Funding Abortion Beyond the Binary

part of Funding The Frontlines: A Roadmap To Supporting Health Equity Through Abortion Access

Nick's Story

Presented below is the raw transcript of Movement Manager Brandi Collins-Calhoun’s conversation with We Testify storyteller Nick about their abortion story. 

Nick: Okay, cool.

Um, okay, so I guess I’ll just start from the beginning.

You know, my name is Nick.  I use they them pronouns.

I got an abortion in Houston, Texas was in 2017, when I was in my mid 20s. At the time that I got my abortion, I was unemployed. And I was on, you know, government health insurance. And I was living in a three-bedroom apartment with four people.

I really did not have the physical space for a baby, nor did I really have the emotional bandwidth to be a parent at that point in time. You know, I didn’t have a job, and I really didn’t have the money to take care of myself during a pregnancy. I didn’t have money to take care of myself during a pregnancy. And I also knew that even if I had found a job immediately, I would not have been eligible for even unpaid leave. Because the FMLA [Family and Medical Leave Act] only kicks in after you’ve been at a job a year, since I was already pregnant, I did not have that kind of time before I would have been eligible for leave. So, even if I had had the money, I just wouldn’t have been guaranteed to have a job at the end of the end of my pregnancy. I was looking for more stability than that, that wasn’t level of instability that I could handle at that point. Because I was looking for jobs where I would be my family’s breadwinner, and be the person carrying the insurance. I just knew that I wasn’t in a position to have a child, I wasn’t in a position to raise a child. My health care needs also complicated things a great deal in that one of my medications is not something you can take while pregnant. And it’s a core part of me managing my health. So, I would have had to have immediately reworked my entire treatment plan to take care of myself, and I just, you know, didn’t really have the ability to do that. Because in addition, in addition to everything else, the pregnancy was causing a drastic increase in my symptoms. I wasn’t really set up to have a healthy pregnancy. I just knew that it wouldn’t end well, either for me or a potential child.

Brandi Collins-Calhoun

Alright. So once you decided that an abortion was going to be the option that you would make, um, what was the process of finding? You said you were in Texas? So it was the process of finding a clinic in Texas to go to in the steps to even obtain the abortion that you needed?

Nick

Do you want me to name clinics or not?

Brandi Collins-Calhoun

You don’t have to name clinics.

The Importance of Abortion Storytelling


WeTestify
Founder Executive Director Renee Bracey Sherman writes how we cannot undo the harm of white supremacy without confronting the real experiences of the people it impacts.

Key to that and reproductive justice are the stories — and storytellers — of Black and other people of color.

“They’ve been closest to the pain, so they must be closest to the power. That can only happen if storytelling is invested in as a way of organizing and building the power of people who have abortions, and then seats at the table are created for us to sit in and imagine a different world.”

Nick

Okay. Um, well, I knew of one big name provider in town. And so I immediately called them, but they couldn’t get me in for my first appointment for a full week. And in Texas, you have to have two separate appointments. One of those appointments is for medically unnecessary ultrasound, and then you have to wait 24 hours before your procedure itself. So you do have to make two separate appointments to separate trips. And I just didn’t want to wait another full week being pregnant before I could even have my first appointment. So I did a Google search. And I looked very carefully to make sure that I wasn’t going to be bamboozled by a crisis pregnancy center. And so I did. I did some research went directly to the website and saw testimonials regarding abortion care. And so I was like, Okay, I’m in the right place. Now and I gave them a call and they could actually get me in the next day for my first appointment. So I was like, now we’re talking.

Brandi Collins-Calhoun

That is rare.

Nick

Yeah. So for a little background information for you. Now, I volunteer at an abortion fund, where we drive people to get their abortions in Houston. And this clinic does some of the highest numbers in the state, let alone the city. Because that’s, that’s all they do is abortions, and they just do a really high volume so you can get an abortion or at least at the time I got my abortion, you could get an abortion pretty quickly. I don’t know how that is now with COVID impacting things. Yeah, basically, I found out on Sunday, I called on Monday, I had my first appointment on Tuesday, and I had my abortion on Saturday. I was not messing around with this.

Brandi Collins-Calhoun

You were not. That’s a hell of a timeline. Wow

Nick

I was like, I’m not fucking around with this. Yeah. So I found out and then I got my abortion Saturday, I could have gotten my abortion sooner than that. But, you know, my partner at the time was only available to take me on Saturday. And I really wanted the emotional support. I didn’t know about the abortion fund I worked for where I could have gotten a ride. But really, I did want the emotional support, you know, from my partner. But I actually when I called the, when I called the abortion clinic, I actually ended up crying on the phone. Because I was afraid of being misgendered. And I was afraid of going through an experience I was going to be in addition to just being a medical procedure, and all of the cultural baggage that goes along with abortion in the United States, I was also afraid of having an experience that would be very, that would cause me a lot of gender dysphoria. So that was a concern of mine. And I ended up crying on the phone. Because that, you know, I already kind of had a fear of health care providers, because I had had some bad experiences. And this was just a an incredibly vulnerable time. And the person on the line, you know, just kind of reassured me and said, don’t cry, we’ll get you scheduled for an appointment, you know, we’ll put down the name you want, we’ll, you know, like, it’s, it’s fine, you know, we’re gonna take care of you. And so I did, I went and got my abortion there. My first appointment was the ultrasound. It was it was an ultrasound. And the technician was like, “Well, I have to describe this for you. And it was, you know, I personally didn’t mind because I was curious. I looked because I was curious. But it was just one of those moments that was like, this shouldn’t be happening, like this is clearly a guilt trip. It was just kind of one of those things that was like this whole thing is completely unnecessary. And then came the counseling session. And I actually had a counselor who was informed about trans issues. So I actually did have, I did have an abortion counselor, who was well aware of trans issues. And it was it was definitely affirming, like I felt like I was, you know, I felt seen I felt affirmed. And so that was something that I was really shocked. I did not think an abortion clinic would have someone on staff who knew the first thing about trans issues. Of course, as part of the counseling session, you have to be told a bunch of inaccurate information, which, you know, and I know it’s inaccurate. You know it’s inaccurate but coming for someone who is not super familiar with the field and the laws around this, having this government mandated discussion and brochure, I’m sure is really alarming. It’s just really crappy situation because I know, you know. I know from like, being informed about abortion, I’m like, okay, none of this is true. But, you know, it’s deliberately set out to mislead and trick people. And it’s just completely awful. So I waited, and I was warned, my counselor warned me because I was like, I think I’ll get it done on Saturday, that’s when my partner is off. And she warned me, that’s when the protesters come. And she was like, Yeah, they’re led by this, this, you know, young guy. And she was like, he could be at brunch. And instead, every week, this same dude, and his, you know, band of merry followers come to scream at vulnerable people getting health care. Boggles the mind. But yeah, so I, yeah, so I went to get my abortion. And, um, you know, basically, they’re standing because like, there’s one gate in and one gate out, and they’re standing at the gate to choke you as you go in like to kind of like crowd you and make you feel crowded, and everything. They’re like, waving their hands in front of the windshield and trying to stick stuff on our windshield, and yelling at us, and the clinic escorts, God bless them, are just like waving us and like, get over the threshold. They can’t touch you after that. And so we parked and as we’re walking inside, one of them screams at me, “Don’t kill your baby.” And like, it was just, it was one of those things where, you know, before it happened, I would have liked to have thought that I just gave him the finger or something. But I was just like, really vulnerable and like, horribly sick. Because the morning sickness hit me hard and I’m just getting this private medical procedure done. And people are like, staring at me and screaming at me. And it’s just incredibly humiliating and degrading and invasive, and they know it. That’s exactly what they’re trying to do there. You know, because by the time someone’s there, like they know that they’re not going to get people to not abort. They’re just trying to make them feel shitty about it. And it was just a really awful thing to go through.

Brandi Collins-Calhoun

And I ask as someone who has spent many of Saturdays in front of an abortion clinic, um, but the protesters. Was there anything in particular about their tactics that was very gendered? Be it the language, the signage, anything of that sort?

Nick

Um, I don’t remember much about their signage, honestly. I seem to remember it was like, it was like those graphic design is my passion signs. It’s just like, a lot of really crowded text and clip art, in the whole thing, like, looks like an unholy mess, and like, my brain couldn’t process it. There was a lot going on there. I want to say they had an image of Mary, I’m not sure. Um, I think if I had gotten like, I’m pretty sure that their signage said something about mothers and motherhood or something, but I wasn’t really paying attention. The stuff they were screaming was gender neutral. So I guess there’s that, um, but, you know, like, it was definitely like, it was one of those things where was definitely a misogynistic attack, because that’s the thing about, you know, trans people and abortion is that the attacks are misogynistic. And so, t’s basically targeting transgender people with misogyny. Which in addition to being horrible on the grounds of being misogyny, it’s also gender invalidating to be, you know, to have misogyny leveled at you and a lot of times there’s a twisted element of transphobia via misogyny as far as like, I’m going to misgender them by applying misogyny. It’s one of those things where, as a trans person doing abortion access work, I realize that attacks on abortion are rooted in misogyny. But along with that misogyny is wrapped up, you know, it’s wrapped up with white supremacy, it’s wrapped up with cissexism and transphobia. You know, it’s wrapped up in Christian supremacy. So, you know, like, its misogyny, but it’s not misogyny alone.

Brandi Collins-Calhoun

Yeah, thank you, I’ve never really been able to find the words to describe the anti-culture. And yeah, that is it. Um, so, once you got into the clinic, I know you said your experience with the counselor was very affirming Now, did that run through the same as like, the folks in the front and the folks in the back and the entire period?

Nick

Every everything was like, it was okay. Basically, like, you know, obviously, you get, well, I guess not, obviously, but in Texas, they do take your ID, because there’s, you know, the age stuff. And so, like, they have your legal name on the forms, they didn’t mark down my name, as like, call them, you know, Nick or whatever. But, um, you know, they did mark that down, but I still did get called by my dead name, not maliciously, but because they were looking at the Name field, and they weren’t looking at the secondary field. And so, you know, it was a little bit unfortunate and a little bit jarring. But people were respectful to me. They’re really, I didn’t really have an issue with, with how I was treated, everyone was respectful. Um, I would say that, as far as feedback to the providers, I think probably the best doctor’s experience I had was a primary care physician who was very trans informed, who actually on their forums had preferred name, up top and legal name under it. So that way, the first name you’re seeing is what the person wants to be called. And I think it’s a small change to the paperwork, that could make a huge difference. I also think just having, you know, the staff informed on you know, trans relevant care, and the fact that transgender people get abortions, not everyone getting an abortion is a woman. I think that having that would also help, they did have a really nice piece of literature that they sent us all home with, that was basically like, the protesters don’t know who you are, they don’t know what they’re talking about, you’re still a good woman, you know, making something like that gender neutral, I think would go a long way as well. But I also thought that that was a nice touch to basically, you know, send you home with something to remind you that the protesters are not the final arbiter of who you are. They don’t know anything about you. And I think other than that, like assumptions of gender, and gendered decor and gendered brochures and gendered information and all of that, like just kind of taking a fresh look at that and seeing like, hey, where can we make this neutral? Or is there a way that we can talk about this in a way that doesn’t exclude people? I think also, there’s been some discussion on what language to use for anatomy in a way that is affirming to people. I think research needs to be done on that, because obviously, I’m just one trans person, my preference is only mine. And I would actually love to hear from other trans people who get abortions, how they would like their bodies referred to. I think that that would be important information to have as well. I think one thing that’s really important that goes along with the research aspect of this is that testosterone does change the vagina and the vaginal tissue. And so I think it would be important for providers to discuss whether or not this has an impact on how you provide abortion care.

I also know that it hasn’t been seriously looked at. I mean, that’s kind of the thing, right? Like how does testosterone impact the abortion care you would provide? And, you know, it’s one of those things where we don’t really know there’s a lot of things we don’t actually know. I guess that’s some feedback that I would just have in general, and part of it’s just like a culture change. Because across the country, most abortion centers are called women’s this or that, you know, women’s health care, women’s reproductive care, and I understand why Houston abortion clinic won’t really fly. Because you’re trying to stay under the radar as much as you can, like, just having abortion in your name is going to make you more of a target than you already are. I don’t know the answer there. I don’t know what the answer is, as far as like making spaces more welcoming to trans people. While also knowing that there are some reasons why things are the way they are,

Brandi Collins-Calhoun

You honestly covered so much. And I’m like it’s 7:30. Is there anything that you feel would have been useful to your individual experience during the counseling session, or during the actual procedure? That would have made the care more affirming for you?

Nick

Oh, I think just honestly, having paperwork where my preferred name was the one that was the most readable, I think that would have that would have helped. I don’t remember being misgendered really, but I think having an optional field for pronouns would be good. You know, people who want to have those pronouns can, you know, put those in there. And, you know, that could prevent anyone being called Ma’am, or miss or she. I don’t remember that happening to me. But also, the sedation was pretty intense. So there’s a lot I don’t really remember. Oh, wow, I came out of there high as a kite. And see, I’ve driven a lot of people. It impacts everyone differently. Some people didn’t walk out there completely normal and stone cold, sober. Some people fall asleep. You know, some people are vaguely drunk. So. Yeah, so I guess there’s not really anything in particular that, I mean, really, I think that’s the only thing I would have changed. And just like I think it just would have helped to know up front that people were knowledgeable about trans folks. And I don’t really know of any way they could have advertised that, but I just had a lot of anxiety regarding the procedure regarding being in this really gendered healthcare environment, and I think they handled it really well, considering how few protocols are in place for treating transgender abortion patients.

Brandi Collins-Calhoun

Um, I think my last question is, as somebody who’s now volunteering and working in these spaces, do you think that there’s a role that practical support like abortion funds, other organizations and organizers can play in making sure that clinics and providers are providing affirming care? And if so, what would that look like?

Nick

I do know that some clinics do get trainings. I would say that abortion funds and abortion organizers that have the kind of bandwidth to do those sorts of trainings, I think those are great. I know my organization in particular wouldn’t have that kind of bandwidth. I think our contribution to that is, you know, training because we train people to drive folks to their abortions. Part of the training is, hey, don’t make assumptions about people. And that includes don’t assume someone’s gender, sexual orientation. And I think, honestly, I’m a trainer, I think it helps to have a transgender person in the room saying, I’m transgender, and I had an abortion, and that doesn’t make me a woman. Because then it’s like, people have met someone who’s had an abortion who’s trans. it’s no longer just theoretical. So I would say, just, and I think the one thing that everyone can do is, make sure that you’re make sure that a lot of people from different backgrounds are represented in the room, like, not just trans people, but you know, make sure that people of color are there, talk about people with disabilities getting abortions, you know, how about, like, how about disabled people, make sure disabled people have a seat at the table. just make sure that when you’re listening to people, and when you’re creating policy, and when you’re creating internal policies, and trainings, and programming, just make sure that you have people from a lot of different experiences, who are represented kind of like what y’all are doing where you know, you have, you’re not having one storyteller represent everyone, it’s like, people who have had different experiences, because, you know, we all have different insight that we can share. And so I do think that just making sure to elevate the voices of people who have had abortions, and have had these life experiences, I think that goes a long way. I also think normalizing things like asking for people’s pronouns, and not saying, hey, ladies, and, you know, just like, I think, as volunteers within a volunteer group, make sure that it’s a group that trans people are going to feel welcome in. If you’re always saying, hey, ladies or ladies, this or ladies that then you know, it’s not going to be a very welcoming environment for volunteers who aren’t ladies, normalizing, introducing yourself with pronouns is a great way to make sure that, you know, people’s pronouns are being respected. Um, you know, and honestly, for cisgender people pushing back when people complain about language, like pregnant people. Be a cisgender person who’s saying, actually, this makes perfect sense. These are people who are pregnant, and people who are pregnant can be of many genders. And so, pregnant person is a lot more specific than saying, woman. I think some of the, I think some of the progress we’ve seen towards affirming and gender-neutral language is really great to see. I think that’s awesome. I’m now seeing organizations kind of taking the next step and looking at more trans inclusive policies and trans positive. like talking about how can we provide better care for trans people? I think that’s really the next step, right? Because I think we’ve talked to death, about gender neutral language, but let’s talk about what good, transformed healthcare looks like and I’m seeing more and more groups have that conversation. And I’m really glad to see it.

Brandi Collins-Calhoun

Agreed. And this is unrelated. But I’ve been having that conversation literally all day with black doulas, where like I use gender neutral language. I was like, what you don’t have a politic around it, you’re just using words. And your words don’t mean things if you if you don’t do the work. Um, so thank you for naming that. So my last question, because, shockingly, I did not realize we would be done by 7:45 possibly. And this is more so about storytelling, because that’s something else that I’m working really hard to get philanthropy to understand. It’s important to fund because without the stories, folks who get abortions are way more than great reports at the end of the year, which is what philanthropy has made them. What does storytelling mean to you? What has being an abortion storyteller meant to you? What has being an abortion storyteller given you in regards to be it space to heal, space to be in community, space to inform folks? How has abortion storytelling really impacted you since

Nick

My abortion storytelling experience has been beautiful, because for the first time in my life. When I went on the we testified Texas retreat, I was in a room filled with people who had had abortions, and only people who had had abortions. And that was such a powerful experience. And it was an experience that I didn’t even know I needed. And I can say that one thing that abortion storytelling gave me was kind of kind of permission to take up space in the movement as far as like, hey, my story as a trans person who’s had an abortion is important. And, you know, I actually, it actually kind of gave me the clarity of purpose to talk to my own abortion fund about ways that I felt like we could better center people who have had abortions in our work. And those are conversations that I wouldn’t have thought to have before being in an environment just talking with other abortion storytellers. And hearing Renee talk about how across the movement, one issue we have is that we don’t listen enough to abortion storytellers. And people who have had abortions are honestly kind of marginalized in the movement around our experience is not really seen as valid or important. Sometimes abortion storytellers, or people have had abortions at all will get shut down when trying to refer to our own experiences. We have a lot to share with the movement. I think that our experiences need to be prioritized in the movement. It was something that I was experiencing at the abortion fund, I was volunteering at that I didn’t have the words to name so that was something really important to me. I feel like that these conversations that I’ve started, while they are hard, I think they were also very necessary. I think they made the organization I’m in better. just from a personal level, I’ve met some of the most incredible people. I’ve met other transgender people who have had abortions, and that’s huge for me, because when I was getting my abortion, I felt so alone, I felt like the only trans person getting an abortion. And logically, I knew that wasn’t true. But I didn’t know anyone. I had never seen a transgender person talk about getting an abortion before. that was in 2017. And I think there were a couple of people who were who were talking about it then, but I just hadn’t seen anything like that. And I really think that what I’ve seen since I became an abortion storyteller in 2019, is more and more people have shown interest in hearing about these stories and sharing these stories and like people will explicitly asked to hear from transgender abortion storytellers now. I think that’s enormous, because I think that that’s really important to make sure that other trans people know that they’re not alone. That it is important, like I want other trans people to know that it is important that you receive good, gender affirming health care. Like that is important. It matters. And I think that having transgender abortion storytellers makes that very clear. There are several and we testify, and there are others outside of we testify. I think that’s great, because that movement is growing. We’re there to make sure other trans people are heard and just being visible so that people don’t feel so alone. I’m really honored to have the platform I have, because I want to make sure that other trans people don’t go through what I went through, and that other trans people don’t have that same sense of being alone.

[slight pause]

I’m trying to think because I feel like there was another aspect I wanted to mention, as far as like what I’ve gotten from abortion storytelling, because I’ve honestly gotten so much out of it, I feel like I’ve gotten even more than I’ve given to the movement. I’m eternally grateful, because sharing my story has been a really good experience. It really allowed me to own my experience. It really allowed me to process it in a way that I wasn’t able to when I was keeping it a secret. Because I’m a verbal processor, I process things by talking about them. I wasn’t talking about my abortion. I had this urge to talk about my abortion, but I really didn’t have a venue to do that. Doing this work has helped me put words to so many things that I went through, and so many things that I think about trans competent healthcare. It’s really helped me put words to that. So yeah, that’s I have just met some absolutely kick ass wonderful people and my friends through We testify, and through abortion storytelling. I feel like I’ve known them for a long time, even though I really haven’t. We just make this connection. That’s so genuine and so great. I was in a documentary with three other people. I met one of them because she was on site when I was, they were filming me. We lived across the country from each other, but we got to meet at the premiere of the documentary. And it just felt like, we had always known each other kind of thing, or at least that’s how it felt to me. One of them I met up with again on zoom at another discussion event. it just felt like no time had passed. It’s an incredible bond that I share with other folks who have had abortions. I’m someone who can’t keep my damn mouth shut. I couldn’t stay quiet about this, because it was so important to me. I’m glad to be in a position where people are listening, and I’m eternally grateful. I’m eternally grateful to Renee, in particular, who’s been an amazing mentor. I’m eternally grateful to the whole movement for making space for me and all of the people who have been really supportive of the goal to make sure that not only are trans people represented in the movement, but trans people are receiving Better than adequate health care, good health care, affirming health care. You know, great health care even. Let’s aim high. Let’s aim high. Great health care I appreciate you so much, Nick, you gave me so much more. And I take out that last part like I’m trying not to cry like I low key want to text Renee and be like, I tell you all the time I love you, because you’re so dope. But like, I hope she knows. Because she’s definitely served her role in my life. And Renee is all the things.

Nick

She’s been amazing.

Brandi Collins-Calhoun

Yeah. Thank you so much. This has been all the things and I appreciate you for sharing your story with us and with philanthropy. Because this is what they need to hear. There’s the conversation of like, the movement hasn’t gotten there yet. Philanthropy definitely hasn’t gotten there yet. I am trying my hardest to get them there–

Nick

Yeah, I appreciate you.

Brandi Collins-Calhoun

–even if that means their money gets there before they do, that’s fine. But I appreciate you, I will send you the final cut and everything packaged together before anything goes live. If there’s anything you want added, taken out, whatever, we will definitely do that. If you have any questions or anything comes to mind, in the meantime, like this, probably this isn’t gonna go live until like August. If you have any thoughts or any questions, in the meantime, feel free to send me or Wynter an email. If it’s something you want to add, if it’s like a quote or something you want to, anything like that, let me know. And we can look add it or let me know. I’ll add it or our comms team will because they’re the magic behind this. But I appreciate you very much.

Nick

Thank you so much brandy, this was this was great. I appreciate the work you’re doing this year and thanks for giving me this platform. I just really appreciate it and I hope this goes I hope this goes you know better than we could hope.

Brandi Collins-Calhoun

Say thank you and I will keep you posted. Thanks. Have a good one brandy. Bye.

Funding the Frontlines:
A Roadmap to Supporting Health Equity
through Abortion Access

Abortion and Gender Affirming Care

Crisis Pregnancy Centers

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Soon

Abortion Funds

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