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A sissy works at the beer garden I pass on the way home. In Vietnam, these common watering holes are called “Bia Hoi,” and this one sits at the intersection of two major roads, across from one of the city’s largest parks, on a corner adjacent to one edge of a university campus. To say that this place is a sausage fest would be an understatement. Like drinking holes in so many parts of the world, this is a space for men.
Men come here. Me, too. Although I stick out as a visible foreigner, I am part of the crowd of men. In every part of the world I’ve encountered, there’s nothing weird about a guy sitting around having a beer. Hence, it’s not uncommon for local groups of men to send one over, or invite me to their table for a drink. This has drastically different implications than men in pubs buying drinks for women, especially a woman sitting alone in a drinking hole, which is the LEAST likely thing to see here, despite the number of Bia Hoi’s owned and run by women in Vietnam. The majority here are either men in starched shirts and slacks stepping out, or other groups of guys crossing from the park to gather here for a post-match drink. I started coming here years ago with a man I met through work, and stop by every now and again. As compared to other masculinized spaces, there’s no competition here, and the primary resource – beer – flows freely.
The sissy wears an apron to serve the food and beer. He ties his apron tightly over the same loose orange T-shirt all the other guys wear to serve. This, of course accentuates his curves. While the others walk around baggy, clothes hanging loosely like a barrel sac, with this apron, the sissy has seriously upgraded the uniform with color, shape and flare. What’s more, his hips switch back-n-forth, too quick to be a pendulum. Naw, he switches like nobody’s business, and you really see this the way the beer garden is set-up with several rows of long tables. This is his cat walk. While the other servers seem to be drudging through the labor, the sissy flutters around like a butterfly. And he always looks at each customer, takes time to chat, and seems to have the patience of Job when it comes to their eventual drunkenness. Beer loosens tongues.
The sissy has to march back and forth the serve the orders like a busy bee. It’s hot, so the sissy fans himself with the menu, like it’s a prop, as he prances up-n-down the rows as if it’s his own stage. Everyone else pales in comparison, they’re just there to work. The sissy is there to ‘work’, or as Fergie says: “Make YOU work!” Life’s a stage, they say, and er’body gotta play they part.
The sissy stands at each table like a tea-cup, grinning, weight shifted to one leg, hips leaning to the side, back arched, hand on his hip, holding a pen waiting for the men to call out their food orders. Unlike the other servers who seem to just stand there bluntly to take orders, the sissy acts like a host, and actively shows folks their seats, offers that they take a look at the menu, and genuinely makes sure they are all satisfied.
This sissy has mad flavor, even in this part of his career – of which I know nothing – save for what I’ve seen of him serving beer in a local Bia Hoi. He makes such a flutter when he moves around, just doing his job, that I too, see him on stage, among peers, not drowning in this mundanity. I almost wish he would bring some Hot Lunch from Fame, for those hips are already singing the body electric. Those shoulders practically shimmering as he walks friskily across the pavement, arms stretched open, elbows squeezed, holding a beer in each hand – swish, swish, swish. I can see the musical notes floating around him as he makes his way, doing his job dutifully, albeit with Glee. “Just do it,” I want to say to the sissy. Free us from these seats.
In some places, even today, our existence is a crime.
Let’s face it. When most of us read those words,
We ‘see’ a man in our mind’s eye.
The so-called smartest job on earth belongs solely to women men.
What if those dreams kids dreamed – of going anywhere in the world –
Also included smart women?
What if we grew up knowing that women were rocket scientists?
As much as we use the oft phrase “it’s not rocket science” to exclaim simplicity,
What if the smartest person nobody ever met was a woman?
Nobody anybody knows has ever met a rocket scientist or a nuclear physicist, but we’re all sure THESE guys represent humanity’s brightest.
What if the brightest people in the world were both women AND men?
The black women ‘behind’ America’s space race, yet, ‘one step for man…’ really did mean one giant step for man-kind.
Have we stolen little girls’ dreams?
By concealing the truth of the Black women rocket scientists behind America’s moon landing,
Haven’t we squashed those ambitions for black girls?
It’s not that Black girls are absent in Pop Culture, they’re just normally, regularly
Relegated to a few very banal stereotypes.
Haven’t we assured everyone on the planet that the last thing a black girl could do was grow up to become a rocket scientist?
Or president of America?
One giant step for white man-kind, indeed!
Now we have an unkind thug running thangs.
Mr. Backlash! Mr. Backlash!
It’s telling that the biggest modern feminist march happened because of his inauguration.
What if the most powerful leaders in history were women?
What if, instead of deifying generals and soldiers, and
Rather than holding the torch for sword-bearers,
What if we regarded HIS-story through women’s contributions to society?
How have women determined the fates of nations,
Irregardless of men’s war of conquest and colonization?
What if we studied those who avoided war, not just those who indulged?
Would so many world leaders be calling the Coronavirus an “enemy” that we must “defeat”?
What if we celebrated the survivors of millennia of mostly male belligerence – where
Women couldn’t even own property, let alone vote.
Let alone control their own bodies.
Who were those men and women who fought for equality even then, and
Who were the detractors?
Who were those masochists who believed God had a son, not a daughter, and
Therefore, men have divine right to rule?
What if women had written the Bible, or any holy book or writings from any world religion?
Would patriarchy so regularly be the order of the day?
My drink order?
Ah, give me a cup of control over every business, government, religious and labor institution for over a thousand years!
Don’t forget the lemon, this is a sour business!
Oh great, free refills!
Wasn’t Shirley Chisholm brave for being the first black woman to run for president?
Let’s face it, a woman running for any office right now is likely to get trolled online,
Likely to have folks write that they’re gonna rape her, so
You can imagine the hate Ms. Chisholm faced.
And oh, did I mention she was queer?
What gymnastics did Ms. Chisholm have to practice in earnest in those days?
“A woman cannot do the job of a man.”
This is a direct quote from a policeman’s wife when the NYPD integrated patrol teams back in the 70’s.
Aren’t the brave first female officers heroes?
A woman said the same thing at a 2016 Trump rally.
Aren’t women brave for running for political office and raising their voices in chambers?
There is no equal pay.
There are plenty o’ glass ceilings to shatter all around the world.
Yet, we take issue with this word feminist.
When some hear feminist, they think bra-burning,
Even though they never burned bras at the infamous feminist protest at the ‘68 Miss America pageant.
Media coverage dismissed this early feminist protest for equality as “bra-burning,” and thus the moniker stuck!
You side with anti-feminist masochists when you use that phrase.
You outta keep “bras” outta your mouth until you know first-hand what you’re talking ‘bout!
When some hear feminist, they don’t think ‘feminism’ oh, that means
‘My sister shouldn’t grow up beside me, scared of getting raped by a man in our family.’
When some hear feminist, they think ‘lesbians’.
So, feminists are lesbians, or lesbians are feminists?
It’s way too easy to say straight women can’t support equality in power, opportunity and access for all genders!
When some hear feminist, they think about men being oppressed.
They don’t think about the rights husbands have over wives’ bodies – marital rape is a fairly recent feminist protection.
When some hear feminist, they think feminists are ugly, jealous women.
They don’t think about the pressure to be beautiful,
Even in the age of social media where millennials show-up selfie-ready at breakfast, and
Spend half of breakfast posting about the breakfast rather than actually enjoying said breakfast.
But at least their lashes and brows are flawless!
Naw, when some people hear feminist,
You can best bet her face was beat up before she stepped a foot outside for her “burgers and sodas”.
Yes, there’s “A Meeting in the Ladies Room,” so you’d better bring your best compact, girl.
When some hear feminist, they think privileged white women.
They don’t think, ‘oh, my sister should have the same opportunities as me’.
Or, ‘gee, my sister shouldn’t have to worry about some creep making moves on her at work while she’s trying to feed her kids.’
They couldn’t even begin to know about the Hidden Figures.
When some hear feminist, they think men-haters.
They don’t think about all the hateful things we’ve heard our whole lives
About the dangers of women’s bodies:
Females menstruate -problem 1.
Menstruation makes females moody – problem 2.
Females can get pregnant- problem 3.
Female bodies are problematic… dangerous.
We teach this to everyone.
We teach girls to be mindful of men; we don’t teach boys not to prey on women.
We teach girls to dress appropriately; we don’t teach boys to respect girls’ bodies.
We teach girls to take a pill, almost a rite of passage, but
We don’t teach boys to grow up and research, develop and market a pill for men.
We teach girls: her power is in her sex; we don’t teach boys ‘conquering her sexually is sexist’.
You can take these lessons to the Supreme Court and still win!
So, what if we grew up knowing women were rocket scientists?
What if boys and girls grew up knowing this… taking for granted that girls were smart, too?
If this AND may such stories hadn’t been so conveniently “forgotten”
Would women have to prove themselves so much at work?
Would we be asking women how they balance a career and motherhood?
Or would we be asking dads that question just as often and effortlessly?
So, what if we grew up knowing women were rocket scientists, that
Women were excellent and disciplined at the height of logic?
What if we grew up knowing women were rocket scientists?
Would insults like “bitch” or “like a girl” carry any weight?
Notice by adding “like a girl” to any phrase, it becomes an insult!
If women were known to excel at rational thinking like rocket science, then
Wouldn’t we then assume males are emotional beings, too?
Did you know that by age 7,
Girls know significantly more words to talk about their feelings than boys?
If women were rocket scientists, too,
Would we still refuse to teach boys Emotional Intelligence?
Bury your feelings, boys, take it out with your fists.
Would we still refuse to teach girls that they can excel at math?
What world would we craft, if little boys and girls grew up knowing that muscle and brawn didn’t matter in the world of equality and respect we were told we’d built?
Michele Obama as Sapphire
A song for Terry.
Terry was just six when he died.
Not a long time spent on this Earth,
But enough to make himself known to the universe.
There were many obstacles in life waiting for boys like Terry.
If life is a vast ocean, then he only sailed a meager ferry.
Terry was born in a place, in a time and
In a body that didn’t count much –
A poor, southern Black boy and such.
He was loved, for sure,
I’d see his grandmother kiss him every morning,
As she sent Terry off to school.
Terry’s household didn’t look like those on TV.
None of ours did.
There weren’t any of those Cosby kids.
But Terry was like my brother, my dear friend.
I looked forward to walking to school with Terry each day.
He always had something interesting to say.
Terry and I were in the same class.
He lived across the street,
And our school was just a few blocks away.
There and back,
I wanted to be by his side.
Sometimes I would walk to my grandparents’ after school,
And momma would pick me up after work.
No sooner did we get home and settled did I ask to go outside and play,
Our story was short-lived.
Two kids on the block,
On the poor side of town,
We lived cocooned in a world of luxury:
We were cared for and we were safe.
Everyone on the block looked out for all the kids;
There were no strangers around home base.
But, we also lived
In a time and place of misery,
Where things like poverty,
Would determine your destiny,
And all the dreams we would dream,
Would have to fight the sun to live.
A handsome little brown boy,
And a finely picked mini ‘Fro.
An easy smile,
And an easy-going way about him.
Terry was a nice guy.
And did I mention he was loved?
He was not the most popular kid in class –
Naw, everybody feared that guy!
Terry was the one everyone liked.
For Valentine’s day,
The whole class exchanged heart-shaped candies and notes with one another-
All in pink, my favorite color.
My one time of year to shine!
I was so excited to choose one especially for Terry, my brother:
Will you be my Valentine?
Even the teacher got along with him.
Terry never got in trouble.
He got sad-eyed when any of us got marched off to get paddled.
At lunch, I’d always sit with Terry.
Terry got free lunch, and
Peanut butter and jelly is what I got when momma packed mine!
We’d hurry to the front of the line,
And finish our food quickly,
So we could go to the play area the rest of the time.
I didn’t like milk, but Terry did.
And he didn’t care for apple sauce, but I did.
Sometimes we’d split:
Half a piece of pizza for half my sandwich.
We didn’t keep score, but
We were always even.
There, right in the middle of the cafeteria,
Smack in the middle of the school,
Was a large, carpeted recreational area.
There, we’d play and everything was cool.
After lunch, but also before and after school,
We could climb and crawl,
Spin and jump,
Run and hide,
Seek and find,
And holler as loud as we’d want.
Teachers would monitor from nearby, but
They left us alone and took their break-time.
Our teachers would even rotate who had this monitoring job to do.
We weren’t a rowdy bunch,
So, there were no fights to break-up.
There were neither hoops nor balls to tussle over.
No nets, no bats –
No competition and all that.
Just a space…
Where us kids could be free.
We were free.
Terry died in the middle of first grade.
We had found out from our teacher that Terry was sick,
We’d all heard of sickle cell, many in our own families, like mine.
But none of us knew what it means.
We knew Terry was not always sturdy.
One time he’d had a bad bout with asthma.
Our teacher helped him take his inhaler,
That she’d showed us where it was kept in her desk drawer.
Now, she was telling us that Terry was just spending a few days in the hospital.
The whole class avidly awaited Terry’s return.
She didn’t know more than that,
I needed to know when Terry’d be back.
I knocked on his door, one day
On the way home from school,
To tell his grandmother I hoped Terry’d be ok.
I knew my grandmother would be heartbroken if anything like that happened to one of us.
Kids that little aren’t supposed to die.
Not here, and not of diseases we can’t even see.
Even at that age, I knew this just shouldn’t be.
And yet turn on the TV,
Every day we see signs and symptoms of little Black boys’ morbidity.
Whether from war or starvation in distant lands, or
Dilapidation and disease on these burning sands.
Just like what was happening to Terry:
A casualty of a neglectful society.
I didn’t get to mourn Terry,
Didn’t have some cathartic corral with our classmates about
The fun times we had or how much we missed him.
There was no school counselor coming to our class –
No one explaining the cycle of life, nor
Asking us about our feelings.
I knew how I felt.
I loved Terry, and knew the way I loved him was seen as peculiar;
I couldn’t let anyone know about this one-sided affair.
I was sad, and all this was unfair.
What would I say?
We were only 6 years old, and
Terry was the first boy I ever loved.
In memory of Muhammed Ali, another Black boy who survived those same streets and corridors.
In recent weeks a man serving in the military was arrested by the police accused of the murder of 5 women and 2 children. At this stage this is an open investigation and the police has left the possibility that there may be more victims added to the list.
So, what do we know so far? A man using dating apps approached women using the alias “Orestes” allegedly for a relationship or something serious. The alleged date was when they were murdered never to be seen or heard of. In two of the cases the women had children which he also murdered, in order as he testified to the police, to cover his tracks. It took the local community by storm and caused the usual true crimes sensation which in no doubt will continue as more of the story’s dimensions unfold.
The investigation will be followed by the media in order to explain the kind of mind that led a seemingly “normal functioning” individual to do such a thing. Murder is a crime committed with “malice aforethought”. For the purposes of an open investigation that is the correct procedure; we explore a murderer’s motives, whereabouts, social and personal habits until we find enough evidence that allow the investigative team to connect the dots and make a compelling case that will be sent to court.
Professionally however when we are asked to comment on cases such as this one, our perspective is quite different. In my case, I begin asking the question of harm caused and how this happened. Seven people went missing. How? All women involved so far worked as domestic help and all were migrants. At this point I shall refrain from offering more information or analysis on the women as that unfortunate psychologist who went on the media talking about the submissive nature of the Philippine women that made me sick! One of the victims so far is from Romania so what’s what happens when experts say whatever comes to mind!
In years to come other experts will interview the murderer and ask him all sorts and test him on everything possible to ascertain what made him do it. I shall stand on what we know. He was a soldier, ranked officer, trained in interrogation techniques. He was also an accomplished photographer who approached several women with the intent to photograph them for their portfolio, those who wanted a modelling career. A person of contradictions that will fill the true crime libraries with more gruesome tales. Of course, for one more time we shall wonder if it is necessary to train people to kill without considering the implication of such training may have in their welfare and interpersonal relations.
What about the wider picture? To put the whole case in some perspective. The volume of victims (still ongoing) some of the victims have been missing for over a year, indicates an impunity that only comes from a society that fails to register those people missing. In this case migrant women, working in low paid jobs, that the justice system failed because their disappearance did not raise any alarms. A collective failing to ask the most basic question; where this person gone? In previous similar cases, we have been confronted with the same issue. The biggest accomplisher to murder is social apathy. The murder is a crude reminder that there are groups of people in any society we care very little of. Whether those are hire help, homeless or streetworkers. The murderer usually produces a story that tries to justify why he chose his victims, but the painful reality is that his focus is on people or groups of people that have become invisible. In an interesting research Dr Lasana Harris, identified that we perceptually censor our perception of homeless to stop us empathising. In social sciences we have been aware of the social construction of dehumanising effects but now we can see that these processes can affect our own physiology. The murderer may be caught, and the details of his deeds may scandalize some as we have since Jack the Ripper, but his accomplishes are still out there and it is all of us who become incredibly tribal in an ever-expanding global society.
After all that talk of murder, I feel like having a cup of my favourite tea and a marron glace to take the bitterness away.
Fiske ST (2018), Dehumanizing the lowest of the low: Neuroimaging responses to
extreme out-groups, in Fiske S, Social Cognition; selected works of Susan
Fiske, London, Routledge.
 A cautionary tale…Orestes was the mythological character who murdered his mother and her lover; what’s in a name!