I hardly ever think of June 27, 1926
when I came moaning into my mother’s world
and tried to make it mine immediately
by screaming, sucking, urinating
and carrying on generally
it was quite a day
Boys, especially, have always loved spring. When we were small and traipsed about in shorts all year, only spring would silence their mothers’ admonitions to switch out pants for shorts. February brought us baseball, and, in April, the rec swimming league let us fling ourselves into that chlorinated paradise yet again.
Boys love spring even more when they discover their cocks. The boys are grubby and careless, still transitioning from elastic-bottomed sweatpants to jeans, while our pants and necklines lower, and that glorious anachronism, the sundress, rides again.
I don’t wear skirts and sundresses and bikinis out of some fealty to the patriarchy, but instead because I, too, ache to loll about in that grass, warmed by nothing but sunshine and laughter, redolent of proms and finals and concerts and the hundred-meter butterfly.
But another vestige of my youth is the sweatshirt. This — which we called just “sweatshirt,” not “hoodie” — is the perfect NorCal garment. It’s enough on a summer’s night, and a winter’s day, and, if you’re running from a car to a front door, a winter’s night. It is comfortable and practical. It lets you declare your allegiance to your swim club, or your parents’ colleges, or the 49ers, or your crush, or, if you’re particularly lucky, to your intended high school. It is a cocoon — the blankie you can bring to school — and somehow is even better when you have wet hair, or are between events and don’t want to deal with the monstrosity that is your swim parka.
The hooded sweatshirt, too, was a turn against the cheerful, inane preppiness of the late ’80s and early ’90s. By 1995, we rejected Urkel and Carlton and the cast of 90210 and their kiss-ass crewnecks in favor of the cool alternative. By 2009, poppy urban teens had begun to resurrect the crewneck, along with colored skinny jeans and neon-framed five-dollar sunglasses, but the crewneck still exists only in its opposition to the hooded default. [In fact, as I type this sentence, I am wearing a crimson sweatshirt, hood intact (not re-placed, because it never feels as good that way), emblazoned with my father’s alma mater.]
In spring, my sweatshirt also serves as armor. If I leave work after 10 PM, I pull on my hood before I walk out the door and pace to the El, where I generally am the only woman in my car. Most of these nights, a hood keeps them all away, rendering me invisible when I feel most vulnerable. Some nights, a hood feels like my only protection against assaultive glances. It obscures what they value, and camouflages my wary watch in the train window’s reflection.
So imagine my initial confusion when the hoodie explicitly was declared a symbol of a threat — a danger, a divide, the Other, a menace, and of the paranoia surrounding that mostly-imagined threat.
What does a hood do? It lets you hide; it lets you skulk. It keeps you warm, and helps you ignore others. It helps replace the yawning sartorial absence of the hat. And so, for many of the same reasons why George Zimmerman attacked the hoodie, the hoodie serves this Passes-for-White Girl quite well.
My hood only protects me because my body betrays me. No matter how much my hood obscures, they see white skin, a round ass; they see enough to know I’m probably hiding, but also see enough to not be scared of me. (I think, for once, this might be an example of irony.) I wear just-a-sweatshirt.
But! We wear a million hoodies for Trayvon. And I don’t, haven’t, didn’t, won’t. I wear mine for me, because I think I need it, and because I want comfort, and because sometimes I get scared.
What does it mean, to take a stand against something that we’ve framed to be undeniably awful? We gather in silence, hoods drawn, to honor an innocent, to protest his slaying, and everything both mean. And then the minute is over, and our hoodies return to sweatshirts, and we go about our day, sad and angry about all that nonsense, but living our lives, and maybe not using our privilege and training and degrees and networks to change the laws and perceptions that helped create this tragedy.
And now I’m chiming in late because I mean no disrespect to my loved ones, who have traded sweatshirts for hoodies, who grieve, and who are angry. But — and here I must emphasize I speak for me, and for me only, and know the motives and goals and aspirations of all others are clear and valuable, but that particular act just is not for me —
I can’t fucking wear a hoodie in solidarity with Trayvon. I am not fucking Trayvon.
No stranger quickens her pace to avoid falling into step with me. Nobody avoids sitting next to me on the train because I look how I look. Nobody thinks of the idea of me and considers me a criminal. Nobody dismisses what I stand for because I am an animal. Nobody sees me with my hands in my kangaroo pocket and thinks I have a gun. Nobody sees me scratching my arm and thinks I need a fix. Nobody writes me into special ed, or suspends or expels me, because they think one silly day is symptomatic of intractable behavioral issues. Nobody gives me just half a chance. And, given my skin color and my elocution and straight-enough teeth and C.V. and circle of friends, God willing, nobody ever will.
Although Chicago is the only city in which I actually wanted to attend law school, two of its mistakes make me writhe: that interminable flat, and that blastingly silent segregation.
I wear a sweatshirt over a sundress because it makes me feel safer. But the fact of the matter is, in this city, I probably don’t need to worry at all. My skin is pale enough that black men on the street never look me in the eye. The white ones’ brows furrow as they try to understand what they see. And it seems like no other races exist this close to the lake. So here in Chicago, the perk of ethnic ambiguity is that no group knows what to make of me, and thus no group tries to lay claim to me; so, unlike in my native land, I can walk freer of street harassment than I ever have in my life. It can be freeing, indeed, to be unclaimed. But maybe I just feel safer because Chicago is, overall, much safer than Oakland. Even when I lived in the safest, wealthiest Oakland neighborhood, a Fourth of July gunfight broke out on my roof, and I could not walk three blocks without a bold man notifying me which of my orifices was his favorite.
Maybe they’re right; maybe Midwesterners just are more polite; but based off what I’ve watched them do to others, while I hide in my hood, I don’t think that’s quite true. And to say that I’d be willing to suffer resurgent street harassment if it meant that Chicago were less segregated — well, we’d be back to that decades-old, misguided debate of sexism-versus-racism, and that debate is false, and a motherfucking distraction.
YIPPEE! I’m glad I’m alive
“I’m glad you’re alive
too, baby, because I want to fuck you”
you are pink
and despicable in the warm breeze drifting in the window
and the rent