It’s November 10th, 2016. Like so many other Americans, I spent yesterday in a state of torpor, coming to terms with the results of our most recent Presidential election. Like so many other Americans, who followed the polls, who listened to the news, who went out to vote feeling confident that the results of the election were going to go in a certain way, I remain in a state of uncertainty and worry now that the most unexpected results have come to pass.
I am a very, very left-leaning liberal. I am also a product of the State of Maine. I grew up outside of Auburn, Maine, surrounded by Reagan republicans, proud of fiscal conservancy and a deep, rich heritage of patriotism and civic pride. As the Republican party has morphed over my lifetime, swinging ever-more to the right, sweeping into it’s masses a growing population of evangelical and alt-right voices, I realized early on that I needed to remove myself from that community in which I grew up.
Like many of my generation, we were told to get a college education in order to achieve a level of fiscal stability that would put us ahead of our parents and grandparents, and make everyone back home proud. What was left out of that push, and what is now more apparent than ever, is that with that send-off to college was the implicit hope that we would then return to our native soils and bring with us the skills and knowledge gained in those old, damp brick buildings and hours spent arguing and listening in those classrooms. We were tasked with improving ourselves so that we might improve our communities as well.
The fact is, many of us never returned home.
In the time that we were in college, which for me spanned years between 1995 and 2003 – no, I was never a traditional four-year student – the political landscape of my home community underwent a massive shift. My liberal leanings, my identity as a gay man, my alternative ideas to spending yet more money on our military, or cutting taxes and school budgets, or even suggesting that idolizing one religion over another was a road we must avoid, were met with even more and more hostility. The voices that had taken over the Republican Party, and thus the politics of my own family, were louder and more unreasonable than ever. Time after time, I would return home for a visit, and find myself among an electorate of people I didn’t know or recognize anymore. Whispers of bigotry, of racism, of isolation and nationalism, permeated every corner. As social media outlets grew, and I was able to connect digitally to family members back in Maine, it became clearer and clearer that what they saw, shared, read, and reposted were against everything I had learned and stood for. Anti-gay rhetoric, anti-immigrant rhetoric, misogynistic rhetoric, the ideas of “Second Amendment Remedies,” all of these ideas that were never apparent to me while I lived among my family were suddenly out and shared and on display. More insidious to me was the abject silence about standing up for my rights, for me as a gay male, when the political conversations at large involved the LGBT community. These people, my family, my home community, forgot that I was also one of them.
So, in response, I stayed away. I whittled down the inclusion of these presences in my social media experience, choosing to not engage with the hatred and rhetoric that they spewed, and instead, filled my time on social media clicking and reposting and sharing things with a community of people that I curated who echoed similar feelings and identities to my own. I moved my physical self from one liberal bastion to another. I remain to this day in a place known for it’s acceptance and inclusion of people like (and weirder), because it’s a safe space. I don’t have to face down the bigotry, hatred, and alt-right vitriol that has permeated not only my hometown, but the thousands of hometowns from which my current community of friends has sprung from.
We, collectively, ran away from home, and never went back. It was an act of self-preservation.
What we did, though, is also cut ties to those places and people that remained, and as has been demonstrated in the recent election, a huge feeling of resentment, directed towards liberals and the causes that we have championed (and succeeded in enacting) has led to our next President-elect.
I’m writing to you now, a son of Maine, a gay man who fled the hatred and vitriol rather than facing it down, and ask you and your readers the following:
I remain another citizen of this country, and will always be the son of a conservative Republican. I will always be a gay man, too, and I don’t know how to reconcile these two facts in my life. All of my education, all of my experience, all that I have done and seen and gathered still gives me no answer to this question.