This piece was generated in response to Helen Rubinstein's January 2017 Workshop. Explore the workshop here.
Hello, baby girl.
I don’t know why I assume you’ll be a girl. Part of it might be because I’m a girl and I have things to tell you, things I wish my mother had told me. And also because the idea of a being with a penis being born of my body is so entirely confounding that my meager imagination cannot contain it. Hence, in my mind, you are a girl.
Perhaps my own mother is in possession of the same handicapped imagination and perhaps this is why she never told me the things I wished she had told me. At least, if this is true, it seems more forgivable in her than me as she is not someone who has set forth on a path—a life—that requires of her a depth of imagination and daydreaming talents.
When I got my first period, my mother asked me if I knew what that was, as I sat, legs dangling from the toilet seat, nauseous, not from my cycle but from fear I’d angered her. That somehow I was in trouble as she silently handed me a maxi pad before closing the bathroom door behind her, leaving me there, full of unanswered questions.
No, my love, I wish for us to have a different relationship, as my own mother also wanted. I know this because she told me many times even when I was very small.
But perhaps there are too many crossed paths for us to way find; she, a first- generation Korean woman who grew up in a post-war, third-world country; me, a coddled, privileged, second-generation Korean-American born and living in a country in which I still feel alien. Separate and other.
And so, I want to try to start something different with you now, even as you are still a part of me and will always be, even when you are here and separate from my body.
I want to tell you the truth.
My dear girl, this country has elected a president who represents and embodies too many despicable traits to mention all in this letter. It would be overwhelming for you - and for me - to address them all here, now, in one solitary epistle.
But I do want to tell you this.
Looking back, I see that:
the man rubbing up on me in the bookstore, my then boyfriend laughing at me when I told him about it;
the teacher that groped me under the guise of mentorship and concern for my future;
the boss who showed up at my hotel room on a business trip, ignoring my multiple replies of ‘no’ via email, phone, text;
the married colleague (a friend I have known and trusted for decades) who kissed me in the hallway;
these men believe that they have a right to me and my body and that by virtue of my relative attractiveness, that I should be grateful for the attention.
And for years I have believed these events to be accidental, some effect of the cause created by me, by some miscalculation, some error on my part. Because, of course, these things happened due to something I did. This I have been told over and over again, by friends, family, people who purport to love me.
I never dared to think that these violations that I have experienced—and every woman alive has their own personal testimony to the many vile variations on sexual assault there are under the sun—are a product of:
a culture that would elect a man who brags about sexual assault;
who deems it reasonable ‘locker room’ talk;
who says women who accuse him of assault are liars because ‘look at her’;
who belittles people on the basis of their sexual desirability including his opponents - male and female.
Until November 8, 2016.
On that day, I learned that I am, by virtue of my sex (and my race, but that remains for another letter, my dearest)
On that day, I awoke to the painful awareness that I am not equal and that everyday of my life, I have been afraid in the face of the dominant, leering, male gaze.
In fact, things are not equal.
I am not safe. And now, it may be years, if ever, until I am safe and can walk in the world with the same solid belief in belonging that every straight, white male I know lives with as their birthright, wearing it with the ease of an emperor who is not afraid of what will happen when he wears his new clothes.
Here, today, however, my love, I want to tell you this:
You are more—so much more—than how you look, walk, and sound. More than the man in the Oval Office and his violating, grabbing mini hands will try to make you believe.
It has surprised me more than I would like to admit, this glaring fact that we live in a world that hates women.
A fact that I have tried to ignore for too long.
But I am awake now and you are, too. And we will fight and resist and take back what has been wrested from us time and again for decades. Centuries.
We will stay awake, stay alert, and stand up for what is right.
We will love and protect each other so that four years from now we can still recognize who we are.