The Unthinkable

By on Monday, December 26th, 2016 at 9:04 am

On election night, I was anxious. I thought Hillary would probably win. The polls were saying she would. Still, I’m a worrier. I started watching early, hoping for good returns. Hoping for 2012. As the returns grew worse, I flipped through the channels faster and faster, desperately hoping for different news, better news. Of course, I didn’t get it.

In this nightmarish blur, one commentary stuck in my mind. I don’t know who was speaking, because, in my panic, I couldn’t settle on one station for more than three minutes. And what they said didn’t really sink in until later. One talking head decided that Hillary and the Democrats spent too much time courting gay votes and focusing on gay issues. Because, the pundit said, that’s only about five percent of the electorate, so it was a waste of Democrats’ time. They put energy into a cause that didn’t help them win these elections.

The next day, nursing a giant hangover and feeling grief that almost matched what I felt when my mother died, I remembered those words. Democrats and Hillary Clinton stood up for LGBT rights, and that position may have cost them more votes than it won. Who knows? But what I do know is that I felt more safe and protected in this country because of that position. I felt more valued, like an equal participant. I even believed, with a bit of idealism, that maybe some candidates supported LGBT rights because they believed in justice for all, not for political gain. Now my secure world is much less so because we’re facing a Trump/Pence administration.

I live in a smallish city in Wisconsin. For many years, Wisconsin was progressive, one of the first states to legislate that people could not be fired based on their sexual orientation. However, Wisconsin has been moving to the right with a rapidly accelerating pace since 2010 when Scott Walker was elected governor. We now have a Republican-controlled Legislature, Governor, and Supreme Court. There is very little check on their activities. Only the Obama Administration’s directive to public schools has kept the Wisconsin Legislature from limiting the bathroom options of transgender students. That directive is likely to be rescinded.

By his own words, Donald Trump does not agree with marriage equality. Mike Pence actually believes in conversion therapy. They will appoint at least one, maybe two, Supreme Court justices who will likely agree that gays are not full citizens. Mike Pence is on record wanting to end Constitutional protection for reproductive and marriage equality rights. It’s not unreasonable for me and others in my community to be nervous about our marriages and our civil liberties.

I’m fortunate to be part of a strong local community of gay and transgender men, lesbians and transgender women of all ages and races. When we gather these days, I see the fear. No one wants to give up hard won rights. No one wants to go back. Back to times many of us remember well. When Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and the Defense of Marriage Act were the law of the land. When sex between two consenting adults was illegal. When people could be arrested for wearing clothing that did not conform to their gender. These laws aren’t ancient history. They are my history, our history. We’ve had to fight hard for basic rights and we’ve been scorned, threatened, and attacked. In recent years, the gay community has secured a number of important civil liberties. When my president lit up the White House with rainbow colors, I cried, drank champagne, and planned my wedding. Now it seems the progress has been halted, and I’m terrified of the coming backlash.

Many of us are concerned about “First Amendment Freedom” legislation that is designed to attack women and LGBT people. There are variations of these laws, but they mostly follow the same track: it’s not really discrimination when businesses discriminate against people if the businesses have a religious or moral conviction to do so. These laws are about much more than wedding cakes. They could cover pharmacists who don’t feel comfortable dispensing birth control, hospitals who won’t give same-sex partners visitation rights, nursing homes who won’t allow gays and lesbians to live in their facilities as married couples. We see all of these scenarios as real possibilities, and when he was campaigning, Donald Trump vowed to sign this legislation.

It also hurts to think that the majority of the people in our state chose to vote for someone who does not believe we deserve full citizenship, who does not wish to protect our civil rights. I find myself staring at people when I walk my dogs, grocery shop, browse in the library. Thinking, I bet he voted for Trump. Does she believe my marriage should be invalidated? Mostly I focus on men, white men, and I’m afraid. More afraid than I’ve ever been before as I walk alone through the parking lot to a car with a rainbow bumper sticker. The thoughts and fears are not always fair, but they come unbidden, along with an involuntary clenching in my guts.

I know I shouldn’t stereotype. I have three sons: white young men. They didn’t vote for Donald Trump. They support civil rights of all people. Then I wonder about the women who helped elect Trump: white women, mostly. The thought of women like me putting him into power hurts me physically. I’ve been grabbed by the pussy against my will, both literally and metaphorically. I know that pain, so I’m baffled that women could vote for a self-described sexual predator, that they could vote against their own body autonomy. Are they one-issue voters? Do they hate people of color that much? Are they so afraid of hordes of immigrants overrunning their country? I believe we will learn soon that the truly dangerous men are white, they are already here, and they will be running the government.

I’m white and middle-class. I recognize those privileges. I am sickened that white supremacists had so much influence on a presidential election and saddened that so many people had no compunction about voting for a racist, misogynist, homophobic man who bragged about sexual assault and mocked people with disabilities. I’m frightened for myself, but I also realize I have some protections others do not. Many in my community have been made targets, not just for their sexual orientation or gender identify, but for their race, religion, or ethnicity as well. African Americans who Trump wants to stop and frisk, Muslims who Trump wants to vilify, blame, and register, immigrants who Trump wants to round up and deport, women who Trump wants to objectify and assault, people with disabilities whom he mocks.

I’m sixty-two, and it seems we have stepped back fifty years or more to a time I was happy to leave behind. Rape culture has been validated. How do I explain to my granddaughters that “grab them by the pussy” is no longer sexual assault, but just boys being boys? Racism, homophobia, and misogyny have been normalized and taken mainstream. I know the pendulum will swing back eventually, but my biggest fear is that I won’t live to see it. Because I desperately want to see it.

I’ve spent much of my adult life involved with social justice causes. I worked in a domestic violence shelter, I served on the board of our local LGBT Center and a local anti-poverty organization. I volunteered teaching English as a Second Language, and I worked as an advocate for adults with disabilities. Then I retired, and even though I had more free time, I volunteered less. I pulled back from my communities, and I focused on myself, exercising, cooking, reading, and writing. A time to relax and reflect.

Now, this election has galvanized me. After days of denial, watching old television shows on Netflix and drinking too much, I took a breath and met with friends. We hugged and cried and held each other close. We looked at our world as it is and as it could be. Our conversations pulled me out of myself, gave me the courage I needed to keep fighting. Working for social justice will again become central to my life. I will take Elizabeth Warren’s advice and find a cause to put my time, energy, and money into. I’m even starting to feel energized by the thought of finding new communities and building teams to push back against the hate. That is a good thing this election did for me. The struggle will be my focus as I fight the fear.

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This essay is part of our ongoing essays series focused on responding to the 2016 Presidential election.

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