Shameless reminded me that another world was possible
Illustration: Beena Mistry
For our fifteenth anniversary we’ve reached out to the Shameless community and asked what the magazine has meant to them. What has Shameless meant to you? Talk back to us on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook. Read past entries in this series: Melinda Mattos, Marta Balcewicz, Manisha Claire, and Jessica Balmer.
As I write this, and so much is unfolding. Beautiful things - cherry blossoms, forsythia, magnolia trees - but dark things too. Georgia became the fourth state in the United States to ban abortion after six weeks. And Alabama passed a bill that would outlaw abortions completely, at any point, with no exceptions. If a doctor was to provide an abortion in that state, they would be sentenced to 99 years in prison. In some ways, this all feels very far away. I’m in Toronto. Here, I could access an abortion with relative ease, only needing my health card. But in other ways, what’s happening south is not so far off.
In 2011 I had an abortion in Nova Scotia. Back then if you lived anywhere in Atlantic Canada and needed to end a pregnancy, it was likely that you would have to travel to Halifax for the procedure. On Prince Edward Island, there was not a single facility that would perform abortions; in New Brunswick, you could access an abortion at one hospital in the entire province and only with two doctor’s referrals, or you could pay for one at a private clinic. It wasn’t an easy time to be unwillingly pregnant on the East Coast, and needless to say, my abortion experience wasn’t easy either. There was a lack of information, long wait times and mostly a profound sense of powerlessness. It is truly indescribable how infuriating it is when your choices about your body - the thing you live in! the thing that is you! - are being curtailed. It’s like banging your head against a wall, or maybe a glass ceiling. A thick and seemingly unbreakable glass ceiling.
What do you do when you’re up against something so big, so imposing and seemingly so indestructible? You find your people, you pull yourselves together, and you become an unstoppable mass. In 2011, I found solace in Shameless. During my pregnancy, I would read back issues, finding comfort in the writing of other young, radical people who were struggling and winning and surviving. I learned about DIY crafts, about Indigenous culture and about what feminist books I should be reading. I read about how pro-choice students were making their voices heard around the world. I read about sex education and reproductive justice and in those pages, I felt less alone. Shameless reminded me that another world was possible, indeed that another world existed beyond Atlantic Canada. With its accessible language, critical thinking and radical hope, Shameless carried me through. It provided me with a sense of critical mass that I needed to get through a tough time.
This is what Shameless does. It provides youth and adults alike the kind of education we need in order know that there is hope, that there is space for us and that we can remake the world. It inspires, informs and offers a radical vision of inclusion. It connects women and trans youth living across Canada who so need to be connected to one another, creating a sense of shared community and solidarity. And that is why Shameless is needed right now. Because while a lot has changed since my abortion in 2011, the fight for reproductive justice persists. In May, Conservative Niagara-West MPP Sam Oosterhoff pledged that he would work to make abortion ‘unthinkable’ in Ontario. And while Doug Ford has indicated that he won’t re-open the abortion issue, he has already impacted reproductive rights in this province in other ways. His government has cut funding to the Ontario College of Midwives by one third, limiting access to necessary services for pregnant people across the province. So, what’s happening just south of us really does matter. It matters on an ideological level, because watching this kind of misogynist, anti-abortion legislation come to fruition emboldens anti-choice organizations here in Canada. It matters on a moral level, because while we may have access to abortion in Ontario we must act in solidarity with those who will be most persecuted, namely women of colour living in poverty. And it matters on a policy level, because anti-choice lobbying organizations in the United States are directly tied to those in Canada (read this incredible thread by Erynn Brook to learn more). The U.S. is not so far away.
It can feel almost dizzying to think about the battles ahead of us. But I have found that the most steadying thing to do to stay grounded and strong is to find co-conspirators. Shameless has been described as “an amalgam of your sassy big sister, a party time neighbour and that radical history teacher you maybe never had.” Well, I would add co-conspirator to the list. On this, Shameless’s 15th birthday, I am feeling exceptionally grateful for their anti-oppressive, intersectional feminist voice in the world. May Shameless - and all of us who are alternative weirdos, aspiring revolutionaries and glittering queers - continue to conspire to keep radical hope alive.