Harnessing Anger Against Bigotry

Anger has always felt like a foreign emotion to me. With my gentle and forgiving personality, I found myself repelling from animosity. Buddhaghosa’s quote, “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intention of throwing it at someone else; you are the one that gets burned,” has shaped my relationship with the emotion throughout my life. However, what if we took a modern spin to this proverb– wore gloves and harnessed the coal’s fuel into something potentially more useful?

                          -Content warning: profanity, sexual & physical violence-

Anyone who knows me understands that when it comes to standing up for what is right, I will never be silent. Driven by a frustration with our world’s status quo and an optimism for a better future have led to my personal dedication to such actions. However, my extensive background in social justice activism does not give me a special purpose to speak up against prejudices. Our communities need individuals of all backgrounds to stand in the face of adversaries and enforce an intolerance for oppressive behaviors. One recent evening, that’s exactly what I did.

While exiting a Portland night club, I was shaken to see a tall, white young man jeering on one of my male friends to “grab her by the pussy!”

I approached him immediately, allowing only a few inches between us. I pushed this man’s boundaries when I questioned, “What makes you think that is okay to say?” I’ve learned from experience it oftentimes tends to be more helpful to prod the subject into questioning their own actions, versus aggressively opposing them.

To be confronted by a woman was a joke in his eyes, and so he laughed, “It’s Trump’s America!” referring to the infamous quote by Donald Trump justifying sexual assault upon women.

While I attempted to shame his behaviors through equally-loud responses, ranging anywhere from, “How dare you to advocate for violence against women!” to “You have no entitlement over women’s bodies,” it was clear he wasn’t interested in listening.

My blood began to boil. It sickened me to imagine how many women he had hurt before in the normalization of America’s rape culture. For all I knew, he may have similarly grabbed women that night in the same venue.

The fury that fueled my work in activism for the eight years prior flooded my veins. Apparitional tears from those who had leaned on my shoulders throughout the years cascaded down my skin. My ears rang with the fearful screams of women I both knew personally and did not. Eyes were glazed over by a blind, red rage against everything this man was standing for. My tongue recoiled at the taste of venom between my teeth; like the kind a female python unleashes when she senses danger. Before any thought could further cross my mind, instinctively, I spat on his face.

I spat for all the times I had been grabbed by men nonconsensually. I spat for my 18-year-old self and how she felt preyed upon in the streets, at college parties, in places she was supposed to be safe. I spat to reassert the ownership of my body, and reject misogynists’ beliefs of entitlement to it. I spat for the women who I share these fears and fury with. I spat for all the times I wish I had before.

We were surrounded by a wave of bystanders’ voices, shocked by my brazenness. There weren’t enough words to put this man in his place, and so I had no shame for physically disrespecting his contempt for women. His fragile ego, disguised by a thin veil of a hypermasculine complex, was shot by my resilience.

“You just assaulted me!” he exclaimed.
See the irony here?
A man advocates for sexual assault against women, yet asserts that saliva in his face constitutes the same atrocity. Except his move is justified, and mine is a crime because I’m a woman who retaliated against his male supremacist behavior.

Friends from both sides joined in a shouting match. He and his accomplices then turned to the only male friend I was with, demanding that he take accountability for my actions through physically fighting them. Livid that they were involving innocent bystanders in an altercation I had provoked, I asserted myself into their faces again.

“She fucking spit on him!” one of his friends angrily proclaimed.
His eyes avoided me entirely, staring at my male friend for an answer. I was literally standing right in front him, my nose less than inches away from his, shocked that he chose to keep me out of a conversation about my actions.
“I know, I’m right here! I did it!” I screamed, “Why don’t you fight me!”

If the original comments about feeling entitled to women’s bodies weren’t clear enough to indicate they were misogynists, their lack of consideration of holding myself fully accountable for my own actions reinforced their disrespect for women.

Apparently, I wasn’t capable of standing up for myself. Apparently, I needed a man to speak for me. Even more, I apparently needed a man to physically fight on my behalf. According to these men, I had no valid voice over my body or my actions.

Reverting to medieval behaviors, they challenged my male friend to a fight, calling him a “fag” because he was confident enough to be wearing a pink jacket that evening. These men’s senses of worth, based in their masculinity, couldn’t handle his audacity to challenge gender norms.

For what felt like merely brief moments, our groups separated. A clique of bystander men approached us to commend my male friend for his bravery. All the while, I was calling a taxi to take us home, but then wearily noticed the car was parked near our opposers.

Naively assuming we would get into our taxi without any more trouble than exchanging more curses at each other, we approached the car. Without warning, my ears suddenly rang with women’s screams once more. One of the bigots had smashed my female friend’s head into the side of the car. Our male friend threw punches at the culprit in her defense, tackling him to the ground. People were screaming, and no venue security guards were to be found. We quickly backed off into the taxi yelling, “The future is female!” as we sped away.

While the worst wounds were truly those young men’s egos, unfortunately, my male friend smashed his finger in the car door during the initial scuffle. We were all shaken up; not anticipating prejudiced violence in Portland’s liberal bubble. For someone who was so upset about my saliva-based “assault” on him, he hypocritically seemed to easily justify physically bashing an innocent women’s body. I wish the situation could have been safer for my friends, but I refuse to let the evening’s conclusion make me regret what I did.

While I proudly hold myself accountable for breaking the bodily barrier with my spit, I will never condone physical battery, especially against those who were innocent in the altercation. My only regrets were not having pepper spray on me to protect ourselves and not filming the encounter to publicly expose their faces. Unfortunately, this will likely be a reality for at least the next four years, so I know now how to be better prepared.

However, tangible learning lessons weren’t the only souvenirs from this evening. For the first time since Portland’s inauguration protests, I felt propelled by anger again. My activism had hit a wall the couple months prior. Years of work I and others had dedicated to making our world a better place seemed to be dissolving in front of my eyes. The more I learned of the extent to which our society’s goodness is being sieged upon, the more exhausted and overwhelmed I felt. I hadn’t been to a protest in weeks, despite rallies being my favored method of resilience. I was lacking the fuel to fight.

Once withdrawing to the quiet of my bedroom, I meditated, focusing on the resurfaced emotions: the anger I was so unfamiliar with. Without allowing thoughts to distract my mind, I let my spirit marinate in the fury. I dwelled in its energy; a sharp, encompassing tone that brewed weightier than myself. In this moment of peace amidst such heat, I re-discovered my source of fuel.

So if I could thank those boys for something, it’s for igniting the spark my engine needed. I feel freshly motivated to combat prejudice, oppression, and violence against marginalized communities. I’m also grateful to have a never-ending supply of saliva, but I’m more looking forward to focusing my energy on effective community wellness campaigns. They have no clue what real opposing force they just unleashed.

We can’t let bigots believe their harassment and violence are acceptable, no matter who our president is. Every time we shut them down, our communities become a little safer by inspiring resilience in others and standing up for our rights. Don’t ever doubt the power of your voice (or saliva) to make a difference.