When Wendy Davis stood in front of the Texas Senate for 13 hours on Tuesday, bearing the condescending questions of men without sustenance or relief, I felt a strange wave of homesickness. I missed Texas.
Even though I was born in Pennsylvania, and now live in Washington DC, I oscillate wildly between identifying as a Pennsylvanian and as a Texan. No one should let me get away with that: I only lived in Texas for two years, and that was long ago.
I was four the first time I met Texas. My mom, grandmother, and grandfather drove from Pittsburgh to Austin in a big blue Oldsmobile. I sat in the middle on a seat that my grandfather had made so I could see over the dashboard. I watched the land slowly become flatter, the foliage stranger, the skies wider, and when we crossed the Texas state line, I saw bluebonnets for the first time.
My aunt had promised me cowboy boots if I made it all the way to her house, and by god, was I really going to make it. I was in love.
We repeated this ritual most summers. Texas is where I saw my first 80s dance movie (Footloose), where I saw my first concert (the Mike Love-era Beach Boys), and ate my first taco. It’s where I overheard my aunt refusing to order from Domino’s because of their rumored anti-choice leanings, and where I learned that a woman could be governor.
It is where I first started to feel the tiny fractures of rebellion against my staunchly religious mother.
And Texas is where I went to live in the summers between college when mom got remarried and I didn’t have a home to go to. Texas is where I learned to cook. Texas is where I walked through the office of Detour Films and peeked over the shoulders of artists rendering Waking Life, where I started working in domestic violence victim advocacy. It’s where I learned to handle my liquor and published my first essay. Texas is where I served Ann Richards her lattes at the Starbucks on 5th and Lamar. It’s where I met David Gordon Green, Elizabeth Avellan, and where Ethan Hawke winked at me. Texas is even where I lost my virginity.
But more importantly, Texas is the place where I met the women who shaped who I am. The first day of my internship at the Austin Film Society, I paired up with a girl who told me two things about herself: she came from the armpit of Texas and she wanted to make films about women. We haven’t stopped talking twelve years later.
I remember when I first moved to DC—still the George W. era—a dude in a button-down shirt crisp with East Coast elitism boarded the Metro and bumped into an older man wearing a cowboy hat who was standing in his way. “Go back to Texas, asshole,” the dude screamed in his face. I was embarrassed for everyone involved, but especially for myself, because I always want to go back to Texas.
Texas can be a religiously oppressive, sexist republic. It’s where an 11-year-old girl was gang-raped and then suffered two court cases where she was repeatedly told she was asking for it, and where a high school student was kicked off her cheer-leading squad after refusing to cheer for her rapist.
But it’s also the land of Leslie Cochran, the bearded, homeless transgender person who annually ran for mayor of Austin, 21-year-old Emma Tenayuca who rallied thousands of striking pecan shellers in San Antonio, Juana Gertrudis Navarro Alsbury was one of the few Alamo survivors, and the home of music icons Janis Joplin, Beyonce, and Selena. As Barbara Jordan, the first southern African-American woman elected to the House of Representatives said, “I get from the soil and spirit of Texas the feeling that I, as an individual, can accomplish whatever I want to, and that there are no limits, that you can just keep going, just keep soaring.”
I learned about feminism in Texas. The friends I have in Texas—the women I’ve worked next to—have gotten me through death, abusive relationships, and found a decent tomatillo salsa recipe.
Texas is the place I have always run to when everything is broken.
But I’m not a Texan anymore. Not really. It’s something I have to keep saying to myself: you are not a Texan, you are not a Texan, you are not a Texan. Especially now that I bought a house in DC, and it’s not likely that I’m going to be moving back anytime soon.
That’s why I didn’t start watching Wendy Davis and her filibuster against SB 5 in the Texas Senate until late Tuesday afternoon. I knew what was going to go down at the Capitol, but I kept reminding myself that I wasn’t a Texan anymore, that it wasn’t about me. It wasn’t my fight. Coupled with War on Women Fatigue, I didn’t want to get involved. And then at 5:00 p.m., a friend all the way in Gainesville, FL asked, “Are you WATCHING this?”
It felt like I had been holding my breath all day. If my friend is watching from Florida, I can let go of the reins. This is my fight.
I couldn’t stop watching, and I haven’t been able to stop crying since 5:01 p.m. that night. I had friends over for dinner and let the filibuster stream in the background, and I hurried them out the door when Davis was challenged for getting help with her back brace.
If SB 5 had passed Tuesday night, it wouldn’t have affected me, or directly affected most of my friends. They are over 30 and have the means and privilege now to get an abortion in another state. Most of my friends in Texas would still have the ability to carry pregnancies only if they wanted to.
But the idea that these women I know, and those that I will never know, would have their bodies up for debate, and their choices taken away from them, is unconscionable. The idea that if this bill had passed twelve years ago, when I could barely make rent let alone imagine buying a house, kept me watching. Or when my friend found herself pregnant at twenty-one and didn’t have the support of her parents would probably not have been able to get a safe and affordable abortion. Or when a coworker who got the smallest raise I had heard of allowed herself the luxury to get birth control from Planned Parenthood.
I watched and symbolically stood with Wendy because it would affect a friend’s one-year-old daughter whose face is plastered all over my refrigerator, or because it would force pregnant victims of domestic violence to feel like there was even less hope.
I watched and read along on Twitter, offered unsolicited advice when several people I followed who didn’t know which Senators were allies using stall tactics and which were trying to stop the filibuster, and I lied awake in my bed into the wee hours of East Coast time watching men quibble over parliamentary procedures while Wendy Davis kept standing.
In the morning, I tried to describe what happened to my husband, who tried to fight off sleep but dozed off just before Senator Leticia Van De Putte asked, “At what point must a female senator raise her hand or her voice to be recognized over her male colleagues?” I tried to tell him what the resonance of 1,500 women screaming for their reproductive rights sounded like, how it filled the shadowy soft corners of the bedroom at 1 in the morning. But instead, I wept as I tried to find a something clean to wear to work.
Later, when I tried to describe those last 10 minutes of the crowd-sourced filibuster to a coworker, I choked up and couldn’t finish.
Tuesday afternoon, when the news reported that Rick Perry called for a second special legislative session on July 1 to pass SB 5, I also choked up. Partly out of rage, and partly because several of my friends rallied on Twitter, “See you at the Capitol!”
It doesn’t matter where I bought my house, this obviously involves me, this involves everyone.
I can’t wait until a time when everyone thinks of Texas as I do: the land of Ann Richards, Molly Ivins, Wendy Davis, and Leticia Van De Putte, and not Rick Perry, George Bush or any of the men on the floor of the Senate would dare to debate what women should do with their own bodies. These women from Texas are used to having their rights being so callously considered, and are too familiar with a few loud men trying to speak for everyone. They are also used to, literally, standing up for themselves. The special legislative session might pass SB 5 next week, Rick Perry can use all the “small words” he wants but the ladies of Texas will not yield. History promises you this.