Earlier this week I texted a friend to ask about her pregnancy. She mentioned she was depressed about the weekend and I asked why, thinking that some test or another was on the scheduled. Election, read her next text.
While my confusion had everything to do with context–I was asking about morning sickness–and while my information life is saturated with the election, cabinet picks, protests, conflicts of interest, speech patterns, and everything else that is part of the current nightmare, it would be dishonest of me not to acknowledge my optimism.
In my daily life, which is to say, my public life, where I have a name and a face, acquaintances but few close friends and confidants, I am not able to say what am I about to: that my optimism has everything to do with being a white, able-bodied, college-educated, cis woman living a hetero-normative life in a country where I have a passport and native fluency of the primary language. I don’t struggle with any illness that can’t be controlled by modern medicine. I don’t currently have any sort of psychological/psychiatric disorder. I’m a convert to a minority religion, but I was raised in the dominate American religion, nondenominational Protestantism.
I’d like to say: I’m sorry.
But I won’t.
I think guilt, white, religious, and otherwise, is bullshit. I don’t know completely all the facets that guilt fulfills for us, but I know that it serves to let us off the hook. We tell ourselves that we care–look, look! my caring is profound! look at the depth of my caring! I feel so guilty … for not doing shit.
I should be clear that I am in no way happy about our 45th president. When I woke to find out he had won against Clinton, I thought I had woken to a nightmare. My cheerfulness the day I texted with my friend was for personal reasons: I felt good despite having had little sleep, I was excited about a story I was working on, the progression of this blog, my #100DaysOfStories, the birth of my second nephew. But the thing is (as when we say the personal is political), all of those things *can* mean more to me than the election. Because of who and how I was born.
there is a snottiness to which Pense at the convention said, “i’m a christian, a conservative, and a Republican … in that order.” It drove me nuts, but it is only to day that I understand why: because YOU don’t choose the order. None of us do. It is only privilege that allows you to imagine it differently.
I didn’t choose to be white.
I didn’t choose to be a woman.
I didn’t choose to be straight.
In that Lady Gaga song, the chorus is joyously proclaimed: “I was born this way”. That’s up there with “Say it loud: I’m black and I’m proud.” or “I am woman. Hear me roar.” I know these statements are important, and I know why they are so so important. But as Bukowski wrote, I was “born into this.” I was twelve before I began to understand that I was white, and that that was thing. Twenty-four years later I’m still uncovering all that it means to be born white, to live in a majority culture. I am learning to own my whiteness, because anything other than owning it is selfishness.
I didn’t choose to be straight. I wanted for all the world to be gay. As a kid, when I thought of adult life, I thought I would be free if I could just be a lesbian. I’ve had girlfriends and enough sex with women to know what I like and what I don’t–and anything else would be playing a game. What I identified as admirable in older gay women was a fierceness, a standing outside of the order. Queer identity. It’s what I wanted to be, but was not.
As a middle school pariah and a high school outsider, it was easy to imagine that I was connected to queerness. Maya Angelou describes how at sixteen she thought she was a lesbian because she’d read a book where gayness was the ultimate in abjection: feeling thoroughly abject herself, she must be a lesbian. But I think this is position is definitive of my generation and millennials feelings about the other: it’s not just that we choose certain politics, it’s that we think we are closer to people in minority groups than we actually are. And while on one level that opens us up to their experience and to voting in their favor (and hopefully also activism), there is a disingenuousness that needs to explored.
Years ago, in a queer theory class, I heard a young white gay man say that he identified more with a black lesbian than a straight white guy. On one level, this is an awesome sentiment: let us break down the walls that define us, let us build a new world order. but like Pence, this guy was expressing a desire to choose his primary identity … which is in itself a form of privilege. I don’t want to discount his feelings of being queer and connected by queerness, but on a physical level, he grew up in a world that had (likely) far more in common with straight white guys of the same age. (Because this particular guy did not like me very much, I feel, across the years, an accusation forming, a rebuttal to what I am trying to pin down in this post.) But in my mind’s eye, I see the unmoving face of a black female watching him across the classroom. (Was she really there? I don’t know. I may be superimposing her face upon the scene.)
My morning is moving on. And I need to as well.
But I guess my final thought on this is topic is that while I didn’t know I was white, while I wanted to be gay, what I knew I was and did not want to be was a woman.
I grew up as woman in Trump’s America. Because there is nothing that could prepare me for the next four years better than becoming a woman in the 90s in South Carolina.
I did not choose this.
I did not choose to spend most of my mental energy in a sustained act of self hatred. And I wish that i knew trans people on a personal level, so that I could understand from them what it means to know you are something, to fight for that something you know about yourself. I feel quite the opposite: I keep waking up to in a woman’s body. There is no part of me that is something else, which, because I was a child in the 80s and a teenager in the 90s, could only have been a man as there were not other options then. Discussions on both the left and the right can leave me cold; what i want is not be gendered at all. But I am, and on that plane, on that playing field, I reach over and turn npr off. I have not lived up to my responsibility, and i have not lived up to my own pain. I am not sure how to.