November 8: This is gonna happen.
November 9: This fucking happened.
It has been almost exactly two years since I went through the less-than-ideal situation of coming out to my family. Despite their excommunication and holistic denial of my identity, I had moved on.
And so had our nation. Or so I thought.
The morning after the election, laying in bed, I kept thinking back to what my aunt told me after I came out to my family: “That may be okay in your world, but where I live it’s not. It’ll be a hard life and you’re going to face lots of discrimination.” At the time I thought her views were antiquated, out-of-line with what I had experienced so far in my life. The subsequent years served to reinforce this belief.
While I sometimes notice unsettled glances when holding a woman’s hand, and I definitely get more than my fair share of looks when I kiss her publically, I have written this off as the public "in progress." Despite my aunt’s prejudiced warning, no one besides my family had been openly discriminatory. Besides, if these theoretical threats existed, I wanted to face them head on. This self-determination developed more fully into my pursuit for and appreciation of equality, something that I thought pervaded our country.
But the election results made me question my entire worldview. While not all Trump voters actively engage in a culture of intolerance, at the very least they valued issues like email servers and hired speaking engagements more than the humanity of others in casting their vote.
The Trump campaign purports to “make America great again.” But how can we make this country great when half of the country now feels scared to...be? We are not just nervous; we are insecure, illegitimized and scared.
People keep saying they’re shocked. But discrimination and bias and hate, these have been present (if more recently hidden) in the American people. It’s easy to demonize bigoted people, but negative qualities sometimes surface within restrictive confines, such as in the privacy and safety of a polling booth. My family is these people. They rejected and disowned me only when directly confronted with a differing ideology, letting worldviews trump family ties.
Laying there in bed that morning, I kept thinking, “My aunt was right. America is like my family, discriminatory beneath an often loving exterior.” The thought deeply saddened me. I recently moved back to the United States after living in England for a year, and there was something satisfying about returning to my homeland. Despite the love I have for England, and as much as I dreaded dealing again with the problems in our country, I also experienced the joy of the familiar, rediscovering where I’m from.
But now I need to rationalize the fact that given the chance, most of my country would discriminate against me. If I was their daughter, I would be rejected all over again. I’m not usually a political person — events like elections don’t often affect me because I recognize the level of my removal. I’ve become an expert at both compartmentalizing and moving forward after dealing with traumatic experiences, but this seems to have stymied me. I’ve caught myself wanting to cry even when I think I have a handle on my emotions. My mind wanders every time I try to do work.
And as white woman who passes as straight, I’m not facing nearly the worst of how people are reacting. I’ve already heard tales of hate crimes, the same phenomenon I lived through in Britain after Brexit. I’ve found myself staring at white people and thinking, “Did you vote for Trump?” and at minorities, “How do you feel right now?” This type of categorical thinking is something I don’t normally do — I’ve always prided myself on getting to know individuals. But now, race has come to the forefront for me.
I called my best friend the day after the election because I felt like we should talk about it, and he said, “White people did this.” (He identifies as Latino of Mexican descent.) I immediately retorted, “Don’t play that game. I’m white, and I didn’t vote for him. Don’t lump me and all the other white people who didn’t vote for him together with those who did.” But of course, he’s right — the majority of people who voted for Trump were white. He later apologized and said he was feeling emotionally confused. And of course, I understood. But this election has put a wall between my best friend, my brother, and I — a wall that had never separated us before.
Right now, I’m surrounding myself with people I care about. I attended a peace rally in Boston Common, filled with people wishing we could all look beyond the differences. Hate is never a productive emotion. I just hope enough other people in the country can recognize that too.
Kat Smith is a women's health activism scholar and has written about second-wave feminism in the United States and the United Kingdom. She enjoys traveling, hiking, and antiquing in her free time.
Top photo by Breeanna Elliott
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