's got his amp turned up as high as it usually is. A few shifts ago the police showed up early to tell Hinton he had to turn his speaker down, but aside from the visit by the health inspector/noise control who showed up during a convenient-and-not-at-all-suspicious lull by the screamers the protesters generally crank their speakers as high as they'll go without creating feedback. Since city ordinances allow them to begin using amps at 8 o'clock those of us stationed in front of the doors are exposed three hours of listening to the equivalent of a power drill.

Is it sad that I'd prefer the screeching of the tool?

"Adultery, fornication, blasphemy, homosexuality, you're going to have to stand before God for your sins!"

89, 86, 92.

Spreading the word of Jesus through threats and intimidation tactics brings Parker to the level of a hair dryer, which seems appropriate given the amount of hot air he's blowing around. It makes for a wonderful juxtaposition a few minutes later when he winds down and, with a fortuitous break in traffic, we're given a few moments of relative silence.

Moments later the cars are rushing by again and the moment is gone. It was nice while it lasted.

* * *

(Day 23)
"See, that sign above the entrance - 'Reproductive Rights Center' - that's a lie. There's nothing 'reproductive' going on in there, there's nothing but children being slaughtered."

The Pastor believes this, I think. Not sure if his ignorance is due to being na├»ve or harboring a willingness to remain in that state, but either way it's wrong. Indeed, they do provide abortions. Pretty damn up front about it on their website. Of course, it also lists all of the other services they offer, from birth control to checkups and so on, but that doesn't fit the Pastor's agenda and so he isn't talked about.

Instead he's on a lengthy diatribe about the Creation myth which, judging by his comments, he believes to be true. That humans came from an all-powerful being who made them to be pets and kept them ignorant. That genetic evidence be damned, we all came from the same two people. That a serpent made us be bad, although if Adam and Eve never got 'knowledge' then how would there have ever been other people?

He believes in a fairy tale - a bad one - and wants to use it and other ridiculous stories to force other people to live their lives the way he thinks they should. I cannot be the only person who finds that frightening. They way they lie and try to twist scientific fact to support their groundless positions is alarming - wrap yourself in your faith and you're justified. You're doing God's work by spreading his word. Is it still considered spreading if you're trying to ram it down someone's throat? Or using it to wrap them up in chains they want no part of?

That's a question I don't bother asking. I don't need a fruit from the Tree of Knowledge to know that answer.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

I Don't Want to Belong to Any Club That Would Accept Me as One of Their Members - Snapshots from my Eighteenth, Nineteenth, and Twentieth Days as an Escort at a Women's Clinic

(Escort names have been changed to protect their anonymity. Opinions below are mine and do not necessarily reflect those of the leaders who run our team. In other words, if you have an issue with something I've written, talk to me. Absolutely feel free to share. Links to previous entries in this series: Start here with Day 1. Day 2. Day 3. Day 4. Day 5. Day 6. Day 7. Day 8. Days 9/10/11. Day 12. Day 13.  Day 14. Days 15/16. Day 17.)

(Day 19)
"You know, I'm not surprised that you brought that up, probably because you found it on Google."

After a miserable Spring the weather is finally gorgeous - a perfect day to be doing something, anything, other than dealing with the crew of protesters outside the women's clinic in Englewood. For the first time in several shifts I start the morning out on the wing, but as we hit the halfway point Lexi has moved me back in by the door to give the guy who'd been there a break from the screamers. Alex is quick to renew our acquaintance, so to speak, and quick to pounce when I mention that the current screamer is violating Biblical law by wearing clothes woven with more than one fabric.

"See, you're wrong, and I'll tell you why." He's not shouting and his voice is earnest. This is clearly something he deeply believes in. "The Ten Commandments, those are God's ultimate laws, and they always apply. What you brought up was part of the laws for the Israelites, and those don't apply anymore."

I *am* wrong, at least according to the unknown (to me) tenets of his religious sect. It seems like yet another case of Biblical cherry-picking at work, wherein they adhere to what they like and ignore the rest, but getting into deep discussion of the true meaning behind Leviticus 19:19 or Deuteronomy 22:9-11 really doesn't interest me.

Later they tell Lexi that she needs to read my blog because I'm planning on usurping her position as leader. I hadn't been planning on it but she *is* wearing socks that are clearly a blend . . .

* * *

(Day 19)
"So that's Fake News. He writes in his little blog, fills it with lies."

What, no 'Keyboard Warrior' this week? I'm hurt.

Parker and Alex are standing with someone named Don as I lean against the wall of the clinic, the former pointing in my direction. I've seen this guy around before - must be someone important to the protesters, given the way they defer to him - but if I did there was nothing memorable about the experience.

I'm always a little tickled when they refer to me as 'Fake News,' since their accusations are patently untrue. Allow me to use this space to make an offer: Protesters - the ones reading this, like you do - please feel free to call me out on anything I've written about that you think I made up. I will gladly admit that while I attempt to get our exchanges down verbatim there's no way I've gotten every word exactly correct, but I haven't lied about anything. Fire away.

"Do you know who Norman Bates is?" The question comes from Don and it takes a second to realize he's addressing me. Muttonchops is taking his time getting set up for his turn on the speaker - no complaints here - and there are no patients in sight. That's when the protesters usually target the escorts for abuse and this morning is no exception.

I want to make sure I've heard him correctly because this seems pretty far out of left field. "What?"

"Do you know who Norman Bates is?" he repeats, half-smirk already in place. This is a loaded question, no doubt, but I simply have to know where he's going with it.

"The character from Psycho? Uhm, yes."

"Yeah, he was a legend in his own mind too!" The three of them break into braying laughter as I glance over at  Lexi, nonplussed. The Queen of the Sidewalk - although by morning's end they'll have demoted her to Princess, the heartless cads - has no answer for me, offering a bewildered shrug. Was it a joke? I think it was a joke. I suppose I should treat it as a joke.

I nod for a few more seconds before barking out a laugh. "Oh, I get it!" Pause. "You think you're witty!"

From his sour expression it doesn't appear he appreciates *my* sense of humor either. A little while later he sidles up next to me. "See, it's funny because -"

I start laughing again. "You're explaining why your joke is funny? Dude. If you have to explain it . . ." I trail off and shrug as he moves away, muttering. Turns out his joke was fake news.

* * *

(Day 19)
"What? You're wrong. In fact, that's why Toys R US went out of business!"

You might need to borrow a springboard if you want to join Alex on this leap.

He's chatty today, trying to make me see the error of my ways as often as possible. It's not quite as amusing as The Runner continuing to incorrectly tell the male companions she's harassing that it's Father's Day, but at times it gets close. He's been going on about how every baby is a gift from God and how important they are, and when I mention that babies are one thing in the world there's no shortage he pounces with the line above.

Lexi and I manage to both look at each other and roll our eyes simultaneously. "That's not why, Alex. They were bought up by vulture capitalists who then rolled the debt into the company as they sold off assets and bled it dry."

"Yeah, but there being less kids is a part of it. Even a small part is a part."

There are times when you're involved in an intelligent discussion that you'd like to continue. This is not one of them.

* * *

(Day 20)
"See, you keep changing your answer! You keep moving the goalposts!"

Part of the problem with the buffer zone being gone is that there's more opportunity for interaction with the protesters. Almost invariably they try to drag you into their well-rehearsed 'logic' traps, which only count as logic if you're willing to accept that at any time they'll pull out the God card and insist that means they've won. It's even more tiresome then it sounds, and the fact that it's already above ninety degrees this morning makes it even less appealing. The guy currently trying to weave his web of words is new to me, a youngish guy who earlier was desperately trying to escape Our Lady of the Theater. He's got on black jeans and a shirt under a long-sleeved shirt, which given the heat and humidity seems like a modern version of flagellating yourself with reeds.

Josh - I think his name is Josh or Joshua or Who The Fuck Cares - is coming at me on two fronts: he wants me to admit I can't have moral objectivity without God while also demonstrating how human laws are fallible. He's trying to accomplish the latter by using slavery as an example, which is going over about as well as you'd expect. The goal is to draw a parallel to how it was morally repugnant but legal then, just like - say it with me - they consider abortion to be now. It's a facile argument at best, but one he sticks doggedly to when not veering off to ask me when a fetus becomes a human. I make the mistake of changing my opinion from the end of the second trimester to when it's viable outside the womb, which leads to a whole new attack angle that eventually follows the circular argument back to where it started, yet again.

Later I'm gently admonished by my team leader for engaging too much. It's difficult to disagree with her assessment.

* * *

(Day 19)
"Ladies, before you go in there to murder your baby let me tell you about Hagar."

My eyes widen. Really? He's going with Hagar? I'm dying to hear how Don is going to spin this one.

"Pregnant, she went off into the desert to die, but there she found God, who told her that if she worshipped him her son would have twelve sons and they would all be princes! And that's what happened!"

Ah. He's going for a full-on ridiculous version. Got it.

"Hey," I ask, "what did they become princes of?"

Don stops and stares at me. "What? Have you not heard of Abram?"

"I asked what they became princes of. A prince is royalty. I can't imagine there were twelve openings lying around waiting to be snatched up, so what exactly were they princes of?"

He stares for a moment before dismissing me with a wave. "Look it up, it's in the Bible."

It's not, though. At least not in the versions I know, which has to be taken with a grain of salt because it seems like each new branch of this cult cherry-picks and sanitizes their own version. There's a good chance their holy text does indeed grant the fantasy that they all became princes, but in any case it's a very strange choice of story to use to try to dissuade women from having a child they don't want. I mean, super bizarre. 

For those not familiar with the tale, let's take a quick and magical ride through Don's choice, which (trigger warning) features slavery, abuse, and rape. FUN. Abraham (or Abram) is in his eighties and decides he needs to sire a kid. His wife, Sarai (or Sarah), has insides that are rocky and infertile, so she offers her husband her slave Hagar (or Agar) as a brood mare. Abraham gets Hagar pregnant through what is unlikely to have be consensual sex because SLAVE but hey, he's going to have a kid so it's all good. Hagar is none too pleased about this - can't imagine why - and her attitude ticks off Sarai, who starts carping at Abraham about it. The doting father-to-be is such a good and caring person that he more or less washes his hands of the situation,  telling Sarai that it's her slave and she can handle this however she wants. Sarai 'mistreats' Hagar, which can be interpreted in a number of ways but let's assume physical and emotional abuse. THESE ARE SUCH GOOD PEOPLE.

Hagar, deciding she's better off possibly dying in the desert than staying near Sarai, flees. She meets an angel, who is *surely* not a hallucination caused by dehydration, and is told she should trust in a god that is likely not one she worhips (she's Egyptian). Her son will have 'descendants without number' which serves as enticement enough for her to go back to a horribly abusive situation. She gives birth to Ishmael and everything is great until Sarai gets pregnant (!) and has a son of her own. After catching Ishmael teasing the kid she demands that Abraham throw them out and disown his firstborn, which of course he does. With God's encouragement, no less. Are you charmed by this tale yet?

So Hagar and Ishmael go wander the desert for a while. Then Ishmael has a dozen kids who all become tribal chiefs, which seems legit for the unknown son of a slave to accomplish. Chiefs, not princes. THE END of this inspiring story.

I'm less concerned about Don exaggerating about princes than that he thinks this is a good story for changing women's minds about unwanted pregnancies. Maybe it's more effective if they're slaves.

* * *

(Day 19)
"Yeah, we do stuff for foster kids. Absolutely we do. We do."

I'm a little shocked at how unconvincing Alex sounds. I can't possibly be the first person who has asked him why he and his brethren seem to care more about unwanted zygotes than actual living, breathing children, but he seems caught off guard by the question. 

"I mean, I don't understand why you wouldn't focus your efforts on helping kids that are already alive and need a home. You keep telling patients that you have couple who would love to adopt their baby. Why not have those people do something for the kids already in need?" As he starts to formulate an answer I add, "Do you care more about the embryos than actual kids?"

"They're not embryos, they're children. And yes, they're more important to us."

I do an actual double-take. "Really? You think it's better for you to be here?"

"Absolutely. There's more of a crowd for us to spread the gospel of Jesus and help save these people from going to Hell. Like you." He looks for a second like he wants to pat me on the shoulder, but wisely does not. "I pray for you all the time."

"Okay," I say with a dismissive wave. "So what you're saying is that fetuses are more important than kids in foster care, but preaching your doctrine is what matters most?"

"Yes, because we can save more souls that way. We got to many places where there's a crowd."

So. Women struggling with a difficult decision are shamed, mocked, belittled, spoken down to, and pelted with guilt in what amounts to a recruiting effort for the protesters' particular sect of the cult they follow. Would Alex's words be echoed by his cohorts, or is this just a personal tack for his own zealotry? I try to wrap my mind around the concept of thinking that I want people to join my club so very much I'm willing to say horrible things to them, to dance as close to edge of the law as I can to impede them, to make them feel like some kind of monster. 

 I can't. I lack the faith, I suppose.

Or maybe I just don't want my own Hagar.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

The Battle for Valedictorian Must Have Been Brutal - Snapshots from my 17th Day as an Escort at a Women's Clinic

(Escort names have been changed to protect their anonymity. Opinions below are mine and do not necessarily reflect those of the leaders who run our team. In other words, if you have an issue with something I've written, talk to me. Absolutely feel free to share. Links to previous entries in this series: Start here with Day 1. Day 2. Day 3. Day 4. Day 5. Day 6. Day 7. Day 8. Days 9/10/11. Day 12. Day 13.  Day 14. Days 15/16. )

"All you Deathscorts have Ph.Ds from the Academy of Satan!"

DeeDee claps her hands. "Great! I was looking to add some stuff to my CV!"

I'm excited about it too, but a tad concerned about that Mammon dude who set up my student loans.

It's early for the protesters to be targeting us but they've got pretty good numbers out here today, faces both old and new. Right now I'm feeling pretty smart about having chosen to wear insulating gear under my clothes, a decision I'll be decidedly less smug about by 10am when the chill breeze has departed and the sun is blazing down through cloudless skies. Given the weather-related misery of the past few months it's a welcome change, but also one that makes me wish I were elsewhere taking advantage of it. Such is life.

The morning is rife with challenging situations. A family has shown up, Mom and Dad with two small children in tow, which is an issue because kids aren't allowed in the waiting room. This is not to be confused with the infant that one of the protesters has brought - yes, an infant - who is repeatedly walked in front of the blaring loudspeakers. The family's shaky command of English doesn't help and Mom's choli/pavada combination incites the protesters to zero in on her for worshipping a 'false god.' After he drops his wife off I direct the father to the diner down the street and, when he returns an hour or so later, to the library across the street. Given our language difficulties and the incessant blare of the protesters' amps we have to rely on pantomime, but it's good enough.

We also have a companion who is Very Angry about the shame-bombs being hurled around and wants to have some intense theological debates with the protesters. That's fine - anything that distracts them from incoming patients is a boon - but her temper is simmering at a low boil and the last thing we want is for someone to lose it. Compounding matters is her chain smoking, which directs plumes into my face no matter where she's standing. It's a reminder of how ubiquitous smoking used to be, and how a night out in a bar would leave you and your clothes smelling like an overflowing ashtray the next morning. The unwanted trip down Memory Lane intensifies as she's joined by another companion who bums a cigarette and fire up. This one is uninterested in chatter but her presence acts as a calming influence. Instead of arguing with the protesters they chat with one another. More smoke is UGH, but it's better than someone taking a swing at one of them.

Our new academic achievement - GO FIGHTING BRIMSTONERS! -  turns out to be one of many connections we have to Satan. During the course of the morning it's also revealed that we're:

a) Satan's puppets;
b) Satan's messengers;
c) Satan's disciples; 
d) Satan's children.

The latter is an extremely tough thing for me to hear, as it means I'm going to have to buy a whole bunch more presents for all my new siblings at Christmas. Perhaps I'll be able to find a better paying job with my shiny new doctorate.

* * *

"So, what do you think about the country of Saudi Arabia?"

Oh, joy. Alex is back in town.

It's been the better part of a year since we've crossed paths and on my end he hasn't been missed. Taking full advantage of our vanquished buffer zone he's set up shop a few feet away, allowing himself access to both patients heading in and myself. Again, oh joy.

I know I'm being led by his line of questioning but we're in a bit of an intake lull and I'm happy for the distraction from the twinge that's developed in my lower back. "It's a place with a lot of issues, to say the least."

He nods. "Okay, and how do you feel about the way they treat women?"

I can see the glint off the hook, but bite anyway. "It's shameful. Awful."

He dons a savage grin. "Then what do you think about Hillary Clinton taking millions in donations from Saudi Arabia?"

Ye gods, Hillary Clinton. Of all the things I might have imagined I'd be discussing outside the clinic this morning - her? I briefly consider calling his bullshit - the donations were to her A+ rated charitable foundation and not her campaign - but facts are a devalued currency around these parts.

"I think if you're looking for perfection in any political candidate you're going to end up disappointed. How can you question her character when compared to Trump's lack thereof?"

He shakes his head. "I didn't vote for Trump."

Well, knock me over with a protester's sign containing grammatical errors (like Luis'). "You didn't vote?"

"I voted for Cruz."

They'v finally managed to leave me speechless. I mean, I understand his platform, such as it was, pandered to the hard-core Talibangelicals, but the dude got clobbered in the primaries. Ted Cruz. Hoo.

I get to return the favor in short order. We've been bouncing around on different subjects for a while before veering into theological debate centering on my objection to his brethren trying to force their religion views on others. There's no way to win this debate but again, anything that distracts them from patients until the last second is a worthy endeavor.

He shifts to a new line of questioning but doesn't bother to hide the verbal bear trap lurking ahead. "So you're an atheist, right?"

I shrug. "I guess, if you need to hang a label on it."

"Well, don't you tell others they shouldn't worship God? Try to get them to stop?"

"No." When he gives me an odd look I raise my palms skyward. "I don't care who or what you worship, as long as you don't try to impose your ideals and rules on others." Since my hands are already up, I wave my fingers around. "You know, like this."

Alex seems a bit nonplussed. "Most of the atheists I meet are much more militant."

Am I supposed to apologize for that? Be meaner? Mock his deity of choice? His issue to deal with, not mine. My immediate concern is the couple being escorted past the raucously cawing Mean Girls and for being in place so Janine and I can form a Runner-proof wall. Judging by her muttered complaints, we do okay.

* * *

"We didn't do it, okay? Leave us alone!"

Somehow, in the midst of all their yelling, the protesters missed this. 

In general we don't encounter too many traffic jams at the front door. On Saturday mornings we mostly handle input, getting patients and companions inside. We escort a decent number back out after they've finished their visit, but often the majority are still in the clinic by the time the circus outside packs up for the day. 

This time, though, things are a little wonky. We've got a goodly amount of protesters - somewhere north of a dozen - and in addition to escorts bringing in patients from the south and a car idling in the no-park zone in front of the entrance, a couple is coming back out of the clinic under a full head of steam. The woman - young, eyes red, biting her lower lip - has a two-step lead on a guy who is either her boyfriend or sibling. They came in with an older woman, no doubt somebody's mother, and all three had choice words for the protesters on the way past. In fact the guy stopped to do some finger-pointing, with the tension level escalating enough that DeeDee intervened to gently but firmly urge him to go inside.

Now, though, they don't want any part of them. I have to believe his blurted words went unheard because otherwise they would have pounced like sharks on a wounded fish instead of letting them head north up the sidewalk, unmolested. I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop but the protesters are still focused on patients heading in, and I don't have time to keep watching as I usher the new arrivals through the door amid a cacophony of screaming, both amplified and not.

We're often accused of being out here to collect a paycheck, of getting more money based on how many people we escort in. There's not a shred of truth in that, and we're not going to chase someone down the sidewalk and try to convince them to go back in. If they choose to go through with the procedure, that's fine. If they decide that they'd rather have the baby instead, that's fine too. All that matters to us is that they get to make that choice.

About twenty minutes later the couple returns. Whether they're just back to pick up the mother or to stay for whatever brought her here, we don't know. It's just our job to get them through the front door.

* * *

"Because you deathscorts are disciples of Satan, and Satan is a murderer!"

Is he?

There's a guy I've never seen before on the amp, starting his spiel at around 10:30am. This is where they usually slot those new to preaching, and their skill level is a mixed bag at best. This kid still has acne on the side of his face and we've already managed to derail him from lecturing us about knowing how difficult it is to be a father, given that his ringless fingers indicate that he's likely childless. Gamely soldiering on, he shifts to this new angle.  

After about fifteen seconds I have to interrupt him. "Who did Satan kill?"

He pauses and looks at me, blinking rapidly. "What?"

"I asked who Satan killed. I get it, he's the Father of Lies, in charge of Hell, all that. But who did he actually murder?"

Silence draws out as he struggles to answer. After a good fifteen seconds or so Alex leaps in with a rescue attempt. "Judas. He murdered with Judas."

I'm not a Bible scholar, but that doesn't sound right. "I'm pretty sure that isn't true. Judas didn't kill anyone I'm aware of. Just took his money for info, right?"

Alex combines an exasperated sigh with a shake of his head. "No, Satan entered Judas and that led to Jesus' murder."

DeeDee, who works with lawyers, lets out a healthy snort. "That's a bit of a stretch," I say. "You can do better than that. Who has Satan murdered?"

There's a good deal of muttering, but no answers. Not even Job's family, which I figured was a gimmie. I get why they might be having issues, since it's much easier to find examples of God engaging in wholesale murder and genocide than it is to pin something on his former right-hand man.. More awkward silence ensues until a couple emerges from the clinic and the protesters launch into their vitriol with what feels like a sense of relief.

Good to know my daddy/professor/dispatcher/puppetmaster might not be so bad after all.

* * *

"Why are they like this? Why are they saying these things to me?"

Jesus would probably like to hear some answers about that as well, methinks.

The woman asking these questions is not a patient, companion, or escort. Well-dressed and coiffed, she's made the mistake of passing near the clinic on her way to Saturday morning services at the synagogue up the street. The protesters, bored and restless during one of the intake lulls that sometimes mark the late morning, seize on the opportunity to tell her how wrong her choice of worship is. 

Loudly. Vehemently. Derisively.

She's flanked by two of our escorts, who were wise and experienced enough to know exactly what she was going to face. With any luck she'll make a complaint to the town at some point, but for now she spares the shouters a single, incredulous backwards glance after running their gauntlet. There's laughter and smiles among the protesters. The joy of weaponizing the word of Jesus, perhaps.

Not long after that a young man in a yarmulke hurries along on the other side of the street. The mushrooms and the red-tape folks - three young people in hoodies with duct tape over their mouths - don't bother him, but Parker spies him and starts shouting at him in Hebrew. The guy keeps moving as a smirking Parker turns back to find me watching.

"What?" he says, all innocence. "I said 'Jesus is Lord.'"

"Yeah. I know what anti-Semitism is."

His eyes narrow as he smiles and I get the sense he knew this was coming. "What's wrong with that? Jesus was a Jew."

I drop an eye-roll that would make my twelve-year-old daughter proud. "That's true, but he's not the god they worship, which you're well aware of. You're taunting him. Don't be disingenuous and pretend it's otherwise."

That earns me a sour twist of the lips, a dismissing wave, and the ever-popular "You're fake news." Taunting appears to be high up on their agenda today, with anyone who isn't one of them a target of Alex's instead.

"You run around here handing out cheap rosaries of blue plastic made in Taiwan and you think you're properly spreading the word of Jesus? You stand across the street with your picture of Jesus, oh you love him so much, you keep it covered with plastic so it won't get wet in the rain, but do you come over here and use your voice? No! And you people, you put tape over your mouths. How can you spread the word of Jesus with tape over your mouths? If someone got raped would you just stand there in silence? Maybe you would, because you don't really know and love Jesus!"

It's a hell of a rant. I have no idea if the barbs find a home - the Mushrooms stay silent, the red-tape people stick with their creepy staring thing, and The Runner is always muttering under her breath anyway. The protesters' attitude that their choice of worship is vastly superior to all other forms seems to be embracing the sin of pride with both arms and some leg action as well, but they've always been remarkably skilled at ignoring things that don't fit their stance.

Later Luis crosses the street with his giant sign featuring the ten commandments (one side in Spanish, the other in English complete with grammatical errors) and stands in front of the red-tape kids. He's joined by Alex and after a one-sided conversation the others remove their tape and appear to open a dialogue. It goes on for a while, which makes escorting patients out that much easier, thank you very much. If they wanted to do this for the whole shift every Saturday we'd be fine with it.

Alas, all good things must come to an end. It's time for Luis' to take another loud and unhinged turn on the mike (number two of the day! Uncool!). As he's getting into place Alex sidles up next to me, mentions that he's praying for my soul.

I nod. "Good luck with that. How's things go with your new friends? Seemed like a civil discussion."

He lets out a long sigh. "They're good people with good intentions, but they don't know how to properly follow Jesus Christ." Whatever else he tries to say is lost as Luis begins screaming on his speaker at a truly ear-splitting level, standing as close to the doors as he can while calling those inside murderers.

* * *

Silence has been a rare commodity this morning and I'm basking in a moment of quiet as Mutton Chops gets ready to take the mike. The day has begun to warm up - I performed an act of contortion in order to strip my sweatshirt off without removing my vest that was worthy of stage and screen - yet he's still bundled up in a winter parka and fur-lined hat. Parker is behind him, standing in the street like the protesters do. A Corvette pulls even with him and stops, giving the engine a little rev. It would be fun to take poetic license and say the driver was the absolute personification of a mid-life crisis, but the truth is I can't really see him. With a throaty growl the car leaps away, tires chirping against the asphalt. Parker turns in my general direction, a big smile on his face.

"A thumbs-up, that's nice. So far today that's five middle fingers and one thumbs-up, but at least we're on the board." He seems pleased.

I'm pleased as well. May that approval ratio hold true. I crack my own smile as Mutton Chops starts to drone.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Just Wait Until He Finds Out About the Initiation Branding - Snapshots from my Fifteenth and Sixteenth Days as an Escort at a Women's Clinic

(Escort names have been changed to protect their anonymity. Opinions below are mine and do not necessarily reflect those of the leaders who run our team. In other words, if you have an issue with something I've written, talk to me. Absolutely feel free to share. Links to previous entries in this series: Start here with Day 1. Day 2. Day 3. Day 4. Day 5. Day 6. Day 7. Day 8. Days 9/10/11. Day 12. Day 13.  Day 14. )

(Day 15)
"Yeah. But we have to wonder why."

It's quiet outside the clinic this morning, startlingly so. None of the screamers are here - not a single one - and even The Runner is a no-show. Aside from a few of the quiet ones who hand out pamphlets and the somewhat loopy Q-Tip, the protesters are largely absent.

And that has the security team on edge.

The above response came after I noted the light turnout to Jesse, the retired cop who often stands at the doorway with us. At first glance it seems a blessing, although Jenner, the first-timer working the door with me who signed up because he's heard how hellish it is out here, seems mildly disappointed. The two guards take turns circling the building, looking for suspicious packages or bags. It may sound a little paranoid, but we're less than a month past someone driving a truck into the entrance of a Planned Parenthood a few dozen miles away. There's a long and shameful national history of clinics being bombed and doctors murdered, so the concern is warranted.

Jesse glances around as he talks about some of his experiences on the police force, probably spotting things I wouldn't even know to look for. There are other countermeasures in effect as well, ones that surprise me. For obvious reasons I won't reveal them, but knowing they're being employed helps to put us at ease. I wonder if I'm actually seeing more Englewood PD cars than I usually do or if it's just easier to spot them with the mass of protesters between myself and the street..

I swap stories with Jenner, getting to know him as we kill time. My team leader Fiona looks just as mystified as I do, having never had a day like this in her years of escorting. As we easily walk patients past the skeleton crew of protesters not one of us finds cause to complain.

* * *

(Day 16)
"We will help you. We have the resources and we will be there for you. You will have support and money for your baby."

After having my last shift devoid of any and all screamers - it was so blissfully quiet - it appears I will not be as fortunate this time. Parker started with his predictable, "The Bible says" right at 8am and it's been non-stop preaching, promising, and shaming since then. By coincidence I'm at the door with Jenner again, who is having a much different experience than he did during his maiden voyage. The sidewalk on this brisk morning isn't swarming but it's crowded with faces new and old. Given we expected Easter-related shenanigans - the protesters had evidently showed up the day before, which was Good Friday - we've got an extra pair of escorts as part of the team. A couple are rookies, but with our numbers we're able to get them paired with experienced hands.

Conspicuously absent among the protesters are the Mean Girls, not that they're missed. In fact it's a mostly male crew, aside from the mother that always shows up with one of her sons. Which one she brings varies but it doesn't matter as they all stand near the door wearing a sign, remaining silent while using a clicker to count the number of patients that enter. Not creepy at all, that.

The Runner is here, of course, in all of her odious glory, and soon Q-Tip appears as well, wearing a pin emblazoned with Trump's face and doing her "Yay Jesus!" cheers. Still, that's only three out of well over a dozen protesters, whereas a couple of months ago we were seeing 50/50 splits. I could probably coax a vague answer out of Parker if I cared enough to ask, something along the lines of 'God keeps his house in order.' Maybe they're preparing for Easter dinner. Any excuse that keeps them away is fine by me.

Hinton's still cranking along on his speaker, promising the sun and moon to patients who change their minds at a decibel level well above legal limits. His dinosaur winter hat is gone, replaced by a tan baseball cap. Ah, the joys Spring brings.

"Your baby is a gift from God. We will help you with food, and diapers, and many things. We'll make sure you and your baby have everything you need . . . "

Wait for it.

". . . for about a year or so."

Ay, there's the rub.

I've heard from other sources that the support from the anti-choice groups and the so-called 'Crisis Pregnancy Centers' tends to be much less substantial than promised (as shown in this excellent segment on Last Week Tonight, which includes research done by one of our own) but this is the first time one of the screamers has admitted that if these women believe what they're being told and completely alter their lives to keep a child that they don't want things aren't going to be all sunshine and pixie dust. For a moment I feel as if I should commend Hinton for showing some moral character but then I glance over and notice the kid he brought with him, maybe ten or eleven years old, standing by the street and holding an anti-choice sign.

Never mind.

* * *

(Day 16)
"Deuteronomy 22:5 clearly states that a woman must not put on man's clothing, and a man must not wear women's clothing!"

It seems that our Evangelical buddies don't care for new escort Evan's scarf. 

Thank goodness for escorting. How else would I have learned that the Bible is not just a book of worship but also a fashion guide? The more sonorous of the Creepy Twins is currently droning along on the speaker, but he's being superseded by Parker and Luis collectively losing their shit over Evan. He's mirroring Fiona's floater position, halfway between the clinic entrance and the outlier escorts, which makes him close enough to draw the wrath of the screamers.

Why? Well, he has the audacity to be stylishly dressed. He looks - 'dapper' comes to mind, but that's kind of a fusty old word, so let's go with 'chic' - chic, well-appointed, from his debonair haircut to his natty shoes. The scarf in question is red, white, and, if the protesters are taken at face value, standard field gear for gays in the service of Satan.

They've decided that Evan must be a homosexual, something they often accuse me of being as well. If you think the enjoyment they derive from wallowing in their misogyny is repugnant you'll be even more disgusted by their overzealous intolerance for gays. When they project their bile at the women entering the clinic it's always with the caveat that they're only doing so because they want to save both the baby and the mother. In the case of the latter that means converting her to their theology. There's hope for her. Maybe one day she too could stand on this sidewalk and shame other women - not with a loudspeaker, of course. Still, she can be redeemed.

There's none of that for Evan. It's clear that he makes them extremely uncomfortable and they're content to interpret Bible passages in a way that allows them to condemn him. There aren't any *actual* passages in which their Lord and Savior Jesus condemns homosexuality, but they seem to share the mindset of the late Billy Graham, who had this to say about the subject: "Sometimes it is said that the Bible does not contain any words of Jesus about homosexuality, and therefore it must be acceptable to God. However, the Bible does not record sayings of Jesus about a number of other sins either." No, Billy. Absence of evidence and all that. Logic dictates that they should accept that Jesus has no issues with homosexuality, but they are more than willing to ignore truth if it doesn't fit their rhetoric. Instead they embrace the contradiction of preaching Jesus' love while spewing fear and hatred at the same time.

The interesting aspect is that they clearly think men should feel shame if they identify as anything but hetero. It explains why they've used gay slurs on me in the past and why they're targeting Evan today. They're assuming, based on his appearance, that he's gay. Whether he is or not, I have no idea. We haven't had the opportunity to get to know one another yet and it's not something that just pops up during the couple of minutes we're gathered inside before starting the shift (which I haven't done for the last four shifts or so, instead staying at my post on the door and just having them bring a vest out for me instead). In any case, his orientation can't be wrong. He is who he is and that's okay. The problem is theirs.

Evan seems to take their attempted mockery in stride, unruffled as he flanks a patient who has emerged from a car that's pulled in front of the restaurant. She's joined by an older woman, presumably her mother, who came armed with a glare that could melt steel. As we reach the door her gaze falls on Evan and she gives a small nod.

"I like your scarf."

* * *

(Day 16)
"You're going to die someday! It's true! You're not going to stay young! Look at the wrinkles you have already!"

Jenner turns to me, an expression of mock horror on his face. "He's right. I'm decrepit. Do we have any walkers inside?"

The rookie is getting a baptism by fire that he didn't experience last time, the swirling chaos and non-stop noise fest provided by the protesters. At the moment Creepy Twin #1 is on the squawk box, telling deathscorts how horrible we are. He accuses me of being particularly wicked because there's too much fornication in my life but leaves me hanging when I yell "DAMN STRAIGHT" and hold up a hand for a high five. As he rattles on about how terrible a thing premarital sex is I notice that he's lacking a ring on his left hand.

Ye gods, it explains so much.

Later in the morning he buttonholes Jenner for a long and passionate personal sermon about how Jesus is the only answer. For everything. Both Fiona and I are prepared to tag in if he gives us a distress signal, but he waves us off. When CT#1 finally moves on Jenner looks over at me with raised eyebrows. Welcome to the party, pal.

The Runner greets him as well, pulling her usual act of trying to befriend the newbie. That doesn't last long as she, in the midst of shaming a mother and daughter heading into the clinic, completely blocks the doorway for the grandmother who has also emerged from the car. Jenner spots this and boxes the Runner out. There's contact, mostly due to The Runner being oblivious to the fact that someone's behind her and trying to get past, and the self-proclaimed 'absolute feminist' starts muttering at him as soon as she tells the grandmother that she needs to be a better woman. She doesn't notice that the grandmother looks to be considering introducing The Runner's head to the pavement, and I do my best to gently but firmly cajole the matriarch to be with those who need her most right now. With an angry shake of her head she does, and yet again an escort has attained the dubious success of keeping The Runner from getting her ass kicked.

She finishes berating Jenner and turns back toward the clinic, talking to the closed door about assembly lines, being a good mom, and why it's even worse to be here with tomorrow being Easter. Jenner and I asking why she's excited about a day about the German Goddess of Spring clearly annoys her, compounded when we insist the day is all about candy and start discussing our favorite kinds.

She does not attempt to bond with Jenner again.

* * *

(Day 15)
"Why don't we ever escort the same shift together?"

It's early on a Saturday morning, way too early to be up, yet we are and I've just posed that question to my wife. I'm procrastinating about getting up, as a warm bed filled with spouse is much more alluring than the frigid sidewalk festooned with protesters that awaits me. Our kids are autonomous enough to survive a few hours without us around and while it's not the ideal marital activity to engage in I'm somewhat curious to see her in action. 

She cuts to the heart of the matter, the way she often does. "Because I'm not willing to take a chance on our kids becoming orphans."

My initial instinct is to scoff and dismiss her caution, but for once I keep my mouth shut and think before speaking. As noted earlier in this entry clinics do get attacked. The protesters I've encountered don't appear to be violent but there's no way to be sure about that. Religious zealotry and misogyny combine to make a passionate brew, one fraught with potential difficulties. My wife, a veteran of several years on the sidewalk, can recount tales of escorts being followed back to their cars, of protesters standing behind vehicles so they couldn't back out, and so on. Parker keeps trying to get a rise out of me by saying that he's been talking to my wife and that she seems much smarter and more highly educated than me (When Fiona overhears this at a later date she laughs and says that she's never heard my wife say anything to him beyond 'fuck off'). They'll get personal with us, throw verbal darts, try to get us upset and off-balance.

Violence might not have reared its ugly head for us so far but we're not going to tempt fate. With a single sigh and a string of muttered curses I leave the embrace of both blankets and wife to paw around in the dark for the clothes I set out before I went to bed. Date Night won't be strolling on the streets of Englewood, it seems.