Dear America: a letter from your future self

not-ok

 

TW: racism, homophobia, transphobia, misogyny, rape culture, rape, domestic violence, etc.

This town is a cesspit of all that is wrong with this entire country. A microcosm of the hate, ignorance, poverty, religiosity, meanness, insularity, and dehumanization that has characterized the rest of the nation for the past two years.

The only difference is, it’s never not been on the surface, here. I mean, I know it’s always been there, everywhere. Here, though, it was never hidden. They never had to hide. They never needed Trump and his white supremacist, misogynist ties to parade their hatreds around in public with pride. And they were – are – a point of pride. The guys driving the mud-splattered pickups with the lift kits – and, often as not, homemade Krylon camouflage paint jobs – compete to see who can be the most publicly hateful. The confederate flag bumper sticker is child’s play. The vanity plate with the same thing, emblazoned with sayings like, American by birth, Southern by the grace of God, Rebel by choice, are a matter of course. The winners of this hate game, for as far back as I can recall, were the ones who had the flagpoles in the back of those despicable pickups, the hateful white starred blue cross on its red field flying in the wind of speed, the bigger the better. Some of the flags are as big as, or even bigger than, the cabs of the trucks themselves. They seem to defy physics, alongside decency. The drivers wear their realtree baseball caps with the bills bent almost in an upside down “V”, fishhooks and budweiser caps attached gods know how. They rev their engines and squall tires pulling out of parking lots in such a way that I always think – and often say – So sorry about your tiny penis.

This kind of hate is easy for them, here. There aren’t very many black people in this shitpot town. At the last census, the numbers were less than 4%. Only 5% were Hispanic or Latino, and less than 3% were any other race besides white. Overt racism, here, doesn’t have many consequences. It’s one of the reasons I left with my kids, when I did. They needed to know something I didn’t, growing up – that not everyone looked like them, and that treating people badly because of that was not only shitty and wrong, it was stupid.

Homophobia and transphobia are also pretty easy for them to get away with, here. It’s expected, in a town where probably 80+% of the population is evangelical, and believe that not being cishetero is a one way ticket to the eternal fires of hell. In 1996, I was the one of two non-hetero women I knew, and one of only about eight or nine non hetero people of any gender. I didn’t know any transgender people until I was well into my twenties, and far gone from here. They all left here as soon as they could, running like their hair was on fire and their ass was catching, in the local parlance, and never came back.

The female population here, in 2010, was exactly half. Fifty percent. But somehow, that didn’t stop – and still doesn’t stop – the misogyny from being as large a part of the local identity as the racism and homophobia and all the other bigotry. It’s a smorgasbord of hate, all you can eat. Or stomach. Those old bumper stickers with Ass, grass, or cash, no one rides free are still not old, here. The womenfolk are still oft referred to as the womenfolk, and they’re expected, de facto, to take care of the kids and the house, whether or not they work, which most of them do, often being the sole breadwinner and sole functional housekeeper and parent.

It’s what made it so easy for me to recognize that rape culture was a very real, very present thing. Catcalls are still not challenged, here, almost ever. Men and teenage boys still high five one another in public places – not even confined to locker rooms – about that drunk, passed out chick they all managed to bang on Saturday night. Husbands and fathers still treat wives and daughters like property, and sometimes their mothers, too. Property to be dealt with, and disposed of as they see fit, when they feel like it. Or ownership transferred, like livestock. Boys on the football team who raped another boy with a broomstick as a part of what seems to have been an ongoing, traditional “hazing” ritual, gone only slightly wrong from its intended ends, were only charged with misdemeanor assault. Like kids who’d had a quick shoving match in the schoolyard. Women and girls who are raped sort of just… know there’s no point to telling anyone. Best case, someone might shake their head and wonder aloud what is wrong with the world, these days, as if it hadn’t always been like this. Worst case, the victim is blamed by police, blamed by family, blamed by boyfriend or husband, shunned by friends, family, church, or anyone else who’s important in her life, and treated like a pariah, as if she’s wearing a scarlet letter “V” on her chest, wherever she goes.

In this town, the evangelicals have always run the show, back when nobody called them evangelicals. Then, they were just different forms of Baptists. Freewill Baptists. Independent Baptists. Independent Freewill Baptists. Some variations, with the occasional Pentecostals thrown in for good measure. In this town, churches have been screeching at their parishioners for decades that we didn’t come from monkeys, and that believing in such bunk was grounds for… you guessed it … hellfire and damnation.

They’ve also been preaching hate. Straight from the pulpit, pure, non-watered-down, high test hate. When I was ten, my dad’s second cousin preached from his pulpit that the hommasexshuls were going to bring on the rapture with their sinful ways, that their Sodomite behavior would bring Jesus down from heaven, full of rage and ready to party like Mao Ze Dong. He preached from his pulpit – to a small congregation which included children as young as three – that black people were supposed to be slaves, and that’s why our nation was in so much trouble, to begin with. That their blackness was a punishment from god for Noah’s son, Ham, who gazed upon his drunken father in his nakedness. He preached from his pulpit that Catholics and Atheists (nearly indistinguishable in the eyes of most more hardcore evangelical types, for reasons which utterly defy logic) were hellbound idolators and heathens, ruining everything with their secular ways, which just might include such horrors as Satan worship, cannibalism, and ravishment of “our” women, not to mention corrupting the fragile and malleable minds of the youngens. He preached from his pulpit that women were born evil. They couldn’t help it. They were born carrying within them the root of the sin of all mankind, and it was a man’s duty, as a father or husband, to root out that evil, no matter what it took. Daughter wearing makeup? Beat her with a belt. Wife daring to question her husband’s judgment? Same thing.

Immigrants were supposed to come in only as servants, required to be indentured until they’d earned the right – always and only given by a white man – to be treated with anything even resembling dignity.

And Islam? They were so alien as to not even matter, aside from the occasional sneer of “sand-n*****,” tossed out without a moment’s hesitation. Because, you know, all Islamic people were Arabic, and Arabic people were just bizarre and impossible to comprehend.

That was back in the eighties and early nineties. Children, here, pounded on bibles outside elementary schools, screaming at their classmates that they were whoremongers and sinners, bound for a lake of fire. Children as young as five, both doing the screaming and being screamed at.

And the world largely ignored places like this. The rest of the country occasionally looked on in bemused horror or benevolent condescension. Because they were better than that, doncha know.

Except they weren’t. We weren’t. And those of us who knew better ignored them while they grew, as a movement, while their numbers swelled… until they took over. Until they found themselves a demagogue who had fuckall to do with their poison religion, but knew precisely how to use the hate it generates to whip them into a feeding frenzy of hate.

This place was once a sundown town.

This place’s past is quickly becoming our nation’s future.

And none of us are ready. Most of us still aren’t taking this seriously. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard someone – almost always a cishet white man – say something along the lines of It won’t get THAT bad. There are checks and balances. There is more than just Trump. The rest of us, by and large, don’t say such things. We see that the checks and balances were taken over, already, well before Der Trumpenstein was elected. We see that our entire government is in the hands of the enemy, and that we’re all in danger.

And we see that we’re not ready. That we should have been, but we’re not. Aside from a very small minority, largely made up of BIPOC and queers and transgender people and a handful (relatively speaking) of white women who’ve been active for a while, who’ve been in the know for a while, nobody was prepared for this to get this bad.

I’ve lived this before. This country is now the town where I grew up. I ran as soon as I could, and was devastated when I had to come back, but there’s nowhere to run, now. All of us are living in that place, now.

And we have to fight. We have to be better prepared than we are, and fucking fast. We have to stop giving them inches, stop compromising, stop allowing our moral and ethical snobbery (but we have to be better than them! We can’t stoop to their level!) to get in the way of the single most important thing we’ve ever, as a nation, needed to do – defeat this. No matter what. No matter how. Whatever it takes. However brutal and frightening that may be. We’ve handed the keys to our country to its lowest common denominator, and we have to take them back, no matter what it takes… or we’re all going to be living in the church I grew up in. Where all is hate, and all is suppression, and nobody who isn’t straight, cisgendered, white, male, Christian, healthy, and financially stable will be safe. To some degree, it’s always been this, everywhere. But even those who recognize this must also recognize that this? This is worse. This is not only endorsed by the most powerful, it’s being intentionally, publicly, unashamedly pushed by the most powerful.

And trust me. You don’t want to live where I grew up. No matter who you are.

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So You Think You Can Dance (a poem for the Random Man in my inbox)

Oh, Honey, NO.

Not here
Not me
Not today
… or any other, for that matter

Yeah, there’s a dance
and yeah
my round ass is shaking
to the tune that’s playing
but nobody invited you
and I sure don’t want
your skeeze
in my dance space
Like Jennifer Grey
and her spaghetti arms
not knowing
what the fuck she was doing
but trying hard to act
just like she did

See
I *been* dancing this dance
long
long
before you
came along
and I know the tune
I know the steps
this tempo
runs in my blood
frantic
pulsing
pounding
flowing
invading already
all without your
pathetic assistance

See
THIS dance is a dance
you don’t know
you *can’t* know
you never ***had*** to do it before
even when your legs were aching
and your back was sore
even when your heart was tired
and your mind was screaming out
no more
*no more*
*NO MORE*
Even when
all you really ever wanted
was to lie down
and make the spinning stop
and silence the beat

But I did
we did
we danced
because we had to
danced
until our feet bled
until our legs were weak
like gelatin
tears flowing
rage-spittle flying
dancing
for our fucking lives
for the lives
of husbands and wives
of children and parents
of sisters
brothers
friends
lovers
cousins
and kin not even blood

And now you
wanna storm in here
while I’m dancing
demanding
that I teach you the steps
then spouting off
about how these steps are wrong
how the dance would be
done better
the way *you* want to see it
about how
you ought to get
a spot in the pattern
and be able
to change the moves
slow down the tempo
because your tender feet-
unaccustomed to
the stamping
stomping
hard-driving beat-
can’t handle these
grunts of effort
the sweat flying
from our cheeks
or are those tears of exhaustion
frustration
rage
You
and your tender feet
know nothing of this dance
because luck
because
accident of birth
which made you white
made you born-man called-man
made you comfortable
made you straight
made you healthy
because of *nothing* you ***did***

you know nothing
but that privilege shuffle
with its mellow groove
and its easy softness

And we ain’t got time
for your feet to catch up
because we gotta keep dancing
keep stomping
keep stamping
keep spinning

because this dance
is the only way we got
to change the tune
to slow it down
we gotta dance
until we can all shuffle
or maybe find some ditty
somewhere in between
a nice waltz, perhaps
that won’t crack our bones
on the downbeat

we ain’t got time
to teach you all the steps
and how they came
to be part of the pattern
and we *sure*
ain’t got time
to argue you
out of your wrong
out of your sweet, easy shuffle
that keeps you from seeing
the horror and pain
the blood and the death
that are
that have always been
a part of this dance
that ain’t
fucking
yours

Nah, homeskillet.

Shuffle your shuffle
right on outta here
and come back when you learned
come back when you worked for it
come back when you got some way
to make this easier
not for your shuffling feet
but for our bleeding ones
or when you’re ready
to bleed with us
for us
until we’re all doing the same dance

Don’t come around here
demanding I do your dance your way
when my ass been shaking
since I was born.

Angry bitch

This one goes out to all my “Angry Bitches,”

to all the women and girls

who learned at young ages

to swallow their anger

to express it in tears

to pretend it was okay

to rage in whispers at mirrors or

into pink pillow cases

to scream only when alone in the car

on deserted roads

to school faces

not to show

their frustration

their annoyance

their anger

their ire

their boiling fucking rage

by even so much as a single raised eyebrow

a rolled eye

a twitch of the lip

not to allow a single crack

in the smooth

ladylike

facade

of tranquility that might

in any way

make someone else

uncomfortable

This one goes out to all those

who take their lumps

who gulp them down

and gulp again

and again

and again

until those lumps sit

tight

heavy

and painful

until they become

the pits of their stomachs

untouched by the acids

fertilized by the bile

heaped on their existence

their sameness

their difference

their pain

their anguish

their voices

their audacity

when they dare to speak

in less than palatable words

in less than pleasant tones

in more than the agreed upon phrases

about more than the approved subjects

allowed to their feminine minds

This one goes out to all those ladies

who got tired of the word

who outgrew the confines of that box

who flexed

and stretched

and pushed

and strained

until the box collapsed around them

who stepped away from the wreckage

and out of the room

only to realize the next room

was just a bigger box

where angry still tightened the walls

where they could still be

interrupted

talked over

shushed

silenced

belittled

battered

bruised

beaten back into silence

by the voices that refuse to hear

what’s being described

and use the word

“angry”

as a gag to stifle the sound

as an excuse

to ignore the words

who use their anger

to dismiss all the valid fucking reasons

they were angry in the first place

or to blame them

for the things they’ve endured

as if their anger…

at being ignored

held back

pushed down

condescended to

talked past

abused

gaslighted

leaned on

bullied

intimidated

made to feel afraid in the streets of their own cities

the classrooms of their own schools

the halls of their own houses

made to feel their good ideas

were bossiness

their assertive leadership

bitchiness

their focus on family

unprofessional

their focus on career

cold and calculating

their tears

manipulative

their joys

worthless

their fears

baseless

their goals

laughable

…as if their anger

retroactively

justifies every fucked up thing

the world has done TO them

as if the emotional response

created the thing

they were responding to

This one goes out to you

my Angry Fucking Bitches

It goes out to us

and I say

since when do men

have a monopoly on anger?

since when are slights against them

so much more offensive

than slights against us?

Since when do they get to tell us

where the line is

that when crossed

means we are

“too angry”

And I hear the whisper

the angry sibilance

coming back to me

Ssssince alwaaaayssss

And I say

fuck you.

Not anymore.