You wake up the next morning, Wednesday morning, and you hope it has been a nightmare. The rain falls outside in the black Oregon morning like tears and you realize it was not a dream. You log into social media and see the grief, the fear, and occasional glib comments, the jokes about moving to Canada. There is little uglier than the gloating of uneducated white people when their side wins.
How did we get here? you think to yourself. I thought this was locked down. But that’s it, isn’t it? You had been living in an insulated bubble for so long with like-minded friends whose values were the same. You lived in Los Angeles for 12 years before Portland, and now having been in Portland for 3 1/2 years; it has been easy to think that the rest of the country could see through the charlatan peddling snake oil. Hell, it appeared sometimes like even he was incredulous about his odds, that he was there just to symbolically show everyone how ridiculous the system was. On election day, you went to work with confidence bordering on hubris. That evening, as you headed to a bar to meet friends to watch the results, you stared at your phone with a creeping dread and disbelief.
It’s January of 1993, you are on the East Coast with your family. You follow them, trudge through the freezing streets of D.C. in your Joseph Abboud coat and Caesar haircut, cut to look just like George Clooney’s on E.R. You are a fashion fucking statement, and you keep sneaking glances at the really hot Marine guiding your and other families to the viewing area. You’re pretty sure you overheard him saying that he’s stationed at Parris Island and you wonder how far away that is from where you live (it’s far). You all end up not too far from the dais, close enough to see Clinton’s face as he raises his right hand, close enough to see Maya Angelou’s face as she looks out at the crowd, takes a deep breath, and starts: “A Rock, A River, A Tree/ hosts to species long since departed, marked the mastodon.”
You don’t realize it then, but this was a turning point for the country, and for you too. You were born in a time when gay people didn’t have rights to marry, to visit their partners in the hospital, to not be fired for their sexual orientation. After that inauguration, you lived your life and saw the rights open up for you over the years, you saw the country slowly (but sometimes suddenly) bestow those rights one at a time, culminating with the right to marry in June of 2015. Maybe you get soft, maybe you get complacent, maybe you think just waiting is the answer for these rights.
You sit at the bar with friends as the election results roll in, you are all flabbergasted. Someone mentions that the Canadian immigration site has crashed. A man sits behind your group, he is alone, he mutters something friendly to engage in conversation but it becomes clear that he did not vote for Hillary, he voted for the “other guy”. You turn towards him; you are already seeing red. “That’s not a popular opinion at this table, friend”, realizing as you say it that every single person at your table is queer or a person of color. He is utterly and amicably confused. You continue: “You have nothing at stake to lose, as a white straight man. I stand to lose my rights.” The man smiles nervously. “What rights would you lose?” And you start listing them, they are numerous, and at a certain point you realize you are shouting them at him as loudly as possible. He stammers a few times “But isn’t that the state? Isn’t that a state right?” You turn around, you show your back to him, he does not exist anymore. You have perhaps freaked your friends out; you do not care. You listen to hear him say something more, you want him to call you faggot so you have an excuse. He does not, he watches the results a while and then slinks away.
As you walk to the train, you have an epiphany. You are not moving to Canada; that impulse is one that so many don’t even have the privilege to consider. Instead, you will stay and fight: for Muslims, for people of color, for the rights of trans people and the rest of your LGBTQ brethren. You will be gayer than ever before, if that is even possible. Although of half-Mexican descent, you will use the privilege of your Caucasian-looking skin, your maleness, to advocate for those who do not have it. And yes, you’re afraid of your rights being rolled back, but people of color and trans people are afraid for their lives.
This is not the end of anything, this is just the beginning. We have to be part of it, not from the outside looking in from another country. We will have to tell our children about today. We will have to tell them about how we woke up today, about how the next four years felt like an eternity, about how we all woke up poets and warriors, we will tell them about how we mourned, and how we came back stronger. We have to look them in the eye and tell them how some in this country failed them, how there is not the first woman president-elect this morning. And then in four years, we will tell them how we had never worked harder after that to earn their future back again for them.
And those of you who are supporters of the side that won? We will love you as much as we are capable, until we cannot. Do not test where that love ends.
We all woke up feeling like Sisyphus this morning, and the road ahead stretches far and dark. It’s morning of a new day in America, and we all woke up with homework that we should have been doing all along.
Let’s get to work.
“Here on the pulse of this new day
You may have the grace to look up and out
And into your sister’s eyes, into
Your brother’s face, your country
And say simply
-Maya Angelou, On the Pulse of Morning
If you enjoyed this, here is a post about what I did when someone yelled faggot near me, and here is a post about the role social media played in my feelings around the SCOTUS gay marriage decision. We are all in this together.