It’s not normal for anyone to wear chains on both arms for a year. But if you put heavy steel chains on your wrists and wear them 24/7, after a while it starts to feel normal. And that’s what I did.
On November 18, 2016, I dug lengths of leftover chain from an old hanging light fixture out of my toolbox and asked my long-suffering boyfriend to use pliers to affix them to my wrists. It was, at first, an homage to the suffragettes of the 20th century who chained themselves to the railings outside Downing Street. It was a peaceful protest, and an artistic act of resistance.
But now they’re normal to me.
They jingle when I move, when I pick up my daughter and bring her to my hip, when I pet my cat, when I write on a desk or turn the steering wheel of my car. The sound no longer registers in my ears. It just is. It’s a part of me.
I flick them back from the wrist joint when I teach yoga, ensuring they don’t inhibit my downward dog. I slip the long sleeves of my shirts between the metal and my arms on cold days. The steel irritates my skin, so hydrocortisone cream and ace bandages are a part of my bedtime routine now. I hardly think about it.
My baby girl likes to play with mommy’s “bracelets” and I contemplate how to explain to her why they exist. I’m grateful for more time to think. People ask about them and my answer has condensed from its early rambling version to a simple “they are a reminder.”
I swapped one link in each bracelet for a carabiner when TSA informed me they wouldn’t let me through security with them on (they totally did), and a security guard at my local police station showed me how to cross my arms in front of my chest so the metal detector wouldn’t beep when I came and went.
My chains are not the only thing that have become oddly normal in the last year. It didn’t used to be normal to have a president who would regularly tantrum on social media like a petulant child, but now it is.
It didn’t used to be normal to have an administration that turns over as frequently as a college town Waffle House, but now it is.
It didn’t used to be normal to have to call senators and representatives on a daily basis and beg for them not to make devastating, sweeping changes to crucial aspects of our social structure. But now it is.
These “new normals” are horrifying. We struggle to cling to what is acceptable and real as people in the highest levels of our government gaslight and lie their way through everything single day.
But as I take a moment to consider the new normal in my little life, I have to acknowledge some other “new normals” that aren’t so bad after all.
It didn’t used to be normal for powerful men to experience real-time consequences for their abuse, but it’s becoming so.
It didn’t used to be normal for women to speak out against the injustices we face every day, but it is becoming so.
It didn’t used to be normal for members of America’s most powerful religion to call out those who use their religious platform for their own sinister ends. But we are getting there.
As normal shifts all around us, an entire generation waits with bated breath to see how it will fall out. How will America look to my daughter’s generation? How much more normal will change before the dust settles? It’s tempting to see a lot of this as the end of an era, but maybe it’s just the beginning.
Our country and our world will have so much to recover from when this chaotic, devastating presidency is finally over. The system is that created this tragedy in the first place continues in the forms of voter suppression, racial tension, class warfare, and the way Americans have begun to choose the facts they want, rather than vetting and researching their own information.
Even if our Congress steps up and does something about the forces that are bulldozing our democracy, the fallout will take a long time to clean up.
But we will keep fighting. We will keep resisting. We will keep recording all those little subtle changes happening around us. We will keep re-writing normal in ways that are healthier, more honest, and more transformative.
In the past year, I have gone back to school, first for Women’s and Gender Studies, and then for Journalism. I have begun to write, to tell my story and others’. I’ve become active in my city council’s human rights coalition, begun work on a book about spousal abuse in complimentarian Christianity, and offered my services as a yoga instructor to my university’s LGBT center. The way forward is so much busier and more complex than the addition of an accessory.
We will not get dragged down by those we have elected to serve us. Americans will reclaim our democracy. If we learn to listen to and believe women (particularly women of color), if we find a zero-tolerance policy for assault, pedophilia, and sexism, and if we continue to replace those who abuse their power with representatives who care about their constituents, we can find our way to firmer ground. This I believe.
And in the meantime, here’s to another year in chains, and the lessons it will bring.