Express: You received wide media coverage for your time on the @Ireland Twitter account, which you used to speak about your own abortion. What kind of reactions did you get to the series? Do you think that Twitter does a good enough job controlling abusive speech?
Jan: I think that online abuse needs to be taken more seriously by platforms, and also by society as a whole, but for every abusive remark I got that week, and in the weeks after, they were greatly outnumbered by the support I got and the messages from other people who had traveled to the UK to have an abortion. I am one of 170,000 women who traveled and gave an Irish address, and the support and solidarity I get on twitter every week far outweighs the occasional nastiness. However I do wish that internet service providers and social media platforms would enforce their own terms and conditions, which do have clauses about personal abuse.
Exp: Do you think that the Repeal campaign is winning people over who might still be on the fence on abortion, or does it just appeal to those who are already on-side? What is the ARC, and what is their role in the campaign?
Jan: The thing is polls have shown again and again that the majority of people do want a change to the laws around abortion in Ireland, and so want increased abortion rights – it’s just that being pro-choice was stigmatized for so long in this country, pro-choice people haven’t realized we are the majority. We haven’t been allowed to have the conversations we need to be having about reproductive rights in Ireland until very recently, not just about abortion but also about medical consent in pregnancy.
Currently there isn’t an official Repeal Campaign, there is a coalition of groups who are looking to lobby for a referendum, but there isn’t an actual formal Campaign, same way as the Yes equality campaign only came about when the referendum date was announced. However I am a founding member of the Abortion Rights Campaign (ARC), and one of the goals of ARC is to repeal the 8th amendment so that we can legislate for barrier-free access to abortion in Ireland. We believe that services should be free, safe and legal for anyone who needs one, no matter their gender.
Exp: You campaign on behalf of bisexual awareness. Do you think, as a mother, that people are less open to the idea of people being bisexual beyond ‘experimentation’ in college? Do you think there’s a different stigma attached to identifying as bi in later years, or is it just another symptom of general prejudice?
Jan: Bisexual erasure is rife: that is, saying that your sexuality shifts to gay or straight, depending on whom you are in a relationship with. There is still a lot of stigma and silence around being bisexual, and while we have come a long way in creating programs which target homophobic and transphobic bullying & discrimination in schools and workplaces, biphobia and biphobic bullying and discrimination is not mentioned. The false binary around sexuality needs to be broken, especially as statistics show that bisexual people tend to outnumber LG & T people within the general population.
Exp: You’ve also spoken about having autistic children. Do you find that there are unique challenges facing autistic children in Ireland today, especially in education? Do you think that attitudes around autism are becoming more positive, or does the binary of ‘you are either a math genius or completely nonverbal’ still exist?
Jan: Currently there are no specific services for children on the autism spectrum, they get refereed to their local Child and Adolescent Mental Health Clinic, which are incredibly understaffed and underfunded. The services when you get to use them are good, but the waiting lists are long and I found I had to do a lot of reading and finding ways to work and manage my children myself.
We are getting better at understanding neuro-diversity but there is still a long way to go. I am very lucky my kids have been able to stay in mainstream school with some additional supports, but again these supports have been cut back over the last few years. It’s takes, as a parent, being willing to engage and at times fight the system to get your child seen, and get them the supports they need. Parents with special needs kids have it tough enough without the system making it harder.
Exp: Do you think fandom is a space for women and queer people to create narratives that better reflect them, or is it still a male-dominated space that can be hostile to female voices and their criticism?
Jan: Fandom has always been diverse, it has always had queer and female narratives. I grew up reading books by amazing women like Ursula Le Guin, Andre Norton, Anne McCaffrey, reading comics and watching Wonder Woman on TV. Video games, comics, books have always been diverse, but when they went mainstream they became less so, but thankfully we are seeing a return to that diversity. I am the convention director for this year’s Octocon, the National Science Fiction Convention, I have helped run the last two, and a Eurocon. In these spaces I have not found hostility towards female fans and female creators. Actually, we have had the occasional issue of our gender balance being skewed to not having enough men on panels!
Exp: Are you still engaged with paganism? Can you explain to the unacquainted what those beliefs are? How did you get involved with all things ‘wyrd’, and what do you think it has taught you?
Jan: I am pagan, but my practices and worship has been personal over the last few years, rather than group or community based. I am not a Christian, the deities I have a connection with are mostly native Irish ones and I celebrate the main pagan festivals here at home with my family. I am a member of Pagan Life Rites Ireland, who offer services to the pagan community. and I was at this years pagan gathering, Féile Draíochta.
I went searching for the divine feminine, for a spirituality which would sit better with me than Christianity, and I thankfully found it. It’s taught me personal responsibility for my actions, being mindful of my intent when I do things and a connection to a vibrant community, not just here in Ireland but also in other countries. My activism is not at odds at all with my religion, but is part of it, and I have had wonderful support from the pagan community.
For more about Janet, follow them on Twitter, @JanetOS_, or by going to Janet.ie.