Texas lawmakers retracted my award, but I wrote an acceptance speech anyway

Texas Capitol Photo by Emily Albracht

The invitation could not have been lovelier. The Texas State Legislature wanted to honor me. Me! A Yankee carpetbagger.

I got a bit weepy reflecting upon the magnitude of my own magnificence. Flattered? You bet. But what really impressed me was they had cited a recent small book of mine in which I’d burnished the stars in my own personal galaxy of Texas Women heroes: Molly Ivins, Ann Richards, Lady Bird Johnson, Barbara Jordan.

Determined to speak as my progressive heroines would have, I set about writing the speech I assumed I’d be asked to deliver. Because, really, when you honor someone who spends his or her life torturing the alphabet, isn’t a speech expected?

And then I learned that the honor was to be in the form of a legislative resolution which would, most likely, simply be read into the record. There would be no speech. I quickly sent the following e-mail:

“Hello. My apologies. I misunderstood the nature of this honor and thought it would be an opportunity for me to address the Legislature and to speak for myself and much of the writing community.

“I'm afraid that simply accepting an honor from the Texas Legislature will seem like I support them without question. And I have many, many questions which I would welcome the opportunity to share.

“Since you mentioned my small book, "Love Letter to Texas Women," I would especially like to plead with this august group to stop using the bodies of Texas women as a political battlefield. I would also like to bear witness to the fact that I, absolutely, would never have become a writer or even the person I was meant to be without access to safe, affordable, women's health care.

“If I will be allowed to do what I am being honored for, to truly be the role model you refer to me as, and speak out, then I wholeheartedly accept. If not, then I'm afraid I cannot accept.

“I eagerly await your reply.”

I received a genuinely courteous response from the genuinely well-intentioned organizer saying, “I regret that you won't be attending . . .”

Well, now I had a speech bottled up. When I uncorked it, however, it had a bit more of a bite to it. But here, with my white lady gloves off, is essentially what I intended to say:

Whenever I meet a woman of my age, old enough to remember those glorious carefree days back when America was great and we were pooping our panties as we trembled in fear of nuclear annihilation beneath our desks; or skipping merrily behind the truck spraying clouds of utterly safe DDT; or staring at the photo of a black girl nearly our own age who required the National Guard and more guts than you can hang on a fence to go to school; or, living in terror of becoming one of the thousands of women who died of an unsafe, illegal abortion, we shake our heads and wonder, “How the hell did we get back here?”

The short answer to how is “states’ rights.” Yes, that nightrider who’s kept the Civil War raging for more than 150 years is the very creature enabling all the OB/GYNs in the Legislature to get all up in our lady business via the gnat swarm of bullshit laws they keep trying to inflict upon us. What? No, OB/GYNs in the Lege? But they authored a booklet, “A Woman’s Right to Know,” that doctors are forced to give patients seeking an abortion that warns those women they will suffer a higher incidence of breast cancer — a fact unknown to countless medical groups, including the National Cancer Institute, which has debunked this claim. State Reps. Donna Howard, D-Austin, Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, and Mary González, D-Clint, introduced legislation to fix the inaccuracies, but it didn’t pass.

The hypocrisy is wearying. And it would be laughable if the bodies of Texas women were not at stake.

So, that’s the “how,” what about the “why?” Because it gets votes and the dipshits get to accomplish that which their entire being is centered around: Keeping their jobs. And why is using the bodies of Texas women as a sort of tenure track to job security such a sure-fire vote-getting strategy?

Let us turn to the individual selected by the antiquated, dangerously unrepresentative Electoral College to be our next president for that answer. No more perfect articulation as to why our representatives are so relentlessly eager to shove their transvaginal ultrasound wands into the bodies of as many Texas women as their bullshit laws allow can be found than that offered in this individual’s colloquy with Billy Bush, blessedly, blessedly, preserved for the ages on videotape. There, in the NBC Studios parking lot, he identified the ultimate prize that awaited the man who achieved his level of celebrity: the power to grab women by their genitalia.

Here in a nutshell is the cornerstone of every fundamentalist perversion of religion from the Taliban to the Yearning for Zion FLDS compound: Control the P____. Our next president can say it, but I won’t. This atavistic impulse is at the heart of every transparently cynical political ploy from the state’s egregious fetal remains burial proposal to mandatory parental consent for minors to defunding Planned Parenthood to the rules that forced most clinics in the Rio Grande Valley to shut down.

I wish I’d had a chance to make a polite and diplomatic plea to the Texas State Legislature. Since I didn’t, I will march alongside other Texas women on January 21st and we will let our bodies, strong, powerful and free, speak for us.

Sarah Bird

Sarah Bird is a Texas writer.