Like many of us I've been following the news from Iran, hoping for the best and admiring the courage of all those who've had enough and are taking a stand, despite the danger. I wonder what it feels like to reach that point and I wonder if I will reach it in my own lifetime.
I remember being transfixed by the demonstrations in Tianamen Square, twenty years ago this spring, when I was nine years old. My family generally watched the evening news every night (60 Minutes on Sundays), sometimes with dinner and sometimes afterwards. I wondered if the students would be able to force their government and their country to change, and I was genuinely shocked as well as horrified when the government instead forcibly put them down. I have memories of images of the empty square, evidence of violence in the midst blowing trash and broken dreams, but I don't know how much I'm imagining or filling in from later descriptions.
I was also shocked by my grandparents' reaction. My grandmother in particular argued fiercely that the Chinese government had done the right thing: by killing some students, it had averted a much larger conflict that would have killed many more people. Although emphatically liberal on most issues, my grandmother believes in the value of strong leaders and governments; in certain respects, from my adult perspective, her views remind me of some of the proto-Fascist intellectuals of the 1920s, before Fascism was forever discredited by Nazism and all the rest of it.
Implict in her stance was a sharp rebuke to the protesters, idealists and troublemakers who were only going to bring suffering down upon their society. My child's soul rebelled against that interpretation. I wanted to man the barricades and fight for the right, the just, and the true, come what may.
I thought that all I had to do was grow bigger and stronger, and I would do just that. I didn't realize what an effect that injunction to keep quiet and keep your head down had had on me. In spite of disagreeing about things like Tianamen, I adored my grandparents and strove to earn their respect and admiration. I was ashamed to make too much noise and to ask for too much; in my own real life, I didn't even know where the barricades were.
My increasing self-confidence and my newly unorthodox gender expression have, not surprisingly, introduced an element of distance or even strain into my relationship with my grandparents. What took me by surprise was that my graduation and new job, rather than easing that distance, seems to have increased it, even though my decision to pursue this career was very much part of an effort to live up to their values.
And yet perhaps I should not have been surprised. In embarking on this profession I am claiming authority and power. I am asserting that my own words matter, that they can contribute to knowledge and that they should be read. And I am doing so at the very moment where I emphatically make too much noise, take up too much space, demand far too much from my society at every turn. I insist on my right to exist even if it offends, and if I die for it, I insist on my right to choose to die for it.
When I saw them last month their reaction to my news was strikingly lowkey. A few polite questions, a few awkward jokes about my new job & its associated title. A long discussion about how perhaps I should have been a judge instead (a slightly more entertaining variation on the very old theme that I should have gone into finance like the pretty young women on the business TV shows). And avoidance of my new name except to make jokes about it, more or less. Even references to me as "Miss [Oldname]".
I processed all that, vented to FG about it, and thought I'd moved on. But a friend who hadn't seen me for a few weeks called me on it as soon as ze saw me, looking tired and apologetic and profoundly subdued. I realized I hadn't felt genuinely happy about the graduation & job since seeing my family. I was subdued: I had been put in my place.
I'm faced now with some dilemmas. How do I un-subdue myself? And how do I do that as I take the first steps in a career that was, originally, all about earning love and approval and now must fit into a life that seeks, if not to man the barricades all the time, at least to raise the hell that my child-self longed for?