My 15-year-old daughter sits on her bed, going to high school inside our house as the pandemic slowly churns its way through American life. Being her dad is the greatest joy of my life, which doesn’t keep me from slipping into her room to drop a stack of dirty dishes on her desk as a reminder that they should have gone in the dishwasher. Our small neurotic dog sleeps next to her, having forgotten there was ever a time we weren’t home all day.
By the standards of life in America circa 2020, this is bucolic. You’d hardly know how much we feel at risk.
Flash back to this time 4 years ago. At 11, in a liberal-ish bubble outside Boston, my daughter didn’t yet understand that her dads had civil rights in only a minority of the states. And she was still far from fully grasping what being an African American in this country might mean for her. But I could see what a then-future Trump Presidency would likely bring us and I was scared.
I wrote a Huffington Post essay, “I love you, but: What your Trump vote means for my family.” In it, I talked about what it felt like to hear him promise the right that he would make it legal to not do business with gay people; how I recoiled as he denigrated Latinos, talked about women as dogs, and referred to “the Blacks.”
I wanted my friends and family to understand that it didn’t feel very loving when they excused these things, when they said “I love you, but I’m ok with all that.”
The essay went viral in ways I never expected, passing the million-reader mark. I got emails from all over the globe, some of it praise and some of it hate mail, and as soon as the piece was live in Europe, my computer was hacked. A cursor moved around my screen wildly as an alert message flashed: Your computer is being accessed remotely in —
A few loved ones pooh-poohed my concerns, starting early the drumbeat of “the press is so unfair to Trump” (a consideration that seemingly never applies in reverse). I was admonished for being reactionary and living in fear, a refrain that is now practically the national anthem. “It won’t be that bad,” they said.
Friends piously noted that they would never be single issue voters, which accomplished the neat trick of reducing my family to an “issue,” while remaining awfully vague. Exactly which issue was the one they weren’t moved by?
And then it was over and done.
Four years is a long time. (Add a pandemic and it’s even longer.)
I am now in my 50’s, divorced, raising a teenager, finding new love, and adjusting to the constraints of COVID time. I have to put in more hours to pay the bills, but having the good fortune to be employed remotely means no more commuting, so there is time to sit on the couch at night watching my daughter’s favorite anime shows about demon slayers and kids with mystical powers.
Time in public spaces has been replaced by miles and miles of walking, which means I’m healthier than I was four years ago. This matters: Thanks to this administration, I am no longer guaranteed equal treatment at hospitals. And most people I know have no idea that this is true.
The Trump administration issued guidance allowing health care workers to refuse to care for people like me if they have moral objections to treating us. Under the pretty tag of “conscience rule,” so it seems to be about fairness, Trump engineered discrimination into the law of the land.
This is how it works: if I go to a hospital and anything (from my paperwork to my basic affect) reveals my homosexuality to a health professional, that person can opt not to help me. They don’t actually have to be a churchgoer, or even a member of a church that prohibits homosexuality. They don’t have to prove in any way that dealing with me will cause them harm.
There’s no standard but their own declaration in the moment that they are too spiritually fragile to provide me with care. They have presidential latitude to be a snowflake, melting in the face of conditions they don’t like.
And there’s nothing I can do about it.
That is what your vote for President Trump means to me.
It’s not only me of course. Trans people, single mothers, anyone a health care provider disapproves of is rejectable, an exercise in religious freedom that, at least for Christians, stands in direct opposition to their faith, founded to honor a man who made a prostitute his closest confidante and chased away only the people profiting off religion.
It doesn’t stop there, of course. I did say 4 years is a long time: long enough for Trump to issue a similarly broad guidance allowing people to deny business or services to others for any religious reason they desire. Long enough for the administration to argue multiple times (including at the Supreme Court) that people like me should not have equal rights in the workplace. (Thankfully, he lost that one.) Long enough to extend anti-gay policies into seemingly any sphere possible, like delivery rooms and the barns of 4-H.
If I was trans it would be much worse. The Trump administration, fearing gender affirmation in a way it has never feared COVID, has spent four years working tirelessly to remove all hints of safety in settings from homeless shelters to hospitals and beyond.
What does this mean, practically, day to day? It means one same-sex couple I know who evacuated after the wildfires pretended to be cousins to avoid running afoul of a no-homo policy in the lodging they found. It means married women turned away from the retirement home in their hometown. It means a patient having his doctor order surgery and then being told the hospital won’t do it.
It’s unsettling enough to know that we no longer have equal access to health care, housing, and commerce, but the onslaught isn’t over. With Ruth Bader Ginsburg newly laid to rest, members of the Supreme Court blasted same-sex marriage, saying it should never have been legalized, a problem created by the court that “only it could fix.”
Despite this, my GOP friends self-soothe by assuring me that I’m still being unfair, some repeating the canard that Trump is the most pro-gay President ever, largely on the basis of that gay ambassador who announced (to Trump’s surprise) that the US was going to lead a global conversation on decriminalizing homosexuality. A few panel discussions and no actual initiatives later, this flashy statement looks very much like fake news (especially when the U.S. refuses to co-sign U.N. condemnations of regimes that torture or execute gay people).
And this is just one of my “issues.” I could write about the others, especially my fears for my daughter growing up hearing the President say people like her are “coming to destroy” the suburbs.
But honestly, I wonder sometimes how much our lives even matter.
My friends who support the President don’t seem to care much about things that have actually happened to us. They are so busy imagining a kind of bogeyman “socialism” that no one is proposing, or envisioning atrocities that might possibly happen, that they no longer have capacity to deal with the here and now: laws already passed, harm already done. It seems to me like they’re the ones living — and voting — in fear.
There’s little I can do but keep saying, “Look at me. See my family. Know who you are voting against.” Because, after four years, it’s perfectly clear that is what they’re doing. Not hypothetically. Not in the future. Now.
When I say these things, I know it causes discomfort to some who love us.
But it is a privilege to be only uncomfortable, as opposed to being vulnerable. I shouldn’t apologize if my words pain anyone whose 2016 vote has literally cost me my rights.
This time around, I need to be even more direct to those I love who choose Trump over me and my daughter. Not just to a generic “them” but to family, close friends, teachers I adored, students I’m so proud of.
I need to say it plain: I love you, but this vote won’t ever go away.
I want you to know that it will always be there, this vote. Sitting between us. A little self-protective barrier between me and you, an acknowledgment that you voted against my family.
Maybe you’ll hear from me less. Maybe not at all. Or maybe when we do meet again, I’ll seem much like my old self: warm, playful, glad for our time together.
Except I won’t be the same.
Your decision to support the harm done to me will not merely chip away at my affection for you, but will crack it, wear it down, rewrite its contours like a terrible flood.
Like my rights, my love will be diminished.
Both are on you.
This post was previously published on Medium.com.
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