I started getting mocked for being gay in the second grade, before I even knew what “gay” was. To cope, I learned the power in selective listening. We need to rely upon the world to tell us about ourselves, and yet as early as 8 or 9, I knew I had to temper my credulity. And no matter how much hurt I might have felt when I was derided, I knew they were wrong. The wrongness of hating (or whatever sentiment you want to attach to routine mocking) someone for something innate was made clear to me at a young age, and it became a fundamental belief as true as gravity or the only certainties being death and taxes. I grew up in a place and time when Whitney Houston singing, “No matter what they take from me, they can’t take away my dignity!” was inescapable. Even if I didn’t know exactly what she was talking about, I knew what she meant.
Though my education came in the form of a rude imposition (really, a decade’s worth of them), in retrospect the bigotry directed at me was a gift that shaped my worldview. As a white person today, I just can’t say that I’d feel the empathy that I do for marginalized people without having been marginalized myself. At the same time, as a white person I was able to hold onto the notion that words will never hurt me with more conviction than other groups who shed blood and lost lives and leave in fear and poverty over the caustic ideology of idiots.
Little did I know how one presidential election would expose the extent of my naïveté. It’s time to grow up.
Last night, decades of idealism evaporated, as it became clear that the mean things that people say do matter, and in fact could help secure the presidency of the United States of America. The lack of reasoning behind bigotry, the capacity that people have for hatred, the gleeful embrace of ignorance as ideology is never not stunning, and yet it’s never been more stunning when its blatancy was juxtaposed with the hard proof, item after item after item, that Donald J. Trump was not fit for a job that he has been handed by the people of America. Gestures at social justice, like Melania Trump’s anti-bullying rhetoric, no matter how half-hearted and hypocritical seem to appease these followers. Love wins? Yeah right. Hate unites.
There are things about the current political climate that feel like inevitable consequences of the threat hegemony faces as disenfranchised people gain visibility and their voices amplify in culture. The idea that black lives matter shouldn’t be confrontational, but it is. The idea that a woman could run this country shouldn’t be hard to grasp, but it is. The idea that white males have occupied a disproportionate amount of cultural space and need to make room for others if we are to evolve as a species shouldn’t be considered a threat, but it is. There was always going to be a cultural standoff when white men felt like they were backed against the wall and had to abscond their supremacy, but my foolish optimism, that stupid pilot light shining deep down as the world turns dark, made me think that the other side that understands the fundamental truth of diversity was going to win out—that we’d come far enough along and were united sufficiently and right enough anyway to defeat Trump. Whoops.
People are struggling to explain and blame today, but what preoccupies me and horrifies me the most is the active support that Trump received from white gay men, especially the likes of Milo Yiannopoulos and those Twinks for Trump. Their Trump support seemed to derive mostly from a desire for attention and money than it did actual conviction—how could any self-respecting gay person stand beside Trump when he chose the virulently anti-gay Mike Pence as his running mate? How could anyone with knowledge of history or even contemporary culture think that Islamic terrorists are the primary threat facing LGBT Americans today? I suppose if you’re an affluent, white gay male with no worry in the world about being able to live as you see fit, with no fear of being bashed or rejected by your people who still largely hold the tenants of white supremacy, an event like the Pulse shooting maybe could have presented a possible menace to your identity, no matter how outside the chance of anything like that happening to you (or again) is. But that requires ignoring other members of your supposed community, of making fault lines out of the fractures that are clear to and regularly pointed out by queer people of color. The way some white gay men held up the Pulse shooting as a testament to the true issues facing LGBT people was either willfully ignorant or painfully stupid. Either way, it seemed too worthless to even entertain. And yet, it worked.
Meanwhile, black and Latino men who have sex with men face, to name just one example of disparity, astronomical rates of HIV infection. The states where this disparity thrives are in the Deep South, and none except Louisiana had Medicaid expansion (Louisiana’s just came through in July). This is what Republican government does to people who are marginalized multiple times over for their intersectionality.
After the CDC released its projection earlier this year that one in two black MSM will contract HIV in their lifetime if rates continue as is (the number for Latino MSM is one in four), I kind of became obsessed and talked about it a lot. I mentioned it to a friend, who’s black and gay, and he explained to me that while this is a concern to him, he has more pressing matters to contend with. “I could leave my house and get shot for being black,” is how he put one example. At times, we all prioritize factions of our layered identities are more urgent than others. For him, that’s simple survival. For others, this prioritizing whiteness before gayness is a luxury.
Again, my idealism fails me. Any politically conscious queer person on either side of the divide remembers what it was like before marriage equality was a federal reality, before our equality was dignified by the government. The vast majority of us have been made to feel worth less during our lifetime. We should know better, but we don’t. Human beings are fundamentally selfish and obsessed with power. For a case study in this, look no further than our next president.
Today is my birthday, and it has sucked. Yesterday evening, when it still seemed like Hillary Clinton was going to win the presidency, I started to feel a little down about things. The older I get, I find the less fun birthdays are for reasons that would seem maybe irrational and certainly self-indulgent if I transcribed them here. Watching doom crawl over the map as the results came in last night, I felt that sadness that I had about myself transferring to my feeling about my people, my country, the future. In that sense, Trump’s triumph helped me put things into perspective. Where did I ever get off feeling sorry for myself, or having hope for progress in the first place?