1. This week on the elliptical, where I've been condemned while I heal a sore foot, I listened to an episode of This American Life called "LaDonna."
2. The story (although it's not fiction) is about a woman (LaDonna) who worked as a security guard at JFK. She didn't work for the airport itself but for a massive contractor that handles security at airports all over the country/world/universe. I don't want to give too much away, but the short version is that LaDonna describes in harrowing and completely believable detail the sexual (and racial) harassment and abuse that she and many other guards suffered at the hands of their supervisors, and the utter indifference these complaints, when they were made, received from human resources and upper management at the company.
3. It's a very relevant #metoo story that demonstrates how deeply embedded sexual harassment is in the culture of so many (all) companies (society), and shines a light on a minimum-wage segment of the work force that generally doesn't get much attention from anyone.
4. What stuck with me through the week was a relatively small incident at the end of the report. LaDonna, who by this point has left the company and is now working for the US government (still at JFK) is escorting a diplomat through the airport when she happens to see one of her former supervisors. Even though this man no longer has any control over her, and even though she's carrying a big gun, she describes how she flinched at the sight of this man.
5. To me, it perfectly encapsulates the psychological damage people incur through exposure to pervasive harassment, even when, superficially, they seem to have "moved on" or transcended this damage by getting a great new job or otherwise achieving some measure of (conventional) success.
6. But these wounds never completely heal, and -- consciously or not -- they can indefinitely inhibit those who suffered them.
7. As a nonheterosexual who has achieved some measure of conventional success (job, marriage, feline children), I can relate to this kind of ongoing damage.
8. It's the reason I flinch (every. single. time.) I hear someone on prestige cable television make a disparaging remark about gay people or -- more often -- gay sex (usually by some kind of degrading metaphor).
9. Or when I read the same in a book that's been lauded as important literary fiction.
10. Or when I walk out the door in the morning, knowing there's a pretty good chance I'll hear something homophobic on the street or in the subway or, at the very least, read something offensive that some government official/entertainer/professional athlete has said.
11. Ninety-eight percent of me doesn't care. I remind myself that these people have no power over my life. They don't ruin the trees and flowers I plant. I can retreat to the fortress of my garden, which is patrolled by fierce lions.
12. But there's a tiny part of me that will always flinch and cower, which is a reaction I suspect many of us immediately grasp, while others, including those who rule us, never will.