In the month of July this year, Edgars Rinkevics was sworn in as Latvia’s president. No biggie, except he is the first openly gay President in a country in the European Union since its creation. Reading about this news threw me back to Zoe Leonard’s poem titled ‘I want a President’, which she had written in support of Eileen Myles’ write-in candidacy for the US Presidential elections of 1992. Myles went on to campaign on college campuses and on MTV, and were at the time, making less than USD 50,000 a year – a figure far lesser than the wealth and incomes of the frontrunners. They also identified as an “openly female candidate”, making their identity a stark contrast to that of the other white male candidates (Bill Clinton went on to win this election). It would be another 20+ years until the US would have a candidate with a vagina that ran for the position.
Leonard’s poem memorably starts with:
I want a dyke for president. I want a person
with aids for president and I want a fag for
vice president and I want someone with no
health insurance and I want someone who grew
up in a place where the earth is so saturated
with toxic waste that they didn’t have a
choice about getting leukemia.
In a world where the ideal man, the uttam purush, the Übermensch has been described for us as the person we should aspire to be, the person deserving of our worship, eternal glory, as well as the honour of leading all people, Leonard’s poem questions its very validity. It asks us to consider doing away with the idea of heroes serving the people, and instead pushes us to consider a person who would know how to save their own self, and by extension their community, and the world at-large. It highlights the importance of vulnerability as well as lived experience and the gaze of a leader as qualifiers for such a position.
Personally, I do not see Myles’ campaign as unsuccessful. Over 3 decades later, I sit here deeply healed by learning about it as much as I was by Monica Lewinsky’s reclamation of her power and agency in public life, after her political career was ruthlessly cut short by a man who exercised his position of power without thought or discernment, or for that matter any tangible consequence for his actions while holding high public office. The wounds run deep stemming to when I was about 8 years old, watching the discourse about the no-confidence vote unfold live on CNN, while a stray commentator on TV said that the incident proved that women were a distraction in the corridors of political power. I remember going to my room to look up ‘fellatio’ in the dictionary soon after – internalizing it to be the path toward downfall for any ‘woman’ worth her salt. Such are the distortions of our ideas of power when it comes to a person with breasts and a vagina. We are seen as flimsy, shrill sources of distraction and disruption from ‘the work’ that only men who spout data and fuck around (but never find out) can claim to do.
Recently, there was much hullabaloo about an Indian court refusing to squash the complaint against a young politician who referred to a political-industrial nexus as a ‘love affair’. It runs in stark contrast to a world that is watching ‘Red, White, and Royal Blue’, where the characters want to celebrate their love in the open and use it further international relations. But some days, I really wonder what it would be like to have a dyke in the highest of public offices. Would we be miserable about different things? Would they not know love for furry creatures differently enough to not want them banished from the national capital? Would they want to distance themself from queerness, even if it was only hinted at in a caustic remark? Whom would they seek out to meet and why? Whom would they hug? Some days, I wonder what it would be like to have a dyke in the highest public office.