Courage

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A Facebook friend, Pamela Ralston, posted on April 28th:

I would like to see a ton of straight/cis people start to use bathrooms that don’t conform to their gender assigned at birth in the states where lawmakers are discriminating against transgendered folk. Wouldn’t that be an effective political action against those horrid laws?

My first thought, a very straight/cis thought, was “I’ve used men’s bathrooms many times when my pregnant bladder or stressed 4-year old couldn’t do the wait in the long line outside the women’s restroom door.”

I thought, “I can do that!”

Easy.

And then I thought of the very large group of White men I walked by at the Bellevue Marriott Hotel yesterday, on my way to meet my visiting Aunt Shirley and cousin, Kerstin.
There were dozens of them. Maybe even 100. The group was there for the entire three days of my aunt and cousin’s visit.

All men.  All White.

The first time I saw them this weekend I was a bit creeped out. What kind of organization has no women or people of color? No single person with any kind of visible disability?

When I thought of using the bathroom with those men, I balked.

These men stop their conversations and stare at me as I walk by to the elevators. Maybe they’re fascinated, attracted even, by the nearly-50 year-old with the short grey hair, flashing blue eyes, bleach stained corduroys and yogurt splattered unpolished boots.

There is a similarity. That gaze of the zoo visitor marveling at the exotic animals was definitely present in the man-gape I encountered when I was the 20-something femme in the short blue mini-skirt.

Somehow I don’t think these men are going to ask me out for a drink.

Groups made up entirely of White men are rather foreign to me. This is definitely in large part due to the-activists-who-have-gone-before. It’s also due to the fact that I’m a woman. I am not in those clubs, even though I know they still exist. It starts in that gap between the privileged high school, where my daughter’s robotics team is over 50% female, to the freshperson programming class my husband teaches at the community college ten miles away, where women only a couple of years older make up less than 20% of the class. It continues to the Microsoft programmer parties, complete with hired strippers.

I think if they see me in their bathroom, maybe they’re going to be angry. Fists and bruises angry, maybe.

Part of my White able-bodied woman CIS privilege is having circumstances that require real courage come up so rarely.

Living with cancer doesn’t require courage. It requires gratitude, mindfulness, heart, love, acceptance and a capacity for joy over bitterness. It requires an ability to let go of privilege and notions of entitlement (like the sense of entitlement to a long life).

Standing up like my friend Kim Pollock, and speaking, as the only tenured Black woman to a room full of White colleagues? She speaks against a wall of bias, which bends the acoustics of her words and sends shards of stereotypes and presumptions back at her.  Again.  And again.  And again.  Year after year.

That’s courage.

Showing up at march after march, protest after protest, to expose the abuse of native rights and land, like my 8th-grade teacher, Misa Joo?  Watching decades of work, native activists pushing an incredibly huge weight forward on top of trying to navigate a daily life filled with the economic and health burdens inherited from a history of genocide, watching those decades of work make small chips, tiny cracks, in the walls of the establishment.  Water wearing away rock.

That’s courage.

Walking into the men’s room at the Marriott with a flat-mastectomy chest and short chemo hair?

Such a small amount of courage, in contrast.

(And it would require a lot less courage if there were a few CIS women walking in that bathroom with me.)

So, Pam, I’m doing it. I’m using those “men’s rooms.”

It’s time I learn to practice a little courage.

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