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.