A lot of my beloveds turned their profile pictures black yesterday on Facebook. It's a powerful visual signal--black evoking darkness, silence, dread. It reminds me of the photos I've seen of protesters at the Supreme Court the past two weeks, women with black tape over their mouths, veils over their heads, being led away with their hands cuffed behind their backs. (Go here for a photo.)
Living through the news the past few weeks has meant, for me, reliving my experiences of being a high school and college student in the suburbs of D.C. in the 1980s. I am a contemporary of the people testifying before the Senate; their words have brought back so viscerally the atmosphere of power and privilege, the desire to be in the "in" crowd, the necessity of conforming to certain styles of dressing and talking and behaving. Even at my high school--a public school, in the "wrong" county--we mimicked the boat-sailing preppies in their pink Oxford shirts and topsiders.
Or at least I did up until 1980, when I discovered punk rock and decided that if "normal" meant adopting the values of the people in power--the ones that put profit ahead of people, and that brought us to the brink of nuclear annihilation--then I did not want to be normal. I decided, at the beginning of my senior year, to wear black every day. Not necessarily all black, but something black, every day, as a kind of visual protest, a way of saying no without having to say a word.
So I was inclined, at first, toward joining the "blackout" on FB. Early notices said that our black profile pics would be accompanied by our silence--women not posting anything, not explaining anything, just metaphorically disappearing and being replaced by a black spot. But a friend of mine expressed her objection: we have been silenced enough! Why should we silence ourselves? Isn't it men who should be silent now, and listen? Why should we make it easier for them to dismiss us? Her arguments were compelling.
I have a "Me Too" story, though it was only an attempted assault, hardly anything when I think of the pain and terror others have been through. My story involved a requirement to speak, again and again--to the RA on duty in my dorm, to the police officer who was called, to the courtroom full of people listening to my testimony weeks after the incident. Other women in my dorm who had been touched, groped, kissed by this stranger on that same night opted not to come forward--which was absolutely their right. But I was too angry to let it go; I did not think it right that a man could trespass in my home--no matter that it was a residence hall of cinder blocks and linoleum--and put his hands on me and say those nasty things he planned to do to me. If not for my anger, for my insistence that this was wrong, he would have gotten away with it. The process required that I show up and speak, again and again.
My friend's comment also made me think of people who are, in fact, standing up and speaking--screaming, even--to be heard: my beloveds who are Queer and Trans and shouting for someone to pay attention to the ways they are abused and hurt and killed; my Indigenous beloveds whose sisters, mothers, daughters are becoming the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women their deaths going unanswered by our justice systems. And I have learned, now, that some of my beloveds who are men have been assaulted. This is not just about (white) women; there are so many whose voices we have not listened to.
And then I remembered something else from the 1980s: the phrase "SILENCE = DEATH" and the posters of Act Up (the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power), a symbol that reclaimed the pink triangle and black background as they insisted their voices be heard; organizers wrote, "silence about the oppression and annihilation of gay people ... must be broken as a matter of our survival." Silence was literally killing people.
We need something like that for the survivors of assault; we need survivors to be visible, and heard. We need something loud enough to get through to those who are discounting or ignoring the stories of survivors. All the different ways we become prey to hatred and dehumanization are unacceptable. We need to speak, and we need to listen.
Lately, I have been thinking a lot about the stories of the goddess Pele, and how she speaks, exploding with fire, raining down destruction. Lately, I feel less like shutting up, and more like speaking like Pele. We need a cleansing fire to burn away the lies and reveal the truth. And after that, maybe what's left can be the start of something new; maybe when the fire cools we will have a place where new ideas can grow--about what power is, about who is human, about how we treat one another, about what bodies are for.
May you speak today.
Just get in the car
1 week ago