Trigger Warning - Sexual Assault, Violent Fantasies, White Supremacy, Patriarchy
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Of course, I do not want to talk to my neighbor on a plane. I want that to be known as soon as they approach, unless it’s some handsome hunk nerd billionaire democratic socialist artist. Needless to say, my flights are pretty quiet.
“Hi, how are you?”
I’m not sure I hear anything, and even though a body is standing there, I do not look up. I’m in the middle seat in the first row. People are boarding. They are lined up in front of me and down the aisle to my right. It could be anyone talking to anyone. Moments pass.
“Hi. How are you?” He isn’t mean, he assumes I didn’t hear him.
I finish the sentence I’m reading. I look up. It’s my neighbor. His stuff is on the aisle seat, so that’s him for sure, and it’s an old white guy. It is three days after the lifetime appointment of a second Republican-backed predator on the Supreme Court. The flight is leaving from Las Vegas. I can feel it in my bones, misogynists abound.
Okay, Lauren. Be chill.
I’m not trying to be prejudiced against old white guys, but as an umbrella concept, also known as white supremacist cishet patriarchy, I hate them. I hate everything they stand for and everything they protect and everything they gain from the systems they made. I’m in the complicated position of benefiting greatly from those systems, but it doesn’t mean I can’t help dismantle them. In fact, it’s my duty.
And yes, there are exceptions to the umbrella concept, blah blah, and yes, this man has yet to do anything to me personally except say hello, blah blah. I get it, systematic oppression is not necessarily exclusively his fault.
The least I can do is be civil.
“Hi, good, thanks,” I say with a smile right into his blue eyes and get back to reading. No one in the history of the world has ever been so clear without saying what they mean.
Automatically, I feel bad for not asking how he is, but old white guy or not there’s a lot at stake in the first moments of sharing plane space. Usually I will be pleasant, but my general attitude after an initial greeting is no thank you. Appropriate plane conversations start on the initial descent. Get hip.
He positions his bags in the overhead, gets out his water and takes his seat. 1C.
“Where you coming from?”
I note that he is comfortable interrupting me, and I’m not impressed. I finish my sentence to say, “A resort in Utah,” half smile, and get back to reading. Moments pass. I read a few paragraphs.
“Were you there for work?”
Again, I finish reading my sentence and turn to look at him, “No, I was celebrating my mom’s birthday.” Again, a tight smile. Again, I go back to reading. Again, I read multiple paragraphs.
“How old’s your mom?”
Is he fucking kidding? Is he actually asking her age? I swear to God. I should say none of your business, but I tell him.
Never once in my life have I sat down next to a man/stranger in a public space and asked him multiple questions while he engaged in the act of reading, or texting, or staring at a wall. Never. Not once. Nevertheless he persisted.
“I miss my mom, cherish her while you have her.”
I don’t own a dagger, but I am thinking about getting one.
“I do. We’re best friends.” But the way I say it sounds a lot more like, Take my mom’s name out of your filthy mouth, you entitled piece of shit. Never speak to me again, or curses will befall your house. I am sick of the interruptions and not afraid of magic.
If he speaks to me again, I’d tell him, I’m five weeks out of surgery and in pain. I’m not in the shape to be protesting or traveling cross-country, but that’s what I’ve been doing. I’m trying to stay comfortable and don’t have the energy to talk. All of which would be true.
If he asks what surgery, since he’s proved himself a nosy motherfucker, I plan to say, An underground cult of womxn ripped out my uterus with their bare hands in a spiritual death ritual. We boiled it to make the vitality tea that enhances our powers and our sacred blood oath to destroy the patriarchy. All of which would not be true. The watermelon sized fibroid a doctor laparoscopically removed was not made into tea.
I’m lucky to have the surgery to fall back on. I’ll do it, but uttering the simple truth, I don’t want to talk to you, takes energy, and I don’t want to waste mine. This dude is noticeably fragile, and I’m sitting next to him for the next six hours. I don’t want to elicit his wrath, but I also refuse to prioritize his feelings. A man/stranger’s comfort cannot override my own, at least not by my own hands. Not anymore.
He’d already taken my head. He walked right up and inserted himself, right away. This is his space. I am in public. I am accessible under all circumstances. He may not walk around thinking that. Listen, I understand he’s a person who’s had tough times, as we all do, but so do rapists and dictators.
Whether he knows it, or accepts it, every move he has ever made is informed by the fact that public space is his domain. He serves as neutral. He sets the standard. He is the rules. These facts are far from the only ways white supremacy and patriarchy shape his experiences, choices, and self-worth. Actions, as they say, speak louder than words. He walked on to this plane without question that he, 1C, was in charge.
“LaToya!” Oh, wow. I see he’s looked at nametags. Surprised by her name in an unknown voice, LaToya, the flight attendant not assigned to our section and busy with pre-flight organizing, turns around.
“Would you mind throwing this out for me?” He extends his arm with a single piece of white paper folded between his index and middle fingers. He does not lean toward her.
She looks to the plane door from the galley to see how long the short delay in boarding is and hops to him before more passengers fill the space. She takes it from him with a beautiful smile.
“Thank you, dear.”
It’s safe to assume he’s been on a plane before. I take note that he must be aware of the multiple rounds flight attendants make with trash bags. But, clearly, 1C does not hold trash. One dirty sheet of paper is too heavy a burden.
Never once in my life have I called out to a flight attendant to take an unwanted piece of paper or anything else from me, unless he or she is making trash rounds. I’ve never hit the service button above my seat either. I wait my turn. I could also work on asking for help, or believing I am worthy of it.
While protecting my privacy with a nose deep into a book I’m praying he won’t turn his attention back to me. Why is he so chatty anyway? Is he networking? Is it because he wants to feel like he’s still got it? Does he chat with everybody? Does he want me to know that he doesn’t care about what I want and doesn’t have to?
How far are the lines between feeling entitled to my attention and feeling entitled to my body? They feel very close to me.
When the guy in the window seat shows up late with expensive camera equipment that could not be gate-checked, 1C starts to chat with him. Fine. So, he doesn’t only feel entitled to my time, or the time of younger women, he also feels entitled to the time of young men of color.
1C has got me in a mood, but my window seat neighbor is not outwardly bothered by him. He is relieved that another flight attendant, a man 1C never calls by name, could accommodate his gear.
1C knows what Window Seat’s gear is, so they talk shop. They talk about how 1C used to do it in the old days. It’s so funny. They laugh. They realize they were at the same conference. They shake hands over me like I’m not there. Maybe 1C is just friendly. Doubt it. If they keep talking I will offer Window Seat my spot, so they can continue without my body between them.
I take note that I decided to offer my seat to Window Seat. I’m not impressed. That’s internalized white supremacy and patriarchy: I will offer my middle seat to a young man of color, so he can be closer to 1C. Never would I suggest, or clearly even consider, an old white guy take the lowly middle seat for any reason.
No matter his seat, it is his throne. We move. We bow. No question. No more.
Their conversation wanes and Window Seat curls up to the wall of the plane for a half sleep across the country. We are about to take off. I dig for my earbuds. I need them around this guy. What was I thinking to be without them in the first place?
I listen to Mazzy Star and Leon Bridges. I read Morgan Jerkins’s This Will Be My Undoing. In the essay “Black Girl Magic” Jerkins writes:
When I see my white female contemporaries post pictures of their asses, or facetiously call each other sluts, or share their exploits on weed, LSD or Klonopin on social media, I know that if I did the same I would embody a historically entrenched belief that I, as a black woman, am nothing but an immoral and filthy animal at my core. I knew this quite well at the Silver Lake party. As a black woman, I knew I could not afford to make a mistake. Fulfilling the expectations of society’s white imagination would be to self-inflict an injury from which I could not recover.
On Easter morning I posted a picture of myself with a cup of coffee and a lit joint hanging out of my mouth. How edgy. What a fun stoner girl.
I am more than a decade older than Jerkins, and accomplished in ways I am proud of, but not in the ways a New York Times best-selling author, Yale graduate and speaker of six languages is accomplished. What I’m saying is I do not consider myself a contemporary of Morgan Jerkins, I consider myself a fan, but it goes without question that my Easter Bunny photo will not impact my life. It will not cause a neighbor to call the police or affect my potential employment or reinforce people’s suspicions of me. There are no suspicions. There is no risk. Not with how people see me, and not with how I see myself.
Rage lives in the same double-standard space. The angry black woman is sold as synonymous with black womanhood. There is no similar archetype for white women. White women’s anger is allowable and often used against women of color and other marginalized people to enforce systematic oppression. Even when it is directed at the right forces, white women’s actions speak louder than their words.
People have called me a bra-burning, angry feminist all my life, but I was labeled “angry” because I was an avowed feminist. Black women are labeled “angry” for existing. My womanhood is neutral, so there has to be a reason for my anger, e.g., Feminism. Black women are angry because it is their preordained demeanor, so says white supremacist cishet patriarchy.
White women are able to talk about their fury with little risk. We are allowed to claim it and find power in its wrath. We are celebrated when we do. It can be a very addictive, even revolutionary feeling to break the silence of the patriarchy we tirelessly uphold.
I fall for it every time. I’m working on it. I’m just so damn mad.
I grew up associating rage and power. In my early teens, wild anger over sexist injustice made my personal feel political. It was not safe to talk about my experiences with the fuming tempers of men, but I could talk about the patriarchy and political rage. It gave me an outlet. It still does. My mom thinks I should take boxing lessons.
My attention is grabbed by the flickering of 1C’s screen in front of me. He stopped reading his book, Thomas Manhood’s newest title, The Infinite History of Big Gun Wars - A White Man Detective Man Thriller Man Novel. He has turned on the news.
We all get one guess which channel he’s watching.
SUPREME INCIVILITY. THE LEFT PROTESTS KAVANAUGH APPOINTMENT. ARE SENATORS SAFE? SUPREME INCIVILITY. TRUMP TAKES CONTROL OF ALL BRANCHES OF GOVERNMENT IN VICTORY. SUPREME INCIVILITY. HILLARY CLINTON CONTINUES TO SEND EMAILS.
It is twelve days after Dr. Blasey Ford’s hearing. She and her family are still in hiding under constant threats on their lives, and 1C is watching Fox News in public, like, where people can see him doing it.
The images, the chyron, and the scroll below it say nothing of children ripped from their parents and kept in cages, or oil flooding sacred waters for pipelines, or the rise in anti-muslim, anti-semitic and anti-trans attacks, or the number of black men and women who have been killed by police this year, or how America’s greatest terror threat is white American men. It’s strange to not see those things mentioned in a political discussion about incivility. I hate Fox News. I hate 1C.
Give the guy a break, my dad always told me, so I start to fill in the reasons why I should. Maybe he is doing research. Maybe he is the head of a think tank that strategizes for the left based off the language trends on Fox News. Maybe he is a lawyer who knows about Window Seat’s camera equipment because he represents journalists in ACLU freedom of speech cases. Maybe he is a writer about to publish a big expose on the president’s finances. Maybe he’s laughing because he knows how soon he will be imprisoned. Maybe he’s the CEO of JetBlue. That could be why he knows LaToya’s name.
I look up the CEO. It’s not him.
I am programmed. I am desperate to excuse 1C’s behavior, which is very polite. I look up who owns Jetblue to see if he’s on the board of that company. I am sure I must be overreacting. I am sure I must be sensitive. Typical woman. Hysterical. Confused. Flustered. Getting things all wrong.
Lauren Patricia Besser. This man is not a journalist, or a progressive strategist, or the CEO of a major airline. He’s a patriarch. Plain and Simple. You’ve had it right from the start.
I am the fifty-two percent of white women who voted for Trump. I am the white woman who lied about Emmett Till and caused his horrific, young death. I am Cornerstore Caroline and Barbeque Becky. I am the woman who, hours ago, planned to off her shitty middle seat to a young man of color, so he could serve as a buffer between me and 1C.
This is how a progressive white woman upholds the old white men in power, on planes and in government. I help plan marches. I talk to my friends about voting. I donate to bail-out campaigns and abortion funds. And I search the boards of directors to multiple major airlines to give this man/stranger, 1C, a break.
I don't know what to do with with my elbows. I am sitting between two men on a plane. One is sleeping. One is watching Fox News. He is snickering every time Dr. Blasey Ford or Secretary Clinton come on the screen. The blood in my body is electrified with vengeance.
I beg his eyes to meet my side eye. Interrupt me. Right now. I didn’t care to elicit your fragile wrath before, but now you have awakened my furious one. Dominate my attention again, old man. Give it a shot.
He’s chuckling as they scan the crowds of protesters. I’m scanning his screen for my face. I was there. I was holding up my hands on the steps of the Supreme Court. They said, I Believe Survivors. Young girl activists, opened a “tattoo shop” on the marble floor of the Senate Hart Building. The friends wrote messages in Sharpie on people’s palms and forearms during the month of protests and rallies against Kavanaugh.
He is laughing at us.
The day of Dr. Blasey Ford’s testimony was rainy. People gathered in front of the Supreme Court. Some sat in the street and stopped traffic. When Bob Bland got arrested alongside other activists like Ana Maria Archila Gualy, Linda Sarsour, Tamika Mallory, and Sally Kohn, she yelled her survival story to the crowds as she was handcuffed.
“I didn’t know any better! I was just a teenager!” Bob broke down. Hands zip-tied behind her back, she collapsed at the waist in sobs. Her long, red hair was wet and grazing the cement as her body heaved from crying. A police officer held her arms. She rose back up, parallel with the cop, still shouting her truth. She survived.
We shouted back. We believe you. We love you. We know. Me too.
He is laughing at us.
Dr. Blasey Ford said she thought Brett Kavanaugh and Mark Judge might accidentally kill her during the assault. I thought the eight guys who drugged me and set up a camera to film my gang rape might accidently kill me too.
They did not gang rape me. They did not kill me. I survived.
The first time I thought they would accidently kill me was when I saw the camera being set up. I felt the drugs they gave me sinking in and I knew what was about to happen. I had to leave the room. It was an emergency. My head was getting heavy. There wasn’t much time.
I looked at the big red numbers on a digital clock alarm clock. I said to myself, You have three minutes to stand up. You don’t have to do it right now, but as soon as the minute turns to eight, you have to stand up, turn the knob of the door and walk out. That’s it. Stand up. Turn the knob. Walk out. If they tackle you, at least you tried.
I did it. The ringleader followed me. He was touching me and begging me to stay.
I had to drag my finger against the wall to know which way was up as I walked with him down the hallway toward the elevator. I was losing my vision and scared to act like it. If he knew how far gone I was, the ringleader could have scooped me up like a groom with his bride. He could have carried me back over the threshold of the room with the video camera. I could not have fought him off.
When the elevator arrived, the ringleader got on with me. I immediately fell to the linoleum floor in what would be my life’s first and hopefully only seizure. That was the second time I thought they might accidently kill me. Whatever they gave me, they gave me too much.
As my body shook beyond my control, I surrendered. It was clear that I was incapacitated now. I couldn’t hide it. If he wanted to rape me, the time was upon us. How long would the shaking last? Would I pass out from it? Would he do it here take me back to the other guys?
When the seizure stopped the elevator was still. I asked, in a voice so small I didn’t know it was mine, “Why aren’t we moving?” I was laying on the ground. It was only then I saw the ringleader was in shock from witnessing, or causing, my collapse. He had not pressed the ground floor button.
I stood up. Once we got outside the fresh air hit me like a shot of adrenaline that lasted for a couple minutes. Long enough to keep planning. Long enough to keep going.
He walked me all the way down the block, into my elevator, and down the hall to my front door. What a gentleman. I couldn’t protest.
He shoved his tongue down my throat and grabbed handfuls of my flesh in his hands. I let him do it, and then I unlocked the door, slipped in and shouldered it shut with all my weight to lock it. I was afraid to catch his hand in the door, but I coached myself into slamming hard anyway. It doesn’t matter if you break his fingers, Lauren. Do not hesitate.
He stayed behind the door talking to me, begging me to open it. I dropped to the kitchen floor. Even though I was conscious, I couldn’t move a muscle.
At the hospital the next morning they did not call the police. They discharged me with Over Alcohol Consumption. I only had one drink. I complained that it tasted weird the whole time I drank it.
I agree with people when they say, “Oh thank God nothing happened.”
I fall for it every time. I say, “I know. Thank God.”
It will take writing an essay about in-flight fury directed at an old man patriarch for me to realize that I saved my life. It will take a Senate Judiciary hearing fifteen years later for me to understand what happened. It will be Dr. Christine Blasey Ford who gives me the language to attach to the event. I thought they would accidently kill me.
1C is still laughing.
I don’t want to tell him this is only one of my stories. I don’t want to say, I am not unique, this is womanhood. I don’t want to explain the complicated and devastating position of facing a violent attack and still searching for ways to excuse the behavior of the the men/strangers who already set it in motion.
If I die, well, the group of guys who drugged me to film a gang rape, they didn’t mean to take it that far. Give them a break.
I don’t care about nature. I don’t care about nurture. I don’t care about accountability. I will not have a conversation. There is nothing to say. There is no common ground. I want to end it. I want to end 1C. I want to destroy the whole umbrella concept.
I will never hide from rain again.
In a nationally historic event, the country watched a panel of mostly old white men spew with rage over a woman’s coming forward to tell her story. They exhibited what some might call uncivil behavior. They yelled loudly and pointed their fingers. They contorted their faces and spit out of their mouths. If this is the standard, they howled, there will never be another man on the court.
There were plenty of other equally conservative and qualified candidates who were not accused of sexual violence by multiple people. We all know it now. They believe her. They believe us. They don’t care. They don’t have to.
Dr. Blasey Ford said, “Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter, the laugh — the uproarious laughter between the two, and their having fun at my expense.”
I remember laughing, too.
I hear 1C laughing now.
His dying skin holds his dying ideas together because he’s dying. I want to smile and say in a hushed tone, I can’t wait for it, dear. I want to watch your last breaths. I want it to happen right here, suspended in air, among strangers. I want you to be afraid. How’s that for incivility?
I take both armrests.
I want to pour liquid silver over his head. I want to listen to his skull pop under the heat and the weight of it. I want to know that I carried the pot. I raised it heavy and high above my head because I have been going to the gym. I tilted it over him as the molten metal poured out. He dropped to his knees, screaming, begging for something as the sterling hardened his wide mouth open. I didn’t hear what he said, but he can’t laugh anymore.
I am Khal Drogo now. I am beating my chest. I am seething from my gut. I am rallying our people. I hear our cries. Those charged with protecting us are two-faced, power-hungry cowards. They are planning our demise. They say there is no way out.
We know of a couple.
It doesn’t matter that we are tired. It doesn’t matter that there is despair. It doesn’t matter that they are in control. There is also hope. There are more of us. That is a fact. Remember it. Do you hear me?
There are more of us. There are more of us. There are more of us.
I want to gut myself. I want to paint my face in the blood. I want to dig my nails into my organs. I want to carve out my intestines and wrap them around my neck like jewelry. I want to crush my beating heart between my fingers. I will lick them clean with my tongue. My hazel eyes locked with his blue ones.
The red numbers on the clock are changing.
I want them to know that I will survive it. I want them to know that we all will. They won’t see it, so I want to tell them now. After we burn it all down, and still rise, they will be long gone.