And the many uses

By: Zoe Ann Wendler, Torch Guest Writer

When I think of women’s history, I think of bricks.

…When the police raided the Stonewall Inn on June 28, 1969 — not quite four years before Roe v. Wade was decided — their intent was to assault and arrest as many gay and trans people as they could find, because Stonewall was not only a place where gay folks congregated, it was one of few places in New York that welcomed transgender women.

They dragged anyone they suspected of being trans into the bar’s filthy bathrooms, strip-searched them to check their genitals and arrested anyone whose clothes and bodies didn’t, in their opinion, match.

The raid was brutal. It was the second police raid on Stonewall that week. And the queer patrons of the Stonewall Inn decided that they’d had enough. Two of the trans women who managed to avoid arrest, Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, were amongst the first of Stonewall’s patrons to fight back.

It has long been an apocryphal part of the story that Johnson threw the first brick of what turned into a massive, multi-day uprising and gave birth to the modern gay and trans rights movement. If you’re queer, you owe your civil rights to these Black and Puerto Rican trans women.

In the end, women’s rights have always boiled down to a single, simple idea: biology is not destiny. My body is my own, to do with it as I see fit.

This was the same foundation the Seneca Falls Convention argued from in 1848 when it demanded women’s right to vote, to own their own property and to live independently. It’s the same foundation Simone de Beauvoir wrote from when she argued that the central oppression women face is “reproductive slavery.” It’s the same foundation that Ruth Bader Ginsberg argued for when she won Roe v. Wade, securing women’s freedom from that reproductive slavery. It’s the same foundation Mary Bonauto argued for in Obergefell v. Hodges, which secured queer people the right to marry. It’s the same foundation the ACLU argued for in its victory in Bostock v. Clay County, which secured employment protections for gay and trans Americans.

Brick by brick, we’ve built our rights. Hand in hand and heart in heart, together, we’ve risen.

And every step of the way there are those who fight to tear those hard-won rights away from us. To send us back into the darkness. To control our bodies and our souls. To reduce us to nothing more or less than human livestock.

They came for us in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, which stripped women of our constitutional right to choose how and when we became pregnant. They’re coming for trans people right now and have filed over 470 bills throughout the nation — including right here in Michigan — to strip away our right to live as ourselves. And they stand in front of cameras, look right into them and argue that “transgenderism must be eradicated.” As if trans people could exist aside from whatever they think “transgenderism” is. As if they’d stop with subjugating trans people if they achieve it. They’re already trying to strip us of the right to marry who we choose again as they push their vile agenda.

Brick by brick, they try to tear us down, to send us back into the darkest places, to total subjugation to their will.

When I think of women’s history, I think of bricks. They exist to build: strong, enduring and rough. It takes patience and skill to lay brick well, to build homes and classrooms and clinics. Places where we can be safe and warm and happy. That’s what bricks are made to do, and that’s what we all want to use
them for.  

But all things have other uses when kindness, empathy and basic human decency fail.

We forget too easily how our rights were won. Women’s suffrage was not won by respectability. It was won by riots. The right to abortion was not granted to us, a gentle privilege for good behavior. It was secured through massive nationwide riots. The right to marry who we choose and to work as our authentic selves was not handed to us because we asked nicely. They were won by Black and Puerto Rican trans women.

And bricks. Lots and lots of bricks.