Survival Skills

Since November 9, 2016:

  • I’ve been to the gym.   I know this sound like a trivial detail, but having not gone persistently for months on end, the requirement to have a strong body, coupled with the clarity and surge of energy and endorphins that the gym provides, is now more necessary than ever.
  • I keep writing.  I keep putting down words of frustration, of sadness, of confusion onto pages and papers as an attempt to make sense of it all.
  • I keep going to work.  Not only do I need to just pay my bills, but I also need the distraction.  Sitting here, quietly, staring at whatever is in front of me, only leads to more jaw-clenching and rage.  The act of getting out on the road, and driving around Portland, Oregon allows me to interact with others, even on the most basic of levels, and reminds me that I’m not alone.
  • I keep reminding Ray that I love him, more than ever.  We’ve drawn quite close over the past few weeks since November 9th, and I feel more connected to him than I ever have.  We both have had to face down some real truths about where we came from, and what has been holding us back.  Now, in this current political upheaval, we have each other, and not a whole lot more.
  • I keep looking for things to do, meetings to attend, groups to join, so that I don’t just sit here and idle my way through this mess.

There’s a direct and sincere feeling of having to come to terms with the life I have been leading.  I have actively bought into the New Liberalism that has marked the last few decades here in America.  I have sought the refuge of ever-more liberal cities in order to find a space to exist with limited fears, even when the act of doing so cost the connections I once had to my very-blue-collar past.  I have bought into the idea of higher education as a means to overcoming social injustices.  I have fed into the very machine that voters from places I’ve always been afraid of (middle America, “fly-over,” redneck, etc) have denounced and ridiculed, and now claim victory over.  I gave over my rural identity and politics the day I decided to come out of the closet, it seems. I allowed myself to succumb to the audacity and optimism of living in and among a class of liberal urbanites who never expressed any connection to the world beyond their cities (other than to liken trips to the rural spaces as something akin to safari, or a trip to the zoo), all under the banner of being able to safely exist as my true self.  I’m not sure about these choices anymore.

Today, I’m finding myself questioning this move, and why I didn’t have the strength to be who I am while retaining my rural roots and connections.  What kind of impact could I have made if I had simply gone back home after college?  Is this regret?  Is this me internalizing a lot of doubts I now am holding about the country I live in?  I’m not certain.  I do know this, though – I moved away at the time because of fear.  I chose not to live among those who held deep-seated hatred and bigotry against me, who I was and am, and those like me.  For many like me, I’m pretty certain this is a similar refrain.

I’m also now, more than I have ever been, questioning the words and language used by those of us who live in these urban/liberal-elite spaces.  How have we glossed over, or even promulgated, the challenges of race and racism, along with bigotry and xenophobia, by not actively engaging in the methods and actions needed to come to terms with these problems?  Simply put, I don’t know what to trust any longer, internally or externally.  I need to figure this out.

 

 

Doing

Anti-Trump Protest. PIONEER SQ Portland OR 11/10/2016

It’s been what, ten days now, since Election Day 2016.

Ten whole days.

It feels like a lifetime ago, but that’s it.  We are in this interim period of time, between our current president and the next.  We are now all watching and trying to decipher the choices and actions of the next president so we can all find our footing again.  For most (and by most, I mean the actual popular vote), this election has left us all feeling as though the rug has been removed from under us.  Well, okay, maybe not most.  The fact is, minority groups of all kinds have been faced with this feeling of dread upon waking time and time again.  I have learned, in the last ten days, that and so many other things with regards to me, my own choices, my own actions, and how I choose to navigate forward.

In fact, over the last ten days, I’ve been doing a whole host of things, including trying to educate myself and bringing myself up to speed on the current status of things that exist outside of my localized, seemingly-protected bubble.  I recognize that for too long, I haven’t been as active or engaged with the communities around me.  I recognize that I’ve spent a great deal of time navel-gazing, focused on myself, and in the process, have not been the member of the greater world that perhaps I should have been.  These last ten days have been a progression towards actualizing who, and where I am, and to what end my voice could be lent to do the most good.

Like many others, I joined in the initial protests over the election.  It was while I was out walking with Ray in the streets of Portland that I developed a pretty nasty cold – something I haven’t actually had to deal with in a very, very long time.  You’d think as a bus operator that I’d have the immune system akin to a superhero, but apparently I do not – not yet, anyway.  Still, between cups of hot broth and tea, between coughing fits and doses of cough syrup, I found myself constantly checking in online and via text with a variety of people.  It was like doing a headcount of kids after the fire alarm was pulled at school.  I needed to know where everyone was and how they were doing.

I’ve donated money to a few organizations, including a standing monthly donation to the ACLU.  I’ve filled out the volunteer application to a couple of organizations(Q-Center and ROP) that seem to be a good fit for who I am, my skills and their needs, and where I can offer something of substance for support.  I’ve engaged in conversations online within my own circle of friends – though I have yet to make the journey to the other side just yet, and realize that might be my next step.  I’ve held Ray’s hand and helped him navigate his way through the last ten days, too, trying to give him reassurances whenever possible.

Still, right now, today, I’m wondering what else there is I can be doing.  There’s this other pull inside me – this real attraction to inertia and sticking my head in the sand, ignoring it all in the hopes that it goes away.  It’s a massive pull, especially as all of the other commitments in my life – like work, and school, and planning my next step with Ray are all still there, just like they were before Election Day.  I know, though, that I can’t be that person – that I’ve never been that person, really – and now, more than ever, I need to put my big-boy pants on and make space and time for all of these things. I can, will, must do this.

What are you doing?  What kinds of suggestions would you have for me?  The comments are always open here, and I’d love some more insights.

work self

Passing

Now that Trump is our president, now that his supporters have had their victory, there has been, and continues to be a persistence of fear among those I know and love, those who saw his victory as more than just a change of face in the Oval Office.  This fear, this deep-seated anxiety that has ravaged my collective family for a nearly a week now, comes from somewhere else, somewhere none of us were prepared to have to revisit.

When Trump spoke, it wasn’t his words that we were all paying attention to.  It was the voices of his supporters.  His rallies consisted of people who felt empowered and emblazoned by the rhetoric of their candidate, especially when he spoke of disadvantaged communities.  Communities of color, of people with disabilities, of women, of the people who identified other than “normal” on the gender/sexual identity spectrum, all of them (us) were used as fodder to amp up the crowds.  This act of sifting us out, of separating us from “real” people was used time and time again across every space that Trump spoke, as means of suggesting that too much attention has been given to these marginalized people at the expense of those who stood before him in the crowd.  We were his cannon fodder.  His supporters finally saw a man who would say the words about these communities that they had perhaps kept to themselves, at least publicly.  Trump gave them the answer to the question “What about me and my needs?” in a way that no other candidate could or did. He gave them a scapegoat for their rage and feelings of fear and inequity.  Through his own rhetoric from the campaign stump, Trump pointed at the collective left and shouted “There! There is the target for your rage!”

His followers, as we’ve now seen in the reports of assault, violence, graffiti, and the like against the people and communities he targeted in his campaign, are acting as they were directed.  They feel empowered to take their deep-seated fears, grounded predominantly in economic insecurity, and act upon them.

Yesterday, I was asked a question that surrounded the expression of my self.  A dear friend of mine, who lives in an area of the country that went for Trump in the election heavily, was wondering about my thoughts on being “out” versus simply “passing.”  She wanted to know my thoughts on this because, in all truth, I can and do pass as a straight man every day.  I put on my jeans and flannel and boots and can walk down any Main Street anywhere and hardly get noticed.  I don’t look or act flamboyant, or any express any other stereotypically gay behaviors.  I drive a bus, I have a belly, I have a beard full of grey hair.  I’m bald.  I wear simple glasses.  I fit in.  My friend has similar abilities, as she is fully capable of dressing and using makeup to express herself in public as just another white female, even though she too has multiple identities that make up the person she is, much as I do.  Her question was one of personal safety versus being seen as a member of those extended communities as an act of solidarity or support.

I suggested that, for now, she follow her guts and ensure her personal safety.

It really stung me to suggest that she keep her actual/other selves in hiding.

She mentioned that we no longer know the boundaries of where it is safe to express our full and other selves.  We don’t know where the lines are anymore.  Trump supporters are everywhere, even here in the epicenter of liberalness known as Portland, Oregon.  These people walk among me every day, and I interact with them on the job every time I open the door.  Or, at least, that’s how I’m approaching every interaction.  As a matter of personal safety, I see everyone who isn’t a person of color, who isn’t a woman, who isn’t visibly a member of any of the communities that Trump targeted and demonized in his rallies, as a potential threat.  Jaw-clenching, breath-holding threat.  It’s a coping skill as much as a life-saving reaction.  I honestly don’t know who I can trust anymore.  Those lines are gone.  Not even my geographical location is any form of protection any longer.  750,000 Oregonians voted for Trump.  Every one of those people could be a threat.  I simply do not know.

As I gazed at my reflection in the mirror this morning – a middle-aged man with too many bags under his eyes even after a decent night of sleep, with so much grey in his ever-bushy beard – I found myself looking at myself in a very different light.  Instead of an out-and-proud gay man, I saw myself, my passing-safe-self, as easily identified as a Trump supporter instead of a member of a community that is targeted and under assault by his actual supporters.  There is nothing about me and my presentation that would suggest that I’m anything more than a white man.  As this realization came over me in the glare of the bathroom light, suddenly, the memory of the passing glances I got yesterday while I was at work came back to me.  More than once, I got a shadow of fear, a pause, between my rider and me as they boarded the bus.  This is a typical thing, really, as they present me with their bus pass or fare and there’s a moment of validation or not that I must undertake.  That sort of interaction happens in my job.  Yesterday’s moments of pause, though, had a certain pregnancy to them that I couldn’t quite put my finger on, at least not until today.  As I sit there in my company-standard uniform, a white guy behind the wheel of the bus, there is no assurance that I am not a member of the groups who now, emblazoned by our next President, are out to hurt those who are not like them.

My “passing” is as much an act of personal safety as it is a wall between myself and those people in the communities that are now facing such dire consequences for simply existing.

There is no visible line to spot where civility and common decency to another human ends.  There no longer exists an agreed upon demarcation of what is acceptable behavior towards another human being, and what is not.  Trump’s election has blurred all of that.  Instead of looking at another person in the eye and assuming that they will not act out violently against me because that’s what we’ve collectively agreed upon as a basic standard of life, I find myself in a constant state of preparedness for battle.  As a white, passable, male, I recognize that if I’m feeling this way, that same feeling is exponentially greater for anyone else who is visibly part of a marginalized group.

What I am left to decipher, what I am left to navigate, is how to both keep myself safe and at the same time show members of marginalized communities that I am on their side.  Yesterday, an idea adopted from people in the UK who are undergoing a similar struggle as they reconcile the vote to leave the EU – and simultaneously now have to deal with a more vocal and outspoken anti-immigrant, racist, vitriolic presence of people in their society – was to wear a simple safety pin.  It is meant to show to the world that the person wearing it is an ally, a safe person to be near, and someone who will stand up for you, whoever and whatever you are, in a time of crisis or conflict.  I wore one on my uniform, and will continue to do so, but I don’t know if it’s enough.  It certainly doesn’t feel like it’s enough.

Not when I look at myself in the mirror and can’t tell from the man looking back at me if he’s a Trump supporter or not.

open road

An Open Letter to the Editor

Dear Editor:

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:

What now?

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.

Sincerely,

Thomas Palmer

Portland, Oregon