Saturday, March 1, 2014

Learning to act right (38)… The line at the Fertility Control Clinic
Torrey Orton
March 1, 2014

Reaching points of no return. This is one of them.

Tariq has always had a fine feel for the line and a finely tuned capacity for drawing it. It comes upon him in a flash he often doesn’t quite notice himself. We close to him see it arrive before it is in his conscious awareness carried in a change of expression and posture which takes all feeling from his face and settles a calm readiness in his body. I know it is a human look of cold anger because I can mimic it to others not present and see the fear flash on their faces. It comes when certain lifelong value lines are crossed – for Tariq, ones to do with religion, family, identity and others.

He has to defend himself both from going over his own line (breaking his own rules) and allowing others to come across it to him (allowing others to break his rules). This, as it sounds, poses perilous problems of balance, since a perception of another’s approach or of his own need to enforce the line can provide a mutually supported but unintended energy to breech it, one way or the other, or both ways at once.

This conflict is clear at the Clinic for all of us present who are engaged in defending our respective sides of the line of protest. As the pressure to defend the line increases the likelihood of a transgression increases, too. Tariq bears this pressure more than the Friends* because he’s always there as security guard.

For example, the other day one of us was running interference for patients being subjected to the usual “offer of help” from two of the HOGPI’s** most intrusive providers, T and W. These women uniformly disregard the known council rules for street proselytising in Melbourne City Council domains: you may offer a pamphlet, a talk, a hello but you must stop when the other signals (verbally and/or gesturally) their refusal of interest. T and W’s refusal to stop offering their help is the key point of enragement for us. We are powerless to stop them. We can only intervene physically by stepping between patients and T and W once patients signal no interest in their offer. This is the point, at times, where our frustrated, powerless anger flairs verbally like this: “They said no, T.” loud enough to be heard 20 meters away, and definitely by patients 2 meters away.

We have spontaneously erupting feelings of offence at patient treatment. These lines are drawn in a deep and broad rush of blood to our extremities, but mostly expressed in our voices - “They said no, T.” Trouble is, this can scare the patients more than it inhibits T and W. Others of the HOGPI persuasion wilt in the face of “they said no”, signalling their retreat by withdrawing to their designated side of the line on the footpath and not participating in direct patient harassment.

On occasions, as this one, the Friends energy aggravates patient fear/anger and attracts expressions of those feelings in threatening forms, which we’re inclined to treat as rejection of our offer!! And so, unknowingly, it is. Arriving patients have enough to concern them without reading breastplates advertising our label (Friends of the FCC). Even calm passers-by have trouble with that. Fortunately these events occur in 30 seconds, each being a new beginning as the patients arrive. There are few repeat participants in the street drama, except us and the HOGPIs.  The vocal and physical intervention moments are so hard to describe my effort leaves too much to the imagination, but it is just to feed imagination that I’m writing!! Its difficulty reflects the difficulty of our efforts on the line at the Clinic.


* Friends of the Fertility Control Clinic – volunteers seeking to reduce harassment of arriving patients.

** Helpers of God’s Precious Infants

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