martial’s ways

I had been avoiding seeing anyone from the previous job, still fiercely and intensely angry that none of them spoke up for me (I liked to think I had always spoken up for anyone else when necessary), still struggling with feelings of loss and betrayal and grief (the ease with which they would rather question my competence and turn a blind eye to the actual issue), still feeling a moment’s slip away from quitting the industry. Buoyed by the utterly unlooked for and unassuming decency of my latest boss, I find it in myself to forget the horrors of those months and meet a few old coworkers again. It has taken me a few months of isolation to come to terms with how truly alone I was in a world of men, where the rules are theirs and belonging to me is extended only under tolerance, despite coding together and working together (I’ll never be one of you, to you, when it matters). It is not easy still, their obliviousness to what I’d undergone is painful and I struggle with questions of worth when I see them, but I begin to realize that it will almost always be so.

My favorite Latin poet is Martial. His Epigrams carried me through many glum days. When I had to pretend to keep a job, I would return in the evenings to read his delightfully lewd and unpretentious take on all the affectations necessary to carry on in the world.

Very early on, I picked up the habit of doodling Latin epigrams of my own when teachers droned on about virtue and chastisement, about the importance of being polite and respecting authority’s many manifestations. Eventually, this led to a fledgling job in writing nonsensical prose that appealed to the repressed wanting to be set free by the fertile fruits of another’s imagination.

I came here, and gave myself a burial in the sea along the way. I became all that I loathed, full of fears (immigration and the right to work/stay were at the root of it all). I put up with a great deal of cares and concerns I would have shirked away from before, lived my own disillusioned Catcher in the Rye day by day, let myself survive, shaking away any urge to be.

I’ve a love/hate relationship with this country. I traded away my life’s freedom for the daily, delightful freedoms available to me here which I had never had before in an oppressive society. It was addictive, and I crashed hard when I realized every now and then what exactly the Faustus had given in return. I bought my safety to live and travel as I please in exchange for feeling unsafe and unnerved every moment of my work life.

Each time I change a job, I hope that at least this team will care enough to speak up against the subtle humiliations and harassment dished out just because I don’t have a cock. Negging, I learn, is the word that encompasses this sexual behavior the best. It goes hand in hand with a culture of covert victim blaming. Each time I have raised the issue with what I assume is a sympathetic male coworker, I’ve felt debased even more just because I am forced to repeat the experience all over in my mind and only to find that they are blissfuly oblivious to the consequences (to my morale, to my career), and utterly on the side of the perpetrator (it’s not that bad, he’s just autistic, I’m sure he didn’t mean it that way, have you taken it to HR?, did you report it to your manager, and to your manager’s manager?). All of it has an accumulative effect until I flee to the next job and hope that I can have a few months’ reprieve before it happens again.

I had not expected it to be different with the latest job. I had even planned a vacation in late September to go interviewing in anticipation. Then, when I thought nothing would surprise me anymore, I ended up working for a man who is frightfully decent without trying. He speaks up against men who try to neg, in a firm and courteous manner, without even thinking twice. They retaliate as they do, when he is not around, but I take courage from his acts and words, and don’t let it get to me. My self-confidence and my morale, both in tatters, begin to spark up again. I am usually only a man away from leaving it all behind and running to some far flung corner of the world, tired and wretched as I’ve been. It is surprising to find myself mildly optimistic.

“You don’t have to do that,” I tell him one day, after one of these episodes.

“Do what?” he asks, distracted, already busy with looking up the conference room for his next meeting.

I promise myself that I won’t do something as stupid as building a shrine to him. It is really stupid that all it has taken to get my vote is acceptance and basic decency. It’s also telling of the state of our industry, unfortunately. I’ve usually been decent at managerial roles, even if they are not my cup of tea, thanks to my general notions about having agency restored to everyone. Due to my newfound glimpses of safety, I take on more than I like. I’m a very visible target for the politics, because I am the youngest at that level, and the only woman, and I prefer quietness to the flashiness and arrogance prevalent in those circles. It’s all right, I think to myself, because my chronic concerns have been alleviated a little with this measure of unlooked for grace.

I go back home and pick up Martial’s Epigrams for the first time in a long while. [you, of yourself, create a Rome for me.] His pen bursts into wit and colours, and I read him with wine and peaches, and let myself be once more (timidly, dreading that all of this is a mirage that will pass too soon).

(I’ve met an unicorn and I wonder how long I’ll be lucky. It doesn’t matter, perhaps; all that matters truly is that for the first time a man I worked for has left me better off than worse.)

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