I spoke at the Concord, NH, Women’s March. (Text below, and links to the audio. I’d have posted about this sooner, but we have to make a living and pay our child’s college tuition, so first things first.)
In December, I preached at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Concord, NH. (Sermon title: Trans People and the Cornerstones of Unitarian Universalism. Contact me if you’d like me to bring it to your church.). One of the happy results was that one of the congregants (I don’t know if she’d want to be named publicly) was impressed enough to pass my name and a recommendation along to Gayle Murphy, who was organizing the Women’s March in Concord. Gayle and I chatted by phone. I asked her how long she wanted me to speak for, expecting something perhaps along the 15-20 minute line, as is often the case when I preach or speak to groups. She said, “Two to three minutes.”
Well, I thought, This will be a challenge. I’d never written a speech like that before, and never given a speech publicly to an audience which could contain anyone.
But I came up with something which I thought would work. It ran about 3.5 minutes, timed cold. Being a newbie to rabble-rousing, I neglected to account for audience response, so in the event it ran about 8 minutes.
I invited my daughter, Valkyrie, to come with me. She follows her own mind, so I had no idea if she would choose to come along, but she did! So, on the appointed day we drove down to Concord, parked several blocks away, and walked to the event, where we listened to the end of the morning speeches and soaked up the vibe.
It was awesome. There were pussy hats everywhere (including on my own head, knitted by my wife, Sparrow, who is a competitive knitter (no, seriously — they have things like mandatory rest breaks to prevent nerve damage)). Valkyrie, knowing her own mind, said, “I’m not going to wear something that is historically degrading on my head.” I asked her if she minded if I wore mine, since we would be together. She expressed her complete indifference. Apparently, in her opinion, what she wears on her head is up to her and what I wear on my head is up to me. That’s my girl. It’s almost like she thinks she’s in charge of her own body. Republicans beware.
There were signs:
“I stand with Planned Parenthood.”
“Women’s Rights = Human Rights.”
“With Liberty and Justice For All,” followed by a marriage equality symbol.
“MOMS clean air FORCE – FIGHTING FOR OUR KIDS’ HEALTH”
“Fight Big Money”
“Campaign for a Family Friendly Economy”
“Respect our Mother”, superimposed over a picture of the globe.
“DIGNITY”, with each letter a different rainbow color.
“Our babies will not be warlords!”
“History has its eyes on you”. Shout out for the Hamilton Reference! XXXXXLINK
“Let us RESPECT all people CONSERVE and share EARTH’S RESOURCES”
“Girls just wanna have Fun-DAMENTAL HUMAN RIGHTS”
“Keep Your Laws off MY BODY”
“FIRST THEY CAME FOR THE MUSLIMS … NOT THIS TIME MOTHER F$@)(#%”
“Take Back Our Elections”
…and my favorite, which I loved even before I noticed that a friend of mine was holding it:
“Jews have seen this before and know how it ends.”
One member of the crowd made sure that Daniel Webster, present as a statue, wore a pussy hat.
There was a counter-protest on one of the streets along the edge of the square, handing out literature to people who were willing to talk to them. They didn’t seem to be doing much business.
As has been much-remarked about the marches generally, it was all very peaceful and orderly. There were bored detail officers from Concord PD having nothing to do. I decided to extend a bit of sympathy and do a bit of activism which, as a retired officer, I was specially suited to do: I walked up to two of them, wearing my pussy hat, and introduced myself by name and as a retired officer, naming my department. We shook hands. I thanked them for looking out for us. I asked them if they were all set for water and snacks. They said that they were, as I knew they would; as an officer, you don’t accept food and water from people you don’t know. But it was a way to say, “I know what a detail can be like.”
I don’t know if they heard me speak, later, but if they did, that’s a second bit of activism, too.
Speaking of incidental activism, at one point, during the event, I interacted peripherally with someone who did not know I was trans, at first. We greeted each other politely and all was friendly. During conversation, the fact that I was trans came up, and someone else asked me a question, which brought it to their attention. From then on, each and every time I looked at this person, they were scanning my face with a manner both reserved and intent. I would meet their eyes for a second or two and then look away again, attending to business. The meeting-of-eyes lasted long enough for each of us to communicate awareness that we had noticed, but not so long that I was bothering to challenge their gaze.
I am familiar with this dynamic. Certain people, most often older and more conservative people, go through life under the impression that they have never seen a person who is trans in person, before. They have encountered a person who is trans, of course, because we are around 0.5% to 2% of the population, and distributed throughout the population by virtue of being born throughout the population, and so it’s impossible to go through life without brushing past us. But they carry with them the belief that they have never encountered a trans person, and so the first time they actually do, they have to process the differences between reality and their previous conceptions, which probably have to do with such things as The Crying Game and The Silence of the Lambs. I know what’s probably going through their heads, because this dynamic is often accompanied by such phrases as, “I’ve never met a trans person before” and “You’re not what I expected”, though that didn’t happen in this case.
It’s not particularly pleasant to be on the receiving end of it, but what are you going to do? It has been said that the most powerful activism a TLBG person can engage in is simply to be out. This is why: because everywhere you go, people are exposed to you as a real human being capable of actual thoughtful and caring social interaction… and the unconscious biases our society planted in them suffer a little bit of damage via reality-check. Sometimes I think of it as “interacting with the muggles whilst simultaneously trans and sane”.
Valkyrie and I located the organizers and participated in the last-minute briefing and planning on what order we would speak in, and how we would change speakers on the podium. I had never been involved in an event like this, but everyone seemed organized, knowledgeable and capable, so I followed their experienced lead.
The person who had been slated to do the final unifying speech was ill, and so Gayle asked Valkyrie if she wanted to. Valkyrie asked what was involved, looked over the speech, and agreed to do it. She did her vocal warm-ups and approached it like a pro. (I recorded her, too; clickable link, below, to audio of my daughter being awesome.)
As it turned out, I was among the first speakers, which turned out to be a good thing, because the crowd was fresh and responsive. I’ve never had the opportunity to fire up a crowd, before, and I have to say it was a lot of fun, and very gratifying to hear everyone’s enthusiasm roared back at me (literally; listen to the crowd reaction at 5:51 in the recording).
Here is the text of my speech:
Once, when Abraham Lincoln was waiting to hear the results of an election, he commented, “Well, it is the people’s business, — the election is in their hands. If they turn their backs to the fire and get scorched in the rear, they’ll find they have got to sit on the blister.” [pause] When I was young, they told me that in the United States, anyone could grow up to be President. Now a large minority of voters have demonstrated that it’s true. And we’re going to have to sit on some blisters.
It sure would have been nice if we had had Instant Runoff Voting, so that qualified candidates didn’t split the vote. We need Instant Runoff Voting, and total voter access, and the end of the Electoral College.
The notion that anyone can be president is built on a key assumption: that merit matters. Our whole system is built on a foundation which says that we all have the same rights, that we all start essentially even, that our success depends upon our merits and our hard work, that our children are judged on the content of our character.
And yet, in fact, we grapple with a system where one cancer diagnosis, one drunk driver, can wipe out a lifetime of savings. 99% of us cannot earn enough in our lifetimes to be safe from a bad spin on that roulette wheel.
We also spin that wheel at birth. Over fifty percent of Americans grapple with a system where our own bodily autonomy is up for debate. We labor under a system where other people feel free to block access to necessary medical care because they don’t like the choices we might make if we were free to make them. Trans people experience this, both trans women and trans men. Cisgender women experience this. Cisgender men are free to ignore it, and when they are the only people in the room making decisions, their decisions show it. Representation matters.
This is not meritocracy. It is rouletteocracy.
We are the wealthiest society in the history of our species. We can do better than this. A child’s healthcare should not depend on the job prospects of her parents. As a society, we should be able to take care of our children. ALL people should rest secure in the knowledge that we make our own decisions about our own bodies, not just cisgender men. ALL people should rest secure in the knowledge that they can get medical care, and never mind any preexisting conditions.
Right now, our playing field isn’t even level and our elected representatives are tearing up the most level parts. We saw it last week, as they started to dismantle the Affordable Care Act. It’s going to be rough, but when you fight for your freedoms, that’s what it takes. Frederick Douglass said, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet deprecate agitation, … want crops without plowing up the ground. … They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters.”
We are women! Hear us roar! Make sure your friends and family hear you, and model what you’re doing. I’m here with my daughter so that she can witness this, and learn it. Maya Angelou said, “I love to see a young girl go out and grab the world by the lapels. Life’s a bitch. You’ve got to go out and kick ass.”
We kick ass right now. Make them pay attention. When your representatives are planning iniquity, flood their phones. Exhaust their staff. Make it impossible for your representatives not to listen to you. Make them react at your speed.
When they work toward the common good, for ALL Americans, send them a letter to tell them that you noticed. Let them digest it at their speed, and savor it. And remember it in 2018.
My name is Grace Alden. I am a woman who is trans. I am a woman who values her autonomy and the autonomy and worth and dignity of others.
And I am a woman who lets her representatives know it. I hope you all do the same.
I recorded our speeches:
Afterward, people were very complimentary. I got my hand shaken a fair amount, and many people said, “Thank you” in various ways. A couple of them asked why they had never heard of me, before, and I had to explain about how I had been publicly neutral while I was a sworn officer. One simply said, “Public office!” in response to which I shuddered visibly. I learned yesterday that Arnie Arnesen commented favorably on my speech on her radio show.
It feels good, to take action, and to receive the appreciation of others for it.
In the time it has taken me to make a living since the Women’s March, a lot has been happening. I’ve wanted to write about it, and especially about the spontaneous demonstrations of support at JFK Airport. What a shining example of Americans being awesome. It feels good to know that many, many people in my country are also willing and able to take action on behalf of our country, and each other, and our family and friends who happen to be foreign nationals.
If you can’t show up, then call your representatives, and the White House.
If you can’t call, then write.
This is our system. “It’s really stupid, but it can be made to work.” *
Let’s make it work.
* Cordelia Vorkosigan, in Memory, by Lois McMaster Bujold