I’m on the plane, on my way to Texas. I’m not dreading the visit as much as I might, because I’m lucky that I can be honest with my immediate family. In the weeks since the election, I’ve gone what I like to call “full undergrad” in relation to them: as after my first Women’s Studies course at college, I’m meeting every conversation with an impassioned lecture about essentialism and intersectionality. “What time is it? TIME TO THINK ABOUT THE GENERATIONS-LONG LEGACY OF SLAVERY IN THIS COUNTRY. TIME TO PROTECT YOURSELF AGAINST THE COMING STORM, THAT’S WHAT FUCKING TIME IT IS.” So far, they’ve met this with equanimity and love, which I’m really, really grateful for.
But, of course, I’m still scared. It will be warm there, and I want to go running, but I’m worried I’ll get attacked. I don’t want to go to AA meetings, which have always felt like a safe space to me, because I fear the consequences of mentioning my fear and anxiety. There are all these family events, and I am convinced I’ll be met with this smug “you lost, get over it” attitude–which is perhaps ungenerous, but doesn’t seem unrealistic.
But one thing has changed. Immediately after the election, I started putting some small actions into place, and they’re starting to bear fruit now. I get a script every Wednesday to call my legislators, and I’m doing it. I’m participating in this dialogue group at my work about whiteness and racial identity, and I can see myself and the other women in the group taking actions all over campus–taking their own power to change institutions more seriously and following through on that potential. And, perhaps most powerfully, I organized a self-defense training for women at my work, and we had the first two classes last week.
The last time I took martial arts, I was at summer camp, and my partner in my judo class was my boyfriend who, when we weren’t sparring in class, was endlessly, relentlessly pressuring me to have sex with him. I was 14. This time, every time I do a punch or block, I yell “NO!”
It’s interesting, because the experience feels explicitly feminist to me–I’m getting stronger, I’m learning skills to defend myself against a world where women are seen as weak, as sexual property (look no further than the union response to the Rockettes being booked for the Inauguration), and the class itself is based on that premise. But the energy in the room is surprisingly apolitical–we’re all there, so we’re acknowledging the reality that we face as women, but even in this, we all seem surprised and a little disturbed by our reactions. Even here, as we’re learning how to kick an attacker in the groin, we want to be nice. So there’s a lot of nervous giggling, a lot of jokes.
So far, the best part has been these moments where our power sneaks through anyway. One of my favorite people in the class is a department administrator in her mid-fifties or early sixties who’s about five feet tall and told me she is taking the class because she has been scared during her daily walk, alone, to the commuter rail. I’ll call her Teresa, but that’s not her real name. When we’re doing drills, she’s been sort of awkward, seeming to pull back before landing a punch. Watching her, I felt nervous that her skills wouldn’t translate to a real-life scenario. On Wednesday, we had our first simulation, and it was a totally different story.
We were told to walk between the two instructors and one of them would grab our wrist, then we’d use the “hammer fist” to escape. It’s real but not–I felt an honest surge of adrenaline, and the “no!” was deeper than my rote (but still powerful) vocalization from practice. I felt excited, but when I noticed that each of us got exactly three punches in before we broke free, the victory felt a little hollow. But Teresa got out with a single blow. She returned to line laughing nervously, and the cop made a joke about how maybe she should take over teaching. I’m holding on to an image of her in my mind, walking a little taller as she makes her way home from work, newly aware that she is not to be fucked with.
I had this thought after class the other day: so Trump and his cronies are trying to turn the clock back forty years. Okay. You know what happened forty years ago? A fucking revolution happened. You want to go back to the 1970s? I’ve spent my whole adult life training at the feet of braless Vermont radicals. Bring it.