December 11, 2017KR BlogBlogCurrent EventsEnthusiamsEthicsRemembrances

A Condensed List of Things Men Have Said to Me in the Age of Trump

This past Friday, I run into an acquaintance at a grocery store. Earlier I’d woken up tired and aching; it seemed that my bronchitis had returned, or was not yet finished with my body. Lately, I’ve been trying not to ignore my body. I tell family and friends to prioritize their health. I don’t always follow my own advice. That isn’t a confession. There are reasons why I often refuse to listen to it, due to the cumulative effect of commentary it’s received over the years as a child, a teenager and an adult. I was the kid who others would bully openly in gym class, all in front of coaches who, if I didn’t fight back, would treat me with a pity that bordered on contempt. My mother, also a small woman, had the same response: she’d rather see me suspended from school than become a sacrifice. No daughter of hers would be a ewe caught by her horns, helplessly bleating in the thicket. So I fought back. I always lost. That too is not a confession.

Now, as people stockpile groceries and other provisions before the first snowstorm of the season hits, I am aware of how easy it is for me to squeeze through panicked tight spaces that crowds can engender. Usually I’m quite good at this, but my raging cough gives me away, and I attract attention.

Suddenly I feel someone tap me on the shoulder. I don’t recognize him at first. In all candor, I don’t know him very well.

We make small talk about the storm, when suddenly he asks me about a recent poem I’ve published in BOAAT. Suddenly he jokes that, in light of all the recent sexual harassment and assault allegations, he gets why he “deserves” such a poem.

I feel feverish and confused, and cough into the arm of my jacket. Although I’m starting to feel the weight of the basket I’m holding in the crook of my arm, I feel the need to clear up that this poem is not about him. Why he would think that, I’m not even sure. As I mentioned previously, I barely know him.

So I tell him this: the poem is not about him, not at all.

And he says he knows, he knows— but still.

Still what? I ask, watching the lines grow in front of the cash registers.

You know, he says

I shake my head.

You know, he says again, growing impatient. Like I bet you wish there was something like a douchebag vaccine. To cure men of their awfulness, right?

Well, I say, vaccines prevent, not cure.

He turns his head, and gives a short laugh into the air. Same difference.

Actually, it’s not, I say

He turns back to look at me. Um, I’m trying to be nice. As he says this, I feel his eyes skim over my body. He’s taller than me. He suddenly steps forward toward me, as if to let someone pass behind him. But there’s no one there.

That’s when it hits me very quickly: that familiar multi-layer explosion of anger and anguish. Why doesn’t he question the space he’s taking up in a public, communal space, much less a crowded grocery store where standing in one spot too long causes inconvenience? Does he think every poem that challenges patriarchal structures is specifically about him? Given just this one interaction, he makes it seem that it is about him— via this very kind of interaction, which he created— as if I wrote this particular poem to rob him alone of his “manhood” or power or certainty of his place in the world.

But perhaps it’s just that: that now he thinks he’s feeling what so many communities of women, POC, LGBTQ and other marginalized peoples have felt for centuries. And how tired, simply exhausted and tired, I am of these interactions, of writing about these interactions, how the focal point always reverts to his specific feelings.

Um, I’m trying to be nice, he says.

From somewhere deep in my ill, aching body, that which he was trying to make so small with his own, I snap back: Um, make that just a regular virus then, not a vaccine.

I walk off.

As I pay for my groceries and walk toward the door, I find him waiting there.

He wasn’t going to let it go.

I don’t get what you said back there. What did you mean?

*

I end up in the ER the same night. It’s very late. It hasn’t started snowing yet. I have an upper respiratory infection made worse by not sleeping this past week. Or month. I can’t remember. I won’t let my body tell more. But it does anyway. The doctors I see tell me I’m in bad shape.

I break down in front of my husband. I don’t want to tell him any more stories that he already knows— stories that as an immigrant and a person of color he knows all too well. My body betrays me. I can’t stop crying. I tell him what happened in the grocery store. I tell him that I don’t know where or when my body snapped, sick of such toxic masculinity. That for years I’d grown thinking it was the norm. That in the last five years, when I really started writing again and finding community and seeing real change that I never thought possible when I was in grad school, I started to unravel. You’d think it would be a healing— but you see, the patriarchy and white supremacy have been fighting back, unwilling to let go of the dwindling power they have,  and lately their responses have been getting to me, the things men have directly said to me while claiming to be part of the solution, a stream of contradictory advice and pretexts and needs, an unending conversation of which the balance of power is still so dreadfully unequal I’m reluctant to even call it a conversation.

What follows below is, quite simply, a condensed list of things men have said to me in the time of Trump:

Gosh, can you believe what Trump said today? I always believe women— just don’t be like that. You know what I mean. I don’t mean you. But you’ve been with more women than men, right? So you know what they can be like. I don’t mean you! Love the work you’re doing. Good. For. You. Trump should be impeached. All men are trash, aren’t they. Tell me if I ever act like that. Tell me I’m okay. I’m okay, aren’t I? I don’t mean to make this about me. Ohhhh, you’ve been with more women, right? You know what you can be like. No, not “you” you. I mean women. I mean some women. Listen, not all men. I’ll tell you what this thing with men is really about. What’s going on with you? That subtweet today— that was about me, wasn’t it? Gosh, can you believe Trump just endorsed Roy Moore? Yes, yes, nothing surprises me anymore either! ME TOO. I. Would. Never.

But you’d feel safe with me if we were alone, right?

You can feel safe with me. If you want, I’ll talk to him. Because. Because it might be better coming from me— not that I’m like that. It’s him. Not all men. I used to call that film Waiting to Bash Males. But. Now. I always believe women. I do. Still, I won’t let my daughter dress that way— would you? See, you don’t have kids though. Not that you’re less of a woman for it. Of course you’re a woman— look at you! I don’t mean just your body. Listen, I’m a nice guy, and I’m afraid to tell you that you look nice today! I mean,  you’re always dressing up, right, and really, who’s that for? I’m joking. Chill. I hate Trump, don’t you? You really need to chill. I wrote a book too. I used to call that network “Estrogen.” Can I submit there, though, honestly? It looks like they only publish women. Look how Stella got her groove back— A. Younger. Man. Just saying. So you’re saying you don’t like Bill Clinton anymore? So you’re saying you won’t watch any more Dustin Hoffman movies? This might not be a politically correct thing to say, but things were different in Polanski’s time. I don’t mean it like that, but she did look older. Don’t be sad. Smile. You need to learn to compartmentalize. You need to learn to speak up. No, listen, I was defending you.

Two words: Ben Affleck. Feel better?

To be honest it looks like they only publish people of color. I mean, support goes both ways, right? You know, to be honest, it really sucks to be a straight white man right now— I’m just being honest. I feel targeted. I feel ordinary next to you. I feel boring next to you. My problems are just as real as yours, you know. I’m not the problem. I’m not ripping you off— you’re my muse. You inspire me. All women do in their own way. I publish women. I do. I’m not the problem. Nothing surprises me anymore. Did you know I Google certain words that will land me on the FBI’s Watch list? I’m a target too! Trump should be in jail. I’m a threat. Lock him up and throw away the key. I’ll protect you. Would you protect me? I wrote a book too. I might need your protection these days more than you need mine! Just kidding. Calm down. I’m in danger too.  It’s like I can’t even ask a woman out! I’ve been blocked. My account has been suspended. Can you believe that? I’m not the problem. I’m one of the good ones. I’m on your side. You want me on your side, trust me. Can you believe what Trump said today? I’m not the problem. Listen, not all men. Not me. Not at all. Let me explain it to you again.

*

In the emergency room, I learn I need antibiotics.

In the emergency room, still under the eye of a fever, I begin to piece it together: the link between (invisible) toxic masculinity and how certain viruses grow ever resistant to change, developing new strains that would and do harm us.

How toxic masculinity, like a virus, will not accept it can never be part of the real change that would benefit humanity.

How, even in some dark hour before the snow fell, I realize the sublime possibility that even the most deadly of viruses can— and will— be eradicated.

 

This is part 1 of a two-part essay. Here is Part 2.