“As his partner listened [on the phone], the attackers kicked him at least twice, shattering his jaw.”
I wasn’t supposed to be there. Still dressed in work attire and heels, my canvass bag with schoolbooks heavily weighing down one shoulder, I had “stopped by” the march with my friend Doug, who had invited me only a few hours before. But with a graduate thesis draft due in ten days, I had only been going to stay for a few minutes.
Tears come too easily to me. I’m a deeply emotional person who feels things intensely. And even though I was asleep at the time, curled up in my warm, safe, bed at these late hours of the night and these early hours of the morning – when the crimes occurred – I cried when I read about them in the following days. Two days, three crimes, seemingly unrelated, but all targeting gay or transgender people.
Vicious, brutal, ‘we-hate-you-because-you-are-not-like-us’ crimes.
As I was looking over my past blog posts the other day, I realized that almost all of them have something in common. It’s not that they are all about women’s issues or feminism. Or that they’re all angry or melancholy or sad.
It’s that the vast majority of my writing seeks to answer one question. One question that permeates my thoughts day in and day out. One question that I never seem to get any closer to answering. Just one.
Why do men hate me?
And not just me, but my girlfriends?
Why are men beating us, raping us, torturing us, abusing us, oppressing us, violating us, disrespecting us? Why oh why do men hate us?
I imagine that this is a similar question to the one that black men ask themselves about the police. Or that gay people ask themselves about straight people. Why is there so much hate?
I couldn’t help but cry, just a little, when I read about the crimes we were marching against tonight. Not only because of the violent, brutal nature of the attacks. But also because, had I been there, had I been walking past the crime scene at that exact moment, I don’t know what I would have or could have done to stop it.
There’s something to be said for strength in numbers. But with just one more person fending off attackers – a petite, 5’3 woman at that – how much of an effect would it have had? I know we all like to imagine that we’d have gone in guns blazing and fists flying to protect one another. But the truth is, you never can know how you’ll react when faced with the possibility of real danger – especially physical danger.
And so had I been there, walking by at one of those exact moments, would I have had the courage to stand up against violence and hate? Would I have jumped in to defend a fellow human being, even though the odds were high that I’d have ended up attacked as well? Perhaps I would be in a hospital bed now, beside one of the victims, with my jaw wired shut for the next 4-6 weeks as it healed as best as the body can from such trauma.
Too often, feminists get caught up doing what I call “#vaw hashtagging”. We throw up support statements, facts, statistics, and stories on Twitter with the hashtag “vaw,” which stands for Violence Against Women. This is a good thing. Violence against women is a unique crime and needs to be addressed.
But violence against women is intricately tied up with gender-based violence, and too often we confuse or conflate the two. Just as women aren’t safe in our communities and our homes, neither are LGBTQ people safe in our communities and homes.
The complexities surrounding gender identity are vast, and I won’t seek to address them here. But there’s a reason that I, as a feminist, feel deeply tied to the LGBTQ community, and that is because we are all being punished by others for our gender. Even those of us who haven’t been the victims of crime are punished for it as we live a lifetime of fear and dread that we will be, forever asking ourselves the same one question.
Why do people hate us?
Maybe I’ll never know. Maybe the Devil is real and is living in my neighborhood, here in Columbia Heights in Washington, D.C., taking over the minds and bodies of people who are out to torture and kill my friends and my neighbors. I don’t know.
I do know that while sometimes having just one person stand against injustice is enough, often it isn’t. We like to talk about heroes and leaders in our society, but the truth is that very rarely has the course of history changed because of just one person standing against hate all by themselves.
What one person can do, however, is be the first person to stand up to injustice and to hate. Because in order for a community to protect itself – for us to protect one another – someone has to be the first to stand up. That doesn’t, however, mean they should be the only one.
And so maybe I need to stop thinking about what I could or could not have done if I had been there, and instead think about what my neighbors and I could have done together. What kind of an impact we could have had together. What kind of hatred and intolerance and pain and abuse we could have stood against together.
Because at the end of the day, together is all there is. It does take one person to stand up first, sometimes even to lead. But more often, it takes a group of people, drawing upon their promise to one another that they will not stand silently by and let injustice reign.
Whether we’re fighting violence against women, gender-based violence, gay-bashing, intolerance, racism, sexism, homophobia, or any other number of social ills that plague our society, we must fight them together.
Mine was just one more body walking, one more voice chanting, one more pair of hands tweeting outrage and solidarity at this evening’s march.
But maybe that’s where I was supposed to be tonight, after all.
Photo Credits: Andres Almeida