Recently I spoke to two men whom I love dearly about the upcoming election. They are current and former military.
A few months ago Joe told me he was impressed with what he heard from Biden. When I tell you this made me want to weep with joy I am not being hyperbolic. Joe, a 2016 Trump voter, and I have spoken often over the past four years in my quest to change to his mind. I’ve made him take a quiz about what mattered to him ( his answers overwhelmingly indicated not to vote Republican, even though he had voted Republican all his life), I’ve directed him to more reputable sources when he sent me articles from places like Infowars and I’ve sent him articles that I thought might resonate with him, like when Trump disparaged the military. And even though he never stopped saying he hated Hillary, when he said he was impressed with Biden, I thought I’d finally done it. I had finally gotten through with not just my words but with the care I put into saying those words, repeatedly, over years. Until two weeks ago when he made an incredibly heinous accusation against Joe Biden. It was a lie and a conspiracy theory. Experts in disinformation say that you should not repeat the lie, even if you are trying to debunk it, because it causes it to spread further so I am not going to repeat it here. There was so much I wanted to say in response to him but I couldn’t continue the conversation. I don’t have the patience to engage with people not operating in reality but I wish I did and I am glad others do. It’s the only way we are going to get some of those people back from the damage Facebook has done to them.
It is not long after this non-conversation-conversation that I speak to Ryan. I have known Ryan for twenty years but in full panic mode after my conversation with Joe, I become obsessed with how I think he will vote and send drunk texts like “ hope you vote appropriately!” So when he finally tells me he voted early absentee for Biden but he really wanted Bernie, I am…embarrassed. He has never given me any reason to think he’d vote for someone like Trump, other than his occupation but instead of the years of conversations I had put into knowing Joe’s political leanings, I didn’t take the time and made assumptions about Ryan’s.
So, this essay is for the Ryans in my life and the Ryans in yours and the Ryans I don’t even know. I know some of you have gone too far down the Facebook rabbit hole and I can’t reach you. But I am talking to the people that have donated to my causes for domestic violence victims. I am talking to my siblings. I am talking specifically to my sister Becky, whose willingness to look at the world in a more inclusive, wide-eyed way, despite the politics of our upbringing, makes me incredibly proud. I am talking to the people who don’t think voting matters. I am talking to the people who say they are fiscally conservative but socially liberal because you can’t love someone and vote for a party that wants to harm the people you claim to love. And if you’ve read this far, I am talking to you.
In the late hours/early morning of election night 2016, I was very drunk. And sobbing. I had prepared for these two events; the wine and the tears. I was either going to be celebrating the first woman president or I was going to be mourning the country that I call home electing a sexual predator to the highest office.
There was a time after the election when Jen and I considered getting married a year before we had anticipated. We considered scraping all of our plans. It would be very small. It would local. It would be nothing like we had talked about. But it could maybe happen before we no longer had the right to get married at all. If you are married, think about what went into planning your wedding. Imagine looking at all you thought that day could be and thinking, “the government might not recognize me as a person with full rights soon, what can I change in my plans?” Imagine even having to think about what the government is doing before you plan your wedding. Ultimately, we decided to take a gamble and it turned out fine right? We are the L in LGBTQ after all, not the T — the group of people conservatives has been demonizing for years.
And this is the truth of the Trump years — I have not personally been that affected, at least not in the way many other people have been affected. As of this writing, my marriage is still valid although that may change with a new supreme court. I am middle class. I am a citizen and I am white. My privileges have isolated me from the worst.
But I didn’t mourn that night in early November 2016 because I thought my life would be in danger or harmed in some way. By election day, Trump had been accused by over 20 women of some sort of sexual misconduct. The accusations ranged from harassment to rape. I mourned for those women and selfishly, for myself. Because millions of my fellow Americans, including some that claimed to love me, voted for a man who was the antithesis of what was and is the most important thing I’ve ever done in my life — putting a spotlight on violence against women.
When I was lobbying for change for domestic violence victims in Pennsylvania, the person who took up this cause most forcibly was a Republican lawmaker. This was somewhat surprising, but not entirely. Domestic violence and sexual assault affect all women, in every category imaginable. It should be the easiest issue to get bipartisan support. One day while I was at an event with Representative Kate Klunk, a member of her staff whispered to me “ I love your [Facebook] posts about Trump. I work for a Republican, but at least she’s a good one”. At the time, I wholeheartedly agreed. Admittedly, there was probably much in Representative Klunk’s record that I would have been opposed to. I didn’t look at any of it. I was mourning my mom and fighting for something that would have helped people. That’s what mattered to me. That was in 2015. A few months ago, Kate posted a picture of her young daughter in a Make America Great Again Hat to her Instagram. The hat sat askew on her daughter’s small head as if it had been haphazardly placed there. The caption simply said “GOP booth”, no cultish like praise. I thought about that picture all day. By the time that photo was posted, although my mom’s law never became a reality, other laws had been implemented that helped victims in Pennsylvania and that was a direct effect of the conversation that started in Representative Klunk’s office. So I willed myself to ignore that photo.
On September 20th of this year, another woman came forward to accuse Donald Trump of sexual misconduct. She was victim number 26. A few hours later that same day, Representative Klunk posted another photo of her young daughter in front of a large Trump-Pence sign thanking Trump for bringing Big Ten football back (he did not personally do this and we are in the middle of a pandemic) and tagged Trump and the account Women For Trump. This time, this picture, I cried. I am sorry to say to that staff member that whispered to me five years ago ( whose name I know and who may read this — I hope you found another job!), you did not work for a good Republican. You didn’t even work for a good person. I hesitated about using Representative Klunk’s name ( although it would have been easy to Google) but the reason she can pretend to be someone who will fight for women and support a person who has actively harmed women, is because no one is telling her she can’t.
Working with Representative Klunk was the first time I’d seen politics “up close”. I’ve voted in every presidential election since I was able to but I’ve never done anything more than voted. Despite it not ultimately going the way I would have hoped, it was exciting and empowering to be more active in democracy. It is easy to forget ( because most politicians want you to forget) that they work for us. We are their bosses, we pay for their salaries and it is ultimately up to us, as voters, if they continue their employment. It is why although Kate’s photo felt like a betrayal it did not leave me hopeless about politics.
I would be lying though if I said I have not felt deep despair over the last four years. I have cried often. I deleted Facebook mostly because it is an unethical company but also because it made me into a person I didn’t like. I was angry, every single day.
Recently, I spent some time in my small Pennsylvanian hometown when I housesat for my uncle. I was sitting on a dock my uncle built, watching the creek I’d played in as a child roll by when my dad called and said “welcome home”. I cried then and I am crying now writing those words. Pennsylvania hasn’t been home in five years; it’s been much longer since I called the town where I grew up home. The word home is something I have always struggled with. I have had many houses, lived in many places, but I don’t know though I have ever felt like I had a home, at least not as an adult. Yet there was a feeling I got as soon as I pulled onto my uncle’s tree-lined property — ease in my breathing, warmth in my heart. But on the road to my uncle’s, there were three signs that said: “Trump 2020 Make Liberals Cry Again”. It is this callousness, this inhumanity, that makes me glad I no longer live in this home that doesn’t love me back.
This has been the core of my despair in the last four years. I deeply care about people. It feels like a curse sometimes, feeling everything so fully. I don’t say that to make me seem like a good person. I would love to not constantly think about suffering. Jen has said that things are always black and white with me and this is mostly true. That is not always a great quality. After the initial shock in 2016, I tried to be sympathetic. I loved these people. They held me, in my ways, when my mom was killed. But it is clear, four years on, that if I continued to try to understand or excuse the support of a man like Donald Trump, I would be compromising on every principal I have.
Joe Biden was not my first choice for president. He was not even my third or fourth. But after the last four years, Joe Biden has the one characteristic that I think this country needs more than anything — empathy. It is hard to comprehend the tragedy he has faced ( the loss of his first wife and young daughter in a car accident, and his son to cancer a few years ago) and yet he still exudes hope. He mostly overcame a stutter and is mocked by grown adults but still loves this country. I don’t consider myself a patriotic person but I do care about the people who live here. And I hope to someday again believe that they care about what happens to me — and each other — too.
Polling shows that I should have spent this entire time talking about what Biden will do for you and less about Trump if I wanted to convince you to vote my way. But I am not a pollster. I am a woman who has spent the last four years watching trans folks have their rights taken away, immigrants being demonized, assault victims being ignored, family members becoming radicalized by Fox News and Facebook, our norms and institutions corrupted and children being taken from their parents and locked in cages.
I am deeply hurting and frightened and this is my plea.
If you want to learn more about Joe Biden’s policies you can do so here, and of course, I am happy to talk about politics or voting, if you have any questions — https://joebiden.com/