1. We admitted that we were powerless over our whiteness, that our lives had become unmanageable.
I mean I’m not racist, said the blonde cis woman in Tulane sweats and a pencil bun. —If anyone’s racist, it’s you know, African-American people against me.
Racism isn’t just about black people of color, said the late thirtiesish cis woman who wore horn-rimmed glasses on a chain over a Bikini Kill T-shirt, and whom Patience suspected of mindfully raising one or more children who loved reptiles. —It’s about any kind of nonwhite people. Those other kinds of racism are invisiblized, and they’re just as important to be aware of as a result. —She smiled. Tulane made a face.
Yeah I’m not racist against Asian or Mexican or whatever other people either, y’all, said Tulane. —But okay, if I’m racist, black people are twenty times more racist. I mean I went to a mostly black school.
Radical Mom had perked up at y’all. —Mostly black school; I’m interested in that; what does that mean? she asked. —Was it ten percent black? Were there two black students? Three?
Hey, announced the organizer of the group, a sunburned, compactly dykey woman named Catherine. —Let her speak from her experience, okay? That’s why we’re here.
I’m trying to point out, Radmom began, and then she snapped her mouth shut and did a small circle with her hand, like she was brushing away a cobweb. —Okay. Sure. Not a problem.
Tulane looked at the floor, face flushed, like she was about to cry. —I’m just saying that those people are too sensitive, she said. —I’m just saying that everybody just hurts, you know, on both sides. Why can’t we all just agree to forget about race altogether? I try to.
On breaks, Patience and the other white trans woman smoked together. The Urban Analytics & Restoration Way W.P.A. group met in what looked as if it had once been a gas station on Claiborne Avenue, down under the I-10 overpass that had sliced the Treme in two. The pumps were long gone, as was the register, the cigarette racks, all the shelves, and the glass doors on the coolers, which sat like catacomb archways between the striped walls denuded of product hooks. Someone—Catherine, Patience guessed—had taped the Twelve Steps and other motivational imagery up around the space, which cheered things up a little, even though the wealthy white cis ladies from the Garden District still seemed to wince as they sank into their pebbled-plastic orange chairs, still covered in an invisible-but-to-them skein of poverty and sorrow.
It was spectacularly good luck, Patience knew, that two trans women had been assigned here. The other white trans woman’s name was Barb, her hair a complex multicolor daubing to Patience’s black bob, big scarf and jacket hanging over her T-shirt with what looked like airplane safety diagrams crudely screenprinted across it. Patience bummed a smoke, and the two of them contemplated the cracked concrete and big metal plates that covered the place the fuel had once come from.
I can’t believe we have to do this shit, Barb grumped. —I mean, look at us. I mean we are not the oppressor here.
Patience shuddered at the distantly implicit reference to her body, her black dress erasing her knees.
Who was it that reported you, she asked.
This Facebook group for trans women, Barb said. —You know the one, right?
I sure do, Patience nodded. —Wow.
Wow, Barb agreed. —I mean, it was a matter of time, posting in there. It’s all white middle-class college kids is what’s so fucked up about it. The real arbiters of ray-cism. —She said the word racism as a TV yokel or a robot might say it. —How’d you get reported?
Patience blushed. —I mean, it was probably my fault, she said. —It had to do with this like—book review I wrote.
I don’t even want to know, Barb said. —Jesus.
I mean it was just like—a thing that kind of got out of hand, Patience said. —But I mean, it doesn’t matter what I think. I mean I know that intent isn’t magic.
Barb scowled, and Patience felt the alarm she always felt when mean women scowled at her.
You can’t second-guess yourself all the time, Barb said. —It’ll make you crazy. And they want you to be crazy.
2. We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
I’m not going to pass the sheet yet, said Catherine, her eyes flickering back to Patience and Barb as if they were the TV in the corner of the bar. —Too many times, when I let people sign the sheet first, they bail. I’m not saying anyone here’s like that. But listen, I want this group to be for everyone’s benefit, not just something you check off because you want to play Mafia Wars, okay? Which means no cell phones.
Tulane angrily looked up from her Android screen. —Are we gonna get credited back in some way for the time we’re wasting here? she asked. —Like, my business is on Facebook. Not being able to get on is something I should get compensated for in taxes maybe.
I’m sorry to hear about your Facebook business, Catherine said. —Do you want to talk about why addressing racism is wasting your time?
The Tulane girl’s blue eyes flashed. —I told you already that I’m not racist, she said sharply. —I’m talking about, you know, legal rights. Historical precedent. I love people of color and whatever. I’m just being rational about things.
She went on to talk for a long time, Catherine nodding and sometimes prodding her in different introspective directions, most of the circle looking at their feet or into their bags, Patience guessed, wearily, at their own cell phones. The whole time, while Barb sat bored next to her, Patience rehearsed what she’d say when it came around to her. Hi, my name is Patience, and I’m a white person. Hi, my name is Patience, and I’m a white person. I’m a racist. I have racist tendencies. But in the two hours of meeting, including smoke and coffee break, it never managed to come around to her, and soon Catherine was passing the sheet. Barb stood up and smoothed her scarf from her flat stomach, exposing a stenciled flotation device.
Clusterfuuuck, she sang.
Patience followed her out and stood by the empty ice chest, wishing she’d asked for a last cigarette and watching Barb walk back to her car. Her bright hair set her off against the shadow of the freeway overpass, and her face was lit by the glow of a smartphone screen just activated, texting someone whose words Patience was much too far away to read.
3. We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God, as we understood Him.
Patience’s boss, Orielle, was a black woman. Patience spent a lot of time trying to negotiate this. It wasn’t as if they had to interact all that much, beyond their standard two-way communication when Patience came on post and when she left for the night:
Podyras Street to Base, Patience would radio. —Nothing to report.
Base to Poydras Street, Orielle would radio back. —I copy.
On rare occasions, Orielle would make a physical check of the posts, and Patience always ran by the Superior Security LLC offices to pick up her check so as to ensure that the New Orleans postal service didn’t mess her up vis-à-vis groceries or rent. Sometimes she found Orielle browsing the internet or working on contracts, earphones in and listening to music Patience couldn’t hear, and Patience would sit in the doorway unobserved and try to imagine the sounds in Orielle’s earphones for as long as she could get away with it, until Orielle inevitably looked up. Patience guessed, or hoped anyway, that she came off as polite, deferential. She hoped that her white presence wasn’t somehow adding to Orielle’s collective suffering, more than every person added to anyone’s collective suffering.
Patience had worked for the security company for around eighteen months now, the only job she’d been able to get in Louisiana post-transition. For the past nine months, she’d worked the same single posting, a multibuilding government office that it was her job to cycle through twice nightly on rounds, swiping her badge at access points to prove she’d made the walk. Patience always wondered if she’d been given the government posting because it was legally harder for a government client to dump the trans woman. She didn’t actually know if it was legally harder in Louisiana, but she crossed her fingers.
Initially, she’d spent her rounds waiting for something dramatic or dangerous to happen on post, wondering how she’d deal with it or how she might trust herself to distinguish brewing security situations from people engaged in innocent activities, before she realized that the whole point of security work was that nothing was supposed to happen. Companies that really needed guards rarely hired people like her. Her function was to be a visible symbol of power, as well as an insurance scapegoat. This was okay; she was always most comfortable in situations where she knew that no one could possibly expect good behavior out of her. As long as Patience turned in her round reports on time and free of incidents, Orielle would never have to remember that Patience existed, and Orielle’s own workday would be better as a result. So Patience settled into the work, alternating between reading, drawing little comics for herself, and drifting through dark offices and letting the motion-activated fluorescents turn off and on around her while she pretended she was being lured into a vampire chateau, black unisex security shirt with its sewn-on gold badge transmogrifying into flowing purple velvet gown.
The greatest pleasure of her rounds was to observe the transformations of different cubicles and office nooks over time. Candy dishes would empty and refill, Halloween decorations would creep in and recede in spiderweb tides, conference room whiteboards would cover themselves in tessellated org charts and children’s doodles and wash out to white again.
Just before starting the W.P.A. group, she’d found an entire birthday cake in a cube that didn’t seem to belong to anyone, a vast white sheet covered in lavender icing and yellow rim, the occluded name —nnula bleeding off its deconstructed left edge. At first, stark terror of leaving a trace kept her from trying it. But as she walked, she reasoned: no one could be so crazy as to memorize the exact ragged perimeter of the cake, and she was the only one watching the security cameras. On her final rounds before the shift was up, she took a piece. And whoever’s birthday it had been, they obviously weren’t into the cake, which had endured there now for days, seemingly untouched by the daytime workers. She got into the habit of lingering there, sitting in the task chair and enjoying her skinny slices of cake with a plastic fork (she was careful never to remove the piece with the remaining fragment of name), imagining what —nnula must be like, wishing somehow to meet her and thank her. She always imagined her as white; she tried to imagine her in other ways, as an exercise, but the movie screen of her brain always turned up a blank.
And then one day the cake was gone, the task chair assigned to some other cubicle. The custodial staff had passed through. Patience stood there, watching the space where the celebration had been, until the motion light finally turned out around her and left her in the dark.
4. We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
The first and second weeks of the W.P.A. group were dedicated to protesting the injustice of Facebook’s unilateral decision. There were relatives who weren’t being connected with, kids and grandkids whose photos went unprinted, and all because some holier-than-thou tech children had decided that it was the job of them and their corporate monopoly to engage in social engineering. The dissenters spent a lot of time talking about ways to protest this clear injustice, ways that they might bring Facebook to an economic standstill until it was known that white voices were finally being heard.
Patience was part of a small bloc of women who complained about this focus on counter-revolution, or anyway she nodded when the other women said that it was exactly this kind of total missing of the point that had gotten them all flagged for the groups in the first place. Like a prey animal, it was instinctual for Patience to communicate her nonthreateningness to cis people, so she mostly got away with staying quiet. Her bladder even cooperated, and as a rule she hit the bathroom only once per meeting. Fortunately, the bathrooms, owing to the place’s gas-station heritage, were outside, single-stall, and key-accessible (the key printed with a huge fuchsia sigil of the classic figure in the dress), so there wasn’t a lot of risk of encountering usual bathroom hazards (i.e., cis women who smiled nervously at her while clutching their bags, cis women who stiffened up and stared, cis women who complimented her appearance. Everyone could tacitly agree to keep out of everyone else’s way. It made her sad in the way that comfortable injustices always did.
Barb was also quiet during the debates about standing up to injustice, though Patience guessed it wasn’t for the same reason (or anyway, Barb went to the bathroom a lot more often, according to Patience’s internal tallies). Patience had no idea what Barb’s political ideas were; they didn’t talk about that. Patience had no idea what Barb even did for a living (waitress? boutique clerk? vampire tour guide? barista? radical entrepreneur?), and most of their conversations were either about which of them had cigarettes or a kind of contentless, shorthand basking in one another’s transness, being able to gripe without having to explain.
The most political thing that Barb was willing to say at first was this: —I’m playing Zelda in my head. The whole time these bitches are talking. I’m starting from the old man and the sword and I’m seeing how far I can get before I fuzz out.
Kind of like being a Mentat, Patience ventured.
Barb didn’t pick up the reference; Patience noted that. —I’ve made it as far as dungeon four, she said. —The dark rooms are terrible to remember. Thank God the election went the way it did a couple years ago. I couldn’t even imagine how miserable this group would have been if Trump had won.
No I know, Patience gushed.
After that, whenever she was zoning out of the general conversation, Patience would wonder what Barb was up to in her Hyrule Within, whether there was any correspondence between the rate of her tapping foot and the excitement of whatever dungeon she was in, the chuck of her boomerang, the clink of her rupees stacking one upon one.
5. We admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
Soon enough, the cis women had all told their stories, and it was Patience and Barb’s turn.
I abstain, Barb said immediately.
Okay, said Catherine. —Is there any particular reason why you feel you need to abstain?
No, and you’re not going to like, draw me out using feelings and therapy tricks, Barb said. —I’m just abstaining. I don’t have anything to talk about, okay? Whatever racist shit I may or may not feel is my business.
Radmom raised her hand, and Catherine indicated her as soon as it was clear Barb was done talking. —Except it isn’t your own business, Radmom said. —Look, if we’re going to root out racism entirely within this group—which, I mean, we have to agree that this is the point, looking for real solutions and change here, among ourselves, without wasting the time and energy of people of color, or else what are we doing—then we need to really reach deep down into ourselves, our own soil, and pull up those racist motivations—which we all feel, as part of our privilege as white persons in America—by their roots. We have to try to heal those wounds completely and do better.
Barb folded one hand tightly into her armpit and made a Didactic Gesture with the other. —How is a bunch of white women having our Facebook pages ransomed going to like—materially lift the historical, structural, and financial wounds of racism? At the end of the course, like once we’re all cleansed or whatever, are we going to bring in a black guy so we can I don’t know, lay on hands?
This is what I’m saying, Tulane piped up, just as Radmom crossed her arms and spoke: —Look, if you don’t think you have quote unquote racist shit to work through, I mean talking that way about black male bodies, then I don’t even know what to say to you—
Catherine clapped her hands for silence. She let her eyes roll down to meet Barb’s. —If you’re not willing to talk about your attitudes toward race specifically, personally to confront them, Catherine said, —then you’re not going to get better.
I don’t want to get better, Barb said. —No one should get better. We should all feel bad forever and just go about our lives and not have to think about this every stupid moment. So I pass, okay?
Patience was sure she saw Catherine smirk. —If you ever want to get out of here, Barbara, she said, —if you ever want your social network access back, you’re going to have to share with us eventually.
I guess I’ll be here forever, then, Barb said.
I guess you will, said Catherine, staring at her like a cat, refusing to blink, before finally moving on. Barb got up, took the bathroom key from the desk, and walked outside. Every other eye in the room—all of them cis—turned to Patience. It was her turn.
This was exactly the kind of situation Patience hated very deeply: being stranded among cis people with a trans woman who had more self-respect and sense of personal autonomy than Patience did. Every one of these cis people—Patience always assumed—wanted to be Good People, and currently that meant being supportive of and interested in Trans Things. And in Patience’s experience, the things it occurred to her to say to cis people usually did help them feel better about themselves again. She always knew, in retrospect, that this snap emotional calculus of the situation was unfair: if her positions were convenient for cis people to hear, that didn’t make her positions not her positions, and it was impossible for her, placed in a bind of defiance/compliance, to view everything she thought through that bind. But it still sucked like kindergarten sucked. If the teacher is picking on your friend—no, hates your friend, thinks the rest of the class would be better off if your friend and her opinions and life were to succumb to some scary childhood wasting disease—and if you don’t side with everything your friend says in the situation, are you a collaborator? Are you a traitor? Has the teacher gotten so far inside your head that only mistrusting everything you think, forever, will get her out? Should you kill yourself? This is why she didn’t like going outside: something like 99 percent of the people you interacted with were in the role of the kindergarten teacher, and fortunately, because It Got Better, only about 70 percent of them believed they were justified in that role. And maybe it was worth going out into a world organized like that, a world where you hated yourself and people agreed with you for it. But it still took doing.
Barb had plainly said that she didn’t give a shit about whether she was going to graduate from white people’s remedial social decency class or not, that the class’s standards meant nothing to her and never would. And the trans solidarity play, Patience knew, was to pass her turn as well. In a way, it would be easier to do that, to watch all the cis eyes lapse into disappointment and move on.
But Patience didn’t want to pass her turn. Something Catherine had said: if you want to get better. She did; she wanted racism not to hurt her anymore. And so she followed her heart: she began to tell her story, and so she became the Good One again, and she hoped that Barb, peeing elsewhere, would forgive her with whatever percentage of her brain wasn’t wound up in the same analysis—never, Patience guessed, zero percent, not with any trans woman she’d ever met.
So again, cis people won, but this was unsurprising.
Patience had been reported to the W.P.A. administrative council over Facebook. The woman who’d reported her—Cordelia Protagonist had been her probably-a-joke Facebook name—had met her at a local night market or electronic goth queer dance, some event Patience attended to try to feel connected in a city she felt in no way connected to. Patience was attracted by Cordelia’s sullenness—weirdly intense trans woman in early twenties, eyes sealed up by huge 1950ish frames—and they’d talked about tarot and their shared appreciation for a pretty well-known alt-rock band of the 1990s that was known for being Not Okay to Like these days. It felt safe to talk about that. The conversation went on longer than twenty minutes, so a Facebook request was a given. They liked one another’s posts, and Patience told herself that she would invite Cordelia out for coffee some time, the right time, a time that would give no offense.
While she awaited that time, she posted book reviews. This was another thing she did to try to connect with people: reviews were a socially acceptable way to express feelings because you were talking about products and whether or not people should spend money on them. Her first review after meeting the local woman was a novel by a woman of color from a Middle Eastern country. She’d been aware that the author was from a Middle Eastern country when she’d picked up the book at the library, and she’d resolved to pick up the book in spite of her guilt about it, the idea that maybe she was just picking it up to exonerate herself somehow for her natural inclination to pick up a book by a white person instead—she guessed she had that inclination—or that maybe she was stealing the author’s culture somehow by reading her book, in subliminal ways that she could hardly conceive of, but that someone sociopolitically wiser than her would perceive. The author had written and published the book, Patience reasoned; this was a clear sign that she (probably) didn’t mind if people like Patience read it, as long as they were respectful and didn’t try to use it to increase their already overweening white social presence.
She ended up liking the book, liking it in a way that she was pretty sure was mostly not related to the desire to like it, that she was pretty sure was based on first-order enjoyment of its content rather than a search for exoneration. Posting a review would cause money to flow to the author in ways that would be good for her yet that had nothing really at all to do with Patience; she would be only a catalyst for the movement of finances. Her desire to post this review—though feverish, intense somehow in a way that couldn’t be good—was defensible; she could notify people that she had felt a connection with this book, whether or not that connection was overstated, because she really had. It was an innocent desire; she was innocent.
Her review contained the word magical. The first comment on it was from Cordelia Protagonist: Fucking magical? There was a link to Edward Said’s Wikipedia page.
Patience computed prone; after reading this, feeling the acid rise in her stomach as if ripples spread from a punch, she stood up and paced the house twice. Then she responded: I really wasn’t trying to use the word magical in an Orientalist way? There are lots of forms of magic in the world and traditional Islamic fabulism doesn’t have a monopoly on it :-) But I apologize if you took offense; I should have been more careful to make what I meant clear?
It escalated from there over the course of the next two hours as her friend’s friends came into the thread, typing: Traditional Islamic fabulism. Wow. Just wow; posting image searches of racist movie and TV stills along with footage of US drones bombing Pakistani houses and articles on suburban Muslims with broken windows: This is what this rhetoric leads to. This is not fucking funny. She typed: I’m sorry; they typed: That isn’t good enough. Or maybe she read that into what they typed. She told herself, over and over, to go to bed, that she needed to stop looking at this, but no: looking away was what bad people did. Looking away was part of the problem. If you could listen to every critique leveled against you and change yourself in response to that, then you could reach a point where you were not hurting anyone. Wasn’t that the whole point of human contact: seeking correction?
So she stayed awake, and so she was present when the notification came in from Facebook, locking her account. An anonymous someone had reported her for racist language and rhetoric by a white person. Until she provided the clearance code from her local W.P.A. group (to which she’d been algorithmically assigned), showing her that in the eyes of her fellow recovering white people, she had achieved some kind of reconciliation and repentance, she wouldn’t be allowed to post or to read others’ posts. She was on-books as an unregenerate racist. All she would see would be the ads.
Shortly after, her email delivered the last FB message she’d be able to read until she shaped up.
I hesitated for a long time before taking this action, said Cordelia. But I can’t permit anti-brownness and Islamophobic rhetoric to stand unchecked, especially at this historical point. It’s my responsibility as an ally to point it out when I see it, to ask those who produce it—however “well-intentioned” they are—to stop, and if they won’t comply, to take action myself to ensure a safe community space, rather than putting the responsibility for that on the victims of hate. I hope you’ll understand this action in the spirit in which it was rendered.
I understand, Patience typed, and I’m really really really sorry, and then she looked at the words on her screen—I understand, I’m sorry—and then she screamed CUNT to her bedroom, birds awaiting sunrise painting her corner in chirps.
6. We were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
The worst part, she said as she finished telling the story to the W.P.A. group, —is that when I wrote the word magical, I was thinking of a flying carpet.
She swallowed and looked at the floor, gathering her strength for the moment when she looked up.
I have only one thing to say to you, Barb said, leaning by the front door with the fuchsia key in her fingers. —Make waaaaay, for Priiiince—
At the same moment, Radmom spoke: —You poor thing.
The white cis army had come over to her side. For the next few minutes, Patience sat, face ashen and staring at the floor, while they explained to her that she was beating herself up over nothing, that it sounded like her friend was a humorless jerk, that Patience seemed like a really conscientious person. She didn’t belong here.
We’re going to get you out of here, Radmom said, and even Tulane nodded.
Barb stood, key still in her fingers and face a blank, like the motors that let her make expressions had run down, the power light on her inner Nintendo flashing.
Patience responded, trying not to sound hollow: —This is helpful to talk about. Thank you.
She told herself she wasn’t entirely being insincere about it, even. It had been helpful to talk about. The white cis women had lifted something from her, like she’d been carrying home a load of groceries, and suddenly a five-pound bag of flour had gone missing. Even Catherine remained silent, nodding, watching.
Thank you, Patience said again, and all the cis women smiled.
Barb was already outside and smoking when the post-meeting fractional huddle of cis women had finished with Patience: describing her own bravery to her, how well she’d interrogated her motivations, how kindness was important too. It was hard to shake them—when someone was smiling at you it felt foolish, luxurious, to shrug them off—and one or two still clung like barnacles as she passed through the gas station’s doors.
Barb smoked and watched Patience say goodbye to the departing cis women, declining invitations to talk sometime, exchanging numbers anyway; the cis women would like that. Her cigarette was nearly out, and Patience expected Barb to leave the moment it did go out, but Barb lit another and remained, leaning against the wall and looking, Patience guessed, into the eye of the security camera that was no longer hooked up to anything.
Finally the cis women were gone, and Patience came over to stand beside Barb. After a few seconds of not being offered a cigarette, she asked for a cigarette. They smoked, Patience’s lips shaking around the filter.
Crazy night tonight, she said.
Yeah, Barb said, swiveling her head around to Patience. She kept her eyes there, and Patience wondered if she was waiting for Patience to say something, and what she should say. She tried to figure out what the right thing was: the thing that would come the closest to everything she wanted to say about the night, yet that put the least amount of psychic burden onto Barb in the process. But nothing seemed right, and when Barb’s second cigarette burned out, she knew another wasn’t forthcoming.
I’ve got an early day tomorrow, Barb said.
Let’s go somewhere, Patience interrupted. —Like, for coffee, or do you want to get drinks? Maybe hang out?
Barb crossed her arms. —I really have to sleep, she said. —Sorry.
That’s okay, Patience said quickly. —You don’t have to be sorry!
I know that, Barb said.
Patience pressed her shoulders into the wall and watched the summer bugs that clustered around the gas station’s floodlight, feeling the confidence the cis women’s affection had put into her start to fall, like frothed milk left too long to stand. And when Barb left—Take care of yourself, she said to Patience, over her shoulder—Patience saluted at her back, two fingers to her forehead, like a plucky, overgrown Cub Scout.
7. We humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
When she drove home, Patience inevitably ended up passing the corner of Claiborne and Ursulines, an intersection where a trans woman had been murdered. She’d been one of the first of at least twenty-one trans people to be murdered that year, two, three years ago now? (And twenty-three in the year after that, and another twenty-three, or more, in the year after that, virtually all of them black.) Her name was Penny Proud, and she’d been young, a teenager, as Patience recalled. She’d been black. As near as the police could figure out, she’d been killed in a random robbery—two shooters while Penny was walking home from her job, fast food. The death report the police gave to newspapers had initially identified her as a black male; a reporter had suggested she’d been involved in prostitution. A lot of gay men dressed as women prance around working in this neighborhood: the neighbor quoted in the report had said something like that. The police had never caught the murderers. They had announced in the same newspaper that they would appreciate it if the murderers would come forward and turn themselves in.
The story had gone away after that. A local organization for trans women of color, one that Penny had been a part of, put up a billboard in her honor at Tulane and Broad for a while, a smiling cartoon of her backed by the shadowy stone walls of the courthouse, looking down from curtains of text that informed New Orleans about the details of her murder. Patience’s errands only rarely took her that far south on Broad, but she’d felt peaceful and still, seeing it. She basked in the care evidenced by the billboard like it was sunlight, like she was a voyeur, as she rolled (infrequently) past it, let herself wonder what other people in other cars thought of it, allowed herself to believe that they could read text announcing the murder of a black trans woman with grace, at least with something besides indignation or contempt. At least not contempt, she prayed.
And now the billboard was gone too, and as far as she knew, being unable to ask, it was just Patience, sealed in her car on the way home from white person class, haunted every time, expecting to see the murdered woman’s ghost out there beneath the dark of the I-10 overpass, trying to get home.
She told herself that she should park the car there, sometime, get out, walk around in the dark space under the overpass herself. But she was afraid to get out of the car down here, and there was no reason she had to. So another time, she told herself, and the light changed, and she and her car rolled on.
8. We made a list of persons we had harmed, and we became willing to make amends to them all.
Before the next group meeting, Catherine came up to Patience as she was milling by the counter, waiting for the bathroom key. Her face was thousand-yard, shoulders stiffly protruding from her windbreaker.
Patience, she said. —That was really excellent the other night.
Patience bristled but made herself smile. —Thank you, she said, she hoped smoothly.
I mean I’m sure you’re thinking, hey, this group is a waste of your time. —Catherine laughed.
Oh no, I’m not thinking that, Patience said quickly.
From the set of Catherine’s eyes, Patience could have sworn that her refusal to accept the compliment was making Catherine angry. —Can I talk to you about something? she asked.
Sure, said Patience, warily.
Catherine nodded and took a deep breath. —I’ve been doing a whole lot of soul-searching about this since you first walked in, she said, freezing Patience in place. —You, and the other. Hearing you talk—really spending time with you. It’s made me confront some things I, well—I guess I thought I’d put to rest. You’re wondering what I’m even talking about, I’m sure.
Sure, Patience said, of course knowing what she was talking about.
And I need to get it off my chest, Catherine said. —I—this is very difficult. She took a breath. —I used to be a sort of radical feminist online. She paused. —I still am, she said. —Just not—I mean—I’m sorry for some things, is what I mean.
Patience looked down; a lack of eye contact would make this be over sooner. —Uh, don’t worry about it, she said, voice flat.
She must have accepted the apology wrong; in any case, Catherine got angrier. —No, you don’t get it, she snapped. —You don’t know some of the things I did. I ran a blog—you know, I got a woman, a transsexual woman fired once. I contacted her employer. I think about that all the time. It tears me up, you know, and—
Really do not worry about it, Patience said, a little louder.
Catherine’s eyes were furious now, though it was hard to tell at whom. She opened her mouth to respond, and then something seemed to occur to her, and like a turtle, she snapped it shut, blinked. Her shoulders seeming to deflate, she turned aside like a cat deescalating just as Tulane brought back the restroom key, big chipped fuchsia femme sigil on its chain. She smiled warmly at Patience as she handed it over.
Hi there, Miss Lady, Tulane said. —Still thinking about what you said the other day!
Cool, you too, Patience croaked, hefting the key as Tulane walked on, smiling. —I have to, you know, she began to Catherine, the fuchsia woman sign dangling from her knuckles.
Catherine nodded emphatically. —That’s fine, she said.
Patience went into the bathroom, its chilly exterior reek, its tile floor rarely cleaned. She set the key in the sink. That went fine, she told herself. She started to cough.
9. We made direct amends to such people whenever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
Catherine handed her the certificate herself in the final five minutes of the meeting, and the cis women all applauded. By decision of her facilitator and majority consensus, her racism had been cured. From the paper gleamed the cipher that would get her back on Facebook again. She was no longer separate from God.
You can still use the group as a resource, whenever you want, Catherine explained. —If that’s okay with you. If that’s your choice.
Barb stared straight ahead, her Mental Hyrule character presumably now equipped with the power bracelet, the red ring, the magic wand, the secret Bible. As soon as Catherine called for a break, Barb stood up and went for the door, not waiting for Patience. She didn’t stop for a cigarette, just walked toward the dark. Patience followed, trying not to walk too fast.
I’ll see you next week? she said to Barb’s back, and Barb turned.
No you won’t, Barb said. —I mean, why would you? Why would you come back here if you didn’t have to? If you feel bad about your stupid book review, why not go like volunteer at a community organization, or tithe your income to people who aren’t white, or try to pass a regulation against cops or something? Why not do anything other than talk about it with other white people literally forever?
Patience folded her arms, feeling a crackle up her spine, as if she was hooked to a current of some kind. —Because none of that helps maybe, she said.
I mean, not completely, but I’m sure a little, Barb said. —Have you tried?
Have you? Patience asked, and Barb laughed. And Patience went on, voice breaking as it did when she expressed anger, which she hadn’t for some time: —Look, I feel like I’ve learned something by talking about this, and, I mean I don’t know, but I feel like you could maybe make an effort to learn something too? Ever?
What am I supposed to learn from here? Barb asked, spreading her arms out, like she was indicating the whole world.
As Patience drove home, it occurred to her that she’d never traded contact info with Barb, and that she now had no way of ever communicating with her. They didn’t even have Facebook or Twitter or anything—Barb wouldn’t return to these; she would never get out of the W.P.A., would never knuckle under to it—not that Patience was knuckling under to it in accepting the cis women’s applause for the single statement she’d made, in return for which they got rid of her. Barb would diminish instead, fall back onto whatever secret resources she had offline, out of the light. It made Patience bite her lip and think of turning the car around. But she told herself it was Barb’s fault. The world was a lot more complicated than Barb thought, a lot less black and white. Barb was a racist asshole who didn’t even know it. She congratulated herself on her impulse to turn the car around, and she congratulated herself more on her will to resist that temptation.
10. We continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong, we promptly admitted it.
She imagined telling Orielle that she had been assigned to racism class. She imagined how it would go as she lay on her bed, laptop propped on her thighs with the screen radiation snowing down. Orielle would be surprised at first, and then she would sternly ask Patience what racist actions she had done. Patience would be reluctant to say, and it would be totally fine if Orielle didn’t press her on it; it would. It was Orielle’s choice how much she might want to engage with Patience on this. But if Orielle was comfortable, in a place where she could engage with Patience’s vestigial racism, where they could work together, Patience would tell her the story. She didn’t expect Orielle to forgive her as the white cis women had. She really, truly understood that forgiveness was too much to expect. But maybe, possibly, Orielle would instead tell her, confirm for her, exactly what Patience had done wrong, and what she might do to move ahead. Orielle might tell her the answer, the exact methods that would let Patience never be a burden to her again.
Or Orielle might be angry, Patience thought—anger was not a safe emotion—or no, she might be something else. What emotion might Orielle experience? How she could force Orielle to understand that she posed no threat? She was so good at doing that among cis people, among white trans women. Why was this so different?
She lay on the bed, shaking, her laptop vibrating above her, working herself into a lather of panic. —Worthless, she shouted at her screen. —Worthless! Sick!
There was no way around it. She would hurt Orielle somehow—whatever she’d say next would hurt Orielle more. She was afraid of hurting Orielle more. She was afraid of Orielle.
Apropos of nothing, she remembered Catherine’s mouth snapping shut.
11. We sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
It was the night of the next W.P.A. meeting, the one she wouldn’t attend. She brought everything she needed to work that night in a duffel bag. She arrived, relieved the afternoon guard, and picked up the two-way.
Podyras Street to Base, she radioed to Orielle. —Nothing to report.
Base to Poydras, Orielle radioed back. —I copy.
Patience set down her radio and began her rounds. In —nnula’s cubicle, she set up her candles, drew her circles in chalk. She drew signs in the air (racism), folded her legs beneath her in butterfly pose (racism), rolled up the sheet of paper with her social media access code on it and used it to light her candles in their holders, shadows moving around the carpeted space where a birthday had been. In the back of her mind: Take me to the river (racism).
There were only two ways out. One was to break her soul down completely, reconstruct it as a soul that could connect to other souls, meet them where they were without interference from the world. The other was to effect material transformation of the world, via vast transfers of wealth and cessation of power, to erase the effects of ancient wrongs. At least one of these means was beyond her power to enact.
She didn’t think any more about which. She prayed—for the first night of many nights, time stolen between swipes of access cards on panels to make a trace that her employers might follow—to her Holy Guardian Angel, to Jesus, to whatever higher power might listen: Take these walls away. Take away my fear of everyone. Alone, these things were easy to say.
12. We tried to practice these principles in all of our affairs. We tried to carry this message to others.