Fighting for the Future: Part Eight in Our Pro-Choice Horror Roundtable

Welcome back for the penultimate installment of our Pro-Choice Horror Roundtable! We’ve got just one more post in this series next week and then we’ll be wrapped up for the year.

So with that, I’d like for this week’s featured authors to take it away!

There are so many things to talk about right now, but first and foremost, how are you doing personally? How has the overturning of Roe affected your life so far? How has it affected your family and friends?

CARINA BISSETT: It has taken some time to process the Supreme Court decision. I’ve been working my way through the stages of grief—shock, denial, anger. At this point, I’m still living in a state of rage, but I refuse to move to acceptance. However, high emotion requires copious amounts of fuel, so I’ve been actively seeking ways to channel the call for justice in ways that might make change or offer hope to the millions of women who’ve suddenly been told that their lives have no value except in their roles as broodmares.

On my 31st birthday, I had to have an emergency hysterectomy due to hemorrhaging and complications from endometriosis. Freedom from the constant pain was a blessing, but the truest gift was that this simple surgery unshackled me from my womb. Overturning Roe doesn’t affect me personally when it comes to fertility, but it does impact women’s rights and that has a great impact on me just as it does women of all ages. We are connected to each other whether we are fertile or not. Overturning Roe is not just about forcing unwanted or dangerous pregnancies to term (although that alone is enough to send me into despair), it is about turning back any and all progress made by women when it comes to gender inequities (economic and educational), sexual harassment and discrimination, domestic and gender-based violence, affirmative action, and gender bias.

Before this decision was handed down, I assumed most Americans would side to uphold Roe vs. Wade, even among those who carried personal judgement and bias (ie. late term abortions, abortions as birth control, access to care for victims of rape and incest, etc.). So, the most frightening outcome of this recent event was discovering there are people around me who agree with this egregious Supreme Court decision. Obviously, it is an easy choice to disconnect with acquaintances and organizations who do not support women’s rights, but it is harder when it comes to family and close friends. I’ve tried to educate and explain by sharing my own personal experiences, but I’ve found that the divide is too great to close. Gatherings are now separated into camps, and the silence is deafening.

STACEY L. PIERSON: At that moment, my personal reaction was the same as how it affected me, more like infected me, with my mind racing with questions of what’s next, who is going to want to take more rights away from women, do they want to set us back, have they even thought about the needs and wants of our families who may or may not be in the shoes they have just taken off the shelves, or know someone who will be in the shoes they have just taken off the shelves. My friends and family were blown away. The rights women fought for were literally blown out of the water. It’s like burning bras; protesting for the right to vote was ripped from history. And history is something my daughter has the right to learn about.

RIA HILL: Personally? Well, I’m alive. I guess that’s the important thing. As far as how it’s affected my life, it has mostly added stress of a fairly nebulous nature at this point since I am in a liberal part of the country. I don’t likely know anyone personally who will die because of this, but rest assured: people have, and more people will. It’s unconscionable. Even months later I am in shock. I want to mention here a conversation I had with a woman when I was 16 or 17, back in high school and not sexually active, where she told me that abortion ends a life and that “it’s God’s will” for there to be a baby if there’s a pregnancy. She was the mother of a child my younger brother often hung around with. I asked her point blank, if I was pregnant and it was definite that carrying the baby would kill me, would she rather I die than remove the fetus? She looked me in the eyes and said “yes.” I have never forgotten that. I don’t think I ever will. I don’t like that people who value clumps of unassigned cells over living, breathing, sentient humans are making strides toward their ideal future. I don’t like this ride, and I want to get off.

VICTORIA NATIONS: Of all my emotions – fear for the future, frustration with leaders I voted into office, worry for the folks unable to get proper medical care – I’m angry and I’m hopeful. I’m angry a bigoted minority is grabbing power by taking away the privacy and bodily autonomy of others. I’m also heartened to see the outpouring of support and the voices of activists who are fighting even harder now.

I and my loved one are safe for now. We live in a state without a trigger law, but access to legal abortions and medical intervention is teetering. Florida has already legislated against trans and queer youth and significantly limited abortion rights.

Where were you on June 24th when you learned that Roe had been overturned? What was your first reaction?

CARINA BISSETT: When I heard the news, I was at home preparing for a 12-day trip to the Midwest to visit my husband’s family. It wasn’t quite noon, but I poured myself a drink and spent the rest of the day reading article after article, certain that it was all a giant mistake, that it couldn’t be true. This denial lasted the entire day and slipped into the next. On June 25th, Shadow Atlas: Dark Landscapes of the Americas won the Colorado Book Award for Anthology, but any sense of accomplishment was overshadowed by the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe. It should have been one of the happiest days of my life, but I was numb. And, in truth, I still am.

STACEY L. PIERSON: I was sitting at my computer working when I found out. My first reaction was shocking, then I was picking up my jaw from the ground.

RIA HILL: I don’t remember where I was when I found out, but I do remember being absolutely appalled that we, as humans living in a society, were expected to just…go to work that day as if we weren’t systematically having our rights stripped away. I remember feeling hopeless and helpless, like this was one of many steps on our descent into utter totalitarianism (which began so long before I’m not sure I can remember where I was when I noticed that either). I found myself terrified, reaching for anything I could do in the moment. Even though I’m in the reasonably liberal part of the country (NYC) I considered deleting my period tracking app. It felt like there was nothing that could be done, and people all over were showing their true colors, either in their smug “told-you-so” statements or in their rejoicing the move on the part of the SCOTUS. It was horrid, and it still is.

VICTORIA NATIONS: I was seething afterwards, not because I was shocked, but because I wasn’t. I remember fighting the Moral Majority, the NARC, and other groups trying to limit abortion access in the 1980s. I remember dodging protestors when Planned Parenthood was my source for gynecological care. We knew back then that evangelical and conservative groups would play the long game. The June 24th decision was their payoff for decades of strategic efforts that we failed to block.

As a horror writer, how do you feel like this ruling will affect your work? Are you struggling to write? Will you incorporate these themes into your writing more? Also, how would you like to see people in the genre, especially those in positions of power, do better in terms of supporting us during this crisis?

CARINA BISSETT: I am currently revising my novel-in-progress, which already centers on themes related to violence against women, reproductive rights, and gender bias. The section I’ve been struggling with is an addition to the manuscript that details specific incidents of gaslighting, sexual abuse, and enforced impregnation. The overturning of Roe helped me find the strength to return to these pages, as much of the trauma described reflects my own personal experiences. This new material is more cutting and rawer than what I’ve written previously. I’m no longer worried about alienating readers with graphic depictions of the inherent ugliness and gritty reality of gender-based violence and discrimination. As far as I’m concerned, the Supreme Court’s decision is a blatant approval of violence against girls and women. Ironically, my novel is set in 1917, as I thought the period was far enough removed from current issues to comment on the continuing struggle for women’s rights. Yet as of June 24th, that timeline is now only separated by fifty-six years instead of more than a century as it was when I first started working on this book in 2020. And I thought the biggest issue I’d have to overcome was the comparisons between the Spanish flu and COVID-19. Don’t I feel like a fool now.

STACEY L. PIERSON: Needless to say, my female characters are not weak and buck the system no matter who and what rule or law it is. I have never struggled to write; it was more like, “I need to write more and make stronger and more resilient female characters.” I think I will incorporate what happened in future books; it just has to be the right one to be able to tell the story correctly and fluently. I think listening to and reading about the way we work through times of crisis is important. The way we write female characters, whether the tone, vibe, or even the violate and survival nature, is one thing not to push aside for a weaker female character. Each one of the characters speaks a different language, and I think that after the decision was ripped from our hands, pulling it back through writing is the way for others to see us and how strong we are as horror writers.

RIA HILL: The day they overturned Roe, I put at least one new idea in my idea spreadsheet. It’s a little bureaucratic nightmare of a piece that I haven’t had the stomach to write yet. It will be far enough removed from the Roe situation that I should hopefully be able to draft it without hurling, but it’s also close enough that I think the analogy should be clear. (As a bonus, it stars a man, so perhaps some men might be able to find some level of empathy in their hearts.) Themes of bodily autonomy have been present in my work on some level throughout my writing career. Even when the angle is as simple as “people don’t generally choose to be murdered, and therefore this murderer is not respecting that person’s autonomy.” I have long felt that losing control of your own body is one of the most frightening things that can happen, and I don’t plan to stop exploring that fear in writing. My main hope for people in the genre, in order to better help those affected, is that they listen. Please, just listen. Listen to the people that are telling you what they need and what is happening to them.

VICTORIA NATIONS: The day of the decision, I funneled my anger into a synopsis for an angry, cautionary children’s picture book that I may have to write someday.

I’m writing to keep from exploding. Loss of control, especially over our own bodies, is dehumanizing. Denial of medical care (including abortions) taps into universal fears of being trapped, of being forced against our will, of being powerless while others control us. Right now, those emotions are freshly gouged and on the surface for me.

I find myself incorporating hope, too. Hope is the core of activism for me. As much as revenge feels cathartic in a story – the sweet release of a villain finally getting their deserved comeuppance – I find myself looking past that, to what comes after. I don’t always write hopeful endings, but if characters survive, I want them fortified for the struggle that comes next. The ability to rage, to fight, feels hopeful right now.

I want leaders to use their power to advocate for reproductive rights. This means saying the word “abortion” to normalize it as medical care. It means acknowledging that pregnancy isn’t limited to cisgender women, and using language that includes transgender men, and nonbinary and gender queer people. It also means listening to and amplifying the voices of folks who will be most harmed by abortion bans.

Leaders who fight for human rights show they value the dignity, health, and safety of every member of their community. They help to establish a culture committed to diversity and inclusivity. Their actions fight back against the degradation of civil rights.

What’s your greatest fear right now? And also, what’s your greatest hope for where we can go next?

CARINA BISSETT: My greatest fear is that we will continue to move backwards in time. This landmark decision was only the beginning of the rights that the Supreme Court is determined to strip from American citizens. I am afraid for all marginalized and underrepresented voices. I am afraid the Supreme Court justices and their supporters will succeed in creating a world where women are relegated to traditional gender roles, where segregation is once again the norm, where the disabled are mandatorily sterilized, where LGBTQ+ are forcibly removed to conversion camps, where those who fight against the patriarchy are executed. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take much imagination to visualize these horrors when the present begins to mirror the past.

However, the past is also where I turn to look when it comes to hope. I cling to the reminder that strength comes from unity. One of my favorite examples comes from the 1851 speech “Ain’t I A Woman,” given by Sojourner Truth at the Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio: “If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them.” Although I am not a Christian, I whole-heartedly believe that if women work together, we can change the world. And if we have allies among men and other gender identities across the spectrum, we cannot fail. We will not fail.

STACEY L. PIERSON: I think the biggest fear I have is silence. I think the more we stay silent, the harder it will be to take back our power. Having it taken away through writing is not an option in my opinion. My greatest hope is for more opportunities to express the dark parts of us through characters and for a way for little ones to express themselves freely in the future through writing or, like in my family, painting or sketching.

RIA HILL: Asking a horror author how bad they think things can get sounds to me like a recipe for unlikely scenarios and catastrophization. I know that there’s a large part of me that’s worrying. I know that some things I’m worried about will not come to pass. However, some of them are currently happening, whether in other parts of the country or to other demographics than my own. It has been a couple of months since this happened, but this will be my first time discussing this in this context. In August of 2022 I was taken to the emergency room presenting with near complete aphasia. I was fully conscious, and able to understand and signal things, but I could not speak more than a single word at a time, very softly, if I was lucky. My spouse arrived and the doctor told us it was likely a TIA (mini-stroke) and that we were nearing the end of the window for then the IV clot buster could be administered and have effect. He told us the likelihood of negative side effects was reasonably low, and that if it worked it would work well. He said we needed to act. I was already nodding, emphatically. If I could have spoken, I would have said “DO IT, PLEASE!” …But the doctor asked my spouse for their consent before administering it. I was lucid, my consent was given (enthusiastically!) but the doctor needed to make sure my spouse was okay with me potentially having the chance to speak again. I know it wasn’t (necessarily) that simple. I must assume the doctor had reasons for asking them instead of me. That said, I had already been manhandled beyond all reason, was terrified out of my wits, and had an IV catheter in each arm…and no one bothered to ask for consent about anything (the IVs, the blood draws, the CT scan with and without contrast, etc.) until there was someone else there they could ask. When I got the report back from the ER and read it, the documentation confirmed that my spouse and I had both been misidentified as our gender assigned at birth, meaning that what the doctor wrote down was “got consent from husband to administer TPA.” (It feels so weird to write that, because they are a lot of things, but “husband” is absolutely not one of them.) They were willing to do all they could to help me…until they thought the “man” who was in charge of my well being might object. I suppose the best I can hope for at the moment is that people grow their empathy and fix their ears and their hearts. We are all counting on it.

VICTORIA NATIONS: I’m most afraid for the path this decision shows the United States is on. It shows how our process for vetting Supreme Court justices can be easily manipulated. It shows that other Supreme Court decisions that established human and legal rights for marginalized groups are in danger. It shows how emboldened the authoritarian leaders have become in denying rights to anyone they want to control.

Things are dark right now, and it feels like the U.S. may become more repressive before enough people fight back. I remain hopeful, though. I can’t muster hope that people who work to dehumanize and control others will ever feel compassion. However, I am hopeful that folks will find the strength to endure, that the stronger among us will protect the weaker folks, and that people will unite to overcome the authoritarianism and bigotry.

I hold the credo of The Addams Family close: Sic Gorgiamus Allos Subjectatos Nunc, or We Gladly Feast on Those Who Would Subdue Us.

So many thanks to this week’s amazing interviewees!

Happy reading, and happy fighting fascism!