A few weeks ago I went to a party and for some reason there were lots and lots of ham sandwiches there. I was wearing my new favourite T-shirt which was black with a Palestinian flag on it. I got talking to this lady who seemed very nice. We were munching away on ham sandwiches and having a great time. She kept saying she loved my shirt and the flag on it – and kept asking if I’d like to display my pro-Palestine stance by getting a tattoo. To be honest, even though I was flattered, it wasn’t for me. I felt a little uneasy turning her down but she didn’t seem to mind.
I don’t really know much of what happened after that. My memory is a little foggy. All I remember is waking up the next morning on the couch with my trousers undone and a sharp pain in my groin. I went to the bathroom and pulled down my trousers and that’s when I saw it. Tattooed on my penis were the words: “Silence is a war crime – Free Palestine.”
I can’t say for sure what happened because my memory is foggy, but my best guess, given my headache, is that I was given something which made me fall asleep and then the woman I was talking to tattooed this slogan on my penis. I didn’t know what to do – I felt angry, ashamed, embarrassed but most of all I felt overwhelmed.
I ran home and tried to talk to my parents and friends about the incident. They all responded with as much sympathy as they could but underneath it all was a clear lack of empathy. Some of my female friends tried to suggest that maybe the woman thought she was allowed give me this tattoo because of what I was wearing. My mother even suggested that because I’d eaten so many ham sandwiches, this girl obviously assumed I was anti-Israel and therefore thought she had the right to do this to me.
Looking back, I don’t think my mother or friends really understood the gravity of what they were saying. They were just trying to comprehend what happened. Nobody ever outright blamed me directly, but there was an undercurrent in their language that suggested I had to take some responsibility for this… Or that in some sense, I even should have expected it to happen.
I went to the doctor because the pain was getting too much and the writing on the tattoo was swelling up. When I walked into her office, I saw a picture of Noam Chomsky hanging on the wall and underneath it, a flag of Palestine. After an examination, the doctor advised me that the ink on the tattoo was poisonous and that if the tattoo wasn’t removed immediately, I would in all likelihood lose the use of my penis. I told the doctor that I would get the first available flight to England to have the tattoo removed but she said there wasn’t time.
I pleaded with her: “Is there any way the tattoo can be removed here?”
“Of course there is,” she replied, “You are a man and there is no way we would ever deny you life saving medical treatment simply because the issue is politically sensitive.”
I sighed with relief, thanking God that I lived in a country that did not deny people access to medical treatments on religious or political grounds.
“… But you’ll have to excuse me now,” said the doctor, “A 15 year old girl who was gang raped last month has just come in and she’s missed her period. I have to consult with a priest and a politician as to what the best course of action is.”
The Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act, which was signed into law in late 2013, outlines the circumstances under which an abortion can be legally performed in Ireland. These circumstances are constrained to cases where a group of medical practitioners decide that a termination is required in order to prevent the loss of life of the mother. The 8th amendment of the constitution enshrines, in law, equal rights of life to the unborn child and the mother.
For me, this isn’t about religion or choice or life. It’s about empathy. I will never ever know what it’s like to become pregnant due to rape. I will never ever know the feeling of falling pregnant and knowing in my heart that I am just not ready for it. I will never know the feeling of having to give up my bodily autonomy to, as far as I’m concerned, a bunch of faceless strangers.
All I can do is try and empathise. All I can do is try and imagine a situation, albeit ludicrous, where through no fault of my own I am placed in a situation that I am not ready for. How would I want my government to react in that situation? Would I want the laws to protect me and try to understand my situation? Or would I want to be forced to give up autonomy over my own body?
For what it’s worth, I support the Palestinian cause, but if someone forcibly tattoos my penis with pro-Palestinian messages I at least should have the right to decide for myself if I want them to remain there. We can’t presume to understand what’s going on in the individual mind of someone who discovers an unwanted pregnancy. So why does our constitution presume that we can?