Today, the Post released a video of Donald Trump on a hot mic having what is being called a "lewd" conversation. After explaining that he finds himself uncontrollably drawn to beautiful in a I'm-kissing-your-face-regardless-of-how-you-feel-about-it way, he tells the men also sharing in the conversation that, in a pinch, just "grab them by the pussy... [because, when you are a white cisgender man with power] you can do anything."
It was Daily Kos that I saw first jump in and point out that what's happening here is not "lewd" conversation. Lewd conversation is talking about BJs with your friend on the bus; it's commenting on a person's ass to your friends. It's working blue. This conversation? This is a man explaining that he uses his position of power to get away with sexual harassment. This is a man saying, verbatim, what non-cisgender men have been describing in the workplace for ages.
And in the moment when I first heard the video, in the rapid vacillation between rage & despair, I realized that this election cycle is having an unintended consequence--one that feels like the best revenge I could hope for in the face of a Trump/Pence political climate. I have finally given up the last apologetic bone in my body. It has been smashed to dust. Now?
I've always been drawn to Sexton's "For my lover, returning to his wife"--for her particular look at the heartbreak of adultery, but mostly for its gut-wrenching closing stanza:
As for me, I am watercolor.
I wash off.
It still sends me reeling, but I hurt for someone else now. For someone whose heart I want to scoop up. See, I put myself in that spot for a long time, holding this solid female character as a figure who would surely come along in the happiest moments of my relationships--work or otherwise--to usher off my dear one (husband or pregnancy or work project or friendship) to a more permanent home, up on the pedestal where I felt they belonged. I designated to myself a temporary role, one that could land no lasting blow. I allowed myself to fade as needed, so others could thrive.
I have been told to smile more times than I can count, and on hearing the words, I bend my lips into a subordinate grin. I've noticed, over the years, that my not public smile--the smile I keep for myself, when I choose to give it out unrequested--has started listing. A half smile, a smile that hints at something just beyond happiness. A dare, perhaps, to others, should they ask me to act appropriately.
I have thanked people who compliment me in order to ask for something. Hey cutie, you're sweet. Can I have a dollar for the bus? or Smile! That's part of why I hired you. Let me see it! or You're married? You don't look like you'd be the type. I was going to buy you a drink. I apologize, in these moments, thanking them for the compliment & saying I am sorry to have caused them any awkwardness by not being able to fulfill their request.
I have allowed people--strangers--to spend more time talking to my daughter than I would like, or pinch her toes without asking. I have allowed them to pronounce her name incorrectly, because correcting them is so uncomfortable when all they're trying to do is be sweet to her. And this became my tipping point.
I have allowed myself to wash off, to fade away & become secondary to other people's comfort, and I have realized that this meant Madeline has no "cast-iron pot," no one "see[ing] to oars," no "monument" if not me. I must be solid. And I must first be solid for myself.
I must be solid, because no person can grab my pussy and do anything without my explicit, continued consent. No person can demand from my body a smile or fuck; from my person a dollar or favor. No President--no leader of any nation that values its citizens--can erase the autonomy & humanity of so many individuals, day after day with no remorse, before I finally pull out the hammer myself & smash the last piece of me that bends to apologize.
I have replaced my bones with steel, for myself, for my research, for my daughter, for my students. To create a safe place, to create valuable work, to demand that whoever steps into my position will enter a space more aware of our presence as entire people--and dear God, why today am I still even having to type these words? What does it take? Because I am ready to give it. I am done apologizing. It's time to work.
I dedicate this post to my daughter, to Anne Sexton, to my mother, to every woman who has had an abortion, to every woman who has had their pussy grabbed, to every transwoman told she isn't allowed a pussy. To any woman that has been made to feel like watercolor by a man.
Now, you. #DedicateYourNoTrumpVote.