Crying in Public: Emotional Vulnerability in Trump's America
I can count on one hand the number of times I have seen a grown man cry in real time. The first was watching my father break down at my grandmother's funeral in 2013; the second includes the few instances my partner has cried during an argument (usually my fault); the third was when a patient had a panic attack in my office; and the fourth and fifth happened this week when I watched President Obama give his farewell speech and Vice President Biden accept the presidential medal of honor.
This is not a good thing. The patriarchal limitations on masculinity prevent many men and gender-nonconforming folks from engaging in healthy emotional expression, which absolutely includes crying. Which is why, despite my existential anxiety about the impending inauguration, I have so appreciated seeing two of the most powerful men in the United States crying in public. Sure, they're not sobbing, and VP Biden turned his back to the cameras to use his hankie discreetly, but the tears were there and we saw them and these men know that we saw them. Regardless of how you feel about the current administration, no one can deny that there is something incredibly powerful about that kind of vulnerability from world leaders. This is especially true in the case of President Obama, who as a black man is subject to even tighter restrictions on his gender expression and performance.
I've cried in public plenty of times. In airports, at restaurants, on the sidewalk, hiding behind cars in a parking lot, giving a toast in a roomful of people, riding on the train, quietly taking refuge in the office bathroom after I was laid off from my first job. Name a spot and I've probably cried there, or somewhere like it. As a white, feminine-presenting woman, that is socially acceptable for me to do. Passersby may look at me sideways, but the most anyone has ever done is give me a tissue. When I get up in my white-girl feelings about something, I'm allowed to display it. Don't get me wrong: I'm grateful that I can be vulnerable in public, but I think everyone should enjoy the same privilege. And conversely, there are plenty of times when it is not only inappropriate but downright damaging for people like me to cry (see: conversations about oppression with marginalized groups). I'm not suggesting that we shouldn't get it together and choke back those tears sometimes (I'm looking at you, fellow white women). It is so refreshing, however, to see these rare public displays of emotion from men during a time when toxic masculinity reigns.
In one week, barring an act of God or Congress, Donald Trump will be sworn into office. Assaulter in Chief. Predator in Chief. Abuser in Chief. Fuckboy in Chief, for a bit of levity. What I hope for us is that we're allowed to cry while we organize our resistance to him. I hope that we can embrace each other's radical vulnerability and protect it. Because self-expression, especially in the face of violence and walls and fear, is revolutionary.