Getting Pregnant With Michelle Tea: Our Honeymoon With Racists
When Dashiell and I booked our honeymoon we hadn’t even had our first embryo transfer yet. We did the math – if that initial zygote implanted and grew in my belly, then I’d be about five-six months pregnant come honeymoon time. It was hard to imagine what being pregnant would feel like for me. Some women thrive beneath that onslaught of hormones and physical changes, some are miserable. I think I’ll be among the blissed-out, but then, my optimism doesn’t always match up with my reality. What if I had a tough time of it?
My first honeymoon impulse was Europe, because part of me is always impulsing towards Europe, all the time, particularly Paris, or Rome, or Venice. And Dashiell hasn’t been to any of these places yet, which makes my desire to get us there feel even more urgent. But, Paris in November? Eh. Hiking around Rome while preggers? Enduring a crowded Venetian vaporetti while nauseous? Maybe Europe would have to wait.
One thing Dashiell and I love is a beach vacation. Dashiell works her butt off all week long and rarely takes any time off, so laying in the sun is the ultimate recharger for her. So much of my travel is work-related, beach vacations tend to be the only ones where I’m not able to hustle a reading and turn what was meant to be relaxing into something stressful. We decided that a beach vacation it would be. Dashiell had gone to the Caribbean as a kid, and loved it; she wanted to show me the rolling islands and bright blue waters as badly as I wanted to show her the Marais or the Palazzo Grassi.
I myself have been wanting a do-over of a cruise I took years ago with the crankiest, least fun boyfriend who ever lived. The cruise line was small, the boats actually very large yachts, gigantic sailboats that housed only about 150 guests compared to the common cruise ship’s 5,000. My experience on a giant yacht sailing down the French Riviera would have been one of the best moments of my life, if I only hadn’t been suffering panic attacks and darting into the bathroom to cry because my date was such a jerk.
I wanted to have that sailing experience again, this time with my true love, and I wanted to show it all to Dashiell – the nautical classiness, the L’Occitane products in the metallic silver glitter showed pod that looked like it should come with a shower-time martini (and I guess it could, since room service was on call 24-7, but I preferred calling down for a delivery of microwave popcorn or apple pie and whipped cream). We checked the cruise line and found that they had a boat going to the Caribbean a week after our wedding.
Dashiell and I were a little concerned about experiencing homophobia on the cruise. We needn’t have worried. While we did get some stink-eye here and there, people were mostly friendly. Real friendly. They wanted to know if we were on our honeymoon – Uh, yeah, we would admit. Congratulations abounded. This was a very chatty cruise. I didn’t remember anyone talking to me and my ex on the French cruise, but maybe people who sail the Mediterranean are a quieter sort than those who opt to vaycay in the Virgin Islands. Or, maybe my ex’s perpetual scowl warded off any potential new friends.
I responded to our fellow cruisers warily. I have learned the hard way that most strangers will inevitably say something totally offensive, and then I wind up mad at myself for trusting humanity and debating internally whether or not it is worth it to get in a fight with the asshole or just abruptly ignore them. And any hope that the apparent homo-friendliness of our shipmates would make these strangers exceptions to this trend was blasted away by the racist commentary we heard nearly ever time one of these white people opened their mouths.
If you are a white person one experience you will have throughout your life is other white people saying racist things to you, in this super comfortable tone rich with camaraderie – We’re both white, right, so I can share this with you – I know you’ll relate! This happens to me way less now that I’ve set up my life within the progressive queer bubble of San Francisco, but of course it’s happened to me here, as certain as I’ve witnessed anti-queer harassment in the Castro. Assholes abound.
I haven’t encountered the casual, daily racism I experienced on our honeymoon since I was a kid back home in Chelsea, Massachusetts, having near-constant panic attacks and acquiring a folderfull of psychological issues from being surrounded on all sides by a proud, stubborn, defensive racism.Was it a coincidence that so many of the honeymoon offenders were from my home state, the paradox of Massachusetts, where gay marriage and health care first happened but where white people threw rocks at black kids getting bussed out of the ghetto, where Irish people flung bottles at the Irish queers marching in the St. Patrick’s parade?
The things we heard on our honeymoon. “I know this is going to sound horrible,” began one female Mass-hole, a 50-something real estate developer newlywed who met her new husband – an avid automatic weapons collector wearing a shirt that said ‘Ted Kennedy’s Car Killed More People Than My AK-47’ (you cannot make this shit up) – on MillionaireMatchMaker.com. YES, my brain instinctively began to scream. YES, you ARE going to sound horrible, SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP. “The staff are all so nice,” she said of the Indonesian men working the boat, “But I just wish they didn’t all look the same, it’s so hard to tell them apart! I’m horrible – I know!”
I swam away from her, while the other white people rushed to assure her she did not sound horrible. I thought about it. This person, like all the other people whose vile opinions I suffered whilst honeymooning, probably didn’t think she was racist, because she, like, doesn’t want to string people of color from trees or burn crosses on their lawn. That these extreme and dated examples of racism are what so many white people think racism is prevents them from realizing their own racism, just like the caricature of the stubble-faced hobo drunk in the gutter prevents so many alcoholic from copping to their drinking problem – I don’t look like that, so I’m fine!
This is exactly why no white person should presume they are not racist. While many members of the white race know it is absurd, not to mention offensive, to think that any ethnicity looks identical, what other gross presumptions may we be harboring? It’s impossible to grow up a white person in a culture of white supremacy and not be racist. And though I understand that in certain circles, such as the ones I frequent, being called a racist is pretty much the worst thing anyone can say about a person, to not deem yourself a racist seems wishful thinking, and dangerous.
I remember once, at a lecture by Dorothy Allison in New Orleans, the Q+A turned to racism. A woman sitting next to me likened white racism to alcoholism – an inherited disease you wish you didn’t have, but wishes and denial only make the affliction more acute, and harmful to everyone. Admitting you have a problem is the first step towards recovery, and sometimes I think a recovering racist is the best a white person can hope for. To constantly be inspecting your thoughts, your assumptions and reactions – questioning them, poking them, rejecting them, and praying for better reactions to become more natural.
On one of the many blogs I scanned following Ani DiFranco’s plantation fuckup I read something that stuck – It’s pointless for a white person to claim to not be racist. It’s much better to say I Don’t Want To Be Racist. It’s humbler, it’s more honest (hopefully), and it provides actual room for anti-racist growth to happen. (I can’t find the post but it was written by a white guy, and it was good.)
This match-made millionaire newlywed didn’t seem to care whether or not she was racist. Nor did the gay boy couple who we were initially thrilled to befriend but learned to avoid after their comments about how Haitian immigrants ‘ruined’ Miami, and a fatphobia so rabid it made them seem mentally ill. Which they were. Clearly.
There was the amazing elderly woman with the big hair and amazing style who killed my adoration and broke my heart when I heard her say of St. Bart’s ‘It’s not like the other islands, it’s clean – no blacks.’ It was sickening to visit a geographic paradise with a bunch of privileged white people who only wished that the island’s inhabitants – descendants of slavery, all – weren’t, you know, living there, ruining their white supremacy good time.
When, on the beach, a random white dude asked the whiteys sitting next to us to watch his duffle bag, they all made nervous jokes about it containing an bomb. To which the white dude responded, “This is a hat, not a towel” and pointed at his baseball hat. To which the whiteys all laughed, then began musing over why ‘they’ ‘hate’ ‘us’. “It’s our way of life,” match-made millionaire Masshole declared. “We let our women vote.”
Amazingly, a lone gay man from Long Beach, traveling with his elderly mother, sunning himself in a white banana hammock with some rainbow stripes at the hips, piped up and offered some historical accuracy involving white colonialism as the root of the lack of peace in the Middle East. I felt relief flood my body, and smiled at him a smile so face-cracking it almost brought tears to my eyes. In general, people from California were markedly better than the rest – the family from Sacramento who seemed genuinely kind; the eighty-something lone lady traveler with the amazing fake boobs, who swam laps in the ocean by herself, lived in a houseboat in Sausalito, and spoke very thoughtfully about her experience being one of the only white people living in my same San Francisco neighborhood decades ago, before gentrification drove most of the African-American people out.
Me and Dashiell spent a lot of time hiding out in our cabin, watching endless DVDs and eating endless room service popcorn. Maybe we would have anyway – we were exhausted from our wedding, and from our miscarriage; for the first half of our vacation I bled nonstop into fat maxi-pads. I almost wept with gratitude when I was finally allowed to wear a tampon, put on a bathing suit and jump in the sea.
I had decided at the onset of the racist commentary that I wasn’t going to spend our honeymoon fighting with assholes. Having spent a good decade of my life fighting with people exactly like this, I knew what happened. They remained unmoved, I experienced heart palpitations and tears and anxiety it took hours to come down from. I knew that it was a privilege of whiteness to not respond to these remarks – and that not responding took its own emotional toll – but I didn’t feel able to rise to the occasion. It felt like a lose/lose situation.
The best we could really hope for was to steer clear of everyone and create out own little world of two, and we did a good enough job to enjoy our honeymoon in spite of the white people on the boat and in spite of the people on the islands who repeatedly asked us if I was Dashiell’s mother. Really? Her mother? I’m only eight years old than her! I would have to be at least 52 years old to be her mother, and that’s if I had managed to give birth to her at the tender age of twelve. Do I really look 52? According to the racist white people on the boat, I looked 28 – again and again people expressed disbelief that I was 42 and Dashiell was 34, pegging us both for people in our twenties. Nice try white person, I thought. It’s going to take a lot more than telling me I look 28 to get me to be friendly to you again.
But seriously – what was up with that? The first time it happened it struck me as so comical, so absurd, that I nodded and said, Yes, Yes, I Am Her Mother. Dashiell looked at me with his mouth hung open. But confirming this woman’s assumption only seemed to have confused her further. Now she seemed to not believe me – “You are her mother?” she demanded suspiciously. Perhaps she had known we were lezzies but felt she couldn’t ask so decided to ask if we were instead mother-daughter, in hope that we’d correct her. But really-mother? Hadn’t she heard of the classic ‘Are you two sisters?’
As funny as I thought it was, it really bothered Dashiell. When it happened again, in a shoe shop in St. Bart’s, she quickly snapped, “No, she’s my wife!”
“Oh – wife,” nodded the Italian boy selling us shoes, who looked to be about fifteen years old. I had been acting like a naggy mom, telling Dashiell exactly why the suede driving moccasins were such a good deal, insisting she get a pair, coaxing her away from the hardware and towards the tasseled-style, then insisting upon which color was superior. I guess we were enacting a bit of a teenage-boy-shopping-with-mom dynamic. Still, if we’re going to do mommy play I want to be in on it, not have it projected onto me by strangers. We paid for Dashiell’s driving moccasins and left.
Coming home from our honeymoon was bittersweet, as all end of vacations are. We were truly relieved to be off the boat, away from our shipmates. I felt emotionally exhausted from it, psychically battered. “Really,” I muttered to Dashiell, “I wish they had all been homophobes. They would have stayed away from us.” But we missed the luxury of getting to spend all day every day together. We’d realized that if like the Spanish we could take a daily siesta we would probably have sex seven days a week. It had been nice to have people bring you food whenever you wanted. And I always feel my best in a tropical environment.
I missed the blue water and the rolling bumps of island dotting the horizon, the amazing Caribbean taxis, like sitting in the back of a pickup truck tricked out with benches and cute striped awnings. We were back in our bubble. Home sweet home.