Journal of the Plague Year 2020: Not “Fucking Bitch,” but Something

Over the last day or so, a video clip has been circulating of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) schooling Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL) on the House floor. If you haven’t watched already, I highly recommend it.

In the clip, Ocasio-Cortez speaks in a calm, direct fashion about the kind of bullying and verbal abuse that women experience daily in public life. Far from acting like a fragile flower, she’s clear about the fact that his words and that treatment are commonplace, and unsurprising. She’s thrown men out of bars for saying things like that. But she’s also clear about the fact that his behavior is unacceptable — it’s the act of an abusive coward, and unworthy of the U.S. Congress.

It’s striking to hear a woman stand on the floor of the House of Representatives, and repeat his words, “fucking bitch,” clearly and publicly, for the record. Those words might be spoken in a bar, or on the subway, or on the steps of the Capitol, but they retain the power to shock when they’re read into the record and recorded by television cameras.

As I watched her speak, I thought about how hard we all work on a day-to-day basis to paper over incidents like that. Men speak those words; women absorb them and move on. When incidents like that occur, we treat them as an aberration, or pretend they didn’t happen at all.

I think back on Clarence Thomas’s confirmation hearings so long ago, where Joe Biden, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, expressed disbelief that anyone could have spoken words so vile to a woman. Surely she must have made it up. She’s fantasizing, vengeful, wicked. No decent man would say such things.

And yet, of course, men say things like that all the time. That was the sick rage of watching the Hill-Thomas hearings: Seeing powerful men treat a commonplace act like an unimaginable, alien crime too bizarre to be believed. If you haven’t felt that particular despair, I don’t think I can describe it to you. As a reporter and researcher, I interviewed scores of women who had been battered by husbands and partners. They’d been held at gunpoint and had bones broken. All but one of them had been raped by the men who battered them, sometimes with enough force to cause permanent injuries. All of them feared for their lives, and rightly so.

And yet Biden couldn’t believe that Thomas had made a few crass, disgusting remarks.

I’d been in the workforce for years by the time of the Hill-Thomas hearings, and had been propositioned, pinned against a copier and humped, verbally harassed — not to mention denied equal pay and opportunity. I don’t think I can convey the depth of my rage and despair back then. And that rage keeps on giving. A presidential candidate brags about sexually assaulting women, and is elected president. A nominee to the Supreme Court is accused of rape by a credible witness, and somehow manages to paint himself as a victim.

I haven’t particularly followed Ocasio-Cartez’s career, but I’m grateful for her speech. It was a historic act, and even though she’s no shrinking violet, it took real courage.

The fact that I’m transitioning gives me a unique perspective, I think. On a day-to-day basis, women don’t talk about the shit they eat, and men either ignore it, feel guilty about it, or act like their condition is infinitely worse. But when I tell people that I’ve always wanted to be a man, and that I’ve decided to transition, almost everyone acknowledges that it sucks to be a woman. The implication is, I’m just trying to make things easier on myself by switching sides. I just want to be taken seriously in meetings, and not to get street-hassled and demeaned.

Well, yes, I do. But that’s not why I’m transitioning. After all, there are plenty of trans women, and it only takes a few routine incidents where they pass and get harassed or dismissed for them to admit, Yeah, wow, this sucks ass. And yet they stick with it, because gender goes much deeper than wanting to dominate meetings, or feel safe on the street and at home.

But, yeah. We pretend everything’s OK until someone says, Fuck this, I’m out. I hate being a woman. I’m done. And the reflexive response is, Of course it sucks. Too bad. You don’t get to choose. Except, now you do.

Perhaps as a result of musing on these things, when I went to get my massage and buy groceries, I decided to wear a dress. And not just any dress — a frivolous confection by Betsey Johnson. It still feels like drag, and it’s still pleasurable in that sense. Certainly I’m greeted with a kind of relief by people who are accustomed to seeing me in G-Star cargo pants, combat boots, and a wife-beater. And there was the exquisite pleasure of singing along with my cross-dressing punk anthem, “Greta X,” as I drove.

There was also the long, uncomfortable moment when I walked down a narrow alley by a guy who muttered, not “fucking bitch,” but something. And, yeah, I felt naked in a way that I haven’t for months, since I adopted the London Rent-Boy Look full-time.

Reader, you can draw your own moral. I’ll leave you with this link to a story about Tom of Finland, who made a strong impression on my young, queer self.

And, of course, the numbers. As of this morning, I know two people who are positive for the coronavirus. I’m praying that their relative youth will see them through.

Confirmed Covid-19 cases in Arizona (as of 7/23): 152,944
Current hospitalizations: 2,966
Deaths: 3,063

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