Our Rage Becomes Us

We told you we were scared. We told you when you nominated a candidate for president with a record of sexual harassment and assault. We told you when more women came forward about his creeping hands on airplanes and in hotel lobbies. We told you when he was caught bragging about it, how celebrity made him invincible, made us silent. We told you again and again and again — they don’t see us as people. They don’t see us as human — they see us as bodies they imbue with purpose, objects they animate with their desires.

After a wave of anti-abortion laws swept through red states in the past few weeks, the consequences of recent elections, from decades of coordinated Republican efforts to Donald Trump’s recent victory, have become ever more apparent. The civil rights victories over the past few years — steps forward in bodily autonomy and self-determination for trans folks and the queer community in particular — seem increasingly flimsy as the Trump administration peels them back with wanton abandon, leaving us fighting the same old battles instead of progressing on new ones. And the war on abortion rights that has waged since Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973 gets stronger every day.

Many people have pointed out the hypocrisy of the pro-life movement, how easy it is to care for the unborn who have not yet had the opportunity to transgress. People all over the internet have pointed out that if fetuses are people than they should have the rights of citizenship and child support, that Republicans care about the lives of fetuses more than the children dying in immigration detention centers or in foreign wars. Still others point out that Republicans, who claim to be pro-life, make it startlingly easy to take a life — to buy a gun, to support the death penalty. These Republicans want to protect the fetus, but not enough to keep the mother from getting shot — by her partner or the police or at a concert or the movies or in church.

The hypocrisy is without question, but it sort of belies the point, which is not the protection of innocents but the control of transgression, the control of bodies that threaten the hierarchy and power dynamics of the status quo.

Arguments about the hypocrisy of the Republican position on abortion make me very uncomfortable. They come much too close to helping Republicans elide the point. A person’s right to own a gun, an object separate and discrete, is not comparable to my right to decide what goes on in my body. To suggest that Republicans straighten out their allegiance to pro-life politics to be more consistent across their priorities is to suggest that there is a version of abortion bans that would be legitimate. The right of self-determination and bodily autonomy are non-negotiable and the rights of every person to make their own decisions about what they do with their bodies must be protected, regardless of how well everyone is faring in the economy or our immigration policies.

A much better analogy (which I did not come up with, but which I also can’t find an original source for) is the one about organ donation. You have to sign up to be an organ donor, and unless you do, no one can take your organs and give them to someone else. People fighting for abortion rights are fighting to have the same rights as a corpse.

Republicans long ago recognized their power, realizing that by starting with school boards and city councils, with state legislators and local news, they could build out a seemingly unshakable base of support. They could tell little lies, hide a little money, change a little on the ground, and let those changes build up over time until they reach critical mass, until they have two conservative Supreme Court justices and an unfettered monster in the White House.

Framing this in electoral politics is a bit limiting, I’ll admit. For one, the structural factors at work here, the power dynamics being preserved are not limited to one party. White supremacy, misogyny, transphobia, homophobia, bigotry — these are not partisan forces, nor can they be fully constrained by our electoral system. For another, government is an imperfect mechanism for change. It relies on compromise and incremental change, regardless of how large the increments are. It is made up of flawed human beings at best fighting against their own prejudices, at worst embracing them.

But Republicans have made their bet on electoral politics, using the system to remove barriers to their own enrichment, while reinforcing the barriers between the rest of us and success. With the complicity of white women in particular (see Alabama governor Kay Ivey, for one) they have worked systematically to beat back the victories of the 20th century in the courts, in the legislature, at the ballot box.

But we have the opportunity to do better. More people agree with us than with them, and government, like any tool, is one that we can use for good, to strengthen the laws that protect us while we work to change the culture that seeks to dismantle them. We have the opportunity to take back our school board and our state houses, our sex lives and our marriages and our bodies.

I’ve spent the past few weeks in a disorienting cycle of energy and exhaustion, of not knowing what to do and not wanting to do anything. And normally I end these things with suggestions for what you can do to mitigate your feelings of powerlessness. Those things still stand (Run for Something, Swing Left, National Network of Abortion Funds, the ACLU, Indivisible, the Marsha P. Johnson Institute, etc.). I still believe in them wholeheartedly.

But it’s also worth embracing the anger and the disappointment. In the wholesale autonomy of whatever we’re feeling, there is power. Our rage becomes us. We feel it because we’re human, because we are people who strive and seek and will not yield. We are angry because we are whole and they cannot undo us. They want to strip us down, to fit us into their boxes because they want to keep us small. They are counting on it to work, and they sorely underestimate us.

We told you we were scared. We told you again and again and again. But we also said we’d fight. We’re pissed off and scared and fighting back.

And we’re going to win.

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