You can read this series from the beginning here.
"I need you, Justin," Emma said.
"You mean right now?" I asked.
"Right now," she said. "In the conference room."
"Really?" I asked. "Isn’t that a little public? I mean, my apartment isn’t all that far from here."
"Emergency intern leadership committee meeting," she said. "And if you say one thing to anyone about what happened between us on Valentine’s Day, Justin, so help me, I am never speaking to you again."
"I had a really nice time," I said. "But I respect your need for discretion."
"This is not about you and me," Emma said. "We will work that out on our own time. Right now, we have a situation that has to be addressed right away."
"What happened?" I asked. "There wasn’t another terrorist attack, was there?"
"Nothing that bad."
"Did Senator Warren announce?" I asked.
"Stop asking stupid questions and follow me."
I was expecting Monique to be in the conference room, and she was, but Harmony and Rebecca were in there as well. I didn’t know Harmony well at all. She had long blonde hair and favored clingy skirts with high leather boots. She’d gotten a graduate degree at Bryn Mawr, but had gotten her undergrad degree at Chapel Hill. She hadn’t lost the accent, and I didn’t know whether she’d lost her regional prejudices, either.
Harmony was sitting at the conference table, looking tense but composed. Rebecca sat across from her, and looked as though she was on the edge of a really scathing microaggression. She was wearing jeans and heavy boots and a chunky cable-knit sweater. If Rebecca had the power to make green needle beams shoot out of her eyes, Harmony would have been a little pile of glowing dust on the floor of the conference room.
"So, what’s going on?" I asked.
"Tell that idiot to leave me alone," Rebecca said.
"Okay, so we’re starting off with a little hostility," I said. "First rule of conflict management is to try to limit emotional responses and stick to the facts. Does anyone want to explain what is going on here?"
"That bitch woke up this morning and decided it was a good day to harass me, that’s what happened," Rebecca said. "I am not going to sit still for it. Tell her to back the hell off." (I am editing Rebecca’s comments somewhat in case my mother is still reading this blog.)
"We understand that you’re upset, Rebecca," Emma said. "I think that we need to try to move beyond that and figure out whether there is some kind of factual misunderstanding that’s going on here. Maybe we can get Harmony to tell us what prompted all of this,"
"I don’t want to say anything," Harmony said. "Because everything that I have said, no matter how well-intentioned, has been misinterpreted and twisted by her."
"We are not here to judge you," Monique said. "Yet. Just tell us what is going on between you to so I can go back to my actual job that I am getting paid to do rather than sit here and deal with whatever this actually is."
I sat back in my chair and wished that Emma had bothered to give me a trigger warning before the start of this conference. "Again, we need to keep the emotion out of this," I said. "Harmony, please explain."
"It’s like this," Harmony said. "I was watching the Golden Globes ceremony, and they gave an award to this show, Transparent? Then Amazon put it on their streaming video service, and I decided to check it out during the last snowstorm."
I glanced over at Rebecca, who was rolling her eyes.
"I never knew anything about persons who were transgender before this," Harmony explained. "I mean, there just aren’t a lot of transgender people in Wilmington, North Carolina. Asheville, maybe, but not where I grew up. It really opened my eyes about the discrimination that they suffer. So, of course, I wanted to do anything I could to help."
"Helping is good," I said. "So what did you actually do?"
"She came up to me and asked me how my gender reassignment was going, and whether I was on hormone pills yet," Rebecca said.
"I did not! I very kindly and sympathetically went over to Rebecca and told her that I wanted to be a transgender ally, and that I would support her in anything that she wanted to do in her transition."
"I am not doing any gender reassignment, or taking any hormone pills," Rebecca said. "I am a woman. I have a vagina, all right? My sexual organs are just fine the way they are, and they are not anything I care to discuss with the likes of you."
"That’s incredibly gender-normative of you," Harmony said. "You don’t have to have a vagina to be a woman."
"Where in the hell do you get off calling me gender-normative?" Rebecca said. "You can’t just come in and trash my gender identity and then turn around and accuse me of not being sensitive to transfolk. That’s the most cis thing I’ve ever heard of."
"If you don’t want people questioning your gender identity," Harmony said, "then why do you dress like that? I mean, your wardrobe couldn’t be any more masculine."
"Now you’re harassing me because of what I wear? I like these clothes. They’re comfortable. If you don’t like it, it’s only because you’re captive to your patriarchal construction of fashion. Maybe you should check your privilege."
"You’re telling me to check my privilege!" Harmony shouted.
"Again, let’s leave emotion out of this, both of you," I said.
"I don’t know about the rest of you," Harmony said, "but the last thing I really need to hear right now is input from a straight cis white male one-percenter about how strong, independent women should behave."
"Justin’s sorry," Emma said, before I could say I was sorry, because I was. "He didn’t mean it that way. And he’s right, we should keep emotion out of this."
"We’re all strong, independent progressive women," Monique said. "Except Justin. And we should be supporting each other, not tearing each other down."
"Monique’s right," I said. "We can’t let divisive little battles about people’s gender expressions get in the way of the larger issues, you know? We’re all here to make a difference, not argue about who’s more of a trans ally than someone else."
Rebecca looked at me, and again, it was a good thing that her eyes weren’t capable of shooting out green laser beams. "Justin," she said, "why don’t you check your privilege and get your narrow-minded judgmental Jonathan Chait-loving white male self out of here."
"That’s not fair!" I said. "I didn’t agree with any of Chait’s article! And all of you are as white as I am, so, you know, there’s that."
"Justin," Emma said. "This is not about you. And you are not helping the situation. Why don’t you go back to your cubicle and finish whatever it is that you’re working on, okay? I’ll handle this."
"I am not Jonathan Chait," I said. "I am not."
"This isn’t about you," Emma said. "There’s no need to get emotional. Just go get some organic herbal tea and let me take care of this. Okay?"
"That doesn’t sound like a bad idea," I said. "If anyone wants me to brew them a pot, I’d be happy to."
"Just go, Justin," Monique said.
So I went.
It was late and I was tired but I wasn’t quite ready to leave the office yet. I was curious to find out what had happened, and if Emma had been able to defuse the hard feelings between Rebecca and Harmony. Emma finally came over to my cubicle just as I was thinking about getting ready to get some dinner.
"It’s settled," she said. "We had to call in your Aunt Joan, but she was able to resolve it."
"She’s not my aunt," I said. "What did she do?"
"Made a phone call," Emma said. "She got Harmony a job as an investigator with the Office of Civil Rights at the Department of Education regional office in Charlotte. She’s cleaning out her cubicle now."
"That’s a good outcome for her," I said. "Do you want to get some dinner or something?"
"I’m tired," she said. "It has been a very stressful afternoon, and I just want to go home and lie in bed, all right?"
"That sounds good to me," I said.
"By myself, I mean."
"Sorry," I said. "I can’t say anything right today."
"I hope you’re not still unhappy about that Jonathan Chait crack," she said. "That wasn’t really fair."
"I am, a little," I said. "I don’t want to be associated with anything that undermines the cause."
"Don’t worry about it," Emma said. "I know your heart is in the right place. That’s what’s important."
"I have other things in the right place," I said.
Emma rolled her eyes. "Enough with the cheap come-ons," she said. "I’m not in the mood. And don’t you dare apologize. I hate that awful cringing look you get when you apologize."
"Okay," I said. "I guess I’ll see you tomorrow."
"And now you’re looking like a whipped puppy dog. That’s not better."
"I’ll be going now."
"Justin," she said. "Wait. You should know. This is not about you."
"It’s not?" I said.
Emma looked furtively up and down the hallway. "You want the truth?"
"I can handle the truth," I said.
"This is so embarrassing," she said.
"I did the Gwyneth Paltrow thing last night and I’m feeling a little uncomfortable."
I almost said I’m sorry, but I didn’t. "The what?"
"I did a mugwort steam clean of my vagina," Emma said, "and I think I did something wrong. So I’m going to lay off any, you know, romantic activity for a couple of days. Understand?"
"I understand the second part but not the first part," I said. "As in why you would do that."
"Well, you wouldn’t understand," she said. "You are a cis white straight male one-percenter, after all."
"I’m leaving now," I said. Emma smiled and gave me a peck on the cheek as I walked down the hall towards the elevator.
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