Standing in the Buffer Zone

Clinic escorts, in orange, in front of a group of anti-abortion protestors outside a Planned Parenthood clinic. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

In MEL Magazine, merritt k has an interview with Jeff, a 30-year-old man from Indiana who’s volunteered as a Planned Parenthood clinic escort for almost a decade. Patients trying to access healthcare services at Planned Parenthood clinics are often forced to make their way through a vocal gauntlet of anti-choice protestors; escorts serve as both a physical and emotional buffer. And as Jeff notes, male escorts are particularly good at redirecting protestor ire.

They prefer to yell at dude escorts, which I guess is the best case scenario for everybody — they get it out on us. What you learn quickly is that they don’t have a lot of space for women’s agency in all the ways you’d expect. Like, when they yell stuff at me, it’s particularly targeted at how “men are supposed to protect women.” The idea that women have choices isn’t involved at all. Certainly that’s the case with patient guests too. Like if you’re a girl coming in with her boyfriend, they’ll usually target him and tell him that it’s his job to be a father. You see that kind of erasure of agency happening in real time in ways that are both strange and instructive.

But it’s not all helping patients avoid the negative — Jeff is also able to offer some emotional labor to women who might have other sources of support.

But the other side of clinic escorting that I really like comes from interacting with patients or their guests. It’s just a hard day for some people, and sometimes people just want to go outside and smoke a cigarette and shoot the shit with somebody. There are times when people will disclose to you things about their lives or situations that are heavy and hard, but are born of that beautiful interaction you can have with someone where you know you’re probably never going to see them again. There’s an honesty that comes out of it that’s really cool. What you learn after a while is that on a day like that, people just need someone to vent to. Because all of this stuff has been so stigmatized that a lot of them don’t have people who aren’t going to judge them.

Read the interview