When Your Life Is A Political Talking Point
“I’m not able to talk to friends anymore. I don’t think I can trust them.”
In this divisive election, many of us are getting into heated arguments and losing friends. Most of us cannot wait until November 8, when the world will finally start to get back to normal. But for those whose very lives have been at the center of this election’s political talking points, normal may no longer exist. For the last year, we’ve not just been debating health care or economic policy; we’ve been debating the actual lives of people.
Can trans people use public restrooms? Can Muslims enter the U.S.? Are immigrants trying to enter this country for nefarious purposes? If you are a trans person, a Muslim person, or an immigrant, the answer to these questions determine your quality of life — even your safety. And the “friendly debates” on these topics are anything but.
Once this election is over, the pain of realizing that your friends, neighbors, and coworkers believe you don’t have a right to exist — or could justify policies that endanger people like you — remain, regardless of who our next president is. As people’s bigotries, lapses of empathy, and unchecked privileges are laid bare, your workplace and community are forever changed in your eyes.
“Nervous. Incredibly,” replies Norah when I ask her how she’s feeling about this election. Even before the reactionary “bathroom bills” of this election cycle were first proposed, using public restrooms was already stressful and dangerous for many trans people. But now, Norah is afraid to even use the restroom at work. The worry of what this transphobic climate could bring has forced Norah to consider leaving her friends and family behind. “I’ve made plans with some friends who live in Oregon to move there if one [of the bills restricting bathroom access] is passed here in Texas,” she says.
“I am in the middle of transitioning, which is hard enough as it is,” explains Theresa. She is not the first trans person I’ve met who has found themselves at the unlucky crossroads of trying to transition while in the midst of election-based transphobic fervor. Hopes of being able to quietly transition while focusing on her relationships with friends and family have been sidetracked as she’s been called to fight against political actions that threaten her health and safety.
“I think my wife is a bit annoyed with how political I’ve been lately, but she’s explicitly said that she doesn’t blame me for the world being shitty,” Theresa says. She is lucky. Many trans people have reported that their activism against these bills has alienated them from friends and family who were just starting to adjust to their gender identity.
As the discussion around trans rights has amplified, the ability to separate friend from foe has become easier: “It’s allowed me to sort people I’m not yet out to into ‘going to be a problem’ or ‘going to be awesome’ buckets,” explains Theresa.
With the anti-Muslim rhetoric of Trump and the rest of the Republican candidates, this election has been very traumatizing for many Muslim Americans as well.
“At this point, I miss Mitt Romney, where he at?!” jokes my friend Ashraf. Living in the liberal enclave of Seattle, he’s been able to avoid a lot of the worst of the anti-Muslim sentiment of this election. But via news and social media, Ashraf is very aware of the threat represented by Trump and his followers.
“Seattle is insular in its relative progressive liberal state, but at the same time, the few TRUMP signs I’ve seen on bumper stickers and lawns have given me intense emotional reactions based on what they stand for.”
“As a Muslim, this election is making me feel isolated and terrified,” says Lucia. For her, the problem is not just the rhetoric of Trump and his supporters, but her liberal community as well.
“I don’t feel like I can trust [my friends] because they support Hillary Clinton,” she says. I was surprised to hear this, as I had assumed that her anxiety would be mostly related to Trump. She explains further:
“They don’t get that her policies, both those in the past and those she alludes to, are really pro-dead Muslims. She smiled and declared Iran her enemy at the first debate. Not a particular aspect of Iranian government, but Iran. All of the people. In regards to Israel’s bombing of a UN hospital in Palestine, she remarked that Israel was right to have bombed it and the kids killed were an unfortunate casualty from ‘the fog of war.’ When I note these things to my (supposedly liberal HRC) friends, they say nothing.
It’s like they have turned off the part of their brains that acknowledge that I’m human.”
I asked Lucia how this has affected her day-to-day life. “I don’t leave the Seattle metro area, even for something great, because driving through [areas of Washington like] Skagit or Eastern King is feeling life or death. I used to cover my hair on Friday morning [before going to] jumma (congregational prayer), but now it feels too visible to do that.”
Changes like these — like knowing that you couldn’t cover your hair in your own community for fear of bigotry and hate — don’t go away when the election is over. This election has permanently separated Lucia and many others from the communities they used to love.
“That’s what’s coming out of this for me; we don’t even get lip service, we’re so unwanted. So we need to represent ourselves.”
“We might not be talking about how this shit is making us feel, but it is definitely affecting all of us,” says Theresa, “and gestures of support both grandiose and tiny are very, very welcome. Just a ‘hey, how are you holding up’ would mean a tremendous amount.”
It can be easy for those of us not directly affected by the rhetoric of this election season to forget that we are talking about the lives of people in our community — people we may care about deeply. Our cavalier attitude as we toss the identity of others back and forth like a political grenade causes real damage to real people. Our trans, Muslim, and immigrant friends and neighbors have found themselves shouldering a burden that they shouldn’t have to bear — especially not alone.
Lead image: flickr/Beverly & Pack