A Low Down Dirty Shame
It was a conversation that’s been played over and over again. A child, embarrassed and humiliated, confessing to friends about a disturbing revelation from a family member. My cousin, who in his late 40s confessed to being homosexual, endured a similar fate. Family members who, despite well-paying jobs, couldn’t keep themselves out of bankruptcy court, faced the walk of shame. Friends who stumbled morally or ethically at some point in their careers eventually had to admit their failures. It happens. It’s part of life.
This morning, I overheard the familiar conversation from a group of undergraduate students just down the hall from my office door. The words were the same, the reactions similar to those I’d heard before. It could have been a revelation about a relative who identified as a transgender woman. It could have been a conversation about a close friend who admitted to committing a heinous crime. Or it could have been about someone who confessed to some bizarre form of forbidden love.
But it wasn’t.
“I just found out that my dad’s a Republican,” a young female student told the other four sitting at the table.
“Oh, no,” one replied.
“You mean like a registered Republican?” said a male student.
“Yeah. I’m so embarrassed. I thought I knew him.”
“That’s so weird. He seemed so cool.”
“Have you told your mom?”
“She already knew. She just never told me.”
“I’m so sorry. Are you okay?”
“No, I’m not. I feel so betrayed.”
“You should talk to someone.”
“I know. But who?”
“I don’t know. Someone.”
“Yeah, you can’t be the first person this happened to.”
“I just don’t think I can talk to him, now.”
“This totally sucks. But you’ll be okay.”
“Yeah, it’s not your fault.”
“Thanks. That means a lot.”
So, yeah, that really happened. You can’t make up something quite that good. Another time, another place, and it would have been the same conversation with a completely different context. Replace “Republican” with “axe-wielding furry” or “compulsive streaker” and you’d likely get the same reaction from the same group of friends, whether it was 40 years ago or today.
In today’s divisive environment, your political leanings are probably far more likely to stir controversy than anything other aspect of your personal identity. The fact that I’m a registered Independent seems to confuse my friends and family members who identify as either Republican or Democrat. It used to be something they ignored, or assumed could be corrected with proper treatment. They were patient with me, almost patronizing. They tried to reason with me: if only I understood their party better, I’d see the light. But, now, I’m just an anomaly, a curiosity. They don’t loathe me as much as see me as “one off.”
So, it was with no small degree of amusement that I absorbed the conversation outside my office. I wore my ugly sweater today, but I really wished I’d had a “Make America Great Again” cap to sport when I walked past the group to get a cup of coffee. If there was ever a time I wanted to play the role of the political Elephant Man, it was then.
“I am not an animal… I’m a Republican.”
Instead, I had to be content to tell the story. It’s a low down dirty shame.