If I had an older sister, she could be Hillary Clinton. Right now I am so proud of my older sister. I have always been proud of her.
We have much in common. Hillary and I are both lawyers. She went to Yale Law School. I went to Boston University School of Law. We did our undergraduate work at Seven Sisters colleges, Hillary at Wellesley and me at Smith, but we don’t come from well-to-do families. Her father was in textiles. My father was a mailman after a career as a minor league baseball player. Hillary and I both had dreams of public service. She wanted to make people's lives better, and I wanted to protect people’s lives. On a trip to Washington, D.C., in the early 1960s my parents took me to the FBI headquarters, where, after a shooting exhibition, the agents gave the kids two bullet casings. I still have mine. I wanted to become an FBI agent, but at that time the job wasn’t open to women. Hillary and I have another thing in common. We accept the challenge of the dream to make it reality. Both of us, being female INTJs (Myers-Briggs personality test), really have no choice. It is just who we are.
After I graduated from BU Law in 1979, the FBI was recruiting women, so off I went to Quantico to become a special agent. I scored high enough on the entrance test to get in even if I had been a white male. There were still many Hoover men in the FBI and some didn’t like the idea of women agents. One firearms instructor wanted me to fail. He told me as much. I shot a perfect score with an M-16 on the range at the Marine base in Quantico. He didn’t like that. I was the only one in my class to do it. I learned quickly that I would meet men who wanted me to give up and quit as I ventured into male-dominated territory. Hillary learned that lesson too as she moved into the world of hardball politics.
The challenge of another dream called louder to me in 1983. I wanted to become a professional lead guitarist in a rock band. I had started playing guitar in 1964. Blame the Beatles. Elvis Presley loomed large in my life too. I left the FBI knowing I’d never truly be happy if I didn’t follow that dream of rock and roll and I’d never advance because of rumors started by some Hoover men about my suspected homosexuality. Being a member of the LGBT community was not allowed in the FBI back then, and I had been a member since about age 3.
After playing in a few new wave-ish bands, I started Susan and the SurfTones in 1995. We got a record deal from a small label in Hamburg, Germany. We performed in upstate New York and did four European tours. In the U.S., I always heard some guy in the crowd yell, “A girl playing surf guitar!? This I’ve got to see!” Attempted intimidation at its finest. Make the girl too nervous to do well. Make it uncomfortable for her and she’ll stop. Often it was hard to get gigs and find other band members. I got left out of a lot I should have been included in, but they couldn’t make me stop.
Throughout her political life, men threatened by her have attempted to shut Hillary Clinton down, and she has stood taller than anyone could believe possible. She can be my commander in chief any day. No one can shut her down. The words of Richard Nixon often ring in my ears, and I wonder if Hillary recalls them too: “Always remember others may hate you, but those who hate you don’t win unless you hate them. And then you destroy yourself.” I watched all 11 hours of her testimony on Benghazi before that hostile congressional committee. In some way I wanted to stand with her. That day I saw a brilliant woman of grace and composure take on a group of men who hated her — and win.
I am no longer considered a great female guitarist. I am now a great guitarist with no asterisk of gender. I met the challenge of my dream. Hillary is making history as the first woman to run for president, and she will be the first female president. She is meeting the challenge of her dreams. On a walk recently I heard a little girl on a jungle gym say, “I’m going to grab that bar. It’s my destiny.” She did it. A little girl ready to meet the challenge of her dreams. I hope Hillary and I made it easier for her.
SUSAN SURFTONE is a musician and just released her latest EP, The Magician.