Respect My Existence or Expect My Resistance
Respeta Mi Existencia O Espera Resistencia
**This post was originally written in the weeks after the Presidential Inauguration. It’s a little late to press, but every bit as true and relevant today as it was when I wrote it!***
I have never been more proud of my family. On Inauguration Day, we had turned on the TV to a station that wasn’t airing the event to register our rating. I left the house, went to the Rec Center and got on the treadmill. The Inauguration festivities, were showing in the Exercise Room up on the TV monitor. I did the belt for 30 minutes, vowing to somehow run through my internal chaos of holy frack what are we gonna do now! I had started before the swearing in and ended about the time the new guy took his hand off his really nice family Bible. I don’t usually go 30, so I was pushed a little beyond my limit. As I stumbled off the machine, it occurred to me the treadmill might be what it’s like for the duration. I have Meniere’s Disease and I was a little tipsy that morning anyway. There was a woman on the exercise bike behind me who appeared to be a Mexican immigrant, there with her three teenage children. Obviously worried about my condition, she asked if I was OK.
I summoned my manliness, smiled through the blur and thanked her for asking.
As I reluctantly pumped iron for another 30, we all witnessed the inaugural address. Hoping for one as short as Lincoln’s 2nd, I listened for even a hint of Abe’s unifying grace, and heard none. I began to wonder what the woman on the bike and her children were hearing. I began debating myself: Should I ask them? No, just leave it alone. No, but this is a new time. If we choose to make it. They were still immersed in activity so I stretched a bunch more than usual and finally, saw they were grabbing their coats to leave so I went to the coats and found the courage to ask. “So how are you all feeling today?” The eldest son, maybe high school age, hesitated but politely answered, “Well he does have some crazy ideas!” “Yeah…” I nodded not knowing what to say next. “How ‘bout you?” he queried. “Well, I’m really worried.” They all nodded back. I said, “But I do believe there are enough people who care so we can help each other through.” All nodding back again, the son replied “Yes, that’s important.”
Walking home, I found our neighbor in the street finishing a morning run. I told her my small story. We cried together. I went home and threw up. The world was spinning like a Tilt-a-Whirl after breakfast. I think it was the vertigo I get with these Meniere’s attacks, but who knows? To hold on, we will make new friends we never had and initiate changes we never…if we’ve the courage.
But I said I’ve never been more proud of my family. The next day, by noon, we were at the Women’s March in Portland. Our daughter and her fiance’, our son and his…we were there at our children’s initiative. Because of their hope, we followed them into an indignant, supercharged and kind rebellion with 400,000 of our closest friends. It was a place we had to be. We were women with them and we were men who care deeply about wives and daughters, mothers, aunts, nieces and grandmas. Our family is growing. We are proud of humanity…never prouder to be human.
The words on the signs really say it all:
I March With My Sisters…Natalie in Minnesota, Angie in California, Novella in Beaverton. We Are All Family Because Hate Cannot Drive Out Hate, Only LOVE Can Do That! We are THE UNITED STATES OF Immigrants, Citizens, Veterans, Muslims, Christians, Atheists, Jews, Asians, Natives, Whites, Blacks, Latinos, Boomers, Gen-X, Millenials, LGBTQIA, The Disabled, The Poor. Bitches Get Shit Done. We Will Not Be Silent. We stand together in diversity. We can make change happen by staying engaged. Making sure all have a chance to live in dignity, we will Peacefully advocate. Don’t Give Up, Don’t Give In, Be A Pussy!
I have not mentioned the President’s name or included any of the outrageously creative signs that call him out. He thinks it’s all about him and I won’t encourage his adolescent delusions or his gross and illegal representations of what it means to be a man. It was a total surprise to me to be surrounded by women and girls in pink knitted pussy hats of all kinds. We found out about the movement too late, or all of us would have donned Pussy Hats. To me, the message of pussy undergirded everything in the March. It was the most relevant, engaging, powerful, intimate news: Viva la Vulva. That sign was my favorite.
At the same time, that message will always make me squirm most. I don’t say the word pussy aloud. And I won’t. Even when speaking of cats. I don’t think it. In my mind there is no way for me as a white American male to say it without being disgusting, demeaning and derogatory…like n****r. I don’t have a vulva so I can never (surprise, surprise) really understand the impact of the message to girls and women. When I was growing up I heard it in the locker room. I was embarrassed by the word and ashamed not to speak up against its denigrating use. When called a pussy by other boys or coaches or when I heard other males so called, I was equally embarrassed and disgusted not to summon my backtalk. I think the p word is the most violating label one can give females and males alike. I thought maybe we were making progress in this conversation until the Candidate gave it historic validation for another generation of men and boys. Surely, when Jesus told the centurion to put down his sword and stood by the woman who was about to be stoned for supposed adultery, the men in the crowds were muttering “What a Pussy!” They always say it in the safety of a crowd.
So Viva la Vulva, Respect My Existence or Expect My Resistance! What a privilege to live in a time, when women and girls can take the ultimate symbol of violation and make it a validation, when females everywhere and the females and males who love them can rise up and take the language of intimidation and rape and translate it into the language of resistance and love. I’m in awe. Now…could someone please knit me a hat?