“I had taken it for granted that I had sexual freedom“
Where are we today? Where do we want to be in the future? How do we get there?
On today’s episode we hear stories from Theresa Beauchamp and Delin Ruhl, two people who’ve taken action in moments of injustice. Our guests share their remarkable tales of standing up against oppression, whether that confrontation happens behind the lines of a phone bank or face to face in the streets.
Theresa Beauchamp (she/her) is a retired family practice Physician Assistant and full-time political activist focused on reproductive and racial justice and the fight against voter suppression. Boogie boarding, e-biking with her husband, live theatre, hiking in the Sierras and playing with her grandchildren rejuvenate her along her journey as a lifelong activist.
Delin Ruhl (they/them) is a musician and storyteller based out of Portland, OR. Locally, Dell plays alto saxophone for the Carroll Raum Swing Orchestra, and flute for the group Jump Up Pup. They have also played whistle and bodhran with the group Possibly Irish at Enchanted Forest, and enjoy performing original sets at venues like The Ranger Station and Floyd’s Coffee. Theater credits include Is He Dead? and The Glass Menagerie (Hawai‘i Pacific University), for which they received a Hawai‘i State Theater Association Po‘okela Award for Leading Actor. Regional theater credits include A Christmas Carol (Goodman Theatre), Circle Mirror Transformation; Mauritius (Hawai‘i Repertory Theater), and Someone Else’s Slippas (The Arts at Mark’s Garage). Offstage, they can often be found debating with their parrot, snuggling their 20-pound Flemish Giant rabbit, or writing limericks.
After a three decade long, successful career as a Physician Assistant, my plans for retirement had included visiting all the National Parks with my husband, buying a horse and galloping through the trails of rural San Diego and spending endless hours playing with my grandchildren. All of this changed, however, when Donald Trump was elected to be president. On the morning after hearing the devastating news of November 8, 2016, I sobbed uncontrollably, unable to hold my grief and shock in check in front of my millennial son and his friends. I was paralyzed by this grief for a week. In my deep despair, I kept hearing the message that “maybe this is what the nation needs to wake up”. It was clear and humbling that I had downplayed the true threat of white supremacy and patriarchy that Trump symbolized. And so I emerged from that week of grief to answer my strong internal call to become a full time activist. It was crystal clear that American women would again suffer a tsunami level BACKLASH against reproductive rights, and that I had a role to play in the struggles ahead. But before we get into the marches, the phone banking, and the work of political justice, let me back up a little bit and introduce myself.
My name is Theresa Beauchamp, my pronouns are she and her, and I was born on March 8, 1960, International Women’s Day. Listeners to this podcast might recognize that year, 1960, as the same year that the pill was approved for use as a contraceptive. So, despite my borderline introverted nature, I believe it was my destiny to fight for women’s reproductive rights. Why? Because I was born in a golden age of reproductive rights which gifted me with sexual freedom and an unobstructed academic and career path that afforded me a life opportunity to match my dreams and ambitions. Today, I am determined to ensure that my granddaughter and all women are protected by the United States Constitution and granted the right to be free agents of their own bodies. And with the stage set, I’d like to share the story of my fight for these rights , and all the triumphs and heartbreaks along my activist journey.
I was raised by a fundamentalist Catholic mother. She believed that her main calling in life was to create Catholic soldiers. I am grateful for the rich spiritual life that I developed within the Catholic faith, but of all mom’s five children, I have fallen the furthest from the Catholic tree and continue to vex her soul. As an adult, I have constantly challenged the Church’s systemic patriarchy, misogyny and corruption that my mother did not see. I rarely saw my mother happy. Her self-worth rested on her kids’ dedication to Catholicism. Mom was told by a university professor that if she pursued a bachelor’s degree in chemistry she would most likely end up washing test tubes in the lab. With no encouragement to pursue a path in hard science, mom chose to major in Home Economics. Had she pursued her dream of being a chemist, I wonder if she would have projected so much of her sense of self on the religious path of her five children.
Despite my questioning of the Church, however, I remained a devoted Catholic and wasn’t sexually active for most of my university life (to the great frustration of my college boyfriend). I only began to question holding onto my virginity once I fell in love with Bobby.
In my college senior year, my future husband, Bobby, and I began our relationship. At the same time I was becoming increasingly critical of the Catholic Church. In my International Relations courses I studied the Church’s brutal oppression of indigenous peoples throughout the world; its corruption and misogyny. I was also taking Women’s Studies courses and it was at this time that Bobby and I were wanting to go further sexually, and I was struggling with my Catholic guilt over this. I went to see my parish priest, Father Tony. Despite my nervousness, I was able to tell this priest about my desire to further a sexual relationship and my concern that if I had premarital sex, a mortal sin, that I could no longer remain a Catholic because of the Church’s stance.
I emerged from that week of grief to answer my strong internal call to become a full time activist.
Father Tony asked: “Do you love Bobby?” “Does Bobby love and respect you?”
I responded: “Yes”.
Father Tony said, “I see no problem in God’s eyes.”
I was shocked and somewhat dismayed. I asked Father Tony how he could believe this and remain a Catholic priest?
Father Tony said. “Theresa, I am 68 years old….where else am I going to go? The older I get, the more I know God is all about LOVE.”
Now, at age 61, I find it heart-wrenching that I felt I needed to go to a patriarch of my Church for his opinion on how I best conduct my sexual life. At the same time, I am grateful that I was given the gift of Father Tony’s loving wisdom. I imagine how many women approach their priests with this same quandary and are advised to go home and say three Hail Mary’s and wait until marriage or live with mortal sin.
After my visit with Father Tony, Bobby accompanied me to Planned Parenthood to get my first diaphragm. At this appointment, both Bobby and I were treated with respect and Planned Parenthood accomplished their main mission and provided us with an excellent education on the proper use of a diaphragm and how to prevent unwanted pregnancy.
In my teen years through my twenties, I had no contact with reproductive rights activists. I was focused on my academic life, friends, world travel and preparing for a career in International Relations in which I planned to work in the World Health Organization. I humbly admit that I was clueless at that time of any threats to Reproductive Justice and was enjoying all the protections afforded by the United States Constitution and Federal Public Health policy of my reproductive choices. I won’t get into the details here, but suffice it to say that from that day in my 20’s all the way up until November 2016 – I had taken it for granted that I had sexual freedom AND was able to live out my personal and professional dreams.
I completed a Master’s program at UCLA, and then went on to join the Peace Corps, where I was placed in a village in Senegal, West Africa. In that village, I listened to stories of BOTH husbands and wives that wanted birth control but could not afford it, or found that access to contraceptives was too difficult. After my service, I would return to this village every few years and see families of 5 children grow to 7-10. I witnessed the strain these ever-expanding families placed on the shoulders of resilient and strong women as their physical, economic, emotional health was drained. These experiences led me to my first major act of activism: applying to work for Planned Parenthood.
Happily, I did find a position with Planned Parenthood, but my work there wasn’t without consequence. My dedication to Planned Parenthood caused my mother great heartache. Mom let me know how much I hurt her because she believed Planned Parenthood was the biggest “baby killer” in the world. She could never entertain the thought that Planned Parenthood prevents more abortions compared to any other organizations in the world by providing access to highly effective contraceptive as well as quality preventative health care to include pap smears and access to mammograms for low income women.
After years with Planned Parenthood, I went to Medical School and became a Physician Assistant. I had the ability to financially support my family. This allowed Bobby and I to take turns at being the primary breadwinner and primary parent…an important personal goal. After almost three decades of practicing medicine, I was well on my way to a restful retirement. Then Trump and his cronies came into power.
This may be a given for many listeners, but I want to make it clear that the Trump administration elevated an EXTREME BACKLASH to women’s reproductive rights and freedoms. When I heard Fox News, GOP legislatures, Evangelical Christian leaders normalize Trump’s bragging about his sexual predatory behavior on a video, I amped up my efforts to support Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. I had to PUSHBACK hard against the misogynistic “boys will be boys” narrative that continues to plaque our nation. More devastating to me than Trump’s persona was that he was elected by 75 million Americans. As my dear friend and author Joshua Lazerson states in his book, Betterment:
“We have to ask ourselves what does this say about our country, our collective sense of basic human decency, generally, and our regard for girls and women specifically, when a presidential candidate can brag about assaulting women and cheating on his partner, be outed for that in every home in the land, and still be elected to the nation’s most important and representative office?” p. 40
Most disturbing is that 53% of white women voters voted for him. How could these women vote for a man who believes that they are “subhuman”? How could they vote against their own freedom, independence and self-determination? Trump was also carried into office by a very large body of fundamentalist evangelicals and Catholics who have been and remain strongly opposed to the mission and work of Planned Parenthood. Trump promised these religious voters, that if they supported his candidacy, he would destroy the Affordable Care Act which would result in defunding Planned Parenthood and he that he would appoint Supreme Court justices specifically to overturn Roe v Wade.
After the shock of the 2016 election, I joined the one in five Americans who made up the RESISTANCE MOVEMENT, largely because we could not allow the normalization of a sexual predator being elected President nor the unprecedented threat Trump posed to women’s rights and our democracy. Instead of buying my much dreamed about retirement horse, Bobby and I bought a Honda minivan that could carry 7 passengers. We named her RBG. Her primary purpose was to transport resisters to the endless demonstrations that I knew were about to become a major part of my life. Bobby was a great ally and brother resister all along my journey. I am fortunate that many men in my life know that reproductive justice affects everyone not just women and joined the resistance movement with me. These men include my husband, two sons and brothers.
The January 21, 2017 Women’s March was my first major RESISTANCE action. I organized a large group that included my husband, son, sister, my niece, my best friend, my goddaughter and Peace Corps friends who flew to join us from all over the country. We had a poster making slumber party the night before the march.
Some of my favorite poster slogans were:
“Women’s Rights are not up for Grabs.”
“My arms are so tired from holding this sign since the 1970s.”
“You know things are serious when grandma is protesting”.
“Get your Rosaries off our ovaries.”
“Women’s Rights are Human Rights.”
We wore matching t-shirts, bandanas to easily track each other. We an attorney’s phone number with Sharpies on our arms in case we got into legal trouble. Once we started marching, we chanted: “Forward together, not one step back.” It was deeply heartwarming to see thousands of men join us. I gave a big smile and thumbs up to a young dad whose adorable infant daughter sat happily in a baby pack that had a poster pinned on that read: “Babies against bullies!” I was emboldened by the resister collective energy and ready to begin the work. Trump had his hands on us – we knew we had to be loud and fight back.
Since the passage of Roe v Wade, red state restrictions, assassination of abortion providers, and violent intimidation of physicians, women’s clinic staff members and patients have resulted in a sharp decrease in physicians willing to provide abortions. The fundamentalist Evangelical and Catholic power structures have been working on overturning Roe v Wade for decades. They have methodically and successfully put antichoice legislatures in office. Even before Trump, and certainly under Trump, the threats to our rights have been numerous. The question was where do I begin? For me, I chose to focus on local campaigns of prochoice candidates who were running for office in the 2018 midterm elections.
I live in the 49th Congressional District. An organization called Indivisible 49 welcomed me in their efforts to unseat antichoice Representative Darrell Issa. Issa, the wealthiest member of Congress, is a prince of the far right conservative movement. We demonstrated in front of Issa’s office every Tuesday morning for 2 years. We applauded when Waste Management truck drivers honked their horns in approval of our anti Issa/anti Trump slogans. We laughed at the elder ladies who labored to lift their arthritic middle fingers at us in disapproval and joked that that was their great act of defiance while they drove to church. We sang original songs composed by our talented Margaret Greene. We became fast friends and felt like we were in the fight for our lives. In many ways, we were.
We became fast friends and felt like we were in the fight for our lives. In many ways, we were.
It was at these rallies, in front of Darrell Issa’s office, where I first met the opposing prochoice candidate, Mike Levin. Right away, I asked Mike his opinion on reproductive rights. He immediately responded and said: I will change Issa’s 0% voting record to 100% YES for reproductive rights and justice. I became a volunteer for Mike Levin’s campaign that very same day. Because Mike had little name recognition, we volunteers had much work ahead of us. At a Tuesday rally in front of Issa’s office, I introduced Mike to Planned Parenthood leadership and he began the arduous process to obtain their powerful endorsement.
I was trained in the art of phone banking and door to door canvassing by Mike’s staffers. Again, I am an introvert, but I pushed myself out of my comfort zone daily by either cold calling or knocking on doors of complete strangers and asking them to consider voting for Mike. I would prepare for my phone banking sessions with yoga breathes and the mantra: “Be brave, not perfect.” Then the headphones went on and I began calling. I could work up a sweat that required a shirt change every hour. I don’t even sweat that much doing hard cardio workouts. I called hostiles who demanded to be taken off the call list and speak to my supervisor….thinking I was a paid staffer. It was heartening to have people, like Spanish-speaking Maria, encourage me to tell her about Mike despite my limited Spanish ability. Maria thanked me for my time and effort and said: “Yo voy votar para Mike Levin.” She said she would tell her family and friends to do the same. Many of my resister friends shared what a stretch it was to do this work and at the same time we acknowledged that we were bringing hope to many we called who needed to know there was a candidate that they could support who is a warrior for reproductive, social, racial and environmental justice.
Darrell Issa is smart. He could see what a media circus our demonstrations created. Rachel Maddow’s camera crew from MSNBC videotaped us often. Issa eventually announced his retirement. Mike Levin was victorious in the 2018 Midterm elections and joined a BLUE WAVE of the most diverse freshman Congressional class in the history of the nation. My resister sisters and I celebrated the day of Mike’s declared victory with a final rally in front of Issa’s office by wearing suffragist costumes with sashes that read VOTES FOR WOMEN! To this day, Mike holds a 100% voting record as a champion of reproductive rights.
My BFF, Franceskay, who inspired me to share my story with Breaking Down Patriarchy listeners told me that I must include the amount of time and energy that I invested in emotional labor during my life as an activist. It is interesting to note that when I first organized my thoughts to tell my story, I completely left out the other traditional female roles I play in my family. During my early years of full-time activism, my mom developed a Parkinson like condition that severely impacted her mobility. She now has mild dementia and great anxiety. Coordinating mom’s care with family members, caretakers and an extensive medical team requires a lot of time and logistical thought. There were many times that I felt torn between investing time in my mother and her needs versus fighting for reproductive rights for my granddaughter and all women. Especially, knowing that as a fundamental Catholic, her main priority is putting candidates in office who will overturn Roe v Wade and that she voted for Trump. I am satisfied that I have arranged excellent care for my mother and the process has been emotionally exhausting. I thank mom for loving me, my husband, my sons and my grandchildren. I know that the stability and support of my higher education that mom gave played a key part in me achieving my dreams.
Now, like many others, I see that even though we have a majority of Congress in favor of reproductive rights, the state legislatures continue to chip away at Roe v Wade. This is demonstrated strongly by the recent Texas abortion restriction that provides “a bounty” of $10,000 to all citizens of Texas to sue any Texan who participates in an abortion procedure at any level. Going so far as to include an Uber driver who may drive a woman to a clinic for the procedure. Additionally, we now have a 6-3 antichoice Supreme Court Justice Majority. Three of the current antichoice Supreme Court Justices were chosen by Trump.
The struggle to acquire and protect reproductive rights, it seems, is far from over. Think about the suffragists who began the fight to secure women’s right to vote in the late 1800’s. Many of the suffragist leaders did not live to see ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920. It is now clear to me that there will always be 33% of a population that embraces patriarchal authoritarianism and will be a threat to reproductive rights and our democracy. I am grappling with the fact that I am in the activist fight for the LONG HAUL and need to figure out how to reconcile the life of a peaceful existence that I had once envisioned in my retirement – the horse, the National Parks, and long days with grandkids – with this new reality that I will be a lifelong activist. I continue to receive great inspiration from the suffragists and my Black American mentors who come from a legacy of racial and social justice warriors and well understand that THE WORK is lifelong. They have taught me how to be a lifelong activist and not get lost along the way by remembering to take to take time for fun and rejuvenation.
Because we’re in this for the long haul.
It was one of the strangest things I have ever been told, and this is coming from someone who panic-bought a saxophone. But, there I was, clutching my alto which I’d purchased in a fit of despair some years earlier, standing there under the warm afternoon sun, surrounded by clowns. And as I stood there, decorated in colorful plastic streamers amongst a hubbub of facepaint and funny glasses, a wide-eyed bystander gingerly approached me, glanced at the bedlam of buffoonery around us, and uttered “Thank god you’re here.”
I should probably tell you why I was surrounded by clowns.
But first, I suppose I should introduce myself. My name is Delin, and I’m a white non-binary musician. The day I want to tell you about, I was playing with an activist street band, packing my cheap alto saxophone I picked up off of Craigslist fitted with a synthetic reed as a contingency plan against tear gas. Military weapons really do a number on cane reeds. I’m here to tell you the story of that day. About the beats and dynamics of a concerto featuring the patriarchy, activism, artists, and of course, more specifically, clowns. Now, with all that being said, it’s probably time to tell you why – with full intention and resolution – I was there, surrounded by clowns.
This wasn’t the first time it had happened, and it wouldn’t be the last, and it’s going to happen again long after you’ve heard this. A group of white supremacist extremists were rolling into town for the day. I’d tell you why, but honestly, I am just not sure why, and that’s not my story to tell. Point is here they came. In the past, they came and shouted a lot, banged their chests and flaunted toxic masculinity and got in fights, then often times long after things died down somebody or somebodies would get hurt when they came to town. There was, and is, a lot of tension around those days. Days like that usually draw a crowd of dissenters. People who want to send a message that these groups are not welcome to simply roll up in town and cause violence. There are countless reasons why the people show up against these guys. But this was the first time I went with the clowns.
It was absurd. By design. I hadn’t seen that one tried before and I thought “Yeah! make ’em look silly, yelling at a buncha clowns. Clowns in every press photo. Every video interview would be unavoidably filmed against a relentless backdrop of clowns. Let’s see what happens.”
I won’t lie to you when I say I wasn’t sold on going – and as many times as it had happened, I always went around the same questions every time. Was it worth it? Would I get hurt? Was this going to help or change anything and can simply showing up make any sort of a difference against the forces of patriarchal violence and white supremacy? Was our time better spent elsewhere? What did we hope to achieve, and did we expect to achieve it? Or did we not believe we could, but resolved to go anyway because that’s what our souls called us to do? All these questions were spinning in my head, as they always do, as I packed up and set off.
Now, before I tell you the rest of what happened that day, I think I should tell you at least what I was doing that evening, long after the clowns had gone. A turn of events of the day found me, at a last-minute request of a sizeable event venue, working as a security guard and safety escort. Now I enjoy self-deprecation as much as the next trans-masculine oddball, but I think it bears mentioning that I was a peculiar addition to the security team, standing at 4’10”.
The event was this radical, queer, femme modeling show, and talk amongst producers had heavily focused on whether or not to cancel, given what was planned just a few blocks away that very afternoon. They had some heavy questions to consider, too. What if there was still activity or fights by the time the event started? What if a performer or patron was targeted or hurt? What did they hope to achieve, and did they expect to achieve it?
After some soul-searching, the producers reached a decision. And that decision was, I think, about resiliency. Digging in the heels and taking space and finding light and saying “no, you won’t scare us away. No, we will do this art and celebrate these performances and feel these feelings and you cannot stop us.” They, too, wanted to perform in spite of, and even perhaps as a tool against, these guys who came to town.
And they saw me that afternoon in a leather jacket and they said “you! you’ve seen how these groups operate before, you’ve done this, you know their moves, would you work security?”
There are countless reasons why the people show up against these guys. But this was the first time I went with the clowns.
The security team was myself and two much bigger, scrappier guys who were unquestionably more experienced in working as a bouncer than I was. We traded stories over cigarettes outside the gate to the modeling event, exploring commonalities and laughing off our differences under the burnt out street lights. I told them about that afternoon with the clowns, about our history of scrapes with white supremacist groups, and, I told them about something I did just the night before as I was preparing myself mentally for that counter-protest. I told them about the naivete, the risk, the absurdity, the gullibleness, the useless sincerity, and the hope in what I did.
I had been worried about the potential level of violence and the rumors that had spread. I needed to do my own research, so I started checking out social media feeds and pages of the group that had planned to come to town. I wanted, needed, to know not only what was going to happen, but why it was going to happen. What did they want? Why were they coming this time and every time before and after? Why? A lot of what I found scared me pretty bad, to be honest. But there was this one old lady on this one page who kept responding to the general posturing and threats of violence with a familiar midwestern-nice tone of “~oh boys, now stop that~”.
Now this is where I got really half-witted. I sent her a message.
Both of us had been understandably guarded when we wrote to each other. No details were exchanged. No identifying information. But what was exchanged was a story. She was an older woman. Gosh-darn worried about those nice boys who were out to get in a fight with each other. And tragically, poignantly, also gosh-darn worried about everyone. Clearly convinced that there was something about freedom and justice in the militarized way her self-described “boys” behaved, she still had this grandmotherly concern about her. She was unwilling to explore their actions in terms of violence, aside from a “oh boys will be boys!” attitude.
But she did tell me a story. True or not I will never know, but she wrote about handing sandwiches across the police line on one afternoon not dissimilar to the one that was about to take place. According to her, she was a matronly character who toted sandwiches to protests, and on that particular day, had been handing them out not just to her boys at her shoulder but also, in her words, to the nice young boys on the other side of the police line. I’d say right offhand that it couldn’t possibly be true knowing how the local PD behaves -but then, for a self-identified conversative older white woman, frankly, anything is possible.
She told me to be safe. I told her the same. We both agreed to block each other from further interaction, and we moved on.
My security colleagues chuckled and shook their heads, when somebody’s voice shocked piped up from the gate behind us “Thank you for everything you’re doing tonight,” they said. We nodded and they left. Bullsh*t, I thought. And in some moments, that’s what I still think. What could, for example, on a dimly-lit street upon which we were encountered by a group of four big scary dudes fully intending physical harm to our bodies, what could we do? What could I do? It was all bullsh*t! Performance! An act of theatre!
But maybe, I think in other times, times when I am simultaneously completely unhinged and grounded more-than-ever-before, I think, maybe there’s something there.
I wanted, needed, to know not only what was going to happen, but why it was going to happen. What did they want?
Now back to that afternoon.
There was screaming. A large police presence. Flash-bangs and tear gas. Chanting and drums and a marching band and, of course, clowns. Word had spread and intel was sought and there had been concerns about the level of risk facing the day. Specifically about gun violence and things going far beyond what could be handled by a group of clowns. Not that we were there to “handle” anything perse. Still to this day I consider new ideas about what we were there for. But I think back to that person and their big, nervous eyes, saying – “thank god you’re here” – and I wonder what use performance might have against the patriarchy. Now the naiveté of that thought is not lost on me – diversity of tactics is critical and if at all, absurdist theater plays but a small role in a larger movement. But for many years, and in many different forms, that has been my role. The one that fits, the one that I can offer, the one that people ask for more of. And I may never know entirely why.
Punches were thrown, the band ran Sgt-Pepper-style accidentally towards, and promptly away from, several skirmishes between cops and white supremacists and counter-protestors, horns were honked, helicopters carved around in the skies overhead and pies were thrown. We were in some of the right places, some of the wrong places, stepped on some toes and played music and felt complicated feelings when some of the guys yelled from across the police line that they liked the music. Yikes.
And while I was mostly caught up in the moment-to-moment, mostly anchoring my attention to the events and signals and key changes and skits and brawls, I was also scanning the police line, wondering if she was there. It didn’t functionally matter if she was there. It wouldn’t change anything I did or any notes that I would play that day. Besides, what was I looking for? An old lady with sandwiches?
The event that evening took place without incident. Performances were celebrated, words were sung, costumes were bright and stage lights were hot and cigarettes from the makeshift security team glowed all night long. We traded more stories out on the corner of fights and close calls and guts and resilience. Of freedom, creativity, safety, and expression. Stories of absurdity, power, risk, grit, and hope. Maybe one about possibly fabricated sandwiches. About a couple of people who hoped for the best.
And I don’t know how any of this will go. But I’ll keep buying plastic reeds to play through the tear gas. I’ll keep telling stories. And I’ll see you out there.
we will do this art and celebrate these performances and feel these feelings
and you cannot stop us
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