Sasha Quotes in The 57 Bus
Oakland, California is a city of more than 400,000 people, but it can still feel like a small town. Not small geographically, of course. The city sprawls across seventy-eight square miles, stretching from the shallow, salty estuary at the edge of San Francisco Bay to the undulating green-and-gold hills where bobcats and coyotes roam. What makes it feel small is the web of connections, the way people stories tangle together. Our lives make footprints, tracks in the snows of time. People know each other’s parents or siblings, their aunties and cousins. They go to school together, or worship together. They play sports on the same team, or work in the same building. The tracks cross. The stories overlap.
All languages embody the obsessions of the people who speak them, and so Sasha’s language was meant to reflect the interests of people whose world was dominated by growing seasons, grains, and harvests. Instead of pronouns that disguised between male and female, Sasha’s language had pronouns that distinguished between animate and inanimate objects. The word for sun was jejz, which was also the word for day. The difference was that sun was considered animate, a being, and day was considered inanimate, a thing.
Most of us see gender and sexuality and romance as one big interconnected tangle of feelings—this is who I am, this is who I’m attracted to, this is who I love. But as Sasha began exploring the topic online, they found that some people had developed language for combing the tangle into individual strands. In these online conversations, the word sex referred purely to biology—the chromosomes, organs, and anatomy that define male and female from the outside. Gender was the word for what people felt about themselves, how they felt inside. Sexuality was the category for who you were physically attracted to. Romantic was the category for who you felt romantic attraction to. And there was a whole array of distinctions within each category as well. It was like a gigantic menu, with columns and columns of choices.
Discovering the existence of genderqueer identity felt like discovering a secret room. All this time there had been just two rooms: male and female. Now it turned out there was another room—one that could be furnished however you wanted. The more time Sasha spent in the room, the more comfortable it felt. But the person who lived in this new room still had a boy’s name—Luke. By the second half of sophomore year, that name clearly no longer fit.
“I don’t want for people to think of me as a he, and when they say he, not only does it reinforce in their brains that I am a he, it also reinforces in the brains of the people who are listening,” Sasha explains. “It doesn’t really directly affect me, at least to hear it—it’s more like, Huh, that’s not right. And when people use the right pronoun, it feels validating.”
It was tough sometimes, watching Sasha navigate a world that didn’t even have a category for them. Occasionally, Debbie wished Sasha would ease up a little—resist correcting well-meaning relatives who said he instead of they, for example. But there was something admirable about it, too, Karl pointed out. Knowing how shy Sasha was, he admired Sasha’s newfound willingness to speak up, to stand out, to be seen.
Sasha’s bus ride to and from Maybeck High School took an hour and involved as many as two transfers, but Sasha didn’t mind. They had always loved the bus. Loved the intersecting lines of transit routes on the map, the crisp procession of times on the schedule. In their spare time, they drew maps of new bus, subway, and streetcar lines, or read up on historical public transit systems.
“That boy was on fire, wasn’t he?” a man remarks as Sasha pushes through the back doors to the sidewalk. Behind him, Sasha’s mustached rescuer paces the aisle. “Call an ambulance,” he croaks. He goes to the door of the bus and calls to Sasha, who roams the sidewalk with a cell phone, charred legs. “You need to call an ambulance, man.”
“A passenger on an Oakland, Calif., public bus received burns to his legs after his kilt was set on fire,” UPI wrote. The word kilt seemed to have gotten lodged in the minds of reporters. It was in every report, as if Sasha had been on the way home from bagpipe practice. The Daily Mail, in the United Kingdom, even illustrated the report with a photo of a kilt, explaining a kilt is “the national dress of Scotland.”
“I am not a thug, gangster, hoodlum, nor monster. Im a young African American male who’s made a terrible mistake. Not only did I hurt you but I hurt your family & friends and also my family & friends for I have brought shame to them and our country and I shall be punished which is going to be hard for me because I’m not made to be incarcerated.”
“What I want is for people to be confused about what gender I am,” Sasha explained later. That didn’t happen too often—people tended to see Sasha as male. So it was a nice change to be seen as female.
“RJ isn’t a guarantee of leniency,” Baliga cautioned. “It’s about dispensing with punitiveness for its own sake and trying to produce an outcome that will be more healing for everyone involved.”
Still, Baliga knew that there was little hope of diverting Richard from the criminal justice system entirely. “Given the severity of the harm to Sasha, we didn’t expect that the DA would allow the case to be diverted to restorative justice,” she said.
But if anyone seemed right for restorative justice, it was these two families, who had already expressed compassion for one another. “They were perfect candidates for this dialogue,” she said. “All of them were such gorgeously enlightened, beautiful people.”
The fire was becoming a more distant memory, even though Sasha still wore compression stockings. “Apart from some scars, I’m all healed, basically,” Sasha said. It was hard for people to believe it, but Sasha didn’t feel traumatized by what had happened. When the physical pain faded, the emotional pain did as well.
“I don’t really feel hated, Sasha explained. “Especially since after I was attacked, the whole world was supporting me. I felt like one person hates me—maybe.”
“We do not understand your actions,” Debbie went on. “But we also think that hatred only leads to more hatred and anger. We don’t want you to come out of prison full of hate. Following the incident, communities near and far affirmed Sasha’s—and everyone’s—right to not be harassed or hurt or bullied for how they dress, or whether they are gay or trans or agender. We truly hope that you will gain some understanding and empathy in the years to come. Maybe sometime in the future you will be the one coming to the aid of someone being bullied.”
“From the start we have been opposed to Richard’s being tried as an adult,” he said. “His actions appear to have been impulsive, immature, and unpremeditated. He did make a big mistake and recognizes that. He asked for our forgiveness.” Karl’s voice broke. “Sasha, Debbie, and I have forgiven Richard,” he whispered. “We hope the state will focus more on preparing him for the world beyond incarceration than on punishing him.”
“Actually,” [Andrew] said, “I’m starting to identify a little bit as—I don’t even know the word I want to use yet. I like androgynous. I like genderqueer.” What held him back? Fear. Fear of other people’s judgements, their questions, their hostility, their fascination. “Because I fall neatly within the binary, I feel comfortable right now,” he explained. “But if I were to radically shift my appearance in a way that more androgynous, I don’t know how comfortable that would be for me. I mean, I’ve already been asked enough questions about my genitals. I’m just done with that.”