Oral History: Out From Under The Rug [Dallas]

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On Wednesday, September 21, hundreds of people packed into Dallas City Performance Hall to witness a moment in history. For the first time in Dallas, a group of men and women were set to share their own, true personal stories related to abortion. This special edition of Oral Fixation (An Obsession with True Life Tales), entitled “Out From Under The Rug,” was created, produced, and directed by Oral Fixation founder Nicole Stewart, who shared her own abortion story in the OF show, “Bun in the Oven,” and felt compelled to push the envelope even further: an entire show of stories about abortion. Her hope: humanize this hot-button topic that has been stigmatized and moralized, and in this election year, open up a space where a conversation can begin. “It is time to #SweepOutTheShame of abortion,” Nicole has said. And given the crowd that showed up for #OutFromUnderTheRug, she is far from alone in her thinking.

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As is her usual routine, Nicole opened the show by greeting the audience. Simply her mention of the show’s theme, however, brought raucous applause. One to never settle for the easier path, however, Nicole recounted her own abortion story once more. And then, stating the statistic that one in three women have had an abortion, she asked for audience members to take a deep breath, step out of their comfort zones, and stand up if they have had an abortion. Women from all walks of life and ages rose, and immediately, the audience applauded their bravery.

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“Now, if you are an audience member who knows someone who has had an abortion, please stand,” added Nicole. Nearly the entire audience came to its feet, and surrounded by thundering applause, Nicole choked up, fighting back tears. “I have goosebumps,” she said. And that was just the beginning of the night!

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Britt Payne launched the evening’s showcase by sharing a familiar tale: falling for the wrong person who failed to respect her. But when she discovered she was pregnant, Britt thought “everything would fall into place.” The opposite occurred. “I want the whole package,” the man said, “and you are not it.” Britt questioned everything. “Would I bring this little spirit into the world, knowing that its father would likely dip in and out, a sentence of a lifetime of heartache? Or would I have an abortion and set the spirit free? Will God still love me?” No easy answers, but in choosing to terminate her pregnancy, Britt ventured onto a path of self-love where she realized that she actually is the whole package. Now married to the man of her dreams, she is hoping to conceive a child soon.

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In her early twenties, Emily Cortez felt her life was really starting to take off when she fell in love with an older man, missed some birth control pills, and suddenly found herself gaining weight and fighting back nausea. With multiple tests confirming her pregnancy, Emily knew she was not ready to be a mother. Going against her Catholic faith, she chose to abort her pregnancy. “Walking into the clinic, I was greeted outside by a middle-aged man holding a sign: ‘You’re going to hell!’” Later, a full range of emotions overtook her, including fear of being judged and a wavering between guilt and non-guilt. Ultimately, however, the experience transformed her: “My unplanned pregnancy helped shape the timid woman I was into the strong, vocal woman I am today. To that protestor who held that sign, I want you to know: I am like you—a person—a human with stories, moments and experiences that have shaped me but do not define me.”

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More than anything, Clark Harding’s BFF Lizzie wanted a baby. But when Lizzie ended up pregnant with the child of her married lover, she knew her choices were limited. Trying to help, Clark escorted Lizzie to Planned Parenthood, and to comfort her, said he’d heard an abortion was just like a pap smear (although he really had no idea). When her abortion was over, Lizzie read Clark the riot act: “Please stop imposing your male privilege onto my experience,” she snapped. “You are a man. You don’t know!” Something sunk in, Clark told audience members. “It never occurred to me that the root of the problem is an inequality of gender. As much as I thought I was being supportive, I was actually being condescending. ‘I’m so sorry,’ I finally said to Lizzie.”

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When Elise Bilodeau became sexually active at 16 and soon after, pregnant, the situation turned her life upside down. Although her family was devoutly Catholic, her parents wisely let her choose her own path. But choosing to terminate her pregnancy brought gossip and shame. Instead of drowning in that pain, however, Elise chose to heal by finding purpose and passion in becoming an abortion doula and counselor. Once, after counseling a minor through an abortion, Elise received a note from the girl’s Catholic mother, expressing how difficult it had been to allow her daughter such a choice, but how Elise’s counseling lessened the burden. “I read the note and cried,” Elise recalled, “thinking how I, the rebellious daughter who had caused my mother such pain, had eased that pain for another woman.”

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Rev. Daniel Kanter, senior minister of the First Unitarian Church of Dallas, told the audience that while recently on a clergy panel at Planned Parenthood’s national convention, he heard someone say, “Men have abortion stories also.” And in that moment, he realized, “No one knows mine.” He told us about when he was younger and had a girlfriend who ended up pregnant. “I was a teacher, and she was working in a print shop at night. It would have to end in abortion,” he recalled. Then days later, the girlfriend told him, “I took care of it.” His emotions ran the gamut, and then he stashed it away—until Wednesday night. “I knew that someday my abortion, which until this very moment has occupied a secret sanctuary inside me, a place of powerlessness and pain and confusion, would emerge. When I heard ‘men have abortion stories also,’ I realized I had to tell mine. So, I’m not ashamed to say, ‘I am a minister, and I got someone pregnant who had an abortion. And I am a better person now that you have heard my story.’”

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Local actress Lulu Ward took us back to a time when ignorance was the norm: “I had no sex education whatsoever. My parents never had ‘the talk’ with me. I had never heard or read the words penis or vagina or sex.” And so at 16, when the boy she was dating started forcing himself on her, she didn’t even know she was having sex. But she ended up pregnant all the same. After arranging her abortion, her father snapped, “You cannot tell anyone about this!” The shame swallowed her. “I told no one,” Lulu shared. “I attempted to cleanse myself by being the The Perfect Little Girl. I didn’t date. I went to church. I made straight A’s. I became anorexic. I was 54 before I stopped trying to be The Perfect Little Girl,” she told us. But eventually, Lulu added, “I removed this long-held secret from under the rug…and the truth has indeed, set me free.”

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At curtain call, these amazing storytellers received the standing ovation and roaring applause they deserved. Baring one’s soul before hundreds on a topic that remains horrendously stigmatized and moralized is perhaps the bravest and most courageous of all acts. And this crew, they delivered ad infinitum: they decided to remove their abortion stories #OutFromUnderTheRug and #SweepOutTheShame once and for all! And the audience was in 100 percent agreement: Now is the time. In an effort to allow anyone else who wished to share their personal story, OF offered a private camera booth where abortion stories could be told and recorded. Quite a few brave souls seized the opportunity.

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Amongst the cast members after the show, one refrain was heard over and over: “I cannot believe how freeing that was. I have never felt lighter!” And amongst the audience members in the lobby after the show, another refrain was heard, over and over: “That was the best Oral Fixation show, ever!” Indeed. Oral Fixation’s visionary founder Nicole Stewart woke one night with a dream to use storytelling for social change. This past Wednesday night, that dream became reality.

And we are doing it again in Austin! On Monday, October 10 at the Zach Theater in Austin, we will be producing yet another “Out From Under The Rug” show with an entirely different Austin-based cast! If you love Austin and want to road-trip or have friends down there who would be interested, please spread the word. And mark your calendars for Wednesday, November 16, when we will be presenting the “Best of Season 5” at Dallas City Performance Hall! Our last season was amazing all around; now come see the best of the best!

If you think you might have a story to submit for Oral Fixation, themes for Season Six will be announced soon!! Keep a close eye on our website, Facebook page, and Twitter feed—and sign-up for our e-mail list to be notified. You too could grace the Oral Fixation stage! In the meantime, keep telling and sharing stories!

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