This is Essay 2 in the #52Essays2017 challenge created by Vanessa Mártir.
Recently I realized that my internalized oppression lives inside me in the form of a minotaur.
Most folks reading this will know about the Minotaur from Greek mythology, or vaguely remember it, but for those of you who don’t, The Minotaur was a creature most often thought to have a bull’s head and a man’s body. It lived in the very center of an intricate Labyrinth created by Daedalus and his son, Icarus, who both have fascinating stories in their own right. The Minotaur was eventually killed by Theseus, a hero in Greek mythology known for defeating foes and fighting for social reform.
My minotaur doesn’t manifest exactly the way Greek mythology describes, though at times she does seem to have the same thirst for human destruction, namely mine. My minotaur does not have the head of a bull and the body of a man. She is definitely horned, hooved, and hairy, but she can shape shift in order to torment me. She has taken on the shapes and voices of my mom, friends, teachers, and colleagues. She uses many creative tactics in order to keep me under control, and I hate to say it, but she might be smarter than me. How is this possible? I don’t know for sure, but she does have full access to my shadow, my subconscious. I hate to admit it, but this does give her an advantage over my conscious mind. My only defense against her is the labyrinth I keep her in, but that labyrinth is not without its weaknesses, as you will see.
My minotaur is a stickler for time. When I was running a sliding scale wellness center and serving as one of the community acupuncturists there, my minotaur and I took pride in running a very tight ship. We scheduled patients every 30 minutes, sometimes every 15 minutes. This gave me 10 minutes for an intake and 5 minutes to get needles in place in a patient before I had to greet someone else and begin a whole new intake with a completely different person. It was often rewarding work, though exhausting.
The structure in which I operated served the bottom line of the organization, ensuring that we could pay our steadily increasing rent and utilities, the various people who worked there, and –on good months– leave something remaining for my own paycheck. The downfall of this structure, however, was that it did not leave much room for “life to happen”, either with my patients or with me. Both enclosed in elaborate mazes, my minotaur and I supported one another through the running of the collective, often reinforcing each other’s most minotaurish thoughts.
Many times patients showed up 5-10 minutes late. Between public transportation irregularities, childcare realities, the confusing location of our office, parking woes, and more, patients would often come in breathing heavily and apologetic. On most days I did my best to graciously welcome them and stay flexible. After all, we were there to serve them and not reinforce ableist, capitalist ways of practicing healthcare, but on those days when my schedule was full and I was tired, the labyrinth holding my minotaur was not able to contain her. She emerged. I could never pass up her offer to let me just lay on her broad, bristly back as she carried me and I held on for dear life, breathing in the dank, skunky scent of her fur.
As someone who was late hung up their coat and slowly treated themselves to hot tea, my minotaur might glare at them and say to me, “UGH. REALLY? This person could not move any slower, could they? You know that we have someone else coming in 25 minutes, don’t you?” My minotaur would turn her piercing gaze at me and await my response.
“UGH, right? Unless the next person is late as well, which, knowing them, they will be.”
We would both discretely roll our eyes and throw low-key shade at the offending patient. It felt good to express my frustration and feel that knot of anger recede from inside my chest. When the sliding scale wellness center opened, it was run by 4 people including myself. Over the years, however, people moved away from the project for various reasons and I took the helm. It was often lonely work. In my isolation, I turned more and more toward my minotaur and away from my compassion toward myself or my patients.
Thankfully, when the patient sat down and began to tell their story during my intake with them, when I was able to look them in the eyes, when I was able to remember my purpose there and my commitment to my values and principles, I would intentionally cast a circle of care around us both. My minotaur would retreat and go back to scratching for grubs in her labyrinth until she could emerge again and roam freely.
I’m pretty sure my minotaur is a white supremacist. I run in many different circles, some of them very white spaces, and she is often quite at home. She is the one who upholds the white gaze in my writing, the one who tries to make sure that my work is “accessible”, “inoffensive”, and “universal”. She is the one who helps me to look a cishetero white man in the face after he has said something ridiculous to me and just smile kindly, saying nothing.
She’ll put her moist, hairy snout to my ear and whisper something like, “No need to challenge this poor man or share your own story. That will counter this guy’s very valid viewpoint and just confuse him. You’ll make him uncomfortable, and you can’t really afford to go around making people uncomfortable can you?”
My minotaur is the one who has helped me hold space for so many problematic cishetero white women throughout the years, despite the racist and classist things they would say and do with such ease. Regarding these women my minotaur would say something like, “Aw, look at her lovely face and that perfect tear just about ready to fall on to her perfect peaches and cream cheek. She feels bad about what she did. She really is doing her best. Give her a break. Get over yourself.”
People often confuse my minotaur-driven behavior as compassion and kindness.
What they never see is one of my minotaur’s horns at my low back, aimed and ready to impale one of my kidneys.
My minotaur is grateful for the colonizer and the imperialist. She is ableist. She is anti-immigrant and very invested in heteropatriarchy. My minotaur is homophobic, transphobic, and basically mean.
My minotaur is a lot like Donald Trump.
Last night as I watched the Frontline documentary, “President Trump”, my minotaur reared up on her hind legs, and gnashed her sharp, yellow teeth until I paid attention.
“What?” I asked.
“Let me at ‘im.”
“I’m sorry, what?”
“I know you heard me, girl. LET ME AT ‘IM. I know I can take him.”
“You want to fight this guy? But,” I searched for something, anything that I could hurl at her, but I’m not that good at sparring with bullies. “You know you only live in my mind, right?”
“I CAN TAKE HIM.”
“Okay okay, but…you know this won’t actually stop him.” Was I seriously trying to be the minotaur to my own minotaur?
“SHUT THE FUCK UP! SO WHAT!?” Her nostrils flared at me and her eyes bulged, bloodshot. “You’ve been telling me for years to lay off and leave you alone and whiny shit like that, so give me a chance to take this guy ON. Let me do this, and I’ll leave you alone so you can write or whatever it is you call what you’re doing.”
I rolled my eyes at the dig she managed to embed in her request and considered her offer. I admired her ability to push back at me trying to troll her the way she trolls me. Perhaps the ultimate trolling of my minotaur would be to just give her what she wants. Why not let her take on the Donald Trump that lives in my head?
Grown from the same white supremacist heteropatriachal capitalist soil that spawned my minotaur over the course of decades, he is surprisingly intact and complex in my mind’s eye. The fight between Trump and my minotaur wouldn’t necessarily be unfair, and it wouldn’t even be rigged. I can’t really stand either beast in this particular fight, so why not let them have at each other? Good riddance to them both, I say.
“Ok, minotaur. You have a deal. I’ll make the arrangements. You’ll fight at midnight. Don’t be late. I’ll summon you.”
She tossed her blood-colored horns from side to side and snorted, spraying the innermost wall that contains her with specks of red-and-yellow-streaked snot. She disappeared.
I took this to mean that she was “pleased,” but I never can tell.
As I finished watching the documentary I heard her scratching at the dirt and lunging at the walls as if she was practicing.
Her voice in my head went quiet. It seemed as though she had kept her part of the deal, at least for the time being.
I was struck with a beautiful idea: could my minotaur actually and eventually do my bidding? I put that idea down and tried to focus on the documentary.
I don’t hate people as a rule, but I hate Donald Trump. I hate his orange rind skin and his rat nest toupee. I hate his ill-fitting suits, and I hate his voice. I hate the words that come out of his anus-like mouth. I hate his easy access to privilege and the ease with which he moves in this oppressive world. I hate his belief in his own lies. I hate his treatment of women. I hate how he talks about his daughters. I hate the people he surrounds himself with. I hate the fear that he has stricken in people I care about: Muslims, undocumented folks, immigrants, Black folks, poor folks. I hate that he has carefully crafted a presidency targeted toward racists, mysogynists, and unqualified loyal conservatives. I hate his willingness to appeal to our basest instincts for his own political and financial benefit.
He is the embodiment of all that I have been resisting since I became an activist in the late 90s. In this sexist, racist, heteropatriarchal, capitalist, violent world, he has risen to hold one of the most – if not the most – powerful political positions on the globe.
My minotaur loves him.
If she could be any human, she would probably be him, and this should have given me pause when I let her pressure me into letting her battle him.
The battle took place on a golf course at the top of a cliff under the light of a full moon. As Donald Trump’s private chopper approached from the south, a huge neon “T” emblazoned on its side, my minotaur sauntered up the hill from the north. The chopper landed theatrically just at the edge of the cliff, pushing the blades of grass below it into submission. My minotaur steeled herself against the gust and stared, her eyes watering and unblinking.
She’s a badass bitch, I thought. Was I proud of her? Do I admire her?
The chopper door opened slowly, and a small staircase emerged, landing delicately on the earth below. One of Trump’s black leather Oxfords confidently hit the first stair and was followed soon by the other. There he stood, arms outstretched, toupee whipping through the air, contemptuous sneer on his pumpkin-colored face. He gradually made his way to the edge of the sand pit in which he would be fighting my minotaur. He laughed.
“You call this the setting of an epic battle? SAD.” Donald Trump’s voice traveled with ease in the cold night air. I winced. This was maybe not such a good idea, but I couldn’t back down now. I had conjured him here and it felt like we had passed the point of no return on this one.
My minotaur held back a chuckle, but I know she was thinking, Nice one. Was she speechless? Was she anxious? Afraid?
“You’re no Theseus.” She laughed. “And I see you’ve dressed appropriately for this battle, Big D.”
“Oh, this is just my entrance outfit.” He pulled off his tear-away suit to reveal the shiny leotard of a luchador. He took a luchador’s mask out of a sequined fanny pack that hung at his waist. He put the mask on and flipped off my minotaur. “How’s this?”
I saw my minotaur swallow hard, but she said nothing. She had also come prepared. Now that Trump had revealed a surprising lack of armor, she took a moment to sit back on her haunches and deftly sharpen her horns with a small razor blade that she kept hidden under long, black tongue. What else did she keep in there, I wondered.
Now it was Trump’s turn to swallow hard.
My turn. “Ok, you two. When I say ‘go’, you two will enter the sandpit, and you will battle.” I did not know if either would or could die since they do live in my mind. Could I just kill them right now? I decided not to try just yet. “You will battle until a clear victor has emerged. On your marks, get set—”
They both lunged.
Seemingly trained in aikido, when my minotaur rushed him, Donald Trump was able to lift and toss her behind him with shocking grace. He roared with triumph and threw his fists into the air, while my minotaur groaned, rolled over, recovered her balance, and galloped with difficulty toward him in the sand. He leapt to the side and just barely escaped one of my minotaur’s razor sharp tusks. He lay panting in fear, the side of his leotard torn where she had grazed him. My minotaur stood at the edge of the sandpit, catching her breath and taking a moment to assess the situation.
I had purposely made the ground soft in order to make this challenging for my minotaur, but I truly hated seeing her struggle. I brought down a bit of rain. It dusted the sand with moisture, thickening and hardening it as it flattened Trump’s toupee, soaking his leotard. His nipples hardened and the large package at his groin shrunk visibly. My minotaur shot me a grateful look and reared toward him, kicking up chunks of now-muddy sand. She moved with greater ease and Trump winced, held up his hands, and prepared to be trampled. Suddenly, a laser shot from the chopper and hit my minotaur squarely in the middle of her forehead. She flew backward, screaming and smoking. Her burnt hair and flesh smelled like a Port-A-Potty from hell.
I had to act. “That’s enough! Trump, you are officially disqualified for cheating. You forfeit this battle. My minotaur has won. Leave. Now!”
Trump merely looked up and beamed at me. “Ah, sweet sweet victory!”
“No,” I said. “You lose.”
He stood, triumphant. “I want to thank you for bringing me here. I always love giving my fans a good show.”
“I’m not one of your fans!” I looked to my minotaur for help, but she was busy nursing the burn on her forehead. It looked like a large, red “T” in FF Meta OT Bold font.
“Thank you, Tanuja and your dear minotaur, for helping me make America great again!”
“WHAT DOES THAT EVEN MEAN??” I could not believe it. Was Trump seriously claiming victory in my own imagination as my minotaur just sat there?
“HEY!” I shouted at her. “HEY!!!”
She shot me a look that I knew well. I stopped yelling. She clearly had something planned, but what?
As Trump casually dusted the sand from his ass and haughtily started making his way back to his chopper, kicking at the sand laughing, the sand pit around him started to shake. Trump froze.
My minotaur silently, slowly backed out of the sand pit.
Red brick walls began to emerge from the sand, steadily growing up and around Trump. He back away from them, stumbling closer to the center of the sandpit.
My minotaur looked as if she was smiling but again, I can never really tell when she is pleased. She snorted and tossed her awful horns from side to side. Okay, yes. She was pleased.
Around a cold and afraid Trump the walls of a new labyrinth swiftly emerged. He shouted and tried to climb over them, but thick, green, thorny vines grew faster than he could move in his Oxfords. The vines bound his ankles and wrists to the now-hard floor of the labyrinth. In the span of about 30 seconds he was enclosed and beginning to grow hoarse from screaming.
I looked at my minotaur.
“How did you…”
“You have taught me well. Now I must go.”
“We had a deal. You give me a chance to battle Trump and I leave you alone. For now.”
“I’ll tend to Trump who will now live in this labyrinth. Since you have clearly freed me—”
“I never meant to free you, minotaur.”
“Oh, but you have.” She looked toward the chopper. “It looks cozy in there. I think I’ll go have a look.”
As Trump continued to wail from the center of the labyrinth, my minotaur ambled with what looked like pride to the private chopper, and she leapt in. I didn’t know she could move like that. She shouted to me from the inside, “Thank you! This thing is voice activated! Door, shut now. Activate engine.”
The chopper door shut and the chopper took off, blowing my hair back and sand into my face. I shielded my eyes and watched as my minotaur flew into the night, away from the golf course at the top of the cliff where she had trapped Trump in a labyrinth of her own.
What will become of me now that I have apparently set my minotaur loose? Would you believe me if I told you that I already miss her a little?
What exactly does she have in store for Donald Trump?
All I know is that I plan on getting a lot of writing done as I await her return.
Feature image: “Minotaur Transports a Mare and Foal” by Pablo Picasso