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Why Cat Calls Piss Me Off

Today, as I was attempting to cultivate self care through exercise, a guy in a truck drove by and gave a cat call.  My first instinct was not to be flattered.  My first thought was “Are you f***ing kidding me?”  I wanted to react, to object to his whistle and yell. I thought about flipping the guy off, but warnings about concealed weaponry prevented that course of action. (I’ll save that for another blog post.) I thought about yelling back, but of course feared that he would stop his vehicle and attack me.  I thought about how angry I was that he could yell at me, but I, alone and female, could not yell at him. As my anger fueled my run, I was left with nothing but furor over my experience.

I could not believe that I, at almost 40, white legs flailing in defiance against my command to move forward, forehead furrowed by at least a thousand pain-forged frown lines, sweaty hair straggling limply behind a makeup free face, still had to suffer the indecency of a stranger’s leer.  I know that some people might find my outrage surprising.  I mean, shouldn’t I be elated that I can still attract male attention at my age?  No. I should not be elated. No. I should be nothing but furious any time I attract attention couched within the problematic realm of the male gaze. To be fair, maybe, just maybe, there truly was something electrifying in the neon glare of my pale legs struggling against the waves of summer heat.  Maybe, just maybe, the cat caller meant no disrespect.  Unfortunately, if so, my cat caller needs to reevaluate the connotations inherent in his medium of delivery–a medium of delivery I cannot dissociate from the dangerous implications of the male gaze.

I don’t want to be gazed at–substitute objectified, ogled at, sexualized–without my permission. The type of male gaze engendering a cat call presupposes ideals with which I am at odds. The man in the truck who yelled at me did so from a stance of male superiority and assumed heterosexual preference. And, while I am, in fact, happily heterosexual, I have news for my cat caller; I’m running for a woman.  I’m running for Mary Wollstonecraft; I’m running to be “a revolution in female manners;” and I’m running away from men like him. I am running away from a culture which enables, and often encourages, men to view women through a lens which divides the female body from the identity of the person possessing that body. I am more than the body my cat caller saw running.  The Stanford rape victim is more than a body suffering the effects of too much alcohol. (Again, a topic for another blog post.) Women are more than the anatomical parts by which they are identified as female.  We deserve to be admired for more.  Had my cat caller yelled: “Way to be a strong ass woman who respects herself enough to exercise” from the window of his car, I might, just might, have winked at him.  Oh, the irony!

“It is time to effect a revolution in female manners -time to restore to them their lost dignity – and make them, as a part of the human species, labour by reforming themselves to reform the world. It is time to separate unchangeable morals from local manners.”

“That women at present are by ignorance rendered foolish or vicious, is, I think, not to be disputed; and, that the most salutary effects tending to improve mankind, might be expected from a REVOLUTION in female manners, appears at least, with a face of probability, to rise out of the observation.”

Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman


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My Heart Is Burning

      I never imagined my anger might be transfigured by a movie.  I never imagined its force might be ameliorated by a mere documentary. In fact, I never imagined my anger ever being anything other than a battle I perpetually fought–and lost. That was before Paris Is Burning. That was before my heart was broken by the force of the New York ball scene in the 1980s.  I know…but isn’t it natural that “strangeness” engender transformation?  This film introduced me to the unfamiliar–in others and myself. It left me utterly, emotionally undone.  I wanted to sob. I wanted to hold Venus Extravaganza in my arms and tell her I was sorry the circumstances of her life and the societal rejection of her sexuality, coupled with the anger and lust of humanity, left her murdered body stuffed under a hotel bed in New York City. I wanted to understand how, as a Christian woman, I could reconcile the pain and the beauty of these lives, the heart-wrenching beauty of the people in this film, with a religion historically known for its bigotry and hatred against homosexual and transgendered communities. I wanted to love these people. I wanted these people to know they were loved.  Deeply.  My heart wept.
     Naturally, it was God, not coincidence, that drove me to “accidentally” drink at least eight cups of coffee the same day I saw this film.  As I sleeplessly faced my insomnia, taking Tums after Tums to counter the havoc the caffeine had wrought on my stomach, I processed the havoc Paris Is Burning had wrought on my heart. And I prayed. I prayed something amazing.  I prayed something that anyone who has known me intimately over the course of my own struggles would understand the enormity of. I prayed not to be angry anymore. I prayed that God would replace my anger–and I had no delusions over exactly how much of it I had, and how little control over its force I managed to maintain–with kindness. I wanted to be kind.  I wanted to be free. I wanted to release the anger I had held as a weapon against my past for as long as I could remember. I didn’t want to wield it anymore. And I meant it. Watching the pain in the lives of the people in Paris Is Burning made me face my own pain. Looking at it, I realized that I had traded the anger someone had used against me for my own anger. I had believed that this exchange empowered me. I had thought it prevented my victimization.  It didn’t. It perpetuated hate. After what I watched, after what happened to Venus, I didn’t want to hold on to the hate I had inside me.
     I was, obviously, amazed at the sound of the words I was praying. Yes, I had prayed about my anger for years. I had known I sustained myself on my own prevarication; I knew that, really, my anger didn’t erase my pain. It simply kept it at enough of a distance to allow me to manage to avoid my own reality.  So I couldn’t release it. I couldn’t do it. Until today.  Until the reality of another person’s pain broke my hold on my own. Until I fell in love with a transvestite named Venus Extravaganza. Until I watched “Paris burn” and in the ashes of its fire found my own heart smoldering.  Until God, in an amazing, unbelievable, paradoxically complicated message, made me understand the implications of anger.  
     In a way never before, my anger became ugly.  Anger killed Venus.  Anger drove these people out of their homes and into the streets.  Anger ostracized them.  Anger abused them.  Anger killed the opportunity to know the power of a greater level of love. Anger showed me what it really was. For years anger was the only emotion I embraced. I thought if I was angry, I wasn’t victimized. I thought that if I stayed angry, I retained a small semblance of the power that was stripped away by my abuse. I was wrong. My anger trapped me. And my anger was ugly. Uglier than I had ever imagined. 

“When you keep hurting someone, you do one of three things. Either you fill them up with hate, and they destroy everything around them. Or you fill them up with sadness, and they destroy themselves. Or you fill them up with justice, and they try to destroy everything that’s bad and cruel in this world.”
― Nick Lake, In Darkness

Until Paris Is Burning, I had been the first and the second person. Because of Paris Is Burning, I want to be the third. I want, for the first time in my life, to let go of my anger. I want kindness. And I want my burning, weeping heart to turn my anger into justice. I have no idea how to accomplish this other than to keep praying. I have no idea how to conciliate the consequences of living in a fallen world; but I know God, and I know he orchestrated the experience I have just described. He is the only explanation for the love and pain and longing I felt when I watched this documentary.  He had to have shown my his heart for his children, mine was too consumed with its own anger to see the true depths of their pain.  So I will continue to pray, and, I am certain, continue to fail; however, I want to do so without being controlled by my own anger.  I want beauty for ashes–in a way I’ve never understood before. My heart is burning…


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