January 20, Austin, Republic of Gilead

It was dim and our words echoed off the walls of the parking garage under Austin City Hall.  A woman in a red cloak adjusted my bonnet as Stephanie Martin was speaking to a reporter a few feet behind me.  A photographer filmed my bonnet adjustment and then asked each of us for our names and where we were from.  Every few minutes, a car would drive by and people would slow to take a photo of us or shout words of encouragement.   There was a lot of excitement among the group because of some organizational problems happening at the Texas State Capitol but, while we were all concerned that they be resolved, we knew and trusted the people there working on it.

After what seemed like an eternity, we paired up and walked two by two the same as the characters in the TV show.  We filed up the stairs and out of the garage and then proceeded around the Impeach Rally to stand on the street where the Austin Police were waiting for us.  Standing there on the street in the bonnet and cloak feels apart.  I felt apart from the crowd; Apart from the city, the traffic and everything going on around me.  I felt isolated and my peripheral vision was cut off.   I only vaguely knew what was happening around me.  I would hear snippets of words or phrases.  I knew lots of people were watching us.  I seldom feel helpless but, I felt helpless then.  I didn’t feel like I would know if something was coming at me.  I had to trust in the police and the friendly crowd however, I also knew there had been some angry and violent counter protesters. That thought made me uneasy.

After minutes that seemed like forever, we began to move forward.  The police walked beside us, walked beside me.  As we got to congress avenue, we split into three rows.  I noticed while looking down and in front of me that some cloaks that did not look like ours.  I hoped they were friendly.

I imagined what it would be like as a reproductive slave in the Republic of Gilead.  Isolated from society by my cloak and bonnet.  Raped monthly to bible verses and forced to carry the children of the rich, the wealthy and the privileged.  Always unsure of who to trust.  Always aware of my place in society as a functional uterus my humanity unrecognized.

I was aware of the moves by Texas to replace centers of education, science and medicine built with the mission of supplying everyone with quality reproductive health care with centers of religious dogma that spread falsehoods, lies and political agendas.  It’s this irony;  this parallel to a horrifying fiction by the real world that makes the Texas Handmaids so powerful as an advocacy group. The vision of the handmaids in their bonnets and cloaks walking silently, the haunting dehumanized reminders of the dystopian world of the Handmaids Tale makes peoples hair stand on end.

I didn’t know as I walked that 10,000 people followed us up congress avenue marching on the Texas State Capitol.  It was only later when I saw the photos that I knew the power of the message that was sent.

Do the politicians listen?  I don’t know but I do know that the Texas Handmaids are a dedicated group.  Dedicated to fighting these ignorant attacks on reproductive health and freedom.  Dedicated to keep fighting until the fictional world of the Republic of Gilead stops seeping into reality.

Jessica Soukoup is an area LGBTQ activist and Texas Handmaid.

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