By: Amorina Kingdon
Act 1: Excathedra
Spring bites. Cold wind cuts through lace and crinoline on a pink vintage dress. I trot to the cathedral down Gerrard, ten minutes late. My heels make the same noise mom’s did, walking to St. Anne’s church, all those Palm Sundays ago (dad at home, scrambled eggs waiting).
I’m wearing Nana’s little white lace gloves, (finally used as directed), and Nana’s long pink tweed coat (two buttons missing) and a little black fascinator that keeps blowing off in this fretful city wind so that I need to hold it with one hand.
Earlier, as I inched my car through Sunday brunch traffic, I texted Amy, my face burning. I’m late. Amy will be quietly annoyed. I am often late.
As I pass the side of the building, the big grey stone bulk, I catch a whiff of frankincense coming from the vents, the way dryer air scented with Bounce floats out of bungalows.
Act II: Why are we here?
Let’s go to church, we said, on a futon, last week. As lapsed Catholics, let’s go to Palm Sunday, and then eat dates and drink rose-watered-red and watch Liz Taylor as Cleopatra. Let’s reach out from this existential postmodern miasma, and brush our fingers against the drowned remains of the machines that used to drive the world, just to feel for a second what it would have been like.
Of course, under Rome or the Catholic Church, we would not be who we are today. We would have none of these fancy feminist ideas. And when we try new things in this brave new world, we don’t have the weight of old stone walls, but instead we’re building something new and delicate, like bamboo scaffolding.
But I am also going because Mass is comforting, like an old song. I am sometimes lonely and lost in this big city. I miss church with my family, up in the suburbs, the words I know by heart but only a priest can say.
Act III: Two Women; a Vestibule
The vestibule is already standing room only. I can’t see, or hear the priest. A wall covered in a plastic tarp snaps and ripples each time a tardy penitent heaves open the big wooden door and insists on entering this standing-room-only, points-for-showing-up clusterfuck.
A woman in a red wool coat, black hair in a shellacked pageboy, comes in with her daughter, and pushed forward.
A matriarch with curled-dyed-black hair and a flowered scarf turns bitumen-black eyes in walnut skin on Red Coat. This impertinence will not stand.
“There’s no room,” hisses Flowers, in Church Voice.
“They’re moving forward,” hisses Red Coat, pointing to some shuffling backs.
“Well, there’s no room.”
“It’s not your job to keep people out.”
“Well, you let someone in, everyone tries, and there’s no space. You have to be fair to everyone.”
“You’re not the gatekeeper of the church!”
“Mom, come on…” (this the daughter of the Red Coat, she of the sensible ponytail and embarrassed by this pissing contest of inconsequential proportions.)
“You can’t decide who can go in!”
“There’s no room.”
The (h)(p)issing contest continues. It is now a last-word contest. Two little old ladies like little girls in a playground.
A Filipino man pushes his way out, then five minutes later, tries to get back in. Flowers stops him. “There’s no room,” she says.
“I am getting my mother’s medication,” he says, moving slow and unstoppable as a glacier. She glares at him. But she lets him pass.
As she turns she catches Red Coat’s eye. “You see,” she says wryly. Everybody is just trying to get in.
Red coat says something I can’t catch, and Flowers reaches out a hand, pats Red Coat’s red wool sleeve, eyes cinched closed in a quiet laugh.
They smile, back and forth. They are agreed, somehow. Red Coat’s daughter looks on, left out. She wouldn’t have started the pissing contest, and she wouldn’t be ending it now.
Act IV: Communion
Suddenly, like a California landslide, this mass of humanity starts to flow inexorably forward.
I have no qualms about taking communion as a non-believer. I don’t believe I’m desecrating anything. I remember making the Host in Grade Two for my own first communion, learning it was baked just like cookies, and could be burnt as such. Sitting there with my brother in the pew, silent-giggling so hard we nearly peed. Mr. Christum, you make good cookies.
I place my right hand beneath my left as I approach the priest. Did Nana ever take communion in these gloves? He hands me the host. ‘The body of Christ,” he says.
“Amen,” I murmur. I scan as I turn back. There is Amy! Green and orange, in a pew. I slip in beside her, and ponder the ceiling.
Catholics really cornered the market on architecture for awhile there. If skyscrapers are dick substitutes, cathedrals are a deeply female space. I remember the nave in Notre Dame de Reims, the space arcing up to the limits of ashlar, capped by a rose window, so beautiful I had to look away or start to cry. She looked like an ancient rocker, florets like studs along the towers. Inside, I was beneath a dress, the thick piers like ancient femurs, buttressed walls a couture gown spangled with stained glass, a hundred faces hidden in her skirts. I was looking for an echo of the same awe-chitecture, coming to a cathedral today.
Music and architecture – I come to church for these balms. The Senior Boys’ Choir sings, slowly, My God, My god; Why have you forsaken me? over the sated crowd. Old church hymns, like this one, are burned in my reptile brain. The smallest thing starts those earworms wriggling.
God didn’t forsake me. I forsook him. (When I was younger, I felt like Jesus was the was the hero of a poorly written book; too perfect with no real character to earn it. I liked God better. He actually MADE stuff. Sure, he said some gauche things about selling daughters into slavery, but I had older relatives who still said the n-word, and we let it pass because, you know, different times.) But slowly I realized that grownups actually believed. It wasn’t like Santa Claus, where they’d sit you down one day and say it wasn’t true AS SUCH but there was a reason, a reason we can tell you now that you’re older…
Part V: The Hundred Secret Reasons
So what is the reason? What is my reason for feminism?
I want to tell you a hundred things, Dear Reader, on this the occasion of my introduction, that explain this deep score I insist on carving on the smoothly running face of the patriarchy.
None of it is a blanket hatred of men. None of it is a search for a free ride. Oh, dear reader, I wish so fervently that I could reveal my heart to you, as Mary has, above the altar, thorns and all.
I want to tell you about the sheer wasteful stunting of girls that I know, in the face not of outright dismissal but how a million little things kill our belief in ourselves, from the king being the game-ender in chess to the president always being a man to ‘wait until your father comes home.’
I want to tell you that the internet is the future of socialization, and games are the future of entertainment, and both are dominated by young men, a small subset of whom make games in which you ‘punch a feminist.’
I want to describe the vitriol I’ve heard when men talk about the women at work who take maternity leave, while they themselves have stay-at-home wives. I want to talk about the constant lobbing of ‘welfare queens’ as a conversation stopper when the topic of single mothers comes up, despite the legions of absent fathers.
I want to try and put words to the soul-deep disgust around the fact of menstruation, and the nightmares of monsters and bloody fetuses that come with its onset. I want to tell you that well-intentioned as it may be, the medical establishment treats being female the same as a chronic disease that must be managed, with puberty its onset.
I want to tell you about birth control, because while it takes two to tango, it fucks up one life, so it takes a pill every day. I want to tell you about the despair, the bleeding, the pain, the lethargy, and the neutering of a sex drive, that is the result of casual, off-the-cuff experimentation with hormonal birth control, the symptoms all in your tongue-tied, silly teenage head while you’d be arrested for taking drugs less potent while driving.
I wish, oh, I wish I could tell you what it feels like to lay in a cold vinyl chair, someone between your legs, sticking two metal blades into the figurative (and literal!) seat of your womanhood and ratcheting you open because an expert panel has decided that this is the best way to detect cervical cancer. Feel the dry scrape of a cotton swab against parts you didn’t even know you had, feel cold lube drip down your thighs, shake and feel sick. This is the first thing you ever feel inside yourself, at seventeen, before you’ve ever had sex. Why? Because this is what you must do, this is you ‘taking responsibility for your health.’ Oh, how I wish I could convince doctors that evidence-based and inhuman need not go hand in hand.
I want to tell you what it feels like to be told by your first love that he can’t imagine being with a woman who would never be willing to have anal sex. I want to tell you about being told biology is a ‘Mrs. Degree’ by an engineering student.
I want to tell you what it feels like to be told constantly that even thought I don’t want children, that I will change my mind. But I will. No, but I will.
I want to tell you about how, despite never wearing makeup, I received a huge kit of it each Christmas, because I was unacceptable as delivered, while my brother’s BO was a topic for laughter as he unwrapped a steel hunting knife.
I want to tell you what it says to me in 2013 that a young girl, drunk and raped – and photographed – is blamed for the situation, simply because that disgusting narrative is still – still – easier to tell ourselves than that we have failed to teach the next generation that girls are not things.
I want to tell you that while we may be apes, and evolutionary biology may be a fascinating field, that until we fling feces to communicate and touch the genitals of minors to bond, you will have to sell me much harder on the biologically ingrained behaviours.
And I want to tell you that I know that I am one of the lucky ones, born with unimaginable privilege compared to women in other situations around the world. I am so very lucky.
So how do I tell you? Like any good feminist, Dear Reader. With your consent.