Living a Feminist Life Under Trumpencey: (1st Installment)
It was the kind of afternoon where I was lost, perpetually, in NYC.
Given my failing sense of direction is a longstanding theme, I have to make some kind of peace when spinning in geographical flusters. While cursing generally sounds the most satisfying, I have discovered that coercing myself to be positive and receptive usually leads me to better discoveries. I mean, who knows the adventures that come when one’s seemingly carefully planned route is met with a subway closure? Just that morning I had been wandering lost, my inner compass bewildered, only to turn a corner and stumble upon a snug street whose old trees bloomed in red and yellow leaves, and my heart had gasped in astonishment at the beauty I hadn’t planned on.
But, I am afraid this moment of being lost was different, because I was in the bowels of the subway, not the paths of trees on fire in the early winter sun.
Being lost at this precise moment had led me to platform 6 in Bleecker Subway stop, and that’s when I met the folks from Texas on their way to Trump Tower.
I didn’t know at first they were on their way to give the offerings of their hearts at Trump Tower. I knew they were visiting from Texas, because they told me right away. I knew I felt super judgy, so I had to plaster a smile on my face, while reprimanding myself , “Kim, stop being so damn judgy. You have no idea who they voted for or whether they are currently endorsing the repeal of women’s rights hitting their state. Stop the stereotyping. Be open.”
So I renew my pledge to smile and intentionally choose genuine openness to this human connection, waiting together for the 6, finding my footing after being lost.
One of the older woman asks me right off what I am doing in NYC. And I say, “I am here for work, and for joy, for 7 weeks.”
They all then smile with great enthusiasm and ask, “Are you here by yourself?”
“Yes,” I say. “I am here by myself.”
“Why aren’t you brave!” one says.
I actually think my life path is quite brave, so I smile and nod, and repeat their words, “Yes, I do think I am brave.”
The other woman chimes in, in a maternal tone of well-intentioned guidance, “Enjoy your life now. Spread your wings now; this will be the time of your life. Because one day you will meet someone and fall in love.”
My brow puckers. And I think to myself, I shall choose to translate her message to the following: Celebrate your life this very moment, sister! Now, that’s a good message from an older woman to a 30-something woman living in her calling, her joy, her dreams.
I only had to slightly massage her words and entirely ignore the subtext, and I fashioned for myself a blessing and kept our friendly connection alive and going.
But it wasn’t meant to be, because she has to repeat, “Yes, this needs to be the time of your life right now, spreading your wings. Before you meet someone.”
And I am thinking to myself, as subways lurch in the background, and as I am now suffocating inside my 4 layers of winter clothing, if there ever was a moment to tempt me into compulsory heteronormativity, this apparently wasn’t it.
But I remind myself of the good in what she is trying to say. She is probably saying that I am free right now in a way she values. That I am free in a way I won’t be under conventional marriage, which is for many patriarchal heteronormativity. And while I understand that might be her life story, and she is giving me advice that fits her story, my question is why she must feel the need to reproduce that story? Certainly, there are things to question in her story.
I am feeling sad, and for a moment, to pick up my heart’s energy, to redeem how patriarchy is being passed down generationally on the platform of the 6, I envision what I want to say, if I get to be 65, to a vibrant single woman who is in her 30s, whom I get to talk to in the subways. I would say, “Be your brave, joyous self, and cultivate with love all the all forms of partnership in your life — intellectual, creative, spiritual, romantic, sexual, platonic — that show you that you can fly more bravely than you knew. Beware of anyone invested in clipping your wings. Your wings are strong and brave and well exercised now to fly, and anyone who doesn’t love this about you, can’t be on your journey for very long.”
It’s at this point in the conversation that they inform me in a gleeful chorus that they are on their way to Trump Tower and that, “It is so beautiful inside! We hope we get to go inside!”
My heart has been heavy and now it plummets. I feel only rage. I want to scream in the subway, “Do you understand, in all your glee, how many people are going to die?”
But, I don’t scream. I keep my poker face. They ask me what I do for work, and I almost respond I am a professional feminist, but instead, change my approach, look in the eyes of one of the white woman near me and say matter-of-factly, “My work is to try to help end racial violence.”
The subway is arriving now, which is good, because the nice white ladies in fur are still smiling, saying how wonderful I am, but I really don’t get the sense that they want to talk to me about ending racial violence. Or that they had ever in their lives had someone look at them and say, “My work is to try to help end racial violence.”
We get into separate subway cars, and I feel the kinds of quotidian sadnesses of living under Trumpencey. That one person’s glee is anothers person’s incompetent rising racist demagogue. That one woman’s life wisdom to pass down is a gender script that would kill another woman’s soul and starve her brave imagination for what true partnership of equal vibrant selves could actually be.
What I am saying is that there is an intimate connection between glee for a racist patriarchal demagogue and a normative, worn out script of womanhood and gender binaries. The personal is indeed political. Feminists taught us to see these interconnections. Feminism tells us that if there was no white supremacist heteropatriarchy in existence, there would be no Trumpencey in 2016. One gave birth to the other, so it behooves us to think and feel carefully how such a system gets reproduced.