Friday, November 11, 2016

The Day I Was Categorized

I have been a woman my whole life, but I never felt quite as defined by it as I did Wednesday November 9th, 2016, the day after Trump was elected President of the United States of America.
In my life as a flight attendant, I have grown used to being in the public eye.
Being "on" at all times, no matter how tired or cranky you are, is a part of the job description.
But something had changed in the waning moonlit hours of the previous night, and when the sun rose that morning its light shone in newly exposed cracks and crevasses.
The world was now on edge, myself included, and I was about to be joined by one-hundred forty-two of its inhabitants in a narrow, enclosed airplane.

As I walked down the aisle that morning to secure the cabin for flight, I felt keenly aware of two-hundred eighty-four eyes on me.
Watching me.
Paying attention.
How will a woman react in the light of this new morning, the first light of the U.S. under a perceived Trump administration?
This is my effort to explain the change.

It was subtle as a breeze and powerful as a punch, all in the same swing.
I was an act on a stage surrounded by the people who had just voted to elect a self-proclaimed bigot into the highest office of the United States of America.
Politics aside, he has set a standard, stated a loud permission and been praised.
I have been a woman since the day I was born, and Wednesday America told me that my womanhood should still be what defines me.
I am a minority.
I am categorical.
I can be summed up and placed on a shelf, shoved to the back and silenced.
Even though I refuse to listen, I still hear.

I couldn't help but grieve alongside all other minorities with multiple strikes against them-woman and black, woman and lgbtq, woman and disabled.
I grieved the blessings we have that can easily be taken away.
I grieved our constant battle to be seen.
I grieved the way we have to always watch our back.
I grieved that we are still fighting for respect.
I grieved that my grievances are the least of them all.
I grieved the way it had began to feel so normal.
I am only fighting one battle, and a privileged one at that.
I don't have to worry about my skin color, my socioeconomic identity, or how my sexual orientation is perceived and scrutinized.
We have made it so much worst for so many.

In that same moment I realized my power to make a difference.
To listen to those who are different.
To speak up on behalf of myself and all the other women I will subconsciously represent.
Not for them, but with them.
To fight against the fists continually threatening to shove us back in the corner.
I realized my responsibility.
For if not I, than who?

That mornings flight ended up being delayed on the tarmac for two hours.
Three times we pushed back from the gate and three times we had to return.
With each departure my coworkers and myself walked through the aisle and secured the cabin. Everyone aboard was rightfully tired and antsy to be on their way.
There was an older white gentleman in the exit row who, on our third attempt to push back from the gate, was understandably less than ecstatic about complying with the rules for electronics.
I asked him to please unplug his device for take-off and he got snippy.
"Oh, are we actually going to push back this time?"
"Well, that's what they tell me."
A feigned humourous attempt to keep it light.
"How about I wait to unplug until after we actually push back?"
A sentences drenched in the voice of snoody annoyance.
My voice got quiet, steady, calm and firm in its reply.
I looked him in his two eyes.
"How about you unplug right now."
A respectful and demanding suggestion.
He met my gaze and quietly said, "OK."

This behavior unfortunately happens often, but that morning it shook me in a way that it hadn't before.
My body literally trembled.
To be blatantly disrespected as a voice of authority in my work establishment.
To be challenged.
How many times have I had to fight to be taken seriously?
How many times have I instinctively fake laughed at derogatory comments disguised as jokes or felt my body invaded by the creeping eyes of an ill-wishing stranger?
How many times have I ignored unacceptable behavior, choosing to be 'polite' rather than firm?
How many times have I allowed the world to treat me different because I am a woman?

No longer.
I refuse to be taken advantage of.
I should not have to prove myself time and again, but I will.
If that is what it takes for us to be heard, I will.
I will rise above.
I will continue to demand the respect that we deserve by willfully giving it to others.
I will lower my voice and meet their gaze.
I will speak in a whisper if that is what it takes to be loud.
I will be calm, I will be steady and I will be firm.
Every single time.