One Day, One Thing More

Everyday observations

Category: politics

The pleasure-pain of solidarity

“Queer pleasures are not just about the coming together of bodies in sexual intimacy. Queer bodies ‘gather’ in spaces, through the pleasure of opening up to others. These queer gatherings involve forms of activism; ways of claiming back the street, as well as the spaces of clubs, bars, parks, and homes. The hope of queer politics is that bringing us closer to others, from whom we have been barred, might also bring us to different ways of living outside the circuits of exchange within global capitalism.” –Sara Ahmed

Coming out immediately changed how I thought about kin—the first thing I said to the first adult I told was “What if I never have kids?” She assured me that I could still have a family, but the one I formed is very different from the one I’d been raised to envision, not least in that I’m a mom who was never pregnant. Not least in that the boundaries of that family are loose enough to include people I’m not related to in any state-sanctioned way (AA friends, beloved neighbors, former students and mentors, and on and on).

More than anything, the queer affiliations of my life have broadened how I think about kinship: whom I’m accountable to, and for what.

Maybe this is why I experience moments of great transition as an opening up—in ways that feel both good and bad, both pleasurable and painful (and have blurred the difference between the two in ways that might be queer, now that I come to think of it). The most intense of these moments have all hinged on questions of identity: when I left home and went to college and came into my own as queer; when I came to terms with my alcoholism and entered into a recovery community; and now, as I’ve come to understand my whole life as a bulwark pitched against a fascist wave.

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When I came out in college, it was really clearly a choice I made in contradistinction to my family of origin—after all, it was only through coming out and coming into political consciousness (really profoundly the same processes for me) that I even understood “family of choice” to be a thing. With these new friends, I saw a possibility for long-term connection and love based on mutuality, not inheritance, where my weirdness was nourished and valued. It felt like a new world, one that we were creating every day, with every choice. My greatest hope was to one day buy a big house in Brooklyn where we could all live for free and make art and revolution all day. Totally possible, right? In my defense, anything seemed possible at that moment.

 

But there was one way that I wasn’t breaking with my family of origin, and that was in my relationship with alcohol. I identified as bi, and this was sort of true, but the way I conducted my relationships with men was anything but queer. Instead, it was like I had two selves: a feminist academic superstar who was unafraid to speak truth to power and to stage a sit-in at the President’s office, and then this insecure drunk girl who just wanted a boy to tell her she was pretty. I was drinking so much, and I found myself making the same kinds of choices that had decimated my family for generations: unwitting cruelty, infidelity, unchecked narcissism. One friend described me as “emotional dynamite,” and another said that when she thought about me sleeping in her house she “felt like she had a rash.”

The solidarity I’d pursued in college couldn’t survive my interpersonal shenanigans, and I found myself afloat, cut off from the relationships in which I’d invested so much meaning. It was at this emotional nadir that I was introduced to a new form of solidarity. After a particularly devastating weekend of bad behavior, I was at a queer organizing conference, attending a workshop called “Dyke Talk: an intergenerational dialogue among lesbian feminists.” (Did I mention that I lived in Vermont? Because I really did). My feeling that I didn’t deserve to be included in this conversation was only exacerbated by my hangover, which was so brutal I was hallucinating shimmering auras around the featured speakers.

The organizer, a tiny woman in a ratty t-shirt with the improbable name of Crow, talked about AA and described “the program” as a miracle of diversity. “All these people come together from such incredibly different walks of life,” she gushed, “but we share a primary spiritual purpose: to get sober.” How could we, as activists, take a lesson from AA and focus on our shared purpose?

I was, for lack of a better word, hooked. Up until that point, I’d always seen AA as too square for me. Not only was Dionysian excess central to my political perspective, but how would I talk to people at a party if I wasn’t drunk? But here was this aging dyke, whose hairy-legged legitimacy wasn’t to be questioned, making an argument for the radical politics of AA. I buttonholed her after the meeting and my misery came tumbling out of me: I’d alienated my friends, I couldn’t stop drinking, I was pretty sure no one would ever talk to me again. She was kind and understanding, and helped me believe there was a place for me in the world that didn’t depend on my drinking. That AA wasn’t just for rich suburbanites—or, more precisely, that I didn’t have to turn back into a rich suburbanite if I wanted to break free from the endless, boring cycle of addiction that my life had become.

And I found real solidarity in the rooms of AA. Again and again, I heard stories that could have been my own, I heard people voice feelings and fears I’d never been able to articulate but instantly recognized. As much as when I came out, I’d again found “my people.” This is one pleasure of solidarity: the sense of recognition by another, even someone you’d never met. It’s the joy I have at getting the sly grin of a fellow dyke walking down the street, the feeling of relief I have at walking into an AA meeting. I’m not alone, not anymore—around these facets of my identity which make me most vulnerable, someone has my back, someone knows me.

But there’s loss here too. Coming out meant breaking with the future I’d envisioned for myself, and I was certain it meant breaking with my family. My parents eventually came around, but it was too late for my grandmother: alcohol ate up her short-term memory, and she arrived at my wedding completely oblivious to the fact that I was marrying a woman. She wept through the whole ceremony, and at the reception got so wasted she had to be taken home after thirty minutes. In order to access the solidarity in the halls of AA, I had to let go of my vision of a punk rock future, not to mention relationships with many of my closest friends thanks to my terrible behavior. With every turning toward solidarity, we have to turn away from something or someone—or acknowledge how that person or group has long since turned away from us.

There’s another kind of solidarity, too—the one that turns away from power. As a white person coming to racial consciousness, I’ve thought a lot over the last months about what claims of solidarity I can make in this new political reality. In the days after the election, my racial identification shifted on a gut level almost immediately. I’m ashamed to admit that I’d always had the kind of immediate bias response Louis CK talks about: if I was walking down the street alone and saw a group of young black guys, I’d immediately going into an internal dialogue about how I didn’t need to be scared: “Everything’s fine! Everything’s fine! Everything’s fine!”

But after November 9, all my fear vanished overnight. How could I have been so stupid? If anything, I’m the one who poses a danger to them, with all my whitegirl anxiety. If the double whammy of electoral and judiciary power has taught me anything, it’s that nothing is more dangerous to people of color than white fear. So my own sense of solidarity did a quick 180, but I have no reason to assume that I’d be welcomed into nonwhite spaces—I certainly hadn’t earned it. What I need to do in order to try for this kind of solidarity is to decenter my own experience, to cede power and space to others, to listen to new voices. The grief here isn’t for the community I’ve lost, but for the one I’ve denied myself all these years through my unwillingness to look beyond my own unexamined impulses.

The best model I have for this is Crow’s insight from all those years ago: the real meaning of solidarity is to have a shared primary purpose. I’ve written elsewhere about how the community offered by AA has become more complicated for me since the election. But the basic philosophy of AA—the Program—still shapes most of my thinking, and is the main way I make meaning out of my life. More to the point, I’m stuck going to meetings, what with my fatal mental illness and everything, so I’d best find a way to get as much as I can out of it.

I’ve been thinking of Crow a ton lately. It’s been a year and a half since she died, and it would have been her birthday a few weeks ago. And, of course, I’ve been sorely missing her advice on how to find comfort and solidarity in the looming shadow of fascism. More than anyone I knew, Crow was able to find solidarity in unexpected places: with AA bikers, with discontented housewives, with angsty teenagers like my former self. Trust feels so hard to come by right now, and I desperately wish she was here to help me figure out who and how to trust again. But I come back to that first piece of advice that she gave me: I have the gift of a primary purpose. In AA, that purpose is twofold: to stay sober and to help another alcoholic. This divide is a good way to think about the affective reality of queer politics as well: staying sober day by day is difficult, and not always positive. It’s turning away from the escape of an instant fix, toward the truth of a broken world, looking in particular for the ways that I broke it. And helping another alcoholic is where the solidarity and the community comes from.

So what’s my primary purpose vis-à-vis intersectional liberation? I think it’s this: to tell the truth and to share what I have. Whether that’s money or emotional resources or artistic energy or just love—tell the truth and share.

 

Queer pleasure: academic and professional drag. Or, How getting screwed enabled me to screw with the system.

Queer identity is inherently tied up with performance–from Judith Butler‘s insights into gender as performance to the heady pleasures of camp and drag to the series of small choices we take so we ping someone’s gaydar (or don’t), the daily experience of early queerness often centers on the drama of gender and sexuality. Can my parents tell I’m gay? Can my friends at school? And, more excitingly, can She? It’s no surprise that queer and “theatrical” were functional synonyms for so long: the daily demands of queer life show us how identity is all a show, and each audience calls into being a different version of ourselves.

Now that I’m an adult (of sorts), this theatricality still informs my daily experience of life. Sometimes, as I explored in my last post, that performance can feel like inauthenticity, which elicits grief and a host of other negative emotions. But at the same time, our ongoing relationship with performance allows us to open up new possibilities for connection, disruption, and intervention in every part of our lives.

I’m most struck by how these opportunities open up in my professional life, especially in terms of my work wardrobe. It’s safe to say that I never mastered the art of professional dress. When I was temping in my 20s, I could never figure out the bland professional costume of the office drone. And when I got negative feedback about my wardrobe, FORGET IT. Take out my nose ring? Fine, I’ll show up in a skirt with a slit all the way up the side and a fur coat. Neckline too low? No problem, how’s this micromini? I was fast and focused, so I never had trouble getting a new position, but my placements were often pretty short. (Not as short as my skirts, but you get the idea)

Now that I have a Real Job, I’m still stymied by professional dress codes. My Beloved Bride has described my personal style as looking like I “have a day pass from the clown college at the nut ward.” A million colors, a zillion patterns, plus a unicorn or two. You know–the standard professional costume.

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Why yes, I did wear this to work.

I suppose I could be worried that people won’t take me seriously, but I think the opposite might be true: in an academic setting at least, I’m convinced that dressing like a weirdo makes people take me more seriously, not less. Like: “I know she’s only staff, but maybe she’s an artist or something–still waters run deep!” And there’s something that’s deeply satisfying to me that my job is so closely associated with prestige (at many universities, my office is actually named the Office of Prestigious Awards), and I dress like–well, like a mentally ill lesbian.

In Queer Feelings, Ahmed argues that “the display of queer pleasure may generate discomfort in spaces that remain premised on the ‘pleasures’ of heterosexuality” (165). And I would argue that the endless variations of camp and drag which make up the performance of weirdness (which is what I’m talking about here, really) don’t just generate discomfort, but open up new possibilities for expression and liberation.

Case in point: my first year of my PhD program was also the first year that my Beloved Bride and I were dating, and I think the technical term for my mood during those first heady months is “fuck-addled.” Not only was I coming off a life-changing experience of catastrophic illness, but I was having frequent amazing sex for the first time in my life. So every day was this gauzy haze, just waiting until I could get home again. I may have started a graduate program in English Lit, but what I was really doing was majoring in Joan.

At the same time, I was taking a graduate seminar from the guy who would go on to serve as my advisor. He was teaching a course based on the book he was currently working on–always a tricky prospect–and the course was a mess. It was called “The Long 1950s” and was an examination of the effects of McCarthyism on 20th century American Literature. The issue was that he was so close to the material that the course ended up reproducing the dynamics that he meant to critique: rather than unpacking McCarthyism, the course became a shadow of it. My professor lorded over us all like McCarthy himself, waiting for us to echo back his ideas successfully; his favorite student filled the position of Roy Cohn, sniping at those of us who hadn’t yet mastered the lingo of my professor’s theory of abasement. The central ideas of the course (the S/M dynamics of political power) were really appealing to me, but the pedagogy was so fucked up. Everyone was jockeying for favor, so worried they’d lose his attention and approval.

A different semester might have found me participating in this depressing horse race, but like I said: fuck-addled. What I noticed instead was that a key figure of my advisor’s analysis of the psychoanalytic structure of mid-century America was missing: the terrifying mother. That, my friends, was a job I could pick up, easy peasy.

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Bow down to the queen, bitches

So I started making small alterations to my wardrobe: more A-line skirts, lipstick every day, etc. And I was coating every comment, especially the brutal ones, in my sweetest tones. But the moment that won the day was when I did my in-class presentation. I was (natch) presenting on The Manchurian Candidate, focusing on the figure of the s/mother. I decided to give my presentation in full 1950s drag: a twin set, white gloves, pearls, kitten heels, the whole package. Unused to the benefits of a private institution, I still did all my copying at the library, and ended up being about 5 minutes late for class. I walked in just as my professor was saying “Where is she?” and I sauntered over and patted his arm as I assured him “It’s okay, honey, we can just start now.” I kept my gloves on the whole time.

I’m still not sure where I got the chutzpah, but I think there’s a connection between the way I was finally coming into my own (as it were) as a person with a decent queer sex life and my willingness to disrupt expectations in my class in this way. On the heels of my brush with death, my invigorated sex life made me feel impossibly, endlessly alive, like anything was possible. This is part of what I think Ahmed is getting at when she says “the hope of queer politics is that bringing us closer to others, from whom we have been barred, might also bring us to different ways of living outside the circuits of exchange within global capitalism.” Here was this woman, different from anyone I’d ever connected with before: instead of taking care of her, I was being cared for; instead of being the pursuer, I was pursued; instead of holding back, I was jumping in. If this could happen, then anything could. Maybe instead of currying favor, I could beat my professor at his own game. Maybe I could turn the scene of my abasement into something playful and sexy and feminist as fuck. This, to me, is the possibility of new connections.

Queer Grief: Queer in Public

So I’m working on a book manuscript these days, and I’m back in the world of queer theory for the first time in a long time. I’ve been blown away by Sara Ahmed’s work on queer affect, and especially (so far, anyway) by her book The Cultural Politics of Emotion. In it, she focuses on two feelings as being centrally transformative for queers: grief and pleasure. For Pride, I want to spend my next few entries thinking through these ideas as they’ve arisen in my own life.

In a way that’s unsurprising, given the recent focus on negativity within queer theory, she spends more time and energy thinking through grief than pleasure. She points out the invisibility of queer grief, and the difficulty that comes with publicly acknowledging queer loss—the temptation to change “I suffer” to “my suffering is just like yours.” She argues that “the failure to recognize queer loss as loss is also a failure to recognize queer relationships as significant bonds, or that queer lives are lives worth living, or that queers are more than failed heterosexuals, heterosexuals who have failed ‘to be.’” (156)

I think what she means here is that queer grief is for relationships or bodies that fall outside of the narratable framework of everyday life. And what it feels like to realize that you are the only one who recognizes your grief as such. I’m thinking of three moments from my own life that crystallize what she’s getting at, from the three central registers of queer life: the public sphere, romantic love, and beloved community. I’m going to do three entries on queer grief, and then close out the series with one on queer pleasure.

Queer in Public

On the day of the massacre in Orlando, Ariel and I had to go to a birthday party for one of the kids at Izzy’s bougie daycare. In general, we’d liked it there—there were a few other hipster families we’d connected with, and we even spied one of the dads marching with the bisexuals in the Pride parade. But she was the only kid with same-sex parents at the school, and it was an expensive place, so the majority of the families (including ours) were quite wealthy.

I got the news of the shooting early and spend most of the day shell-shocked. We watched a movie in the morning so we could keep our parenting as low-effort as possible, and all I could do was keep checking my Facebook feed, hoping for new information, taking comfort from my friends’ changing their profile pictures and sharing memories of clubbing in their youth. My heart hurt, thinking of all those beautiful young people moving together, and the loose embodied freedom of movement that comes in a club which had transformed so quickly into such a nightmare. And the fact that it was almost all black and brown people who had been killed made the whole thing even more awful—more in line with the endless parade of violence that has now taken over public discourse in this country.

I had received a few texts from concerned straight friends—I suspected they were reaching out because they’d been instructed to do so by some clickbaity article “5 things to do if you are feeling overwhelmed about the Orlando massacre—1: check in with your LBGT friends. They’re likely feeling lonely and frightened, and it will help them to know they are not alone.” But whatever—maybe I’m some functional token in their pursuit of relief, but I was grateful for the care and attention.

So my whole life felt focused in on this moment: me, my phone, my computer screen, and an unimaginable scene hundreds of miles away. As we drove up to the house in Winchester where the party was and I saw the houses get bigger and bigger as we snaked past the local golf course, I could feel my stomach tighten. Usually when I look at my life, it’s with a kind of baffled gratitude: how did I get here, to this beautiful house with this sweet family? But that day, my bafflement at how I ended up here, trudging up a steep driveway bearing Legos for twin boys, felt less grateful. The world was ending and everyone was just wandering around in their boaters and madras plaids, blinking into the sun and making small talk like it was any other day.

My impulse was to disrupt the party—to do something that couldn’t be looked away from. Take my clothes off and jump into the pool; start weeping and curl up in the cool darkness under the swing set. But all I remember was chatting blandly about kindergarten plans for the following year and praying in the bathroom for the ability to keep it together. At one point, the kids ganged up on one of the boys there and I did intervene, yelling for them to “shut it down” as they chanted his name in unison. So that’s something.

I should have said more, I think—if the event had happened now, post-Trump, I think I would have done. I’m more allergic to this kind of assimilation these days, and insist on airing my grief more often and more publicly. It’s this moment of decision that characterizes queer grief, I think: the knowledge that airing it will necessarily be disruptive, that you’re calling attention to something people would rather look away from. I suppose all grief is like this—that’s why it’s such a lonely emotion—but when your loss is unrecognized as such by the dominant framework, then finding the space to express it is often alienating and disruptive. So there are two ways to think about queer grief, then: the silence that we have to break through, and our responsibility to acknowledge and hold space for our own grief and others’.

In this way, I want think about ways to incorporate mourning into Pride this year. Pride is about joy, of course, but it’s also about loss—a response to a society that keeps telling us we don’t matter, a glorious “fuck you” to every bully who told us we were too butch, too nelly, too fat, too weird, too much. It’s an explosive celebration of that excess, but one that always comes with that knife’s edge of overcompensation. So this year, I’m pledging to celebrate my connection to all corners of this community—I’m not interested in a narrative of Pride that focuses on triumphant transcendence. I’m grateful for my beautiful bougie life, but what I need to do is remember (and teach my kids) that there’s loss at the center of it, and that it’s up to us to even things up.

After all, my refusal/inability to express my grief at the party was also a missed opportunity. It’s possible that I would have been met with the bland suburban “meh” I feared if I’d told the truth about how sad I was that day, but it’s just as likely that people would have responded with kindness. Not having taken the risk, I’ll never know. But I’ve made a different decision in the months since the election, and what I’ve found is that I don’t have to make my queerness as invisible as I think I do. There’s space for my weirdness, and I can use that space to open up more space for others. Not by folding them into the “us” of bougie Arlington, but by acknowledging how my communities are multiple, by making space for different voices of mourning, by refusing to sanitize my grief or to demand that others do the same.

The darkness of the womb/tomb

One of the few silver linings in this new world has been my relationships with my students. They’re. Just. So. Great. Especially since my job is helping them find ways to abandon the siren song of high-paying corporate work for academia or service, I get all the good ones. Right now, we’ve just wrapped up applications for the Truman Scholarship, a super-prestigious national service award, and these kids are fucking amazing. Like, delivering speeches on the floor of the UN while also organizing a #noDAPL rally on campus and getting straight As amazing. Like, rewriting the curriculum for a mentoring program so that it doesn’t assume that the Black girls need to be saved, and then teaching that curriculum to the white girls who are cluelessly, good-heartedly working as saviors mentors, all with an open heart. Seriously–they’re so fucking good.

So I guess I believe the children are our future? However you slice it, it’s amazing to get spend time with young people who are just at the brink of starting their adult lives–they see the world stretched out before them, and they have a lot of faith in their ability to change it (too much, sometimes, but even that is beautiful in its own way).

As with everything post-election, my conversations with my students have gotten way more intense and real. And I see them grappling with how to maintain the optimism and faith that has so far structured their approach to the world. Like so many of us Good Liberals, most of them bought into a narrative of progress, and–more dangerously–the inevitability of progress. How do they step into a world that seems so broken, perhaps irreparably?

One of them shared this speech with me that she said she watches whenever she needs a boost. It was at an event called “National Moral Revival,” which the student (meaningfully) misread as “National Morale Revival.” And as you can see at 4:30, her central metaphor works as a major morale booster. “What if?” she asks, “What if this darkness is not the darkness of the tomb, but the darkness of the womb?” The crowd can’t take it, and explodes in applause.

It’s an incredibly powerful metaphor. But my response was unexpected–I felt inspired, but mostly had a resurgence of the grief that’s shadowing me all the time these days. Maybe part of this is because of the way the speaker frames her story as building toward a moment of revelation and improvement. The factual details of her story outline the relentlessness of American racism and fascism: her grandfather was incarcerated as a terrorist immediately upon arriving on U.S. soil; he watched his Japanese-American neighbors and friends get rounded up and sent to internment camps; her uncle was murdered in a post-9/11 hate crime. The more things change, the more they stay the same, and she’s terrified of what will happen for her son as he makes his way into this broken, violent world.

I feel this. I’m scared of how the world will meet my daughter, of the moment when she realizes that she’s seen as property because of her gender, of the way that toxic masculinity threatens to one day warp my infant son. And, more than that, even, I’m terrified that they’ll be seduced by the siren song of toxic whiteness (is there any other kind? I don’t know, I hope so): that they’ll see possibility of power without accountability and move toward it, that all my attempts to steer them otherwise will fail.

But when I got to the end of the video, to her idea that “our America is not dead but waiting to be born. What if this is our nation’s great transition?” I just couldn’t get on board. Maybe this is a failing on my part? A failure of hope, or of imagination? But this story: that the better times are coming, that we just have to push through and they’re right around the bend, feels dangerous to me. As we watch long-fought for advances getting thrown out the window, history seems to be shaped more like a wheel than an arc, and I’m worried that the next thing I’ll see is my loved ones getting run over.

Maybe it’s because I have a different relationship with her central metaphor. As a feminist with a non-functioning uterus, I find the symbol of the womb both powerful and fraught with grief. In my experience, the womb is a space of loss, of failure, of a confrontation with an inescapable truth: that my life wasn’t going to look the way I always thought it would.

But maybe grief is a kind of hope? Because one thing I’ve found is that grief is about honesty. I’m heartbroken because I’m forced to face a piece of truth that feels impossible: I will have to make it through the world without a loved one; this baby I’d felt so certain would come into our lives isn’t; my family loves me, but they also mistreated me terribly, usually both at the same time; America was built to sustain white supremacy and violence. The older I get, the more the world feels full of impossible truths. And so when Valerie Kuar compares the “magic we will show our children” with the magic of Santa, I have to pause. I don’t want to sell my kids a version of hope that depends on me constructing a world for them that is counter to reality.

Maybe this is the difference between hope and optimism, and why the former appeals to me so much more these days. Optimism is based on the assumption of a specific outcome: things will get better, everything will turn out okay. And since Nov. 9, we’ve had a powerful reckoning with optimism–those of us who believed that we were coming into the long-promised dawn (slowly, but making our way there) were baffled by the power of the forces pulling us back. Assuring ourselves anew that it is all moving toward a happy ending seems like another setup.

Throughout most of human history, after all, a womb has also been a tomb for women, in that most of us died in childbirth. And in some ways this still stands–having or being perceived to have a uterus marks you for a specific kind of violence. That’s an unacceptable truth.

Hope, though. Hope is a different thing from optimism. It lives in the moment, and while it holds the possibility of specific outcomes, it doesn’t depend on them. The focus isn’t on some wished-for future, but on the fact that we’re alive right now, in this moment. That my beautiful students and children and the things they do right now make me able to bear these unbearable truths. My son took his first steps yesterday. My daughter’s favorite movie is the one that is running all the time in her head–it’s called Black Bruise.

Maybe the simultaneity of the tomb and the womb is the way that grief and hope coexist? A womb is a way that we can bear things, now. Even if the bearing ultimately kills us, this moment–the bearing of it–is beautiful, sacred, and true.

 

Listen up

It’s late to talk about the Women’s March (after all, there’s already been another (amazing) march, the world is actively falling apart, Jeff Sessions is about to delegitimize my family), but I want to write about it, if only to keep the energy of the moment going.

Because it was beautiful.

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Even the ride down felt exciting–as we got closer to the city, the rest stops started to feel like the parking lot of an Indigo Girls concert, with hipsters in pink hats and aging lesbians outnumbering the glassy-eyed families of four that usually people those way stations. I’d give these other women sly smiles, much like the nod I give when someone sets off my gaydar.

These moments of solidarity in transit were actually the highlight of the weekend. For instance, the whole experience of getting from our hotel in Beltsville, MD to downtown DC was beautiful from start to finish. We arrived at the train station (the end of the line) at 8 AM, and the line to get into the station was already hundreds of people deep. By the time we moved to the front, they’d closed the station for the day, and the line of fellow marchers stretched behind us for 10 city blocks, if not more. 2017-01-21-08-46-46

People had come from all over–our own hotel was full to capacity with protesters, including two busloads of people who had driven 35 hours from New Mexico to attend. The folks standing in line around us were from New York and Arizona. It took forever to get onto the train, of course, and even longer for the train to make it downtown, but every time we stopped to let on more people, we cheered as they boarded, despite finding ourselves crammed even more tightly into the limited space of the subway car. Even the Metro announcers sounded ecscatic as they announced the names of the approaching stations (a miracle if there ever was one).

My traveling companion/bestie and I were sitting near a mom who stood next to her teenaged daughter as she slept for the whole ride. The daughter’s lips were parted just enough to see her braces, and she was drooling a little. Maybe it was the presence of her doting mom, but this seemed more adorable than gross. We listened as the mom talked through college choices, explaining to the rest of their party why the daughter should go to Sarah Lawrence. They had brought one of those clear backpacks that the organizers recommended, and it was crammed with peanut butter sandwiches, granola bars, and maxipads.

When we arrived at the National Archives stop, we were part of what felt like an ocean of people, and the Metro had stopped charging people for the day. Watching everyone stream out of the train and up from the station into the light as the station attendant welcomed us through a bullhorn calling “Walk on through! The Metro’s got you today!”, I couldn’t help but weep. It wasn’t until that moment that I realized how defeated I’d felt, but not anymore.

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I had to quit Facebook a few weeks ago, in the interest of protecting my beleaguered little brain, and I don’t regret it one bit, but this means I have missed the critiques of the march, except as filtered through my students. The main critique–raised by my students on the train on the way back, as well as later in the press, is that the march was overwhelmingly white. The official message, which was reflected by the choices they made about speakers and their official mission, was deeply intersectional, but the people in attendance were largely white and the vibe of the crowd was even whiter. It was quieter than any protest I’ve ever attended, without the perfomativity, righteous anger, and grief that characterize a Dyke March or a Black Lives Matter demonstration. The signs were amazing, but the march itself was weirdly silent; we blocked the streets, but somehow still managed to seem obedient while doing so.

Case in point: Bestie and I were trying to make our way from the relative calm of Independence Ave., where we had been standing about 10 Jumbotrons back from the stage to the Mall where we could do yoga stretches and try to help our aching middle-aged backs. There was endless apologizing as we did our best to snake our way through the bottlenecked crowd to get through the tiny gate that divided one section from another. There was a woman near us with long brown hair and bangs doing a lot of the passive-aggressive complaining that is the mark of my ethnos. She’d declaim to the crowd: “If people would just let us out, there would be more room for them to get in” or “Does no one see that person carrying a baby? The baby needs to get through!” It’s in moments like these where I can see why solidarity with white women as a group is a tough nut to crack. We’re sort of the worst.

As we slowly edged forward, apologizing all the while, we heard someone calling out “security, coming through!” and a single-file line of four Black guys who looked to be in their fifties or sixties  cut purposefully through the crowd. The were dressed in natty suits and fedoras, and one of them had a yellow arm band on which he had Sharpie’d “SECURITY” in capital letters. Even my passive-aggressive line mate couldn’t find it in her to be snarky in the face of their gorgeous confidence and commitment to play.

It’s this kind of guerrilla performance art that has always characterized protests for me–and it was there in the content of people’s signs and the visual of solidarity that was a million pussyhats, but that energy–that commitment to playfulness as part of resistance–felt less present than I’m used to.

If it sounds like I’m complaining, I’m not (not really, anyway). One thing that struck me about the march was its insistence on officially centering the intersectionality of the movement. The majority of the speakers on stage were women of color, and one of the most moving I heard was a representative from the National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women, talking about the challenges she faced after being released from a 27-year prison sentence These are stories I’d previously only heard second-hand, mediated by fiction or film, and I wanted to stay quiet, to hear what these women had to tell me about their experiences and their takes on the world. The signs, too, consistently pointed to the interrelated nature of oppression, including one that simply read “53% of white women voted for Trump.” A helpful–and necessary–reminder, always.

I got the impression from my Instagram feed that the national marches were a little rowdier, and I’m glad, since the fun of protest is part of what drew me to Left politics in the first place, but the silence of the Washington march itself felt (to me) mournful and attentive. That seems like the right position for white women in this historical moment. We’re standing still, letting others speak for once, trying our best to listen and learn.

From Flight to Fight

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.

Common Ground?

So there’s this idea going around right now, that it’s incumbent on white people to reach out to Trump supporters, take seriously their concerns, meet them on their own terms and try to find some kind of common ground–and hopefully in doing so, help them confront the fact of white supremacy and undo it. Derek Black, former scion of the White Power movement, is perhaps the best example of the dream of this effort. He was ostracized by his classmates when they realized who he was (the poster child of StormFront, a white power recruitment site), and then a group of Orthodox Jewish students reached out to him and were willing to engage him in conversation. Over the course of time, he woke up to the effects of his previous actions and is now, at great personal cost, testifying to the danger and seductive lure of white supremacy.

It’s inspiring stuff, and it appeals to my desire for emotional generosity. If people really understood the effects of their actions, the real impact of their commitments to certain beliefs, they’d change, right?

But here’s the thing: as with most things post-election, I have a sick feeling that I’ve been here before. In high school and college, all I did was chase down people who mistreated me. If I could just make it clear to them, if I could just use all the powers of my mind and my body to convince them to stop, of course they would. I’d be safe and the world would be better–I just had to find a way to convince them. And so I’d invite abuser after abuser into my heart and my bed, hoping that this time I’d find the trick. If I were kind enough, smart enough, sexy enough, good enough, they would see my value and treat me with respect. You can guess how successful I was.

Among my friends, I’m seeing this dynamic play out in family relationships over and over again. People who’ve spent their whole lives getting out from under the repressive, conformist, unforgiving atmosphere of their childhoods find out their parents voted for Trump, and then try to have one of these recommended “honest conversations” with them about it. But instead of being met with understanding, it’s just more of the same bullying and intolerance that they’ve been busy trying to undo the effects of for their whole adult lives. Maureen Dowd’s Thanksgiving column probably captures this the best. She’s with her rich, conservative family, and they’re positively gleeful at Trump’s victory, basically telling everyone who is terrified for their human rights to stop being such babies, with all the kindness and sensitivity of a lacrosse-playing douchebag giving you a swirlie. (Honestly, the only message I took away from that is that Maureen Dowd should break up with her terrible family, ASAP.)

Margaret Atwood, of course, nails it with a poem. In “Tricks with Mirrors,” she narrates a conversation between a couple in which the woman in the couple attempts the metaphor of a woman as a mirror in lots of different registers. I suppose “conversation” isn’t really the right word, since it’s just the woman talking, trying again and again to explain herself to the man, to show him the truth of their dynamic. In the final section, she changes gears: “You don’t like these metaphors./ All right:/ Perhaps I am not a mirror./ Perhaps I am a pool./ Think about pools.” As a reader, I get this sinking feeling of the endlessness of the exchange. There’s always another metaphor, another story, but none of them sink in. If she’s a mirror, then so is he, in that her words bounce back to her without ever making an impact. I spent so much of my life in these kinds of echo chambers–only by seeing that I was in a monologue, not a call-and-response structure, was I able to break free.

So my strategy is this: honestly assess my safety before I go into a conversation. Am I putting myself in physical or emotional danger? Has this person indicated that they’ll meet my honesty with love, even if they disagree? If so, then I’m honest and also willing to listen myself. So I start with a reminder of the truth of our relationship, talking to my loved ones like we were in a TV pilot, where people say things like “you’re my brother, and even though we’ve always fought, I love you and I appreciate the way you’ve stood by me and stood up for me” so the audience can understand the plot. It’s a reminder that this is just one act in an ongoing drama, that the relationship can continue past this point. Then I’m as honest as I can be, refusing to grant myself the easy out of pulling punches to protect them or myself. I am willing to explain things that I think should go without saying (people have different experiences of the world, actions have different consequences when they come from different positions), and take seriously the logic that motivates their thinking and behavior, even when I disagree. I ask questions. I admit when I’m being smug or rude and try to stop.

I’ve had a few of these conversations since the election, and they’ve felt powerful. I don’t know if I’ve changed anyone’s mind, but I feel better, and my relationships, while still sometimes difficult, feel more authentic. I have to be willing to risk a break, even if that seems unthinkable. Experience has shown me that if the relationship is one I’m meant to be in, then it will find its way back to me.

For instance, I never thought my parents would be okay with my being queer. And they weren’t, for a really long time. And it was even longer before they went from tooth-grittted “support” to being real allies. When I came out to my mom in high school, her response was “that’s ridiculous, you can’t be gay. You always played with dolls, you never played with trucks.” And her refusal of the possibility ran so deep that, to this day, she doesn’t remember the conversation. Twenty years later, though, the story has changed. When we were talking together about different ways to try to deal with this new world and all the scary shit in it, she told me that her daily action toward justice was to insist on telling her conservative friends about my lesbian sister and me, without closeting us. It’s a small thing, but it’s one she wasn’t willing to take not that long ago, and it’s because I refused to remain silent about the truth of my life and because we both refused to give up on the relationship.

But, of course, the other side is also true. Bullies don’t soften, rakes don’t reform. In those cases, I’m using the logic of nonviolent resistance. I’m boycotting holiday parties where I don’t feel safe–the ones where my wife and I are met with homophobic jokes or anti-Semitic ribbing every year. “What a fairy!””Are you sure you don’t want some ham? Just have some ham!” (Note: not all Jews keep Kosher. Also: you’re a dick.) I went in today to start the process of adopting my son–answering questions I was humiliated to answer, and even more humiliated by my relief that I had the “right” answer (How long have you been together? Were you married when your son was born? Do you own your own home? Would I deserve to be his mother less if we rented? If we weren’t married?).

But I’ll use the resources I have available to me to remind the world that I have a family, that we’ve put in time and energy to become one, that we respect ourselves even if that respect is unmet. I know the adoption won’t mean anything if Trump actually passes his First Amendment Defense Act. In that nightmare scenario, I can still be barred from seeing my wife or children if they are hospitalized while we travel. A born-again hotel clerk isn’t going to change their mind and give us a room after all if I produce Massachusetts adoption papers. But I’m taking the action, making the speech act, calling out into the darkness anyway. The difference is that I’m not doing it in the hopes of changing minds–except, perhaps my own.

Survival is a kind of resistance, in moments like these. I will protect my survival, and announce it, wherever I can, in solidarity with all those who are threatened.

The Long Haul

I don’t know about you, but I’m already tired. I feel like a different person than I was two weeks ago–less optimistic, more hectoring, depressive instead of just anxious. Most of the time, I’m hyper-activated, scanning the crowds I walk through for people who might pose a physical threat. I’m afraid to walk across campus alone at night, and my conversations keep turning into long rants in which I Cassandra on about the effects of authorizing hatred, how Trump will change the face of the Supreme Court in a way that will ruin countless lives, how even if Trump is incompetent, the people he’s hiring aren’t, they’re just evil. And we don’t even know what it will be like until the next San Bernadino, at which point we are all seriously fucked in a way that there’s no coming back from. And the scary thing is that most people don’t try to talk me down–the conversations often just end with us staring off into space in terrified silence.

We’re in DC for Thanksgiving, which is so, so strange. Everyone here seems to be either clad in camo hunting gear and a Make America Great Again hat or swimming in the oceans of grief behind their eyes. The memorabilia store in our hotel is full of Trump bobbleheads, next to the Clinton ones they’d foolishly bought ahead of time, jinxing us all.

We arrived on Monday, and I discovered the next day that we just missed the big White Power rally over the weekend. For all I knew, our hotel was full of people who’d stayed to sight-see for the holiday after zeig heiling our president-elect. I was in our room putting Teddy into bed when I read the news, and I felt like I could never leave. I’d looked forward to running while we were here, but now that seemed idiotic–I would just be asking for trouble. Even going down to the pool to watch my daughter swim with her cousins felt naive and foolish. A swimsuit might as well be a target. Et cetera.

I’m in this funny spot, because my experience of violence gives me first-hand insight into this whole process, but just those same experiences put me in a place where I’m so activated that my responses are simultaneously less reliable than others. Or–not less reliable, but so noisy that they get in the way of action. And what we need right now is action.

The strategy that worked the best came to me a few nights ago. I woke up at 1 AM, and immediately started my usual Roll Call for the Apocalypse: queer teenagers driven to suicide by federally funded ex-gay ministries, rising sea levels, racist cops armed with tanks and machine guns against peaceful protesters, beloved friends fleeing the country, and on and on.

I realized that the other time I felt most like this was when I was in the hospital ten years ago, after I had my colon removed. I couldn’t leave, and there was a situation completely out of my control that was progressing despite my best actions, seemingly inevitably toward destruction. One of the many things I tried to calm down was hypnosis, a strategy I’d used to sleep since I was a kid.

I had terrible insomnia as a little girl, and my parents got me this hypnosis tape, which I listened to nearly every night. A kind, avuncular voice would drone through a progressive relaxation script: “picture the muscles in the ball of your left foot, like a handful of loose rubber bands. Let everything go loose and lazy.” One side of the tape changed gears at the end to more general self-esteem and anti-anxiety stuff. “You are a good person. People enjoy your company.” It didn’t really work–I was rarely asleep by the end, and remained unconvinced by his kindness (after all, for all the disembodied voice knew, I was drowning puppies in my spare time). But all that practice made me simultaneously susceptible to hypnosis and resistant to its lure. At fairs and stage shows, I listen along and am calmed, but am never tempted to quack like a duck or forget my name.

So I tried another script in the hopes that I could recapture some of its calming effect. In this one, I’m walking down stairs, and I get deeper into hypnosis with every step. When I get to the bottom, there’s a dial, and I can physically dial down my own anxiety. In my mind, the dial was huge and steel, like the knob on an industrial oven. I paused at three–it seemed stupid to relax any further–but ultimately turned the dial all the way down to one, since I did need to sleep. And I could feel it working. Maybe this is the upside of all my PTSD magical thinking right now? If my negative thoughts have this kind of power over my world-view, maybe my positive ones do too?

I looked up from the dial, and I was in a white room with green carpeting–one that looked vaguely familiar in the way of all dream-spaces. This one was a vacation-space–a lake house or something along those lines. Close to something beautiful, set aside from the rest of the world. There was another version of me there, waiting, dressed all in white (apparently hypnosis-me is not only better at calming down, but she doesn’t spill food on herself all the time). I can’t remember if she said anything, as I was close to sleep at this point, but I knew that she could take care of me. That she was a grown up, ready to face what’s next, whatever that may be.

Here’s the thing: I’m pretty sure my apocalyptic thinking is right. Things are on the verge of getting very, very bad, and when they start to go south, I think that will happen quickly. But in all the noise of my fear, it’s easy to forget that I don’t just have experience suffering from trauma–I also have experience recovering from trauma, and building a life that I love and want to protect. If I want to show up for the long haul (which this is), I need to have the energy to keep going for it.

What that means for me today is that I’m trying to take one concrete action every day to beat back the darkness, and to take at least one action every day to remind myself I’m not alone. So I’ll write something, or give money, or have a hard conversation with a loved one, or make a political phone call. And I’ll make a list each morning of things I’m grateful for, in the here and now. Today it’s my in-laws, who have taken my daughter for touristy adventures so I could exercise and write.

All this energy in me feels like a fire, burning through the lies I’ve told myself over the years. I need to be cleaned out and renewed, not consumed by it.

 

Waking into Darkness

When I was seventeen, I was sick with ulcerative colitis, but I never told anyone, not even when I went to the doctor because I was so sick that I started missing my period. I’d been shitting blood for over a year. I never got a direct question about it, so I was able to keep it cordoned away in my mind, sealed off from the rest of my life. Once, I was at a friend’s house and the toilet was broken, but I didn’t realize this until after I’d filled it with bloody diarrhea. I stayed in the room with my hand on the flusher, watching the water spiral and slowly, slowly dissipate for at least 15 minutes. My heart was beating too fast to think anything; I just knew I couldn’t leave that room until all the evidence was gone.

Like most other white people I know, the strongest feeling I had on Tuesday night into Wednesday morning was shock. How could this have happened? How could we all (even Trump himself) have been so wrong? But my teenaged experience of disease should have been my guide. The consequences of having an illness that deep were unthinkable to me at the time, and I didn’t have the emotional resources to deal with the possibility, so my mind just shut it down. Along the same lines, the truth of how the American experiment is predicated on human suffering was too much. I’ve spent much of my life and my career working on the presumption that if I listen compassionately to people in power, they’ll do the same for me. This election has exposed that strategy as misguided, and based in my own refusal to admit not just how endangered I am by white supremacist capitalist patriarchy, but how implicated I am by and in it.

My grandfather on my mom’s side was head legal counsel for Southeastern Drilling Company in Texas. On my dad’s side I’m directly descended from the people who first brought the cotton trade–and thus slavery on a grand scale–to Texas. My life–my particular life, here in this condo in Arlington, MA–was made possible by human suffering and environmental pillage.

In the past, whenever I’ve tried to look at my heritage, it’s been hard to see it clearly. It’s like the weight of the past changes the laws of physics, and the light around these facts gets bendy and distorted. I become overwhelmed by guilt, unable to see my way through it. It’s too much dirt for just one person to undo, and it’s infected everything.

On Wednesday morning, the first person I saw was a former professor, Christina Sharpe, who’d just gotten the first copies of her new book, which focuses on the idea of the “wake”–both how history works like the wake of the slave ships of the Middle Passage and the process of coming to consciousness. She was so kind to me–hugged me while I wept, and responded with patient honesty when I keened of how I had been “so sure” it would go the other way.

“I wasn’t surprised,” she told me. “Other people underestimated white supremacy, but not me.” Listen to Nina Simone, Gil Scott-Heron, she told me. Don’t worry about whether speaking out will get put my name on a list–it probably will, but being ruled by fear doesn’t actually increase one’s chances for survival. This is the same fight which has been underway since this country started. Later that week, one of my Black students put it differently. “That feeling you’re having?” he said, “That’s how I feel all the time.”

I’ve been up since 3, gripped by fear. The first thing I did once I resigned myself to being awake was read my favorite pop culture website, figuring I’d give myself a break before approaching the news–but I’m not even safe there. Sharon Jones is dead. Adam Yauch Park in Brooklyn was defaced by swastikas and pro-Trump graffiti.This feels like end times, I can’t lie.

But it’s felt like end times for lots of people in this country for ages, that’s the thing I’m only realizing now. And maybe it is–Trump’s relationship with the EPA certainly doesn’t make me feel confident for the future of this little planet. But people have made art and raised kids and been kind and made meaning out of their lives even from the darkest points in history.

So here’s my pledge: I’m done lying. I’m done covering up the effects of abuse and violence in my personal life, and I’m done playing nice with systems of power–even, especially the ones that I benefit from.

So I’m telling the truth to my students–that I’m terrified, that I’m committed to social justice, that I want to help them find tools to speak truth to power. I’m being frank with my family about the small violences that made growing up queer so hard. I’m here, writing.

And I’m doing my best to divest from whiteness. We’re giving away more money than we ever have, by an order of magnitude. I’m keeping race central to discussions about the election with other white people. I’m using the phrase white supremacy with other white people–even ones in whom I’ve observed subtle racism in the past. I’m wearing a Black Lives Matter shirt and hanging an Unafraid Educator sign on my office door, because these are the signs that come from within the communities they’re meant to support (unlike safety pins, which white people came up with).

There’s so much work to be done. Too much, maybe. I can see the ways that hatred and fear shape human behavior–and Steve Bannon assures me that this isn’t going away anytime soon. But I’m done lying–my commitment (and that of other nice white people like me) to covering over uncomfortable truths is part of what got us into this mess.

My life has been shaped by violence, and this is something I never wanted to be true. The weight of it felt unbearable. But if I tell the truth, I think I can bear it. When I was finally willing to tell the truth about my illness, I nearly died. I had to have emergency surgery to have my colon removed, and my life changed permanently. But I didn’t die, and the only reason that’s true is because I faced up to what all that blood really meant, and dealt with the consequences as best I could. So no more lying.

Template for a letter to your family re: Steve Bannon

I did a thing this morning that I’ve never done before in my whole life–opened up a line of political dialogue with my socially conservative family. I saw the news about Bannon, and I am FUCKING TERRIFIED. The climate-change denying EPA guy Myron Ebell is awful, Ben Carson is the worst, Newt Gingrich is a human trash fire, etc etc. But Reagan and Bush made terrible appointments like this and we made it through that–we can still move forward with established grassroots strategies and try to stave off our own desctruction. But Steve Bannon is professionally hateful, and his energy is both contaigous and deeply dangerous.
So I’m calling my Senators and Representatives later today, and I composed the letter below to my family. I’m scared to have done it, but I have to do something. I put in bold the parts that only apply to me–replace them with instances from your own life. Or (even better) rewrite the whole thing in your own voice. I looked up all the contact info for the senators and reps for my family in the hope that this would make them actually take action–and I think it’s a good way to signal to them how serious I am. Feel free to cut and paste.
Hi family,

I’m writing with a political plea, which I normally wouldn’t do, but I’m really scared. In just the last week, I’ve already heard–from people I know personally–about moments of aggression and intimidation, even in deep blue places like Massachusetts and Maryland. At Winchester High School (the next town over from ours) on Thursday, a white student walked into the classroom of his Indian-American science teacher 20 minutes late with a “Make America Great Again” baseball hat on, wrapped in a flag, blaring music which he refused to turn off. A group of white male students from Babson College in Wellesley drove in a pickup truck to Wellesley College, where they verbally harassed a group of black students. At Ariel’s cousin’s son’s middle school in Bethesda, the bathroom was covered in swastika graffiti on Wednesday morning. And those aren’t even among the more than 300 hate crimes reported since Tuesday

As a gay mom with two young kids, I’m scared. As a woman, I’m scared. As a friend to Muslims and African Americans and immigrants, I’m scared.

I know that people are saying that we should give Trump a chance, and that sounds like a nice idea, but the moment (of many) that gives me the most pause is his appointment of Steve Bannon of Breitbart News to his cabinet. This guy has made a career out of hate-mongering, and if he is in a position of real power, the consequences would be dire. The next time something like the tragedy at San Bernadino happens, things will get very bad for a lot of innocent people in this country really quickly.

I’m willing to buckle down and try to work with or around economic and policy decisions I disagree with–as a person with a lot of opinions, I’m used to doing that. I’m hoping that I’m wrong about Trump, and that the promises of moderation he’s making now will pan out. But Bannon will bring out the very worst in Donald Trump, and in the country, and I will do whatever I can to try to stop his appointment.

I’m calling my representative and Senators to plea with them to do whatever they can to stop Bannon’s appointment. I’ve made a list below of contact information for your Representatives and Senators. I’ve actually never called my representative before–too afraid of conflict, I guess–but I’m motivated to action by what I’ve seen so far, and what I anticipate is down the line. Please, please call–especially those of you in states that went for Trump. ESPECIALLY those of you in Texas. Your representatives need to know that the vitriol which was so central to his campaign cannot be normalized in our culture. You can support Trump’s policies without co-signing open hatred. Tell them you’re voting, tell them you’ll remember next cycle–and especially tell them if you voted for Trump. Politicians are cynical, I know, and calling the office directly is actually a way to get them to pay attention. If you can convince your friends to do the same, even better.

Thanks for listening. I’m happy to talk about this more if you want. I’m sending you this letter because I love you and I know that you want what’s best for me and my family.

Lots of love,

Anne