Recently, I was having a conversation with some other reproductive justice-inclined folks about cisgender men who are clinic escorts. Escorting, regardless of your gender, can be taxing. (It can also be powerful, rewarding and beautiful.) You wake up early and stand outside an abortion clinic for hours. You may have to answer questions from people who are just walking by and want to know what’s happening, without knowing whether or not they’re going to be sympathetic. Anti-choice protestors will try to make your job harder via verbal or physical harassment.
For the most part, it is women who take on the job of escorting at clinics, but on occasion there are men. Generally speaking, in the abortion conversation, men are either providers, the partners of those getting abortions or protesteors. “I am constantly having to stop myself,” said MB, a female clinic escort, “from asking both the dude protesters and the dude escorts, what does this mean to you? Why are you here?”
I decided to track down some men who are clinic escorts to get answers to these questions. And I read their answers with this quote from Natalie, a clinic escort in Los Angeles, in mind: “Some cis male clinic escorts are great, and it’s an honor to volunteer with them. I think cis men who choose to get involved with clinic escorting have a responsibility to be conscious of what they bring to the dynamic. They have the power to present a male-inclusive feminism to patients, protestersand passers-by, or to perpetuate the status quo.”
Dan Rudyk, 57, escorts at EMW Women’s Surgical Center in Louisville, Ky.
What was your motivation to start escorting?
Dan Rudyk: My grandmother, my mother’s mother, died at the age of 32 in 1949, of complications from a back-alley abortion. With five daughters already, ranging in age from 16 to 4, and barely surviving on a milkman’s salary in a two-bedroom apartment, they couldn’t afford any more children. The price she and the family paid as a result of an unsafe, illegal abortion was devastating.
In addition, I’ve had the opportunity to be educated in the feminist perspective by my wife of 28 years. She is an excellent teacher, and I happen to be a good listener. And lastly, I will always be grateful that abortions were legal in 1979, when my first wife got pregnant for the second time. Our relationship was already torturous. A second child would not only have made our lives more miserable, but the child’s life ultimately would have been worse. Our first and, thankfully only child, suffered terribly. Putting two children through that would have been abusive.
How do you think your identity as a cis man has affected your experience as an escort?
DR: The Louisville clinic escorts have a list they call the Points of Unity. The ten statements in this list help to keep us all focused on why we’re there at the clinic and remind us of the best ways to accomplish our goals. There is one point I feel demonstrates the difference between the male and female experience of escorting: “Escort interactions with anti-choice protesters should be purposeful, focused and calm.” As in most things, there is a spectrum of interpretations of this point of unity, and every escort falls in a place on that spectrum based on their personality, background and life experiences. But speaking in general terms, the female escorts interpret that very strictly. They do not talk to protesters. They will not engage in conversations, they will not react to their comments, they will not acknowledge their presence if possible. They will address them only in dire circumstances when it cannot be avoided.
I, on the other hand, have purposeful, focused and calm conversations with anti-choice protesters. Not all male escorts do this, but some do. Some men want to, but they hold back. The women don’t do it at all.
In conversations with my female cohorts, I’ve been told it’s because I’m not vested in the cause. It’s not personal to me because I will never personally need an abortion. The transgressions of these protesters will never be directed at me. The restrictions they want to impose will never affect me directly, only indirectly. Therefore, I can open myself to protesters in friendliness, accept their right to be there, their right to free speech, seek compromise in their approach, find common ground on which to negotiate. The women claim the protesters do not belong there. This is a private affair, none of their business. Any acknowledgement of their rights only encourages them to continue in their rudeness and offenses.
One morning several years ago, the first client I escorted that morning was a young woman who was probably about 19 years old. She was accompanied by a companion of the same age. She was very affected by the presence of the protesters. As we approached the door, the throng of protesters grew in density and intensity. I felt her hands and arms wrap around my arm, and with each step she drew herself closer to me. By the time we reached the door her face was buried in my shoulder, and she was sobbing audibly. I was still rather new to escorting at the time. I’ll always wish I had held her hands with my free hand and comforted her with assurances that all would be okay. But I will always be glad that I was able to stand in as a surrogate father to this young woman whose actual father, for whatever reason, was not there when she needed him more than anything.
What’s been the best part of escorting for you?
DR: I absolutely love and respect every one of my escort friends. This has been the best part of escorting for me. I have a wonderful community of very special, like-minded, impressively empowered friends. I have been an atheist for many years, but have missed the community of family and friends attending church provided for some. Now, going to the clinic on Saturday mornings is my church.
As in any community, we each offer something to the group in whatever way we are willing or able. While I may never carry or birth a child, I share the experience and the nurturing. We all have our role to play. The female escorts cannot and will not talk to protesters. I completely understand and respect that position. I can and do talk to protesters. I can’t make them go away, but I have reduced some tensions, and I’ve even influenced a few. I’ve shown some anti-abortion people that escorts are thoughtful and kind and loving. They may not have changed their minds about abortion, but some don’t come to protest anymore and some have toned down their rhetoric.