A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature
Every day when I walk out of my door, I take a deep breath and prepare myself to be stared at. Strangers examine me from head to toe to determine what I am: a dark-haired, androgynous lady with a penchant for leather boots and knit sweaters. I don’t engage, out of fear that a feminine voice coming from a masculine-looking person will turn their confusion into anger. I lower my head when I go into public bathrooms or locker rooms, knowing that my presence will put people on edge. Sometimes people will draw their children in close as if I’m a danger, and other times women will confront me and ask if I know that I’m in the women’s room. I can’t decide which is worse.
I try to make myself small. I fold into myself hoping that if I don’t make eye contact, if I just don’t look up, no one will notice I’m there. I pack away my loud laugh and hunch my broad shoulders.
My mom mentioned the same thing to me in a phone call last week. On her daily walk during her lunch break, she asked me if she could share something that had been weighing on her recently. Her whole life, she said, she has tried to make herself invisible. As a child, she tried to make herself invisible as a means of survival. As a teenager who was undocumented, she tried to make herself invisible so that she wouldn’t be detained by INS. And as a single mother, she tried to make herself invisible so that she could raise me in an environment that was safe. Recently, people have been cutting her in lines, as if she isn’t there.
“I’m starting to think I got too good at making myself invisible. Do you know what I mean?”
“Yeah,” I said. “I think I do.”
The concept of shrinking one’s self down to navigate the world safely is not at all new. When what you have learned in life is that self-preservation may be your only means of survival, invisibility is a refuge. But over the past year—a year in which our country has been led by a man who won the White House by being sexist, racist, and violently anti-immigrant—invisible people have stepped into the light.
When being seen is dangerous, choosing to be visible is an act of resistance and radical love.
We see this with young undocumented activists who are protesting at the Capitol: seeking out the elected officials who would deprive them of their home, knowing fully well that they could be arrested and detained. We see this with the members of ADAPT who fought to take down Trumpcare, through arrests in front of the White House, in the Capitol Rotunda, and Mitch McConnell’s office. We see this in the survivors of sexual harassment and sexual assault, ranging from movie stars to domestic workers, who are speaking their assaulters’ names.
We are done making ourselves small, and we are done staying quiet out of fear.
There is no asking for access anymore, or asking to be listened to. Instead, there is truth telling and a demand for acknowledgment. We are showing up, in record numbers, and we are not losing energy.
We have realized that our seat at the table will not be given to us if it requires someone who has privilege to relinquish it. So we are doing what Shirley Chisholm taught us, and bringing our own folding chairs. And in doing so, we have stepped out of our invisibility and into the light.
Copyright 2018 Audrey Juarez. First published in Talk Poverty. Included in Vox Populi with permission.