In case you haven’t been reading my blog the last couple months, I’m really sick of this election. I want it to be over, I want Hillary Clinton to be the next president of the United States, I want everyone to admit that Donald Trump is sexist, xenophobic, racist, etc etc etc, and I want the country to start to heal.
So, on Friday night, I wanted to get away from it all. I wanted to stop thinking about the election. I wanted, as I so often do, to stop thinking about gender. I didn’t want to be ‘the American’. I wanted to be a person among people, to meet new people, and to just be. So I went to a party, open to all, but mostly for refugees and asylum seekers. I had a great time. I played foosball (and actually I’m not as bad as I thought I was and/or used to be, so remember that if you ever want to challenge me), I ate, I danced, I talked to new people. I even spoke some Danish and it occurred to me that talking with other non-Danes who don’t speak the language might be a pretty good way to practice. Danish with an Arabic accent, here I come.
And I was really trying hard not to be a girl, not to overanalyze the gender relations of absolutely everything. That’s an exhausting task and honestly I sometimes think I overdo it a little (Do I feel guilty about wanted to move to where my boyfriend is because I don’t want to be the tag-along girlfriend or is it more complicated than that? I’m pretty sure it’s more complicated…)
I was playing foosball with 3 dudes, so try as I might not to, I noticed that I was focusing a little harder because I didn’t want to be the girl who doesn’t know what she’s doing (I don’t know why I think foosball is a boy’s game…am I wrong about that?). I thought that by being good at foosball I could prove myself as one of the guys, and then proceed to be treated like one of the guys for the rest of the evening.
And since I was trying so hard to ignore all the gender stuff that was going on, I’m not totally sure where the tipping point was.
But the night ended in a way that too many nights do. I’d had to tell two of my fellow foosballers about the existence of my boyfriend, just to make it clear where I stand. Both were “totally fine with it”, and told me that it was “no problem”.
And yet, as I was just about to make my way home, one kissed me on one cheek, and then on the other. “Okay”, I thought. “This is maybe not exactly what I’d planned for, but the cheek kissy thing happens in a lot of places, whatever, not a big deal.” Then he wanted to kiss my forehead. “This is weird, I don’t feel comfortable with this, since I don’t feel comfortable, I’ll say no.” “But why not?? It’s like I’m your brother, I’m not kissing your mouth, just your forehead, it’s really okay!!!”
I have no idea. Maybe that’s true, maybe it’s not. I can’t remember if I ended up letting him kiss my forehead to avoid further discussion. But what I do know is that the last thing that happened before I got on my bike was another kiss on the cheek followed by a bite subtle enough that I knew better than to say anything about it, but hard enough that I could still feel it by the time I got home.
I was confused about how to feel. I wasn’t afraid, because this sort of thing has happened so many times before. I wasn’t surprised, because this sort of thing has happened so many times before. And while part of me was angry (because this sort of thing has happened so many times before), it wasn’t true anger. I was actually sort of angry at myself for letting it happen (more on that in a minute). But more than anything, I came to realize that I was sad it had happened.
I was (and am) sad because for me, that night had been about trying to forget about gender. That night was about trying to learn about people who have come from the unimaginable to live in Denmark, about trying to socialize with people who, like me, are trying to build a life for themselves in a new country, with a new language, with new people. About building bridges and finding common ground rather than about noticing the problems and divisions we still face and acknowledging how far we still have to go.
And while I did have a good time, I also learned that it is not possible for me to “forget about my gender for a night”, especially if it is a night with alcohol and with people I’ve never met. And that makes me sad because sometimes I think we’re making progress. Sometimes I think that all the conversations I have with people are working, and that the conversations people have been having since Trump’s pussy-grabbing comments are making people think.
But as the woman, it remains my job to manage my behavior so that men a) don’t think it’s a good idea to bite my cheek and b) believe me when I tell them that it’s not a good idea. As the woman, I do not have the luxury of spending an evening simply talking to and learning from anyone who comes my way; it is always safer and easier to have a female friend nearby. As the woman, I can not allow myself to forget, even for a few hours, that being nice is often misread as being interested.
And while it makes me angry on a large scale, like I should do something or, to quote the dictionary, “be unpleasant”, on a small scale, I just feel sad, “affected with grief”. The distinction is small, but important. My anger is at the system, which forces me to maneuver these situations. It’s at the men who insist that I am not doing any maneuvering. It is at the people who have the opportunity to learn about these things and refuse to do so.
But my sadness, my grief is different.What is sadder than really truly trying to leave your differences at the door only to be reminded that that is not an option? I am sad that I am not repeating myself. I am sad that I feel I could have prevented this encounter. I am sad that I tried so hard to make connections and that it may have led to nothing but another awkward encounter with a man who had one beer too many. I am sad because for just one night, I really wanted to believe that I could forget.