being seen, part 1: why i protest
why do you march? what do you have to protest for?
these questions, in their many forms, are something i’ve been asked often since the women’s march. & the simplicity of questions like these can stump the strongest of us, rooted as we are in the knowledge that the movement, the resistance isn’t simple, nor can it be easily answered with a single word or phrase — though it is indeed a singularity, a marvel of champions. sadly, it’s not a tiny chapter in a short book. one can only imagine the history of equality being summed up as: women & people of color demanded equality & the powers that be said, yup makes sense. so, when someone asks me why i march, they may as well be asking me to take the history of humankind & write it down in 140 characters — & we all know that 140 characters is just another alert for Short Attention Span Ahead, a bridge-less ability to scroll past & over whatever it takes to find the messages we like best, leaving a canyon between truth & content, a reality-less reality where endorsing something with a single click, glomming onto a “truth” that requires nothing more than an opinion, is the norm. those of us who have joined marches, protests, vigils, whether we are on the mall in washinton d.c., on a local street corner, taking a knee during the national anthem, or demanding justice in the streets of st. louis, are challenged by those who, purposefully or not, are trying to get us to distill our intentions, our message, down to something that will let them scroll past our answer, to be able to find fault in whatever controlled-by-them chunk of time they’re going to give us to provide something that beats out their actual desire to learn or to listen. often these are the same listeners who love taking our words of power & turning them into attack points, sending their missiles of distraction at us like we are an actual enemy & not co-dwellers on the same land: because we love hillary or we believe in feminism or we fight for the fact that black lives do indeed matter. & in my numerous attempts to answer these questions, i’ve come to see them for what they really are. they’re not questions at all. they’re a challenge. some people ask these questions without malice, & really just want to know: why do you put yourself out there? others, with nary a noble intention in sight, aren’t asking anything—they are bullying, drawing lines in the sand, chest-bumping. they are saying: why do you think we want to see you, or more accurately, how dare you believe you deserve to be seen.
& so the truth is i won’t ever be able to answer this question for those who not only believe we don’t deserve to be seen, but, who, also, other than a hard stare at the grocery store, at the bar, at the laundromat, at the movie theater, the high school ballgame [insert endless list here], transfer that belief into practice: they rarely take the time to actually look at us — to see! us, & to acknowledge that the humanity that flows through us is the same ebb & flow that courses through them. we can’t escape the stardust, & that commonality should make us shine. alas, maybe it’s our brilliance that causes them to squint so harshly, to throw a hand up & yell, buck you fitches, before they hawk a loogie (& they call us disgusting) & look away.
just read the comments under any news post about any protest: we are called garbage, animals, criminals. they say we should be run over, imprisoned, shot. they attack us based on our race & our gender. you name it: they think it, they say it, & as we have seen, not just in charlottesville, they act on it. so before anyone can answer why we march, we have to talk about what it takes for some of us just to walk down those same streets when there isn’t a march happening, when it’s life as normal. the fear of the other has so poisoned our society, i don’t believe it can be rinsed away in my lifetime — how do you clean the soil of a bumper crop? so instead, i’ll tell them what it means, to me, to be seen. the double-edged nature of it — because being seen means both being counted & being spotted. it means being held up by your brothers & sisters. we see you means we are with you, we support you, & we will frame the house of our acceptance around you so that wherever you walk, the floor beneath you won’t give way to those who would tear down the walls of everyone’s liberty because they hold tightly to a false idea of what power actually is: an ugly creed that allows them to lean toward hate & violence—which is where being seen also means being spotted: the hound dog is pointing, & depending on the license du jour, the weapon of choice varies. so, on any given day when most men walk into that world & can’t even begin to fathom that some of us walk out into a glaring, bright-white world of stares where our one-foot-in-front-of-the-other means demanding to be seen even while knowing that demand places us under a hateful glare, under a balled fist, under the cruel banner of someone’s religion or distorted idea of american patriotism.
so before i can answer why i march, why i protest, we have to talk about what it takes to walk into a room of people who turn & stare at you, who whisper & point — what it means to walk into that room anyway; to walk into a grocery store or a restaurant & worry about not being served or having someone tarnish your food, & yes, walking in anyway knowing that no matter what happens, your worry means you won’t enjoy your food as much as you could have because past experiences can leave long-lasting tastes.
to meet someone you’ve only spoken to on the phone about a job, an apartment, the last xbox on the shelf, a doctor’s appointment, whatever, & when you show up the niceness in their voice suddenly turns cold & hardens & you know things are going to end up damn differently than they should have but you keep putting forth an effort that would tire the most privileged among us.
to show up for a job interview & have someone not even write down your answers because they’ve seen you & they’ve decided you aren’t good enough for the job even though you are overqualified — to keep applying for jobs anyway because those mythical boot straps will sooner or later prove to you that the fear of the other is really not a problem with systemic biases but a problem with your number of tries (yes, that’s sarcasm).
to have someone come to your house to do work, & worry about them doing the work well once they start talking about their bible & saying offhandedly, & weirdly, how they’ll pray about whether or not a broken pipe is far under the house or near a cheaper, more reachable point as though magic will somehow swoop in & fix what’s already damaged, with an implication that maybe those pipes broke because you don’t have a congregation of your own & here’s a pamphlet with service hours, & now you no longer know if they’re talking about their business hours or what time you’re supposed to go to church so that the praying masses there can make certain the gas line in your house isn’t going to silently kill you in the middle of the night—& then that same pamphlet-holder-for-christ makes a racist comment, & even though you’re an atheist you still somehow believe that bibles & racism shouldn’t go hand-in-hand, & now you’re afraid about what to do next because this large white man is in your house & you can’t even believe you have just heard what you’ve heard because even though you’re always prepared for it, they seem to strike at just that moment when your Bigot First Aid Kit has just run out of burn cream or anti-nausea medicine—the ipecac, however, seems to always be on hand; you want to say, how dare you assume i’m white, how dare you assume i’m racist, & you’re shocked because he knows you’re a lesbian (doesn’t he?), but somehow that isn’t enough insight into who you are to keep him from saying terrible things, & now you’re out there in the spotlight of him seeing you but not seeing you & your stuck in his absurd reality, frozen by his assumption that his view is universal, because you really need the hot water to work or the refrigerator to start up again & you live in a small town & you have no idea if there is any other person you can call if you tell this dumbfuck of a patriarchal dip shit to keep his ignorant mouth shut & to not let your gay as fuck, mexican door hit him in his racist ass on the way out.
to walk into a bar & have some paunchy morose guy who doesn’t know what to do with his sadness, so he’s out showing the world how worthy he is, (& dammit nobody better turn away from him because this land is his land, this land is his land, this land is his land) call you a whore or a cunt or a dyke, & you choose to sit there & finish your drink because this time marching out means giving up & the real march means staying put. sitting it out. sitting in. standing firm. that stand, that march is the why of all of it. because when i’m in a group of people taking that stand, that’s empowering. it’s marching, standing — by myself — that’s the hard stuff. & i’m not here to tell you it’s always bad, of course it isn’t, & over the years it’s gotten better. but unless you live in a bubble (hey, portland!), those of us who don’t fit the “norm” —
we have to in order to fully embrace the possibility of our own american dreams.
i remember walking out to the parking lot after a high school game with my parents when i was a kid. (i was bringing up the rear: i’ve always been a bit of a slow walker.) i was thinking-in my surroundings, understanding that i should know where danger might lie; whether someone could be hiding behind this car or that half-wall; counting how many people i could see in the parking lot, men specifically, that were unknown to me; knowing where my exits were & what weapons might be on the ground that i could pick up & use in case of an attack. i’m not sure where this “knowledge” came from. i lived in a small town that topped out just over 5,000 where the worst thing to ever happen was coast-to-coast hardware burned down without any injuries. somehow my little self knew that there were paths ahead with marauders that would look an awful lot like those small-town game-goers. i was young, but i still knew that other wasn’t accepted — especially if the other got too big for their britches, didn’t know their place, didn’t stay unseen. & so, as i march through my life, i want you to know that we see you too.
we have to.
our lives depend on it.
so we put ourselves out there with our political shirts & our dyed hair, with our audacity & flamboyance, with our pussy hats, & our black lives matter signs, with our public displays of affection, with our marriage certificates, with our paganism & polyamory, with our gender-bending & our atheism, with our femininity & masculinity that can look just like yours, & with our own interpretations of religion that we draw love & compassion from rather than blood & ire. we do this with one fist raised in persistent definance, because we need you to see us—because we’d rather not meet you on the streets of your delicate assumptions, where, you, misled by your tunnel vision, are surprised by the fact that we’re not who you thought we were. & who we are is a fleet of warriors unwilling to ever be held down again. we’re giving you a chance to really see us so that when you’re mad at yourself for being enslaved by your worldly-less view, when you’re caught off guard by the fact that we don’t endorse or fit within your patriarchal system, you don’t take those shackles wrapped around your stunted perceptions, & beat us with them. we aren’t trying to fool you, so quit being mad at us when you are fooled. maybe if you took the time to see us & our struggles, to see us navigate those roadblocks & pitfalls you’ve placed around us, you’d be impressed by our agility & we wouldn’t have to march.
but until we are actually seen, until you quit scrolling past us, we know that you will always attempt to change the narrative — it’s your best & only weapon. we know that you will try to distill our intentions down, to minimize our causes, to take our protests & use them to demonize us. & make no mistake, we know it’s that false narrative that allows you to sleep at night after you write laws against us or vote to dimantle ones meant to protect us without ever taking the time to understand the damage it does to the entirety of who we are as a nation: to our children, to our future, to our karmic allowance of hope—a flame that needs room to breathe, to move, to shine; a beacon that will, you’re welcome, inevitably march us all forward. so we will continue telling our stories, loudly, in whatever ways we can—through our voices & daily actions that we give to the world—a gift, a vision of what it looks & feels like when we turn the bigoted day-to-day on its head, when we take the vocabulary of hate & quell it forever. i march because i demand to be seen. & i will only stop marching when you are able to remove those blinders, when are you able to pick up those corrective glasses & finally focus on the color, the nuance, the beauty of diversity.
so, look at us — those glasses are just … there.
right within your reach.
tune in next week, to see what happens when punch comes to not shove.