Woman In The World: A Letter to the Boy I Could’ve Been

“Donald Trump nominates conservative Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court:

America’s highest court will likely become more conservative.”

“The Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments on March 28 in the case of a transgender teenager from Virginia who sued his school board for the right to use the boys’ bathroom, a case that could shape how public schools across the country accommodate transgender students.”

“Supreme Court nominee founded and led a student club called “Fascism Forever,” while attending a private prep school in suburban Washington in the 1980s.”

“The yearbook’s mention of the club is not the only item on Mr. Gorsuch’s profile that is raising eyebrows in some circles: A sarcastic quote from Henry Kissinger about how to get away with unconstitutional activities appears in both his prep school yearbook as well as his Columbia University yearbook.”

My mind is on fire: electric, hot to the touch. I am in a Whole Foods, sipping privatized water and scrolling through my iPhone when a “News Alert” cloud flies across the screen, floating on top of a pixilated sky. Trump has chosen his Supreme Court nominee. His pick is not surprising; Neil Gorsuch is your typical Ayn Rand fan boy: white, male, upper-class, Ivy-League, and attractive in a way that says, “I will never love you, but I will respect you.” Cold, fatherly, ghost-white, and regal, not Monarch Regal but All-American Regal; a thin-lipped Rockwellian grin painted on top of a flat-screen T.V. ‘SHH, be quiet! The movie is about to start! Oh I know this one!’ The eternal return of “America First. My body is flooded. Panic morphs to Dread morphs to Apathy; a river of tears churns beneath the storm. History, like lightning, strikes again.

In the Era of Trump, for the sake of brevity, I think it is necessary to create a binary through which to view the new inhabitants of an increasingly schizoid White House, as it straddles the fine line between “constitutional” and corrupt. On one side we have Trump, Steve Bannon (“Sieg Heil!”), and Kellyanne Conway. On the other lies Neil Gorsuch, Mike Pence, and Paul Ryan. Imagine the Republican State as summer camp, boys on one side of the lake, girls on the other. The two camps fall underneath one unified entity, hold allegiance to a similar vision of who they are and what camp (America) should be, and also meet occasionally to flirt, bicker and sometimes, fall in love.

Trump, Bannon and Conway are what I’d call Funny Fascists or Post-Modern Nazis. Their bigotry, cruelty, willful ignorance, and thirst for pure power is comically obvious. And that’s the point! They want you to know how little America means to them and how much it means to you. As you fret and fight amongst yourselves and the cracks in social consciousness grow deeper and more jagged, they will be there, recording it all, and playing it back to you the next morning (but with their own set of captions). Your reality is “fake news.” America is “the homeland.” Trump’s Inauguration is officially declared “National Day of Patriotic Devotion.” The Apocalypse is being televised (and it’s hilarious).

Gorsuch, Pence and Ryan are what I’d call Martini Men; the Crème de la Crème Bigots who only commit evil from a distance, and attend functions like my family’s former New Years Bash. What I mean to say is that I know these men, I was these men, or at least I could’ve been. I grew up in a sphere of privilege, circumscribed (and guarded) by the state. My body was white, male, rich and institutionally wanted. My future was planned (and honored). On the streets of Park Avenue people would ask my parents if their 6 year old son was a model, or wanted to be (Ralph Lauren Kids expressed interest). Of course looks deceive. No one knew that that 6 year old had spent her first 3 years in silence, visiting doctors across the country who wanted to know the origin of my…its self-imposed muteness. One doctor said I was “animal-like”. My mother would scream at me as I stared into the pulse of the television, unable (unwilling?) to listen. Eventually, at 3 and a half, I spoke. My words were fully formed. I could see, hear and say everything. But for the next 16 years no one would listen. The irony of “valued” speech, spoken in the halls of an empty castle.  

Of course I could never actually be these men. There are causes and conditions that have made me “me”, that set me apart from them (and them from each other). But I’m aware of the fact that given another brain and another life, a man could have emerged from beneath my skin who holds striking resemblance to the ones I’ve mentioned. Because all of us, me, pence, ryan, and gorsuch, were given access to a world where our bodies and lives, as cultural objects and lived-realities, were held in high-esteem. Of course the difference between me and the boys above is that their presence, a presence which gives them access to a kind of abstract power too difficult to summarize, has never been brought into question, or altered.

Of course I’m sure there were moments of doubt, transformation, and radical uncertainty in their lives that I cannot account for. But regardless of how complex their relationship might be with the “man-in-the-mirror”, they will always remain men-in-the-world. We were all given the same world; they are still in it.

It doesn’t take much to be ripped from the symbolic realm in which you were born. Intersex neurology, bipolarity, loss of family wealth, divorce, suicide attempt and…what do you know? A transsexual feminist artist has emerged from the cocoon of what could’ve been a Supreme Court Judge!

We are all so close to being someone else. Neil Gorsuch reminds me of this. I can only hope that when the court hears the case of Gavin Grimm, a transgender boy asking for the right to be seen as he instead of it, that Neil remembers to. Remembers how close he was to being-Gavin, to being-me.

Words: Michaelle Present

Illustrations: Saffa Khan