SlutWalk LA is now less than 24 hours away. Though Facebook is notoriously unreliable in this regard, we have more than 4000 RSVPs. (I’m guessing we’ll get half that, but would like to be pleasantly surprised with something much bigger.) The weather appears to be cooperating (some morning clouds likely, then highs in the low 70s with sunshine during our rally and march.) I’ve touched base with the City of West Hollywood again, done a brief radio interview, and done something else I hardly ever do: write out my speech. I tend to wing it in most settings, liking the adrenaline rush of extemporaneity and panic. (Once an addict, always an addict, eh?) But to ensure that I’m brief and to the point, I typed up a three-minute piece. I’ll post it here after the event.
This morning, I saw the news of Jack Kevorkian’s death. Though his penchant for self-promotion and risk-taking seemed at times to do more harm than good to the movement for death with dignity, on the balance I was and am a fan. I honor his passing and his tremendous work to give dying people the best and most peaceful transition possible.
In several obits, including this one in the LA Times, one can find a famous quote from Derek Humphry of the Hemlock Society: “If we are free people at all, then we must be free to choose the manner of our death.” Jack Kevorkian believed in that definition and struggled hard to make it possible. I’m grateful for that.
Thinking of what Humphry said, it strikes me that there’s a parallel with SlutWalk. We’re fighting for the freedom of women to choose the manner of their dress, to choose how they present themselves in public, and to do so in confidence that they will be safe. We’re marching for the right to be sovereign over one’s body, a right to which Jack Kevorkian dedicated his life. We’re marching for sexual justice, which is rooted in the sacred principle of personal autonomy.
In the end, our bodies belong to us and us alone. They do not belong to our spouses or our children, to our parents or our presidents. We can use our bodies to love and serve others, of course. We can give hugs and orgasms, invite others to find refuge and comfort and ecstasy in our embraces. But in the end, our bodies are always ours. Sexual justice is about giving all of us the right to say “yes” to pleasure without shame or fear; it’s also about giving all of us the right to say “no” in the certainty that that no will be respected regardless of who we are, whom we’ve touched, what we’re wearing.
And just as we should always be free to choose who touches us, we should also be free, within the obvious limits imposed by our own human frailty, to choose how and when we give up our bodies to death. Women’s bodies don’t belong to men, whether those men are their husbands or the leering strangers on the streetcorner. That’s a basic principle of SlutWalk. In the same way, our bodies don’t belong to our families or to our communities. When we are terminally ill, there’s no point in dutifully prolonging the body’s pain out of a sense of obligation to those who will grieve our inevitable death.
I am faithful to my wife. I am sexual with her alone. My arms are always open for my daughter. In different ways, they each have a kind of moral and emotional claim on my body, one I honor as best I can. But my body has never ceased to be mine. The fact that I direct all my sexuality towards my wife doesn’t mean my flesh is her property, or hers mine. Our bodies are gifts we share, but never give away.
Many rely on my body, a few love it. But it is mine, and yours is yours. And if our dying is slow and painful, our bodies are ours to relinquish just as they were once ours to delight in.
That principle of bodily sovereignty is clearest around sex and death. For me, at least, there is some parallel between our work in the streets of West Hollywood (and in the streets of many other cities around the world) tomorrow, and the work of the brave, impetuous, exasperating, and lion-hearted Jack Kevorkian.