February 4, 2017 / 11:58 pm

Thao and the power of feminine anger

First, listen to this:

I am 21 years old and I have never been angry. Or rather, I have seldom called my anger by its proper name. My anger is always dressed down. I get frustrated—oh, how I have been frustrated! Disappointed, hurt, perhaps occasionally mad. But angry? Never. I attribute this absence to growing up as a girl in a very volatile household. There was simply no room for me to get angry; we already had a surplus.

I-I resent the invention
Listen, listen, pay attention
I know the science of the fiction
Of conviction of the henchmen

The anger I was exposed to as a kid was a masculine, destructive anger. It was all-encompassing, sharp, often alcohol-induced, and undiscriminating. In the face of this, my response was to swear off the stuff. I refused to burn things. It’s actually a fairly simple process. I would bypass my anger by using logic. He always had a reason if I thought about it from his perspective. There was always a sensible explanation—for local pains and for larger issues. I could trick myself out of anger. This trick is not uncommon. But I think it’s the most rotten one I’ve ever pulled on myself.

I am here for the masterminds

Because recently, I’ve been angry on a scale I have never experienced. The anger is spread evenly through my body and it radiates off of my skin. It is egregious that the recent election and subsequent effects have been the inciting moment for me—when so many people have not had the luxury of relative complacency; when they have had to fight every day for their lives. But here I am: ashamed, apologetic, and fucking angry. And I have very little idea about what to do with this emotion.

You had a dalliance with alliance
Of violence to bow against

My anger is political, but it is retroactive too. I am a hornet’s nest. I am out for blood in the name of 13 year old Mary who began to slowly and methodically hate herself, and 16 year old Mary who prayed to be erased, and all of my former selves who could not access this rage. I want justice for them. And I want justice for every woman and womyn and woman of color and trans woman and marginalized person who has never been recognized by our government, much less protected by it.

I grow my hair so long to wrap around you
You’ve been starving for air ever since I found you

I read, and have since bookmarked, a piece called “Becoming Ugly,” by Madeleine Davies. In it, she discusses anger and her desire to become as offensive to men as possible—to stop being so pleasant in a system which, niceties or not, seeks to diminish her. To stop being nice is counterintuitive to me (although some people might argue that I am already good at that). It’s an especially uncomfortable suggestion because so much of self-care advice aimed at women is about being soft! And vulnerable! Be tender and light! BE LIGHT, DAMMIT. And I guess it’s just not really doing it for me anymore.

We ate like birds, seeds and things
Hunting only for seasoning

So where do I turn for a new model of self-care? Of resistance to this masculinist force that has no interest in my well-being, or the well-being of anyone who does not look or think like it does?

The answer, as it usually is for me, is music. And more specifically, Thao & The Get Down Stay Down.

Thao Nguyen is my guiding light. Her 2016 album, A Man Alive, primarily addresses her relationship, or lack of one, with her father. It radically changed the way I was able to envision my relationship to family. It made me realize in twelve powerful tracks that I could be both angry and mournful. That I could be joyful and loud and mad and I could take names and hold people accountable. That I could treat pain and anger with grace. That I could love my family and still tell the truth.

Aside from creating this deliberate and breathtaking record, she also works personal philosophy into her performance. In an interview for She Shreds, Thao says, “There’s this assertion and aggression I have on stage that I really value, and it’s because you want young girls to know you can lose your shit.” She continues, “You can do that in front of people and you can scream and you can be out of your mind and you don’t have to maintain this demure whatever-it-is that people would feel more comfortable with.” I want to get to a point where I don’t need permission to lose my shit and make people (read cis straight men) uncomfortable, but having Thao’s feels like a good place to start.

Oh my, oh my, oh my god
You didn’t know I’d get ferocious

So, I begin with myself. I listen to Thao over and over and I allow myself, maybe for the first time ever, to get angry—really properly angry—about my past. But this anger, I have noticed, is not like the one I experienced growing up. It is not destructive. I let it wash me and I feel clean. I feel compelled to create. My anger is feminine. Meaning simply that it can exist without burning everything and everyone around it. Instead, it focuses me. It inspires me to pull the ones I love closer to me. It allows me to shake off the ones who would douse me.

My anger necessitates that I, like Davies, fully comprehend Jenny Holzer’s statement, “men don’t protect you anymore.” I make a list of the men who haven’t protected me. I say their names out loud, localizing them in my body, and exhaling them out. And I make a promise to forgive them someday. And I promise to forgive myself for ever expecting that from them. Next I make a longer list of the men in power who will not protect me, or anyone I love. I do not need to say their names because they have been said too many times already. And I promise myself to never forgive them. And I promise myself to never forget them, not for a single, white-flamed moment.

Mostly what I want to do is listen. To those who know more than I do, to those who need to be louder than me right now. And I listen to music, and it stirs me and it sustains me as always.

Thao sings, and I scream—at my past, and at the president:

I find the scene of the crime, I take my body back

We take our bodies back.