I’m With Shirt
Remember, if you can, your first year of school. You were small, you rode on a bus or in a car to a place in which, if you were lucky, a bunch of grownups helped you read and write and add and subtract. For the most part, these grownups (who were all the same height: taller than you, and the same age: wrinkled) were in charge. During recess, however, the tall and wrinkled folks sat just far enough away that a new hierarchy formed— one among the children.
Here’s where I acknowledge that I’ve made some assumptions about your childhood in the service of a (forthcoming) analogy. So if you can’t remember school, if you can’t remember recess, if you never once sat in a room or yard full of 50 other six year-olds, then just do your best to imagine it.
At some point in the year, during recess, a kid next to you pointed to some other kid and made a seemingly random value judgement; something like, “Look at that stupid shirt.” Maybe you agreed and nodded a silent assent or even laughed in recognition (no judgments, you were six). But maybe, back at home in your closet, you had the same shirt. Maybe you were even wearing the same shirt in that moment, only yours was under a sweatshirt. Maybe, while this kid next to you was waxing rhapsodic about the ugly color and bad design and don’t even get him started on the sleeve length — maybe you were sitting there thinking of how the minute you got home, the very second you walked in the door, you would peel it off, throw it into the trash, douse it with lighter fluid, and set the whole bin on fire so no one would ever know that you, too, had owned such an idiotic shirt.
But what if the day got hot? What if it was a real scorcher? What did you do? What could you do, really? 1. take off the sweatshirt, revealing to everyone in the classroom that you, too, had a stupid shirt and were there to be judged for it 2. continue sweating bullets until you were home and could perform the aforementioned shirt immolation.
So, admission of guilt time: I kept the sweatshirt on. You too? It’s okay. You know why? Because taking off that sweatshirt was too scary. Taking off that sweatshirt, in that moment, at that age, put you in danger; danger of being disliked, ridiculed, shunned to the outer regions of the schoolyard with all of the other outcasts (nose pickers, bed wetters, peanut dust averse). But you know what else I did? I kept the shirt. I couldn’t burn it, and even if I did the knowledge that I’d had it and loved it, would stick with me. It was a part of me. Instead, I shoved it deep in the back of my closet so no one (not even my parents) would know where it was. And if my mother asked me what happened to that shirt I’d loved so much, the one I’d begged her to get, I’d stare into the middle distance and whisper: I just don’t know.
So it’s time to reach into the back of my shame closet, dust off the cobwebs, and put on that shirt. You know what the shirt says? I am a queer Mexican American woman and Donald Trump and his supporters are breaking my heart and my brain and I’m taking off my sweatshirt because I’m too damn hot (it’s a big shirt, small print).
Surprise! It’s not about shirts! I’m a regular Herman Melville, over here. A whale isn’t just a whale! A cigar isn’t just a dick!
Each time I hear Trump speak, I am angry, ashamed, and yeah, a little afraid. He hates my shirt. He hates all the kids with shirts like mine. And what’s worse? What’s way worse? A large number of people in this country agree with him. So it’s not just one kid shitting on our style, it’s an (actual numerical value) fuckton. When I turn on the television, when I look on social media, when I listen to the radio… it’s a never-ending spew of hatred. These people can’t see me or my stupid shirt. But they hate me and those like me, and at this moment in history, they are unafraid, excited even, to say it.
So make a note, please. Even if Donald Trump doesn’t win. Even if a gust of wind picks him up by the hair and carries him to Timbuktu (not a threat: I don’t control the weather). Even if he grabs a woman by the pussy and she punches him so hard he flies into outer space, freezes, and becomes space trash (not a threat: I can’t punch that hard yet/unfortunately). Even if he just goes back to being a reality TV star. Do not forget that this happened. Do not forget what he said about so many of us, and do not forget that so many people agreed with him.
I won’t lie, the shirt gets old and smelly and stained. If you’re a minority, if you’re a woman, if you’re an immigrant or LGBTQ or impoverished or any combination of these things — you can’t ever get rid of it. You may try, as I have done, from time to time and with varying degrees of success, to hide it. Because sometimes we are afraid of getting our feelings hurt, sometimes we are afraid of getting our bodies hurt, and sometimes we are just plain tired.
So again, I ask you not to forget. And if you feel, as I sometimes do, in a relative position of safety/security/power, wear your shirt proudly. And if you are not in a position to wear it, hand it to your allies and they will wave it around or tie it onto their heads or stretch it over their driver’s side car seat.
To those allies of mine that have already shown love and support to me and people like me, I thank you. To those that have tried to defend and protect me from the soundbites that would tear my heart in half, I thank you.
And finally, to those of you wearing that other kind of shirt. To those of you who have chosen, in this historical moment, to wear a shirt that says Trump 2016 — please hang onto it. Don’t shove it into your shame closet. Because I’d like you to remember the exact thing he did. I’d like you to remember the exact thing he said. I’d like you to remember the exact moment that made you want to take it off — and then I’d like you to wear it a little while longer.