Fetus Worshipers All Over Again

In January of 2001 I stood on the steps of the Maryland State House and referred to George Bush as the “semi-elected” president and to his anti-choice friends as “fetus worshipers.”

I would have hoped by now that I could have toned down my rhetoric; that things would have progressed in this nation of hypocrites and zealots.

The zealots I can forgive: they’re theologically persuaded and led by some kind of authentic conviction that every woman should be obligated to host a promising blob of cells in her body to full term and to mother that child.

I wish every pregnancy could be reason for delight and wonder and gratitude. I wish all fetuses were gestating in women’s bodies who were willing and able to mother them or give them into adoption by loving and responsible adults.

But it’s not and they aren’t and that’s not reality. Women are independent moral agents and it’s up to each one to decide what she wants to do about a pregnancy. Period. It doesn’t matter what you or I believe about fetuses or children: if it’s not our pregnancy it’s not our business.

I remember having pregnancy scares when I was a younger woman.  The stomach churning uncertainty was made worse by my boyfriends’ sudden degeneration from strong, brilliant, opinionated, confident men to slack-jawed juveniles.  They simply did not want to be worried and told me they were sure I’d be fine. They did not want the candy store to be closed for business. They did not want the fun abandon of sex to be sullied by such downer concerns as a baby neither of us wanted.

Relationships are supposed to be sexy and a pregnancy scare is not sexy. I kept my anger to myself.

But I found that each of these pregnancy scares, though I was eventually relieved of the fear that a fertilized egg was making itself at home in my uterus, did plant in me a gestating seed of contempt for both of the men who had cavalierly told me I’d “be fine.” I could never afterward regard them complete respect. This is a secret that many women keep from men. I will no longer do so. It remains with me today, at what I hope are my menopausal years (I’m pretty close to menopause, if not technically there yet). Men, are you listening? Figure it out. Women, don’t keep this secret. Don’t just walk out on them. Tell them exactly how they have totally failed you when they say, “Don’t worry, you’ll be fine.”

All of these men in Washington –or just about to get there — who are so eager to legally mandate motherhood for every pregnant woman in America deserve nothing but contempt. Their disregard for actual life is a glaring matter of public record. When these anti-choice crusaders legally mandate that each man responsible for a pregnancy commit to parenting and financially supporting the fetus until its age of legal adulthood I might start to take them seriously as pro-lifers.

I give thanks on a regular basis for having passed reproductively unscathed through my fertile season as a woman.

I am disgusted by every man who talked me out of using protection, and furious that I was socialized to care about men’s feelings and egos above my own security and well-being. I commit myself to mentoring girls so that they never make that mistake.

I am angry at every boyfriend I had who never offered to pay for birth control or even learn about its effects on me unless I informed him. I rejoice in young women’s jeering at this expression of male privilege and I encourage them to reject such selfish partners.

I will call out conservative politicians and justices for the craven misogynists they are. They do not have the interest of “unborn children” at heart but the oppression of women. They know that being responsible for a new life when unprepared and unwilling limits women’s emotional capacity, energy to participate in democracy, ability to move out of poverty, and to pursue career advancement and educational opportunities. They hate women. They are furious that women are out-performing men in so many walks of life and coming into power in America, and outlawing abortion is their way of punishing us.

We are not idiots. We know exactly what this is and we won’t go back.

Young women, you know what’s going on. I watch and cheer you. Call it out. Jeer at these misogynist control freaks. Reject them in bed and as friends. Don’t make nice. Don’t smile at them and let them think you have any respect for them. And keep working, supporting each other, graduating, excelling, re-defining family, having the babies you want, dumping the men who don’t deserve you, sharing love and care with those who do, and teaching your children that these dinosaurs won’t always be roaming the earth.

When they’re all dead and buried, we can clean up the earth and breathe free.

Keep the faith. And stockpile Plan B and bc pills and as we used to say in my day, “Just Say No To Sex With Pro-Lifers.” While you’re at it, just say no to sex with any guy who doesn’t fully understand and support why you’re marching in your pussy hat. Don’t believe him when he says he’ll take care of you. Don’t believe him when he says he’ll pull out. Don’t believe him that he’s infertile. Don’t believe him when he says he’s “almost” divorced. Don’t believe him when he says he had a vasectomy. Don’t believe him when he says he has a condom unless you see it in his hand. Don’t believe him when he says he just wants to talk in his room when you’re too drunk to really focus or fight back. Don’t believe him when he cries and says he loves and needs you and please, oh please.

Protect yourself.  Protecting yourself takes practice. Start now.

These are dangerous times, and many of us have never lived through what is likely coming.  Remember: withholding health care, destroying the earth, terrorizing black and brown people, protecting rapists and abusers who violently enforce patriarchy, persecuting queer folk, and strapping us down to the ob/gyn table for the crime of being sexually active — it’s all an agenda of hatred. They hate us. They hate us and they want to make us suffer.

Resist.

 

 

 

 

 

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Gounod’s “Roméo et Juliette:” A PeaceBang Review

I saw The Met’s Encore beautiful production of Gounod’s opera at the Revere Cinema last night. The singing was exquisite, and although I didn’t totally like Bartlett Scher’s directorial decisions (muddling the focus in the fight between Tybalt and Mercutio, for instance), the leads Diana Damrau and Vittorio Grigolo sang gorgeously. I didn’t see much “white hot” chemistry between them, as Grigolo is a bit of a ham bone, but I sit in total awe of these artists. It’s very hard to calibrate a performance for the live Met audience that won’t come across as too bold for the HD cameras. I adore the Met; it is a temple of the gods to me, and I am grateful to be able to be a Met audience from the comfort of my local movie theatre for $28.

What I want to focus on is not the music of the opera (not my favorite, sorry Monsieur Gounod) but the devastating tragedy of the libretto by Jules Barbier and Michel Carré.

You thought Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juiet” was tragic? Believe it or not, it GETS WORSE in this adaptation, and I haven’t seen any critics mention how or why, and I feel the need to talk about it.

We all know that lovers die at the end of the play. R+ J fall in love, secretly wed, and then got caught up in the violence dividing their families. In a rage following Tybalt’s murder of his dear friend Mercutio, Romeo drives a blade into the young Capulet (Juliet’s cousin) and is banished for his crime (he could have been put to death, but the Prince of Verona is a good guy).

Romeo and Juliet have one night of conjugal bliss before Romeo has to flee. Juliet’s parents (Lady Capulet has no role in the opera — such a shame, too) muscle her into marrying their choice, Paris (a guy, not the city). Juliet understandably freaks out (she’s already married! And yuck, Paris!) and runs to Friar Lawrence, the good but in-over-his-head cleric who married the two lovers. He has a plan. She can drink a dangerous potion that will put her into a coma for 24 hours or so. She’ll be interred in the Capulet’s family crypt. Meanwhile, Friar Larry will send a message to Romeo to meet her in the tomb, where they’ll be reunited and can escape together.

All goes according to plan until Romeo finds out about Juliet’s death before Friar Lawrence can get to him. Romeo buys poison, rushes to the Capulet’s tomb to hold his darling one last time, sees Juliet there on her bier and kills himself. Juliet wakes with a panicky Friar Lawrence hovering around realizing his plan has taken a horrible turn. The friar, tending to the barely awake girl, hears Capulets approaching the crypt outside and runs away (And who can forget Milo O’Shea in the 1960 Zeffirelli film bleating, “I dare no longer stay! I dare no longer stay!”). Juliet fully wakes, sees Romeo there dead, and stabs herself to death. It’s horrible. Just horrible.

However, there are witnesses. The family busts into the tomb and finds the bodies of the star-crossed lovers there and they are chagrined. They are brought to their senses by grief. We are left to understand that the centuries old enmity between the Capulets and the Montagues ends with this final senseless destruction of two of their beautiful kids. Presumably Friar Lawrence does a lot of pastoral care and everyone is instructed by this tragedy. The death of Juliet and Romeo has some redeeming purpose.

In the opera, however, there is no redemption, and I was not ready for Barbier and Carrés different ending.

In the opera, Juliet drinks the potion, goes into the tomb (and Scher’s staging of her entombment as a wedding night ritual with ladies-in-waiting, including Lady Death, was deeply upsetting and effective) and Romeo bursts in as  per Shakespeare. He drinks the poison and then Juliet wakes before the poison takes effect. This is so the two of them can sing together, of course, and you’re grateful for it. But if you’ve been paying close attention, you can’t help but notice how, when Romeo entered the crypt, he carefully closed the door most of the way behind him. I was thinking, “Romeo, crack that door, bro! Friar Lawrence and the Prince and the chorus need to come busting in in a few minutes to find you guys dead!”

But Friar Lawrence does not come. No one comes. More devastating than you can imagine, Romeo begins to die and Juliet takes his dagger and sings about how beautiful it will be for the two of them to be able to die together, and the two of them — how else can I say this? — insert the blade into her solar plexus. Throughout the entire heartbreaking scene the two have been kissing and caressing each other in desparation, and as they die they are totally entwined in one another’s arms. Their last words are to God, and they sing, “Forgive us.”

I am so haunted by this. In Shakespeare’s play, the lovers do not ask for forgiveness: it is their stupid parents and the naive Friar Lawrence and the petty citizens of Verona who have taken sides in the long Capulet-Montague feud who are chastened and stand in need of mercy.

As I walked out of the theatre, totally gutted, I thougt, “Jesus, Gounod’s opera manage to make one of the saddest tragedies of all time even more damn tragic.” Romeo and Juliet’s bodies might not be found for decades. By then, they might be nothing but bones. Because of Romeo’s banishment, no one would think to look for him. His mother would never hear from him and never know if he was alive in another land. Friar Lawrence, probably hoping to hear from the two but accepting that it might not be safe or possible for them to contact him, would pray his fruitless prayers to a God who had already received both the lovers’ final confession. The Prince and the townspeople wouldn’t learn anything. The enmity would continue as stupidly as before. Paris would marry someone else and Juliet’s parents would never have reason to question the custom of forcing daughters to marry a man she didn’t want to marry.

No one learns anything.

I appreciate the glorious singing. I appreciate the catharsis that I experience through all great performances.

But I wasn’t ready for a twist in Shakespeare’s story that would leave two beautiful and innocent young people dead by their own hands with no witnesses and no community of accountability to get some hard-won wisdom by their actions, holding only themselves accountable to their God.

I’m grateful to the guy sitting next to me who sat with me while I absorbed the shock. He thought I was just blown away by the singing. I was waiting for everyone actually responsible for those two dead bodies to come bursting through the crypt door and see what they had caused.

I am still not over it.

Never tell me that art isn’t essential to the human endeavor.

 

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Dear Everyone Associated With “Hamilton”

The Richard Rodgers Theatre, 226 W. 46th Street, New York City

Dear Creative Team and Cast of HAMILTON,

I had not imagined that when I finally got to see the show on November 17, 2016 that we would be in a period of shocked horror and mourning. I had so hoped to wait in line for your autographs with joyful crowds.

I have been thinking about all of you in the past week because you are bringing your full spiritual and creative selves to the work of inspiring people and you haven’t had any time off for a death in the family since last Tuesday night, but I know many of you are feeling like there has been one. Me, too.

Your cast album has been on my exclusive play list for at least six months and I have fan-girl’d on Twitter, watched all the #Ham4Ham videos on YouTube and followed anything Hamilton-oriented I could find. I have said to fellow members of the clergy that one reason this show is such an extraordinary, ground-breaking cultural phenomenon is because it is not only a brilliant artistic achievement on every level but that its creators (led by Lin-Manuel) very intentionally created COMMUNITY around it.

The community that you have all so generously created around “Hamilton” the show and the spirit is the community that looks like the America I love and believe in. The first time I heard “My Shot” playing on a college radio station (Best of Broadway on WERS, Emerson College in Boston) and heard, “I’m joining the rebellion/’cause I know it’s my chance/to socially advance/instead of sewing some pants,” I was in my car. I had to pull over and just listen to every word and every voice and every instrument and not do anything else but that or else risk an accident!  I immediately drove back home and downloaded the entire recording and spent the next several hours listening to it. It was like, “Cancel all my appointments! I just downloaded ‘Hamilton!’”

I knew the show was hip-hop inspired. I knew it was a multi-racial cast. I knew I would think it was cool (I loved “In The Heights”) but I did not anticipate that it would hit me in my heart and soul like it did. “Hamilton” instantly became the soundtrack for my ministry and work for social justice with partner organizations (many of which advocate for immigrants – who do get the job done), my life in an extremely diverse neighborhood, and my hopes and dreams for my country in the midst of the rise of Trump.

I am also a theatre person. The disciplines that I have learned through performing have stayed with me in my work (stuff like: Take care of your instrument. Don’t ever phone it in. Keep studying your craft to improve it. Make quiet time for your soul every day. Trust the holy energy that is working through you. Respect its intensity. Eat your vegetables. Don’t skip warm-up). But you guys. You guys are the Olympians. You are the champions. You are the magic-makers whose sweat and water bottles and cough logenzes backstage the audience will never see and whose quick costume changes they will never think about. You are the stars.

I simply want to thank you for all that you are giving of yourselves in the telling of this story and for holding up to audiences what America really does look like – not just its future but its NOW. I want to thank you for all the time you have dedicated to the young people who are inspired by this show, who have fallen in love with history through it, and who can see themselves as leaders because of it.

This coming Thursday night, my two best friends and I will be in the house. If you feel extra beams of admiration and adoration coming from ORCH (Left) G 17, it’s just me shining back at you.

Your obedient servant, V. Wein

The Reverend Dr. Victoria Weinstein

 

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