Bodily Autonomy

Batman. Euthanasia. Porn.

That’s what I want to write about right now.

Or rather, not what I want to write about, but what I will write about. What I have been writing about in my head for weeks.

I do not believe that there is ever a true divide between work life and personal life. I think we pretend that there is, and especially in academic settings we distance ourselves from ourselves – we write argument essays without using personal pronouns, for fuck’s sake! – but it’s never really separate. I don’t think, anyway.

So in my personal life, I have hit a significant (seriously significant) wall. Someone very close to me is dying. Not in the existential, we’re-all-going-to-die-someday way. They are sick. Terminal. Progressing. Not imminent, but soon enough that doctors have said, “start making plans.” And so plans are being made. Plans that do not include chemotherapy or bone marrow transplants. Plans that include dying voluntarily when the disease progresses to the point where quality of life is unacceptably diminished.

And bodily autonomy… wow. It’s a big deal. It’s a big fucking deal. It’s one of my core beliefs – this belief that we have a right to bodily autonomy. On the topic of my thesis, the fact is that fundamentally, I don’t give a shit about the theory of pornography or sex work because I believe to the core of my being that bodily autonomy is a right. So I will study it, and I want to understand both sides of the argument, but nothing will convince me that porn or sex work should be banned, because I believe that bodily autonomy is necessary. That people can do with their bodies whatever they want to do with their bodies (as long as it does not directly harm others – bodily autonomy does not extend past the limits of one’s own skin). I believe that people can choose to strip or dance or whore or die as they choose. Nobody else owns your body. Nobody else can tell you what you can and cannot do with your body.

I haven’t been writing a lot academically in the last couple weeks, since that conversation about dying. I’ve been grieving. It’s been a physical process – my body feels this impact. There is a painful interplay between my cognitive and emotional processing of the situation and my body’s reaction. I suck down into grief for a few hours and I ache for days. All my joints, all my muscles. The pain makes it hard to concentrate, hard to pretend there’s a divide, hard to make an effort at separating academic-professional-me and grieving-personal-me. Despite that inability to keep them separate, I also haven’t been able to integrate those two sides of me.

But tonight I saw The Dark Knight Rises and it clicked together for me.

In the scene where Bruce Wayne is at the doctor, looking at the x-rays of his completely de-cartilaged knees and hips, his scarred kidneys and broken body, I realized… Alfred wants him to stop being a hero, but we, the audience, know that he can’t and that he shouldn’t (at least not yet). We know it because we know that being Batman is a choice Bruce Wayne has every right to make. It’s his body. He’s breaking it for a higher purpose.

So, okay. I’m pretty emotional lately. We’ll accept this as a fact.

And I’m not saying that the person close to me who is planning to choose euthanasia is a superhero.

And I’m not saying that pornstars and sex workers are super heroes (though I think some of them are).

I’m just saying… we understand bodily autonomy in some circumstances. We understand it, we celebrate it. And these two issues (porn and euthanasia) which have become so critically important to me… we don’t understand it in those instances. We don’t tell stories about bodily autonomy being celebrated in those instances. We can’t see it.

Some of the arguments used against bodily autonomy really bother me.

The idea that sex workers or porn performers would not choose their careers if they really loved themselves, for instance. I think that’s a bullshit argument against those people’s bodily autonomy because it makes so many assumptions about the connection between bodies and minds. (I have lots of issues with the whole “you must love yourself” thing because… I just do. That’s another post.)

The same argument is used against euthanasia – that it’s either selfish, or reflects a lack of self-love. And again, I call bullshit. Bruce Wayne may have some serious issues to work through for himself, but we recognize that what he does with his body is his choice and we respect that because he’s Batman. Even IF a porn performer or sex worker has self-esteem issues or whatever, they still have a right to bodily autonomy! Even IF a person choosing euthanasia just can’t face the pain of chemotherapy regardless of what their loved ones may prefer, they still have a right to bodily autonomy! Even IF Alfred can’t handle losing another Wayne, Batman can still strap on his leg brace thing and kick some ass.

I know it’s a stretch, maybe.

But in my mind, for the last week, there’s been this wall between what I am thinking about constantly (death, loss, grief, illness, my own body giving way to this onslaught of emotion) and what I feel I should be thinking about (porn, sex work, academics, final projects, gpa). And I bridged it, finally. Breached it. I can see how the research I’m doing, which is informed by my strong belief in bodily autonomy, relates to what I’m experiencing in my personal life. I feel like I can maybe keep going on the academic side, because I see a relationship between that academic undertaking and my own experience of this grief, which seemed so distant from it.

It’s good to make that connection. It makes me feel more centered. Ideologically, I think I could unpack that a bit (why can’t I let there be parts of my life that are not connected? What’s that all about?) but for now I am just grateful.

One comment on “Bodily Autonomy

  1. Nathan Bell says:

    Pretty sure I know who you’re talking about here. I want you to know I’m thinking about you, and that person, and all the people who love that person.

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