Battery Yates

Battery Yates
Battery Yates, Sausalito, CA

Thursday, November 10, 2016

On Dread

It's been almost two days since the Presidential Election of 2016 and I still feel a bit numb.

The word that stuck in my mind today was "dread." I honestly don't remember when I felt anything as serious as "dread" before. I've endured a lot of moments of pain in my adult life: when I learned in March that my liver was ailing on account of my allergy medication; when my father collapsed last fall from a weakened heart; when I sat motionless before my parents and came out as bisexual a couple months after Obama's election; when I feared whether I would pass my general exams in grad school earlier that year; when George W. Bush won reelection in 2004; when two planes crashed into the World Trade Center on live CNN.

But in retrospect none of these moments carried with them anything close to "dread." Some even seem silly as I write them out. After all, a lot of folks suffer great fear way more than I ever have, for reasons that no one can explain.

Yesterday, though, I dreaded face-to-face interactions with other people. I took off work to claim a space, somewhat selfishly, for myself to recover from the shock of the election. In fact, I had reserved the day off months before; I told my director, Joe, that I wanted either to recuperate from celebrating Clinton's victory or to plan my move to Canada after her defeat. I did neither. Instead, I sat on the couch and sobbed. All day long.

I did interact with others, just in ways that I didn't expect. I felt moved to call my mom. I spoke with her for an hour or so, crying over and decrying the new America. I texted my sister-in-law, to whom I haven't spoken for nearly a year, to check in. I fielded texts and Tweets from students past and present who sought solace from the hate now legitimized in the highest echelons of our federal government.

My cat Chico sat with me all day. He knows when Leigh and I are in pain. I love him for that.

This morning I dreaded leaving the house. The commute to campus was a 'Twilight Zone' episode: I saw fewer cars than usual on the road, and none seemed to contain any people. I didn't see or notice a soul, anywhere, until I parked my car and walked toward the coffee shop for an iced toddy.

The first living being was a white man, a student walking toward campus. I felt a bolt of shock. Had he supported Trump? Would he somehow know I was gay and call me a "faggot"? When would the blow fall? He passed by with nothing more than a swift breeze.

How dumb. I mean, I have had people accost me and call me a "faggot" before. The last was in Montréal, when a drunk man limped after Leigh and me as we returned to our hotel at night. But why would that happen as the sun rose over Manhattan, Kansas? Why such suspicion toward a white man just because he's a white man? I'm a white man. Why did I assume he was not only straight but homophobic?

I think you probably know why.

Dread. Great fear or apprehension. This is our new reality. This is Trump's America. And he's not even the President of the United States yet.

I've thought a lot, as I'm wont to do, over the object of my fears. I don't fear harm to myself so much. I've endured pain, as I said above. I'd like to think that Leigh and I have been through some tough spots and can weather the coming storms, even if they threaten the very integrity of our legal marriage. I lived for a year and a half in a state that didn't recognize my union. As much as I...dread...that prospect again, I know he and I can handle it.

What I dread more is the pain that others will endure over the next thirty-some years. A preview of coming attractions:

  • My students may not have access to Pell Grants and other aid.
  • My friends who are women may not be able to have abortions, even in the horrifying instances in which they are raped.
  • My colleagues may lose their jobs as a result of declining international student enrollment.
  • My friends without employment-based health insurance may lose their coverage.
  • My niece and nephew may not have decent public schools.

This list fails to capture the pain that those folks whom I don't know will suffer: the loss of Ukraine to Russia; the collapse of a Palestinian state and the prospect of its peaceful coexistence with Israel; the trade war with China that weakens our global economy; the use of nuclear weapons in tactical warfare; the widening of the income gap as a result of experimental tax policies; the degradation that ensues from environmental deregulation; the loss of years of efforts toward mitigating the effects of climate change; the generation of young women who could have felt the empowerment of a woman president.

My dread wore on throughout the day. I don't know when, or if, it will subside. But alongside it rose a strange bedfellow: a sense of connection. All day, people came from the strangest corners of my life to express their mutual feelings of dread, their desire for simple hugs, their well-wishes, their love.

I'll write separately how the power of this connection has reshaped, in dramatic ways, the focus of my life. It has resuscitated a sense of vision and action I haven't felt in years. For now, though, I want only to express and honor these feelings. I never want to forget them.