November 10, 2016.
Yesterday, like many others, I woke up afraid. I was staying in a hotel 45 minutes outside of Pittsburgh and had seen a lot of Trump signs on the way there from Connecticut. I saw a woman hanging letters on a bridge, T, R, and I could guess what was coming next. TRISCUIT. I wish. I’d rather have a salted wheat cracker in the oval office than the current president elect.
The reason for my fear was, and is - I travel the country as a trans woman, and I live in constant fear that someone, somewhere will pick up on something - a slight adam’s apple, bone structure, a little too much muscle in the arm, slim hips - something that will clue them in to the fact that I’m not your average woman-born-woman. And there's this hard-to-ignore connection between the culture of ignorance and aggression and hatred of LGBT people. So there’s good reason to fear. Last year there were 271 reasons that we know of, and this year doesn’t look a whole lot better.
So I walked out into the world with the knowledge that these people now have a platform for their ignorance, and not only that, that it is legitimized and even glorified when the president elect of the most powerful country in the world has been endorsed by the head of the KKK. I stopped at a Dunkin Donuts for coffee and a big, gas-guzzling SUV with a Trump sticker pulled up next to me. Out stepped an enormous man, meaning tall, easily 6’6, and his wife, both caucasian. Did I imagine it, or was there a certain swagger in the way they walked, did they stand a little straighter as though they felt they had recently been restored to their rightful status in the world.
I was playing at the University of Pittsburgh that afternoon and drove into the city still thinking about all this. I was stuck at a crosswalk on campus while a sea of students in between classes crossed, hundreds and hundreds and hundreds. I had forgotten how diverse the student body is at PITT, and I looked out my windshield at the faces of these young women and men from every imaginable racial and ethnic background. And I saw something there that I recognized:
I had seen and felt something like that before, back in 2011 when I was living in Tucson and Jared Loughner opened fire at a Gabrielle Giffords rally. He killed 6 people, including a 9-year-old girl, Christina Taylor-Green. I don’t care who you are, how you identify or who you voted for - when something like that happens, we are all in agreement - this is the very definition of tragedy, this should not have happened, the sadness pours in, takes you over and you grieve. Collectively.
And this is what I saw this morning on campus - a shared, collective grief. We are all, or most of us, sad about the exact same thing. Something happened where a massive voting block sent a message that said we don’t want you, we don’t like you, you don’t belong here, you’re not welcome here.
You’re not safe here.
And then something surprising also happened. I bought a drink at Subway and said to the cashier, How’s your day going. She was a young black woman and she looked at me and said, not so great. And I said, I think a lot of us feel that way. We kind of laughed the way people laugh quietly at something that’s clearly fucked up. And then went on to have this conversation that was real and meaningful and I said, I don’t agree with what happened, this is not the country I want to live in. She said, I know, me neither. We really, really saw each other and looked into each other’s eyes and there was pain, warmth, humor, disappointment, hope.
This happened again a few hours later. I was at Target eating a hot dog and an older woman sat down at a table a little ways from me. She was wearing a hijab, and I can’t pinpoint her ethnicity but I bet there are plenty of people who think they can. As I was leaving I sat down across from her and said, Are you doing OK? She raised her hands palms slightly up and blew air out the side of her mouth, the universal language for - What Do YOU think. I told her that it was a terrible thing that happened today. And that there are plenty of people, including the person standing in front of her, that want her here, that she belongs here, that she has a place in this country. Her english was broken and she didn’t say much in return, but she smiled weakly and I put a hand on her shoulder. For one brief moment I just wanted to offer some small bit of comfort to this stranger, because I know she felt some version of the fear I felt when I woke up that morning.
And today I think - maybe this is the work, and this is what it looks like. So many of us have taken for granted that this nation is vaguely inclusive and just, far from perfect but ultimately moving towards something better. The long arc of moral justice. Today it’s very clear that that is not the case, and that our caring might need to become something more concrete than just some amorphous feeling of support for the marginalized.
I want to live in a world where people who are different don’t have to walk around fearing for their safety. I want a lot more than that for all of us, but it’s Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and none of us can thrive while we’re worrying about being assaulted or victimized. In the long term maybe it's possible to create that world through politics, elections, ballot measures, lobbying or voting. But I don't want to wait another 6 months or 2 years or 4 years, I want it now and I know that it's possible to experience it every day if I'm vigilant and caring.
Because when I see and am seen by someone, when I open my heart to a total stranger and their pain becomes mine, when I give of what I have whether it’s money, kindness, attention, time, caring - for one brief moment the world I want to live in does exist. There it was, is and ever shall be.
In the aftermath of this, let us realize that we’re sharing the same pain and that it’s a rare opportunity to reach out and connect. That there’s some strange alchemy at work that can turn even this to good, and already has - grief opens the heart in a way that few other things can. We’re a fractious group of marginalized people with good intentions, and that this might actually be the thing that binds us together.
Now get out there and be nice to someone.
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