On Giving Trump a Chance
An open letter to my fellow white, cisgender liberals.
This is an open letter, but there are some people who it doesn’t really apply to and this part of the letter is for them. This part of the letter is for the people who can’t handle hearing about another suicide. This part of the letter is for the trans people who aren’t in the right place to read about transphobia right now. This part of the letter is for the people who can’t stand to hear about conversion therapy. This part of the letter is for the people who already know about the ever growing number of murders of trans women of color and they cannot bear to talk about it right now. This is for the people who know about the violence women of color face. This is for the people who can’t be reminded today of the police murdering black children. This is for the people who know already about the abuse disabled people face and it is a deep and personal wound that they must care for at this time. This is for the people who know all these things already. This is a trigger warning.
The rest of this letter is for the people who don’t know because you need to know. I’m tired of you not knowing. After this election, especially, you need to know.
To whom it may concern,
Not just Donald Trump won the United States presidential election, but his crack team of bigots did too. From the parochially homophobic and misogynistic Mike Pence to men like Gingrich and Bannon who have built their entire careers off attacking women, especially trans women, women of color, queer women, disabled women, women they just don’t like. Gingrich defined himself by his opposition of the Clintons. Bannon has grown most of his influence in the fetid pile of human fertilizer that is the “alt-right”, 2016’s more fashionable and up-to-date version of a neo-nazi. There will be a number of thinkpieces that come out in the following days, weeks, and months about how we got here, and I am not qualified to guess at any of that myself. I can, however, tell you where I’m at and how I got here.
There’s a line in Terry Pratchett’s wonderful book Going Postal right at the start where Moist is asked if he has any last words before he is hanged and he says, “I wasn’t actually expecting to die.” That’s how I felt on election night. As polls came in showing me that I had been betrayed by my fellow white women, that they were the ones with the knife all along, I felt sick and sad and broken. I have close friends who are trans and have reached out in the past and been invited to be a part of some of their online spaces. I watched terror rip through those spaces for the next forty-eight hours. Suicidal posts, desperate bargaining, fear. Some were abused. Some were assaulted. All were badly hurt by the election results, the sudden change from bigotry to open, brazen, bloody violence.
I cried a lot on election night. I cried a lot the next day as well. My twitter timeline moved nonstop with people in pain, people afraid, people hurting. I read articles about what to do next and felt powerless and helpless and trapped by poverty and location and how very hateful some people can be towards my fat body. I sat foggy-headed, pounding migraine from dehydration because I’d cried all the wet out of myself and all that was left was the dust of me.
I read a lot of stories those first forty-eight hours. The one that changed me was the one with the tree.
It was a link to a tumblr post trying to rehome cats that did it. It was just vague enough to make me not believe it, just horribly specific enough to make me afraid it was true. A girl with a fandom blog for a fairy tale or a fantasy novel or something. A girl with cats. She said, “As my previous post indicated, I am gone. I have left behind six cats, all rescues, and my inability to assure them of lifelong safety is my biggest personal failure.”
That struck a chord with me. My biggest personal failure. People make jokes about how cats are aloof, or conceited, or think humans are stupid, but I have cats and I know this couldn’t be further from the truth. They look at you sometimes like no matter what you do, they will always love you. What she said tore at me. I didn’t want to believe it was true. Maybe she just moved, I said to myself unconvincingly, but I knew she hadn’t, and a few minutes of digging found me the post of her friends planning a memorial to celebrate her life following her tragic suicide.
The digging also took me through her other posts and confirmed for me that the reason she’d stated for ending her life was fear of losing her health insurance. Her last post was dated November 9th.
She wrote something, the last thing she wrote before the scheduled posts about the cats and the fan site went up, about a tree. She was walking in the woods and saw a sycamore sapling that had been bent in a storm. It was damaged, but it was alive. She propped the tree up with sticks and came back to check on it regularly, changing the crutches out for new ones, making sure the tree wasn’t weighed down too heavily by snow, for six years.
She said, “I thought You will make it. You will grow deeper and stronger, and one day, when your branches reach out so far that you can shade the path, and your leaves are broader than dinner plates, that time that you nearly died will be no more than a little swirl in your grain, a little extra character, somewhere down nearer your heartwood, but layered over with years and years of prosperity and safety. I had so much hope for it.”
Do you ever read something and know that it’s going to mess you up for the rest of your life? Have you ever had that experience before? Like, you’re just reading a book or scrolling through twitter or something and then you read something and you just know you’re going to be thinking about this thing for the rest of your life?
Though the tree was healed and growing well, maintenance was scheduled nearby, and the tree was in the path, and the tree was ripped up, and gone, and she said sometimes we don’t get to heal.
The only thing I could think as I read the post was this: This sweet girl who rescued cats and tended to injured trees in the woods was gone. I’d never know her. We’d never bond over our mutual love of cats and fairy tales and empathy. I’d never learn that one annoying habit she must have had. She’d never walk through the woods again, and take suet cakes in memorial of the rescue cats whose ashes she had scattered there over the years, or write a post on social media, or rescue another tree. She was gone.
There has been a lot of talk on both sides about putting things behind us and moving forward. There’s been a lot of talk that we need to give Trump a chance, we need to wait and see. They say we need to do it for the country.
I see democrats in Virginia asking for donations for a GOP office that has been vandalized. Meanwhile, suicide hotlines are overwhelmed with calls. Where are the democrats asking for donations for them? I see people saying protesters are being sore losers. Sore losers? We have lost actual lights in this world, lives that were so worth living, so worth saving.
No matter what sort of president Trump turns out to be, we will never get back those we have already lost. Part of the blame goes to him and his campaign of terror. I don’t know how you could consider a vice presidential pick like Mike Pence anything but an act of terror against the LGBTQIA+ community but here we are. There will be, no doubt, those detractors who always point to some group of affluent, white, cisgender homosexuals who support Trump. I do not doubt that they exist. I have seen them and they are servile dogs to racists bigots. I have seen the harm they do. I know they exist. Their existence will never make Trump an ally to the queer and trans community. Not with Mike Pence there. Not with the long shadow of the conversion therapy he defends.
I don’t know if you know what conversion therapy is, reader. I left a warning at the top that the people who already know these things, they didn’t have to read on, and I realized I don’t know if you know exactly what that term means. It’s innocent sounding enough, isn’t it. It’s got “therapy” right there in the name. That’s a good selling point. But it’s a kind of psychological torture where the subject is broken down until they have no connection to themselves, no image of themselves. It’s the sort of tactics we feel uncomfortable using on prisoners. Conversion therapy depends on the belief that if you just destroy a queer or trans person, you can rebuild them and they’ll be “normal” or at least they won’t be that anymore. It is the direct practice of evil.
Pence, that is Mike Pence, that is Vice President-elect Mike Pence, wrote on 2001 on his campaign website: Congress should support the reauthorization of the Ryan White Care Act only after completion of an audit to ensure that federal dollars were no longer being given to organizations that celebrate and encourage the types of behaviors that facilitate the spreading of the HIV virus. Resources should be directed toward those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior.
Since I’m assuming you, the reader, are in fact woefully undereducated about these issues, allow me to break this one down for you. The Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency (CARE) Act of 1990 is an act of Congress that allocates federal funding towards programs that assist low-income, uninsured, or under-insured people with HIV/AIDS and to their families. Before the Affordable Care Act, there were lots of people who simply didn’t have health insurance, and if those people got HIV/AIDS, there was little they could do to afford the medications necessary to keep them alive. The Ryan White CARE Act provides grants to programs that help pay for medications and other vital needs, everything from dental care for people with HIV/AIDS to research to education for clinics to “outreach to minority groups disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS.” Pay attention to that one. That’s the one that got Pence’s blood pressure up.
Pence wanted queer outreach for people with HIV/AIDS to stop. He instead wanted those funds “directed toward those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior.” He wanted that money for conversion therapy joints. He wanted to promote bigoted scams.
Pence gave us a more recent example of what we should expect from him when, in May of this year, he rejected President Obama’s directive meant to protect transgender students in the wake of the bigoted North Carolina HB2, or the bathroom bills.
Pence veiled his words, pretended that it was about keeping “bureaucrats” out of Indiana, the same way he veiled his words in 2001 when he said “the types of behaviors that facilitate the spreading of the HIV virus.” Maybe, reader, you can ignore what he’s actually saying that, but I know words, and I know what they mean, and I know what he’s saying in between them. We all know. You know, too. You just don’t want to deal with it.
It’s been one of those weeks where it’s easy to think that 2016 is some wrong timeline, like we aren’t supposed to be here, but when you look back, it’s pretty easy to see, reader. The cops didn’t just start killing black people this year. It wasn’t new when they beat Rodney King either. This isn’t the first year trans people have feared for their lives. This isn’t the first year we’ve hurt LGBTQIA+ kids. This isn’t the first year disabled people haven’t been sure if they’re going to be able to make it. This isn’t the first year of evil.
It would be impossible to deny that this 2016 Trump campaign has been one built upon reassurances to white cisgender supremacy, and that the very existence of the campaign is and always has been an overt threat to many different marginalized communities. Pence himself is a threat in particular to queer and trans people. Every time Trump would say something about how he’s a huge friend to the LGBT community, all I could scream at the screen was, “but you chose Mike Pence as your running mate!” There’s no middle ground there. A huge portion of Mike Pence’s career is about rejecting LGBTQIA+ people and their civil liberties. He smiles that tight, waxy, plastic smile, and says that it’s about letting Hoosiers decide what is best for Indiana, but he’s not talking about queer Hoosiers, or trans Hoosiers, he’s talking about the bigots like him.
I haven’t even touched on the way he treats reproductive rights, especially concerning women of color. Never forget Purvi Patel.
Recently, it’s been indicated that Trump would like to continue holding rallies. He’d let Pence run the country while he’s out enjoying the adulation of the racist, transphobic, Islamophobic, white nationalist crowds. How can any trans person take that as anything other than a threat that what few, tenuous protections they’ve managed to gather under President Obama will be snatched away in January, and it will go back to the hard times when they were hurting and nobody was going to help them.
How can anyone who has seen the footage from those rallies, heard the stories of little disabled boys getting their wheelchairs kicked and abuse hurled at them, heard the stories of Trump supporters attacking people of color in the crowd, and seen the white nationalist iconography on proud display, and consider their own status as a marginalized person, a disabled person, a trans person, a person of color, a queer person, a Muslim, a Jew, and not consider those rallies a kind of threat, a promise of more violence to come? How can we look at him saying he wants Bannon for his chief strategist and not interpret that as a targeted threat? Bannon, who personally participated in the prolonged, reprehensible online abuse of women in the tech field and capitalized on the misogynistic open-sourced act of domestic violence that got its own hashtag. Bannon, an avowed antisemitic racist who beat his ex wife and then told her to leave the state so she couldn’t testify. Bannon, who has lined his pockets with money made off a site running barely legible bigoted screeds to direct mobs of harassers at women of color like Leslie Jones, and organizations like Planned Parenthood, and even conservative Jews who he thinks have gotten out of line. Bannon, who employs serial harassers of women, especially trans women, especially women of color, especially black women. How do people not take this as a threat?
People keep asking everyone in America to give Trump a chance. People I once thought I respected, like Elizabeth Warren, have decided they will work with him. The long nightmare of the election is over for some people, dear reader, but for others, it is only beginning, and some of those people are very angry, and some of those people are very afraid. I will not give Trump a chance. The truth is that it doesn’t matter what Trump does going forward. The hateful campaign of his was such a threat, such a great evil, that it has a body count. We have lost people to this. It doesn’t matter what kind of president he is, because we have already lost people to this. What right does the world have to not be burning and broken without them in it?
I need this campaign to be held accountable for the people it has threatened, harassed, bullied, and in some cases, driven to suicide. I need them held accountable for the blood on their hands. I cannot give them a chance. I cannot abide. I cannot be okay. People keep trying to assure me that this is not normal, but I’m scared that they don’t see that it has become normal, and that there are people, right now, right this very second who are afraid, who are thinking of ending their lives, who don’t know what to do because they have come to expect this kind of pain and abuse and marginalization, and they are hanging by a very thin thread.
And I need you, the reader, you here who have been telling us all not to unfriend people who voted for him, who have been saying protesters shouldn’t take bridges and streets and shut them down, who have been saying people are overreacting, and being sore losers, and having tantrums, I need you to know that I want every window smashed, every car on fire, every powerful, rich, white, cis person who voted for him wailing in terror until they pay for those they pushed over the edge and into darkness, the ones they took away from the world, the gentle lights that couldn’t stand it anymore. When you, reader, tell me, “it’s okay, I know, This Is Not Normal,” I want to breathe fire and tell you that you and I were so weak willed, so spineless, so complicit that we let it become normal, and now we must face the reality of those deaths we have caused in this.
I need all of us to commit to building a better world where good people can do good works and adopt cats and rescue sycamore trees. Not just wearing a safety pin. I need us to commit. I need us there all the way, down to the blood and bone of it. I didn’t understand until I saw that post that I needed to do something not to make myself feel better but because I cannot feel any worse than this anymore, and I cannot bear to witness those who are carrying so much pain.
Reader, if you’re one of the ones who said the protests were a tantrum, I need you to know: it’s grief, and fury, and justified. We have a debt to repay to those we’ve already lost.
I told you I would tell you where I am and how I got here. Where am I? I’m on the precipice of what feels like madness. All the evidence is there: this is my country. This has been my country this whole time. This is the sort of country that can make living with an illness so dire that someone kills themselves on the threat of being made to die slowly and painfully without care. This is the sort of country that can snatch away LGBTQIA+ rights, civil rights, without a backwards thought. This is the sort of country where police shoot unarmed black children in the street and murder them and people argue that maybe they had a right to feel threatened by a child. This is the sort of country where trans women can be murdered, and their murderer can stand in court and say they were scared of the transgender person, and we’re just like oh, okay, have a nice day then. This is the sort of country where people terrified for their lives rightfully take to the streets in protest and get told they’re being disrespectful. This is the sort of country where you’re expected to donate to your worst enemy’s Go Fund Me campaign while your benefits are cut. This is the sort of country where a man can mock your disability and still become president. This is the sort of country that courts the white nationalist vote and tries to tell you they’re the entirety of the working class and rural south. This is the sort of country where after the election, liberal elites put safety pins on their sweaters and then sit in all white neighborhoods we’ve just finished gentrifying and cluck their tongues at antifa and talk about the moral high ground. A high ground I am standing right on the edge of and looking down into the seething flood of hate and bigotry and the less privileged people trapped down in it, drowning. Around you and I, reader, are the other white liberals going high while the hatred goes low. It’s easy for us, isn’t it. We don’t have to live where the hate is.
My life is not worth more than the life of a woman losing her health coverage. My life is not worth more than a disabled person’s life. My life is not worth more than a trans woman’s life. My life is not worth more than a black life. My life is not worth more than a Muslim life. My life is not worth more than a Jewish life. My comfort is not worth more than the danger we have put people in. My moral purity is not worth more than their lives. Our self-righteousness is not worth more than their lives.
And even if we sweep the midterms, win in 2020 for whatever “winning” means anymore, even if we impeach Trump, even if we work with Trump and everything is “okay” later, it will never, ever actually be okay. It will never be acceptable that she’s dead. I will never forgive it. I will never forget that this campaign that traded on hate and fear threatened her so much that she ended her life. I will never forgive any of them, any of us, for this. It will never be okay. We will never make up for it. We cannot atone for it. All we can do is try to make the world the sort of place she wouldn’t have died in and hope that others like her, gentle and sweet people who can heal the injured world, are made safe enough to bring light back.
It will never be okay that any of the people dead from this are dead.
I did this. You and I, reader, up here where we’re all so superior, up here on the high ground. We let this happen.
I can’t give Trump a chance. Already, he’s done too much harm.