I’m going to Saipan in August. Saipan in August is the hottest time of the year, in one of the hottest places in the world. It’s an island with cool blue water surrounding it, but during the summer, it’s fire. There will be no hope for my hair. Now my mom looks at some of my outfits, nods with approval and says, “Okay you can wear that on Saipan. Wear jeans when you come back.”But then I say, I can’t wear jeans, mom. It will be August. It will be hot.
It will be hotter than anything. But she disagrees. I want to wear a thin sheet of gauze and maybe a heavy necklace to keep in place and to look pretty! She wants me to wear one of those plastic pants and shirts runners use to sweat it out. To her it’ll be roomy! To me, it’s like I’m trying to be Big Hero 6 with none of the charm and all of the levels of hell swirling around me.
I love my mother, but sometimes I hear words that I don’t like, mostly in reference to what women look like, what women are wearing, which counter my very notion of WOMEN SHOULD WEAR WHATEVER THEY WANT. I want my sons to treat women they see with only optimism and reverence and respect and none of the open mic hardcore instructional bro-humor I already hear like, “You know ladies, you need to…” I don’t listen to the non-existent punchlines. I just hear fart noises to mask the stupid.
Sometimes my mom will say, “Don’t wear that. People will stare at you.” Which I don’t care. Let them stare. Please stare and spend your time and energy on what a woman *should* wear because those words are like meteors that burn in the atmosphere around me and never get close enough to my ears to make a splash.
But I love my mom. I respect my mom. This is not the battle to fight. Because my mom won’t listen to words if they come from me, it’ll sound like disrespect. It’ll sound like talking back. But if someone else–anyone else–says the same words, they’ll make an impact. Like, I can’t say, let’s let women wear what they want, but if a priest says, “Let’s have empathy,” it sounds like a good idea. Until the hemline is too short.
I’ve had people tell me to my very face, my human face attached to a heart and a body with feelings inside, that I was fat. Very fat. These people were usually also fat. These people were usually given the power to talk to me that way because they were my relatives–my aunt who would say, “JESUS CHRIST RAMONA! REDUCE!” She is nice to me now. Maybe because time has done wonders to her memory where she was kind to me, trying to help me and I have a sharper memory that has a different view of her.
I remember when I was at my baby shower and a woman said to me, my very pregnant self, “You should be eating this, not this” pointing to a tray of vegetables I should be consuming and then another that wasn’t as healthy but might as well have been a plate of congealed fat that jiggled when you spoke closely to it. To clarify, I was very pregnant, this party was to celebrate my child coming into a world that was already telling me what I should be doing, as a woman, as a mother, as a human being. This plate. Not this plate. This pill will make you stronger, this pill will make you open to everyone telling you how to live your life.
I know people who are first generation or similar, who constantly feeling they are navigating two different worlds, and for me, sometimes those worlds are: The world that is WOKE and the world that IS NOT VERY WOKE AT ALL. VERY ASLEEP. SOAP OPERA COMATOSE.
I hear it in person but I also see it ALL THE TIME on facebook. I see it when people back home post memes or jokes that talk about women as if they are property, as if they are at fault, when they talk about what leggings a woman should wear.
This one guy posted a picture of two beautiful women kissing and it said, “What would you do if you saw this!” like, anyone else’s public displays of affection are yours to partake in. And of course the answers were the same, very bro, very ugh, very asleep. And I just said, “Hey how about you respect two people and leave them alone.” It didn’t go over well.
Or the woman who posted the video of a married woman getting her hair shaved off because she allegedly cheated. And I said, “Could we not contribute to the exploitation of women, who did not consent to this? Do we need to exploit her trauma?” She defended it like it was a good thing–I just want people to know that this happens! Like, she couldn’t write down this argument in words, she had to add to the view count. But she did take it down.
Just because I’m a comedian doesn’t mean I will “take a joke” if the joke is inherently racist, misogynist, sexist or just stupid. Especially stupid. And because I’m a comedian, I know how to craft a joke that isn’t a dumb meme or video repost or whatever that’s unoriginal and meant to tell people who are not me how to be whatever it is I have no right to say.
It’s about clothes, but not about clothes. It’s about food and memes but not really about any of those things either. It’s about this world that’s hard and unfair and sharp and knifes at me constantly. I love my culture’s reverence and respect but that same system built this world where I see something wrong and I have no space to say it.
Because it means I’m trying to be too much, better than others, too disrespectful. When I’m just trying to move through this world and shepherd these two young boys with me and I don’t want them to look at their own bodies with anything other than wonder.
In August, I’ll go to Saipan and I’ll find a way to wear what I want, to skirt the line the way I always have. I know I will look good because I believe I look good and it doesn’t matter what most people say, even if they mean well. Even if my mom is saying this because she wants the best for me, even if we have different ideas of what that means.
I wear what I want now and whenever my boys see me, their response is always the same: “Why are you so beautiful, Mommy?” I know it’s because they want something, but the words are positive and block out the other noise and I’ll take my fill of that any day.