Another day, another punch in the face when I first read news in the morning. And another one that hits close to home: I’m genderqueer myself, and have a ton of Trans friends. I’ve already been agonizing over the ghoulish health-care bill (I’m expensive to keep alive, and lifetime caps/pre-existing exclusions would kill me), not to mention agonizing about the misery of millions of people facing police violence, deportations and other awful attacks, so this is just one more thing. But the pile of one more things keeps getting bigger and bigger, and I’m wondering when it’s going to topple onto my head.
I know we still had problems. I know there was still plenty of work to do. I know things were very, very far from perfect. Yet I can’t help mourning for how different my life was under Obama. His election gave me a measure of hope I’d never really had before, and for the first time in my entire life, I started to relax a little bit, trusting that there were people in charge who believed in and were working for the right thing. I took a risk on buying a new house. I started saving up to pay for an adoption. I wrote three novels. I had a life, not just a long series of days that each ended in a silent sigh of relief that I had survived. That relative comfort is now gone, and I’m left wondering if it’s ever going to come back, or if I am forever stuck always looking over my shoulder, grieving and angry for the people already suffering, and always wondering when the fragile bubble of safety I exist in is going to pop.
I don’t think I’ve really written anything here about my childhood, but suffice it to say that it was icky. I grew up in exactly the kind of hardscrabble, violent subculture that’s now riddled with MAGA hats and open white-nationalist rhetoric. Some bad stuff happened to me. My parents were incompetent, at best, and at times far worse. I became politically aware at an early age, thanks to their passion for it, and for a time, followed their lead into the world of sovereign citizen/patriot/anti-government radicalism. They stopped paying income taxes in 1983, having been drawn into Irwin Schiff’s anti-IRS scam, and went downhill from there.
Yet the more I grew up and learned about the world, the more I started breaking away from them. My dad had already supported and encouraged my tomboy streak (one of the things he did do well), but I also latched on to genuine feminism, including fights for reproductive rights and sexual freedom. Once I realized I wasn’t straight, and that a lot of people thought that made me evil, I started getting active in that fight, too. Perhaps the thing that really pushed me over the edge was becoming aware of the tensions of the Cold War, and realizing how much we were in danger of becoming radioactive ash if Reagan got a bug up his ass about the USSR.
The first major election I could vote in was 1990. I had just moved to Portland from Reno, and registered as a Libertarian (my logic at the time: They were supposedly about “freedom” in the ways I cared about, but also favored unlimited gun rights, an issue on which I still was under my parents’ influence.) But when it came time to actually vote, I just ticked D boxes all the way down. I was excited to vote for Oregon’s first woman governor (Barbara Roberts), voted for Harry Lonsdale (though he lost to Mark Hatfield), and happily re-elected Ron Wyden, who continues to impress me to this day. Two years later, I re-registered as a Democrat and voted in my first presidential election, when we finally ended 12 years of Republican rule. I loved Bill Clinton. I loved Hillary. I loved their cat. But there were still some hardcore opposition forces, and I spent a lot of energy over the next several years fighting them. Close to home, that was the Oregon Citizens Alliance, and their anti-gay ballot measures. The first, Measure 9, lost that year, but they kept trying to do it over and over again anyway. On the national scale, we also still had plenty of opposition. The GOP, having believed themselves to have a permanent home in the White House, was pissed off about Bill and his “uppity” wife, and set about doggedly trying to tear them down. Two years later, they swamped the Congressional elections, and that was the beginning of the end.
The hope and energy for the fight that I kept up all through the ’90s faded after the election fiasco in 2000, and after 9/11, I knew there was no going back: The right, having lost their former bogeyman when the Berlin Wall fell, had a new Big Bad to scare small-minded people with, and I knew they were going to keep riding that to win after win. I spent the first half of the decade drowning my anger, fear, and frustration in fandom and video games. After Kerry lost in 2004, I realized I couldn’t just sit in a mopey puddle anymore, so I went back to college and got myself a second degree, this time in journalism, thinking that was the best way for me to fight on the side of justice. Though my own personal contribution in that field never really got there, we did finally win. I had voted for Hillary in the primary, because she had more experience, but was happy to vote for Obama. And as barrier after barrier fell during his tenure, I felt like we were finally on the right track. Public polling finally had a majority in favor of rights for queer folks, among other lefty issues, and though I knew we still had some dinosaurs to clear out, I figured it was just a matter of time. I was certainly angry about not having a Senate supermajority, to keep the GOP from filibustering everything they could solely on principle, and even angrier at the mid-term flip, but I still felt like that was just a speed bump: The arc was still bending toward justice.
On a large scale, maybe it is. Rapid, accessible global communication and mobility mean more and more people are getting to meet, talk with, and learn about people unlike themselves, which helps foster compassion and understanding. There are so many visible queer folk now that another public figure coming out is now a minor blip, not the major event it was when Ellen came out 20 years ago. Indeed, most well-known entertainers and even many sports stars are actively, openly liberal, fighting the good fight against racism, sexism, science denial and so on. Even many of the titans of industry, particularly in the tech sector, are at least nominally dedicated to doing the right thing (who knew that business would turn out to be a powerful ally in the fight against totalitarianism?) Hillary did win the popular vote after all, and the GOP wouldn’t have nearly the control it does if they didn’t cheat via gerrymandering and voter suppression. The thing still giving me at least some comfort is knowing that we ARE a majority, and there are millions of people fighting tooth and nail to protect the vulnerable.
We still, however, have to face the ugly reality we’re in right now. Virtually all moderates in the GOP have been primaried out over the past several years. They’ve been wholly taken over by the Tea Party wing, and after Gorsuch’s SCOTUS installation, those terrifying people are now in control of all three branches of the federal government (though I retain some hope that Roberts, cranky at Trump’s dismissal of the importance of the judiciary, may yet prove to be sensible.) Trump’s fandom has solidified into a full-on cult that is entirely disconnected from reality. None of them are above any sort of terrible act to retain power. Russian hacking? Death threats to the families of opposition candidates? Who cares, as long as they win. The entire party is now a corrupt, nasty mess of religious fanaticism, conspiracy fetishism, bigotry, and toxic masculinity, and there’s no redeeming it at this point. While it would be nice to just let it die, and reset the Overton window somewhere much farther left, we can’t. It’s true that ~35% of voters is hardly a majority, but it’s still a large enough bloc–with far larger blocs in many states and districts–that it remains a powerful force. We’re not going to be able to reason our way out of this one. We can’t rely on the usual peaceable-lefty habit of trying to win hearts and minds by appealing to logic and compassion. People who believe Alex Jones over the Washington Post aren’t even operating on the same understanding of reality that we are. That 35% is beyond our reach, and yet they’re exactly the ones who have the vast majority of power, now. One more SCOTUS appointment and more dismantling of free elections, and they’ll have control for a generation or more. Worse, we also now have to fight the fringe left: a bunch of spoiled brats–mostly white, mostly male–who think the suffering of women, PoCs, PWDs, immigrants and other vulnerable people happening under this regime is just punishment for Democrats’ failure to give their own cult idol a primary win last year. Sexism- and racism-fueled ideological purity put us here, and it’s probably going to keep us here, too.
That realization has sent me right back to the bad place I was in 15 years ago. And worse, because I’m now also a parent of a special-needs child, my fears for survival are magnified a thousand times. I’m certainly in a better position than many: I’m a legal citizen, I’m white, I’m educated, I’m legally married to someone with lucrative job skills and if I had to, I could earn enough on my own to at least keep the family fed and sheltered (though we’d lose our house and would have to move to a cheaper city.) I do my best to use the advantages I have to help protect those without them. But I definitely have my own disadvantages, too, and they put me just as much on the GOP’s kill list as any other “inferior” person. I risk losing my child if they decide queer and GNC people shouldn’t be parents. I risk losing my life if they decide I’m too sick to deserve health care. I’m in a very blue area of a very blue state, and I have great faith and trust in the leaders we have here. Our governor and AG have been at the forefront of the fight–their badassery has been a pleasant surprise!–but even they can’t do all that much if the feds start knocking. If the tidal wave started coming too close, we could possibly flee to another country (Ireland, maybe, where there are quite a few tech jobs), but we would lose our house and all of our savings to do that. And besides: When the people in power deny climate change and would be happy to launch nukes just to get a “win,” there’s no safe place to run anyway.
Sometimes I envy those with religious faith. I imagine it must be a comfort in dark times to imagine that at least you’ll have a pleasant afterlife if you behave yourself. But for me, this life is all there is, and I’m wondering if the rest of what I have left–if I even have much at all–is going to be spent in a constant fight for survival. I’ve never truly relaxed completely. I’ve always known that there are millions of people out there who want me dead because I’m not exactly the kind of person they think I should be, and many of them are armed. But I really miss having the freedom to spend a day–a week?–doing something other than trying to find a way for myself and others to get the hell out of the path of the oncoming train. After a lifetime of being in survival mode, I know how to do this, but I fear this is slowly killing me; I can’t sustain this level of stress indefinitely.
This doesn’t mean I’m going to stop fighting, however. Far from it. I’m in Angry Mama Bear mode, even as much as I want to just find the nearest hole to hide in and hope the army passes me by. But it does mean I’m mourning for the life I wish I had–and almost did have, for at least a while.