Essay: “Proving Our Salt” by Sarah Fonseca

From the beginning, there was a lot of talk about his hands; so much that a particularly religious eavesdropper might’ve mistaken a conversation about him—transpiring during Easter, Ascension, or an average Friday train commute—for one about his antithesis, the martyred Jesus Christ. Coined by the clairvoyant writer Graydon Carter in 1989, “the short-fingered vulgarian” nickname evolved into an apt genteelism for the glutton/nepotist/vulva-groper who would become President of the United States.

As enraged comrades arrived in D.C. by plane, train, and rideshare that third Saturday in January—united in their demand for an alternative to this shit if nothing else—Fiona Apple debuted a protest song for the moment, titled “Tiny Hands.” The day after the inauguration, half a million protesters white-knuckled signs—with messages including “Tiny Hands Yuuuge Asshole” and “Keep Your Tiny Hands Off Our Rights”—on Donald J. Trump’s new front lawn.

The queer realm, my home, also boasts a long-standing fixation with the hands. It is one part historical (where would we be without the bricks thrown at Stonewall, or the hot coffee at Compton’s Cafeteria?), one part erotic; both inextricable from the other. At the moment in 2017 when ‘hands’ became synonymous with ‘Trump’—who is synonymous with every sort of violent transgression imaginable—I found sanctuary in homoerotic parlance.

I am no stranger to wandering thoughts of where everything above a woman’s wrist has been, and how it has moved. In youth, an evening news reporter’s gesticulations, augmented on a bulbous television screen, would make me blush. Heaven forbid she was a meteorologist. Whenever I go to a nail salon, I thump down the same tired old bottle from its shelf; a deep red that’s been on this planet longer than I have. In this puny capitalistic transaction, I find satisfaction in two things: the moment of certainty in an otherwise indecisive world, and the quiet, acetone-scented fantasy that follows it: Who are the other people in my neighborhood who treat I’ve Got the Blues for Red as old faithful? What are their struggles? Could we be soulmates?

In the 2015 film adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s 1952 lesbian pulp novel The Price of Salt, hands and their accoutrements, from cigarettes to gloves, play integral roles in the plot and dialogue. A lead character’s effeminate best friend née former lover, Abby (played by Sarah Paulson), wears mammoth rings across her fingers and pinkie. The latter serves as a subtle, midcentury means of ‘flagging’ one’s sexual inclinations. Rather than ending up in a tragic scenario so native to lesbian pulps, the female characters in Salt seem to secure something resembling love. The respected Stanford English professor Terry Castle once posted a photo of a young Highsmith to Instagram, taken the year prior to The Price of Salt’s publication. In it, the author wears a pinkie ring of her very own. Highsmith also found something resembling love with another woman … time and time again.

Most notably, there’s that age-old esoteric joke that now, like Graydon Carter’s euphemism for Trump, feels reborn, with 100% more political bite:

What do you call a lesbian with big hands?

Well-hung.

And the new take:

What do you call a lesbian with big hands?

Not our President, that’s for sure.

While witnessing the rhetoric and kinetic energy of the Women’s March this January, I was reminded of a moment less than a year prior. Thirteen days after a homegrown terrorist opened fire inside a gay nightclub in Orlando on Latinx night, thousands of queer women took to NYC’s streets for the 24th Annual Dyke March. Each fourth Saturday in June for twenty-five years (as of this week), queer women march down 5th avenue, rain or shine. There are no requisite accessories except for your body (although shirts, as per a 1992 legal decision, are optional). While the 2017 Women’s March might be the largest single protest convening in United States history, Dyke March is arguably be the largest cumulative protest in the nation’s existence, having historically drawn protesters in the tens of thousands. Though the role of lesbian, bisexual, and queer women’s roles within the LGBT community and in society as a whole are often in a state of flux, Dyke March is a quarter-century strong testament to women consistently and intently showing up for one another: generation after generation, across race, class, and—yes—while embracing a more cosmopolitan attitude about gender identity.

Nearing Manhattan’s lower 20s and Dyke March’s halfway point, protesters, who generally drum, cheer, and celebrate for the entire forty city blocks, from Bryant Park to Washington Square, fell into a moment of silence for the lives lost at Pulse. Some raised their fists and others peace signs, symbolizing the dual philosophies of unrest: fight back or de-escalate. What was most important was that every big, broad hand actively flew in the air.

In the July 2017 issue of Harper’s, Masha Gessen sternly cautions, “It is most certainly not enough to revel in the beauty, intelligence, and wit of the many people who have come out to protest Trump’s attacks on humanity and its planet. There is, in fact, no room for self-congratulation in the actions we need to take.” While I am in broader agreement that we should be breaking a consistent sweat in our resistance efforts, a monk-like attitude towards activism is jarringly incompatible with American leftist action. Often, the presence of playful reverie and incidental back-patting is a good indication that a movement is mobilizing young people—or even better: led by them.  

The AIDS activist and artist David Wojnarowicz’ own body was his most impactful subject; in the most enduring photograph of him, his lips are stitched closed like those of the politicians who refused to acknowledge the epidemic. The late, reigning queen of American seriousness, the writer Susan Sontag, bore a pleased smirk when arrested while protesting the Vietnam War draft. GetEqual’s director, The queer Black activist Angela Peoples who literally gave Jennicet Gutiérrez her ticket to challenge then-President Obama on his mass deportation of queer and trans immigrants two years ago. With a just lollipop and a snapback, Peoples later became the Women’s March’s most respected cultural critic.

Those of us who are able to find beauty, intelligence, and wit in the present moment should, by all means, do so. Yet we are also deeply responsible for reaching out to others and affording them the space to actualize their own.

 

 

***

Sarah Fonseca’s essays, criticism, filthy ideas, and their overlapping iterations have appeared (or will soon appear) in A Quiet Courage, Autostraddle, Buzzfeed, Best Lesbian Erotica 2018, The Lambda Literary Review, Math Magazine, and Nylon Magazine. Currently at work on an essay about the Slenderman slaying and the recipient of an Excellence in Online Journalism Award from the National Association of LGBTQ Journalists for her work on Lesley Gore, Fonseca blogs and obsesses over Eartha Kitt on sarah-fonesca.tumblr.com.

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