On Friday night, while Gabe was reading and I was dicking around on my phone, I felt my first real sense of doubt since leaving Philadelphia. I had a sort of intellectual discussion with myself post-seeing Hidden Figures, where I wondered, but I didn't really doubt what I've done in that same way. Without looking at him, I said, "What changed?"
When I was at my first BinderCon, I explained to him, I was in a session about fitting in writing when you have so many other commitments. I remember raising my hand and asking about other things we enjoy. "Many people have a day job to support their writing, or art," I told Gabe. "But I wanted to know what happens when you love the other thing you do."
When it's just as much a part of you.
That was November 2015. I had finished my master's in August, had been at a new job for about three and a half months. The four hour commute hadn't gotten to me yet; the lack of experiments hadn't driven me passed bored. I was in the midst of applying for PhD programs, and I knew what I wanted.
"What happened between then and now?" I asked Gabe, and I realized then--really felt it, even though I knew it intellectually--that I was in deep grief about my decision. I've accepted that it's the choice I made, finally, but am still sad. Because even though Naseem the writer has been me far longer than Naseem the scientist, Naseem the scientist had seen a lot.
Science helped shape who I am, the decisions I've made for reproductive care, mental health; it literally nearly cost me my life. Science was how I connected with my abuser, even how I justified our relationship. Science was what made me worth something at a school where it wasn't survival of the fittest, it was just survival. And science gave me a purpose again when I didn't know what else to do with myself.
"What changed?" I asked Gabe, clutching my phone. "What changed?"
When the Woman's March on Washington was first announced, a lot of people criticized its lack of women of color at its helm. Black activist ShiShi Rose wrote an Instagram post asking allies to take a step back, since, "It's a privilege that white supremacy wasn't at the forefront of your reality, because you benefit from it." As the movement grew, white women were offended at the discussion about race and decided not to march.
The movement got bigger. They added a pro-life group to the mix, only to remove them after the backlash. They changed their stance on sex workers. They increased their partner organizations. In the end, their platform was intersectional, covering racial, sexual, reproductive, economic, and religious freedoms.
The language around the march was about womanhood, about reclaiming pussies, about protecting our uteruses. The march waved around pink hats (remember my feelings on the gender binary?) and signs declaring that woman's rights are human rights. That was the slogan of the march, right? We would come together to protect women and women's bodies, get your tiny hands off of them, you fascist Cheeto.
When I asked Gabe to come with me to the march, I was nervous. Would his dark skin make him a target? Would my facial features betray my origins? Should I wear a hijab, as so many of my religion do, to mark myself? Was there a way to show my too cute to be binary t-shirt, a gift from my closest friend, despite the cold day?
When we got to the courthouse, where the march would start, I looked around at the makeup of the group. I casually asked Gabe, "So, do you see any other people of color?"
"There's one," he said, in all seriousness.
To be fair, Reno's population is largely white, and the public transit is pretty terrible. If there were other people of color who wanted to march, they might not have been able to make it. Plenty of people work on Saturday mornings, too, which already excludes them from marching. And besides that, there were plenty of good reasons that marginalized individuals decided not to march.
Get your wussy off my pussy.
My brother didn't die in Iraq so a fascist could deny my sister healthcare.
Women's rights are human rights.
Not my body, not my choice.
Respecta mi existencia o espera resistencia.
A woman's place is in the resistance.
Make America kind again.
Love not hate makes America great.
We call her Mother Earth for a reason.
Keep your tiny hands off my healthcare.
A bunch of snowflakes make an avalanche.
It's called gaslighting.
Abortion: never an easy choice; sometimes the right choice; always a woman's choice.
I looked for the Black Lives Matter signs. I saw two. I looked for the symbol of intersectional feminism. I saw one. I looked for reference to violence against Indigenous peoples. I saw none. I looked for anything in reference to trans rights. One girl and her father (assumedly) held a sign that said protect trans women's rights.
Still. We marched. Pink hats bobbed along the way, people chatting and chanting and keeping pace with each other. The police were surely there, but we didn't see them. We gathered in a plaza, in front of a statue that says BELIEVE.
And I felt relief as the speakers came on--a queer Latinx, a Black director, a trans businesswoman, a Native woman, a Muslim student. Tears slipped out of my eyes as a speaker talked about her worries for clean water for her Indigenous schoolchildren--because that's still happening, that's still a fear. We live in one of the richest countries in the world, and we continue to abuse the people that got us here.
Think about the white women who said the discussion of race made them feel uncomfortable, instead of acknowledging that--even just looking at data!--Black women have it way worse than they ever will. Think about the opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline--not just an issue of water, but an issue of sacred burial grounds--of religion. Think about the people who are against abortion because "life begins at conception," but whose policies will increase the death of pregnant individuals worldwide. Because if they don't have safe ways to abort, well. They still will.
People are already dying, and it's only been four days.
I think about the language that the march used before and during. Disability activists took up a storm when the official website referred to people with disabilities only as burdens to their caretakers. (As a caretaker--Jesus fuck.) The continued focus on women and female genitalia felt alienating; what about women without vaginas or uteri? What about non-women with vaginas or uteri? Reclaiming the word pussy, like reclaiming the word cunt, is meaningful, but it does not a woman make.
Words matter, especially when you want to speak for us all. Not all of us are women, or girls, or female. Not all women have a uterus or vagina. Not all nursing parents or parents who give/gave birth are mothers. Thanking the police for doing their job is violence against Black and Brown people. The marches went quietly because they were centered around white women. Sex workers deserve protection and rights. Native and disabled folks need to stop getting left behind.
I said it in a Facebook status, and I'll say it again: trans women deserve access to reproductive healthcare. Trans men deserve access to reproductive healthcare. Queer, trans, and non-binary folks deserve inclusive language. Sex workers deserve legal protection. Brown and Black folks deserve their lives. Native folks and the people in Flint deserve clean water. People with disabilities and preexisting conditions deserve healthcare.
Words matter, dammit. Words are important.
It means understanding that race, inherently political, inherently part of one's identity, affects everyday life.
It means understanding that class, inherently political, difficult to change, affects everyday life.
It means understanding that gender is more complex than genitalia, more complex than assigning a choice at birth. It means understanding that our relationships with people we're attracted to doesn't have to be defined by gender, but also can be. It means that disability is not a burden, but a fact. It means that spirituality is individual and religion is none of your damn business.
It means accepting that bodies are different, that people come in different shapes and colors and voices, that our bodies are ours to do what we will--sexually, reproductively, surgically, or otherwise. It means understanding that our labor, emotional, mental, and physical, are valuable; that we should be protected and compensated for it. It means understanding that the world operates on assumptions and power plays, that the people in charge view equality as threatening, because it means being closer to them.
It means understanding that we all fuck up, and that the best we can do is accept it with gratitude and grace. It means understanding that our own experiences do not invalidate another's, regardless of whether we've faired better or worse. It means accepting everyone's truths as just that, their truths, and that progress means uplifting those farthest behind, not pushing ourselves ahead.
It means that we have to put ourselves on the line in order for those of us most hurt to heal.
I'm glad I marched. It answered a lot of my earlier question to Gabe--what changed. It reminded me that what changed was that I realized that there are people who need someone to fight for them. What changed was that I was not doing the most good in my work. What changed was that on November 8th, 2016, the United States of America elected a fascist for president.
And so, I'm glad I marched, because things changed.
In order for us to rally behind this cry for unity, we need to fight for those of us who are left behind. Let's do this together--call our congressmen, go to the next Black Lives Matter and No DAPL marches, donate money and/or time to local organizations. Let's never be complacent. Let's never forget the facts they seek to erase. We have to be diligent, for everyone's sake.
If you were moved by the march, about the hundreds of thousands of people who came together in solidarity and outcry, let's make a promise to each other. Let's do something every day to resist. Tomorrow, call your senator to protest Betsy DeVos. Thursday, donate $5 to a Black activist, an Indigenous artist, an organization focused on queer homelessness. Friday, share an article about the realities of climate change. We can't always do a lot, and that's okay. But let's still do something, together. Let's do little things. And let's be sure to take the burden off of those who were born doing all those things and more, because it's time we do the work, too.
Remember, it's only been four days.