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

A Corporate Conversation

Last week, in the middle of coming to grips with what had happened in Orlando, with forty-nine dead people at the hands of a hateful and broken man, I started to pivot from grief for the loss, to action to prevent these things going further.  As part of this, I mulled over where to reach out, and where to put my energy.  I could keep writing letters to Congress.  I could keep fighting the comment battle on Facebook.  I could keep lighting candles and attending vigils and standing tall with my queer people.  I could also reach out to a place that I know, and that knows me, and learn a bit about how they manage to be both a purveyor of firearms, but also a responsible corporate citizen in the state that I will forever call home – Maine.

I reached out to L.L. Bean, the iconic and historic outdoor sporting goods retailer that has always been quintessential to representing part of what being from Maine means, and engage in a conversation.  I sent this letter to their corporate offices:

Letter-to-LL-Bean

While I wasn’t sure why I felt compelled to do this, as time passed between sending the letter, and the response I got on Friday before taking off to enjoy Pride Weekend, I realized I was seeking some footing.  I was seeking some ties to home, some sort of sanity from the place I’m from, as I take more steps forward to promote an honest, real, and engaged discussion about the problem we have with guns in America today.  I was seeking an example of what I thought was a smart gun sales policy (I kind of remembered how L.L. Bean handled guns from my time there as an employee, but I needed it in writing again).

This is the response I got from Carolyn Beem, Manager of Public Affairs for L.L. Bean (mouse over and select the next page to view page two):

Response-from-L.L.-Bean

Removing the questions surrounding their absence from the Maine Pride celebrations, I really felt good about their response concerning guns and gun safety.  They do have an understanding and respect for firearms that could serve as a model for gun usage in our country going forward – especially with respect for hunters and sportspeople.  I align myself in that camp – a healthy and deep-seeded respect for the power of a firearm and the need for adequate and responsible safety and gun ownership responsibility.  I also echo their stance with regards to assault weapons as tools for hunting; they aren’t designed for hunting at all.

We can solve this.  We can take into consideration the heritage and traditions of hunters and ranchers and people who depend on gun access for those reasons.  We can make exceptions for gun owners who simply enjoy shooting (clay pigeons, target practicing, and the like), without constantly and continually selling weapons of mass destruction – what I’m now calling these assault and military-grade style of weapons that are too present in our country.

We can, and we will solve this.

An Open Letter to the United States Congress, President, and Vice-President

Dear Members of the Congress of the United States:

Yesterday, I woke up to a beautiful summer morning here in Portland, Oregon.  The sun was shining brightly, there was an anticipation of a gorgeous warmth in the air to cap off what had already been a really stellar weekend.  Though I was up early to go to work, I still felt the sense of optimism and positivity that I greet most of my days with.  It was going to be a good day.

Then, of course, I did what any modern American today does – I checked my phone.  I opened up Facebook, and before I could even swallow my first swig of coffee, I was gut-punched by the news coming out of Orlando, Florida.  Overnight, while I slept soundly and safely in the house I share with my long-term partner and boyfriend, twenty, no thirty, no fifty gay people, mostly men, and mostly younger than I am, were mowed down in a night club in an act of bloodthirsty homophobic hate.

Once again, I found myself clicking through news stories, reading status updates of shock, of grief, of dismay.  It was the same when the AME Church in Charleston was ravaged by hate.  The same when Umpqua Community College in my own state was the killing ground.  San Bernadino, Newtown, Aurora, Columbine…  On and on, and back it goes, back as far as I remember.  Blood and hate and violence when a person with an axe to grind gets their hands upon fully-legal-to-have assault weapons.

Today, after a day full of grief and sadness, where I attended vigils among my GLBT community, while I fought back the tears all day just to get through my day at work – a bus operator here in Portland, and not a space where I can safely be my out-and-proud self – and while my boyfriend and I exchanged words of sadness, rage, and grief, I’m now, once again, reading the headlines in the news.  Of course, like clockwork, it’s full of prayers and thoughts, “it’s not the gun’s fault,” and “it’s a mental health issue” arguments streaming across every news source and place that, just yesterday, mapped out the pain and agony of a ruthless and bloody scene in Orlando.

Today, I’m writing to you, not just as a citizen of Portland, Oregon, but as an active, political, vocal, proud American who has simply had enough with the bloodshed.  I’m tired of thoughts and prayers.  I’m tired of your inaction and inability to shoulder the burden of guilt that rests with you and your defiance with regards to enacting tough, bold gun reform laws.  I refuse to be quiet any longer, and I refuse to be placated with platitudes – “thoughts and prayers,” as you are so quick to call them.

I need you – we need you – to stop the shenanigans.  We, us – the American People – need you to do your job, step up to the plate, take responsibility for what you have not done, and move forward with sensible gun laws.  We need more than your words.  We demand your deeds.  Action.

Don’t you dare quote the Second Amendment to me either.  I know the “well regulated militia” part as well as the “right to bear arms shall not be infringed” part.

Change this law.  Change the direction of this country.

Or, face the real possibility that this issue will run you out of office.  It’s not just the Right with their Tea Party who can make real change happen.  Us over here on the left, out here grieving the loss of so many people, GLBT, People of Color, and the others that are not represented well among your halls of Congress, demand this of you.  We’ve had enough.

I’ve had enough.

Please.  Be a human and have some integrity.  Stop taking money and advice from the NRA and the rest of the gun lobby.  Notice the blood on your hands.

Your Fellow American,

Thomas W. Palmer

 

long, open road ahead

Dear Fellow Berners,

I get it.

You’re angry.  You are grasping at anything that might justify the possibility of our candidate winning the nomination from the Democratic Party.  You might be holding tightly onto steep math, or even onto some sort of chaos befalling Hillary Clinton and her campaign.  You are sourcing any and every article you can find that echoes how you’re feeling and posting it all over any social medium you can find.  You and your like-minded people are raging against the machine that you swear up and down has been rigged against us from the start (and maybe it has – my jury is still out on that front).  You’re expending so many keystrokes to cut down, to insult, and to scream at anyone you might know who is expressing any sort of support for HRC.

My real question to you is this:  Are there better ways you could be expending your energy and passion rather than all that rage?

Believe me, I’m not going to belittle that rage.  Living on the edge, or even over the edge, for so damn long has left me feeling jaded, angry, and lost too.  Credit card balances way too high, one check away from being swamped, dreading that rent increase notice, all the while attempting to pay down an education that I was promised would bring me economic stability and a rung up on that damned ladder (and I’m a white guy – I can’t even begin to speak for anyone of color or of another gender identity)…I get it, as far as I can.

I have had the opportunity to live abroad, and have experienced a world where a National Healthcare System existed, under Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.  I got to experience life where the election process involved so many parties, so many different voices, all racing to be first past the pole in order to win, which was both raucous and definitely a challenge to wrangle, but also allowed for so many different voices and options in terms of governance and legislating.  I know we can do better here in America than we already do, especially in terms of governance.  Nearly daily, we all read articles of the things that the new government to the north, under Justin Trudeau, is undertaking, and find ourselves lamenting that we should have something similar here.  Governments all over the world provide healthcare as a human right, provide economic safety nets that really do help to buffer against all of the economic instability out there, and treat their citizens with dignity and a sense of human decency without explicitly needing to call out to all of the various protected classes that we still have to both write into protection laws, and have yet to write into protection laws.  For them, a human is a human in whatever form/shape/color that person exists.  To most of us, HRC represents all that keeps us from having that kind of forward-thinking government to support our lives in a variety of ways.

That, however, is the place where I think we as Bernie supporters need to start pivoting.  If we want to drive our country forward, to join the ranks of other countries that are light-years ahead of us in terms of social stability and human dignity, then we need to coalesce into something beyond the Bernie campaign.  For months, he called for a political revolution, for actual action that demands more than just rants and cross-posts on Facebook.  We need to hit streets, write letters, show up, actually shout using our real voices.  We need to find the way to enact the actual revolution and make ourselves a voting bloc that demands to be heard and considered.

Much like the right has its Tea Party, we can be that demanding of our political representation.  If a member of Congress isn’t pushing hard enough to the left, or is compromising on what we value as those who agreed to Bernie’s campaign platform, and all of its various planks, then we should be able to threaten those representatives with being primaried out of office.  I think, truly, we can do something like this, something powerful that will require the DNC to pay attention.  I think we can do it without the ugliness that the Tea Party has wrapped itself in, though, and provide a voice of reason and liberalness that includes all of us who demand something greater than what we’ve got.  I do think, though, that in order to to that place, we need to do a much better job of organizing, of showing up at *every damn election,* and challenging our politicians at every level, from local school boards and city councils to state and county boards and houses of government, and on up to the federal level.  For years, we’ve been labeled as grassroots, but maybe, just maybe, it’s time for our roots to get a little bigger, a little more resilient, and start reaching a bit higher than just grass-height.

If we can put our collective lighting in a jar, I think we really can make a wave of change that would benefit the entire country and bring us truly into the 21st century.