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Comedian and The Daily Show co-creator Lizz Winstead and her Lady Parts Justice League is bringing the Vagical Mystery Tour – a 16-city national tour – to Ferndale on July 9. In addition to Winstead, the show will feature various special guests like Joyelle Johnson, Maysoon Zayid, Alex English, Buzz Off, Lucille (Upright Citizen’s Brigade), and poet Jessica Care.
The LPJL is a reproductive rights organization that uses humor and outrage to expose anti-choice zealots and mobilizes people to take action in all 50 states, including some of the most conservative like Witchita, Indianapolis, Omaha, Birmingham and Louisville. Winstead spoke with Between The Lines about the tour and the attack on women taking place across the country, including LPJL’s fight against sexism, racism and homophobia.
How sick are you of men – particularly old white men – telling women what to do with their bodies? I’m a man myself and I’m sick to death of it.
I just feel like I didn’t realize how many white men don’t have any hobbies. Like literally. If this is your past time to shame women and try to legislate uteruses and vaginas why don’t you spend that time trying to get into one. It’s much more fun if you’re asked to be in a vagina rather than forcing your way in.
You have been open about getting pregnant at 16 and having an abortion. How does your own personal experience with the issue impact or influence the work you’re doing now?
I knew as a young kid I didn’t want to have kids. I was a very driven person. So when I was 16 and found myself pregnant I found myself at a fake clinic set up by religious people. Literally the person was wearing a lab coat that they probably got at the Lancome counter. They proceeded to shame me and tell me that my only choices were mommy or murder. So you think you’re going to a place that’s going to help you and you end up at a place that demonizes you. So to me access to your own destiny and being able to live your own life is essential. If I was allowed to be able to have that choice and make that choice I feel like it’s my responsibility to advocate for everybody to have that choice.
Tell me about the Lady Parts Justice League. It’s sort of a revolutionary idea. What led you to create it?
It was created in 2012 and actually Michigan played a huge part in how we named our organization. I came to Michigan and I met [State Rep.] Lisa Brown and we became friends. About a year after we became friends she was passionately arguing against the very thing we’re talking about. Lisa was passionately speaking about it on the floor of the house and her leadership banned her from using the world vagina in the house chamber. And she’s like, ‘What should I say?’ and they told her to say something that sounds more comfortable to them, like “lady parts.” I was like stunned. So it’s like, oh my God, going back to the men you asked me about earlier, the fact that they are uncomfortable about the word vagina but feel absolutely empowered to legislate them. I felt I was going to call my group Lady Parts. We created our name in honor of Lisa.
I know on this tour you focus on independent abortion clinics, but if the new health care bill proposed by Republicans passes, what does defunding Planned Parenthood mean for women across the country?
I do tons of work for Planned Parenthood. This round is really just about elevating the work of independents. Defunding Planned Parenthood would be so incredibly tragic. It would legally take away not only Medicaid funding for pap smears and gynecological services a lot of people have simply because abortion is not covered. The other thing we don’t talk about is that a lot of the independents and Planned Parenthood both provide a lot of trans services with respectful exams for both trans men and trans women. So if the funding gets cut those services go away.
While on tour, you’ll be advocating for local clinics you’re trying to help. Tell me about that.
After our comedy show we have a talk back and they talk about the landscape of their state and they talk about what they need. Then right there at the show we have tables where people can sign up and volunteer. I think the things that people forget a lot of times is that a lot of these clinics that are in hostile states need the simplest things – like getting their gutters cleaned or lawn maintenance. A lot of contractors who would do that work won’t come because they are abortion providers. So if you’re somebody who has a skill set that can be helpful on a logistical level, that’s great. There’s so much to do. It makes me feel like we’re really providing a service by gathering folks in an environment that’s fun. We’re not going to just do a comedy show and leave. We’re going to do a comedy show and bring people together and give you some stuff you can do.
You’re dealing with some very heavy issues in your show. Do you ever face criticism for bringing humor to such serious matters and, if so, how do you respond to that?
I feel like I’m bringing levity and exposing politicians who are absolutely in the controlling human beings business and I would like to smack their hypocrisy down. For me it’s also about reintroducing the arc of what abortion care means. It can be everything from someone who’s had an unwanted pregnancy, had it, and then went on with their lives to someone who had a very wanted pregnancy that went horribly wrong and threatened their lives. Humor is levity through any kind of times, even dark times. It’s a way to have a conversation. I just want to provide that levity for this subject, too, because it makes perfect sense.