November 27, 2016
This is one way I figured out I’m a writer. These times I’m rendered useless, my thoughts swarming around unrelentingly in my head, distracting me from kids, friends, books, whatever, until I finally say, Okay, okay! and sit myself down to get it all out so I can move the hell on.
Of course, in this case, that’s exactly what’s been batting around in there—How am I going to move on after this election? Because, to be sure, this is a Before and After moment, one of, literally, global proportions. 9/11 was one of those moments too, but then it felt like everyone was pretty much on the same page, united in our grief and patriotism, whereas these past couple of weeks have felt like some hellish inversion of that. It took nearly two full weeks to feel like I could write about it without it just being an F-bomb-laden rant, though there will surely still be some of that.
It started way before the election, of course, the revulsion I felt regarding Trump, and honestly, most of the people who supported him. But I have to admit that I not only thought Hillary was going to win, but that I had the, now obviously naïve, privileged hope that she was going to win big, and I would be reassured that people are basically good, love trumps hate, reason wins out over ignorance and greed, and I could resume life dodging the random Deplorable still spewing Trump’s deplorable spew. Instead, he—they—won, and it felt nothing short of them whipping out their nasty, shriveled, pathetic dicks and pissing all over me and every woman and minority. (Don’t even start me on the women and minorities who voted for him, because I have no words for that.) (Oh wait, one just came to mind: dupes.)
It’s hard to describe what watching him win that night felt like. I don’t want to say it was like watching 9/11 unfold on TV, because thousands of people were not dying in front of my eyes, but I can’t deny how similar the process was—first the nervous denial, then the growing anxiety of what might really be happening, then the panicked disbelief of what you’re actually seeing, then the sickening realization that no amount of disbelief is going to make it any less real, then the grabbing on to hands around you, scrambling together for hope against hope for any sign that things aren’t as bad as they seem, then the stomach-dropping, anal sphincter-releasing fear the moment you know they are, and that there’s no going back to fix it.
And then there is the grief. In this case, there was the immediate, solid grief for the loss of a highly qualified woman presidency that meant so much to me, and to so many others. But there was also the less tangible, but even more painful, grief of losing the kind of country and world I thought I lived and want to raise my kids in. I cried my heart out that night, because Trump winning delivered one unfathomable message to me: Hate won. More people chose hate.
I didn’t sleep much before I had to get up and tell Jack that the bully won. (Fifth graders talk about bullies all the time, and have TVs and iPads; Jack called Trump a bully way before I ever did.) Jack’s school is racially diverse, and kids missed nothing during the campaign. Some of them have been rightfully scared, and Jack has rightfully been full of questions, which has felt somewhat good, and totally awful, to talk about with him ad nauseam.
I reminded him about the system of checks and balances (I omitted the part about Republicans now controlling the House and Senate, too), and that there are still a ton of people out there fighting for good, including us. I told him that when he went to school, he was not, at 10 years old, responsible for fighting every bully in the world, but he was still responsible for not being complicit in bullying among his peers, and standing up for kindness and goodness when hate is thrown. I feel lucky that my fears for him and his classmates that day seemed to be largely un-warranted, that the fabulous teachers at his school have already built respect, kindness, and cooperation into the curriculum, and Jack later described the day as “pretty much the usual. Connor and I acknowledged that our families voted for different people, then we talked about baseball.”
The rest of the day, I lay around the house and licked my wounds, thanks in part to Wayne’s heroic offer to work for me so I wouldn’t have to face a slew of Trump-touting patients, though part of me wanted to go and let them see my red, swollen eyes and say, “YOU DID THIS. You goddamn IDIOTS!” Learning Hillary won the popular vote and listening to her “concession speech” (ugh, it still hurts to call it that) helped ever so slightly, but basically it was a day to hurt and mourn.
The next morning I posted on Facebook:
When I woke up yesterday, my first thought was, I cannot even face this world today, and I texted my mom to see if she could bring my daughter to pre-school. But my mom had a doctor’s appointment, and my only goal for the day became to get in and out of Sadie’s classroom without crying. Epic fail. Then I accepted my husband’s heroic offer to work for me in the afternoon, and my only goal became to at least be productive at home, even if it only meant things as mindless as laundry or paying a couple of bills. Epic fail. At that point, I knew it was time to practice what I preach, and get through the day one hour at a time, being nice to myself, and finding any small comfort I could. My thick, cozy Gators sweatshirt. A rare nap with my girl. Lotta pasta.
And here we are.
I shared it with my online fertility support groups for a few reasons. Self-care during grief, finding any small comfort one hour at a time, one day at a time, is something I say in those groups all the time. I wanted to walk my talk, including how when you fail, it’s okay, you try again, and again, moving ever forward. I was also sharing what I did to feel some sense of control and empowerment, which I also encourage in the groups, and which for me that day, was the donations, two of which (RESOLVE and Planned Parenthood) directly impact fertility issues, and the third (She Writes Press) indirectly, which by sharing, also served to re-affirm my determination to fight and be a voice for these very groups.
Some people “Liked” and/or commented similarly on the post, but I got some push-back as well, with a couple of people saying that a political post was inappropriate, then basically going on to make it political, which, yes, annoyed me. But I am keenly aware that in those groups, I am a happy mother of two, there to offer support, encouragement, and hope to a very vulnerable group of women still desperately trying to have their babies, and I am pulling for that for them no matter what. I responded saying as much and that it was not intended as a political post (though fertility and politics do share a fine line), but whatever my intentions, if my post was upsetting, I would delete it (which I did in one group; the rest were ultimately fine with it).
I also posted it in the RESOLVE Volunteer group, with added thanks to RESOLVE for all they do, saying I am with them more than ever, and urging everyone there to get behind RESOLVE’s $11.11 on 11/11 donation drive. One member ripped me apart. She trotted out Obama, Trump, and healthcare, even though I had mentioned none of these. She let me know that I was letting one man who wasn’t even in office yet control me, and that I should suck it up and do something positive with my life and be a better example for my daughter, that I was plugging Planned Parenthood, and many people would now have infertility coverage, so I should know the facts and stop following the cattle of whiners who lost.
Um, ‘scuse me?
This was not a group I considered vulnerable, but the very kind of group in which my grief about women’s issues should be safe, and indeed, largely shared. Which sucked for her, because I ripped her right back, in much more sophisticated language than she used, and I’m not going to lie, it felt fucking great.
She backpedaled a little then, giving me the “it’s all going to be okay,” (for who? Her?), then later apologized, saying she got carried away. I wasn’t sure how to respond. It’s okay? But it wasn’t okay. Apology accepted? That somehow made me feel like a victim, and I was not going to be her victim. So I just said, “It happens, and it happens more often during a week like this. We’re on the same team here. Peace.” I meant it, mostly.
To be perfectly honest, I felt disappointed that only one other member spoke up, saying that comment had been rude and not in the spirit of a support group. I get that people don’t want to engage in Facebook “drama”—I felt horrified that that’s what I seemed to be in the middle of—and that people felt weary of touching politics that morning. But I also think we need to acknowledge that the line between (in)fertility and politics just got a lot more blurry, in fact, the line pretty much just got decimated. How can we talk about fertility without talking about women’s and reproductive rights, and how can we talk about women’s and reproductive rights without talking about (among other things) Roe vs. Wade, and how can we talk about Roe vs. Wade without acknowledging we now have a huge fight ahead of us to keep that safe and not get knocked back by decades? I cannot overstate the relief I felt reading Planned Parenthood’s most recent e-mails espousing their unwavering promise that we are not going back.
I am not going back, either. It took me a long time to feel brave enough to tell people that I’m a writer, and strong enough to support and be a voice for other people struggling with infertility and pregnancy loss. It was hard for me to open myself up on a website and embrace social media. But those things are no longer optional for anyone who wants to write and/or advocate, so here I’ve been for a little over a year now, and I have found that this is where I belong. I write. I read. I support. I am supported. I am thanked. I am so, so thankful. I feel passion, and know I’m doing the most meaningful work of my life even though it doesn’t pay me a dime. I love, and I feel loved, and it makes me want more and more love for the whole world, and I am not going back, and I am not accepting hate as a message instead.
So how do I go forward? Because this campaign and election has enlightened me to a few important things that are going offend or alienate some people: I thought I was just a relatively kind, open-minded person, but it turns out I’m a flaming liberal, and proud of it. I thought I was just a woman who believed equal gender rights was an obvious and expected standard, but it turns out I’m a feminist, and a very Nasty Woman. I thought I was just a mom whose kids know that it doesn’t matter if people love men or women, or have white or black or any other color skin, or live in a big house or small, or run in the Olympics or use a wheelchair to get from room to room, but it turns out I am a mother who is hell-bent on making sure that is, in fact, the kind of world they grow up in and contribute to.
I thought I knew how to live among people who voted for Donald Trump for president of the United States, but it turns out I do not.
The morning after the election, I ran, as I do every morning. But that morning, I couldn’t make eye contact with a single person on the sidewalk. I wanted to kick and spit on the Trump/Pence lawn signs, and smash a mailbox with the Make America Great Again sticker on it. And when I ran past Jack’s 12-year-old friends at their bus stop, wearing Trump shirts and smug faces, I wanted to punch them in the throat. Let me tell you, there are not many more sickening feelings than wanting to punch a kid in the throat, kids you’ve always liked, who have eaten at your house and ride skateboards with your son.
Of course, I didn’t do any of those things I wanted to. I don’t want to be like “them,” and I had Michelle Obama on my shoulder reminding me to Go High. But goddamn, I am struggling.
I can’t reconcile how to go about my life not putting every person in a category based on how they voted. I am suddenly all snap judgments. I look at people—what they look like, what they’re wearing, what they’re buying in a store—and I decide who they voted for, which of course, I can’t really know. I search every car for a bumper sticker. I wait for people to talk before I engage so I can see which “side” they’re on, and then I feel either relief and love or fury and revulsion.
I know I can’t do this. Besides the obvious, that it’s pretty much the same ignorant thinking I’m railing against, it’s not practical. How am I supposed to talk to anyone at the library or baseball field with my kids, or get through the check-out at Publix, or go to an appointment with a new dentist?
How am I supposed to work?
How am I supposed to continue to support the women in my fertility and writing groups?
And what the hell am I supposed to do about my family members and friends who voted for Trump, because, sickeningly, some of them did, including a beloved aunt who has shown up for me my whole life, and a nephew I love like my own kid, who is young and cocky and not nearly as informed as he thinks he is and just regurgitated his father’s words and vote.
One of my long-time, cherished friends texted me the night before the election, “May the best MAN win.” I responded that there are friends I am willing to lose over this, and she is not one of them, so please don’t say another word. She didn’t, and we texted about our kids and exchanged Halloween pictures, and I’m glad about that. But she’s long distance, and it doesn’t have to come up much. On the other hand, a local friend has been unrelenting, and dared to send me a meme of Trump grabbing Hillary’s crotch the day after the election. It was not an isolated incident; he often tries to needle me even though I stopped responding to him months ago. He was the best man at our wedding 17 years ago, and I seriously don’t know if I’ll ever talk to him again. I mean, who wants a friend like that?
I cannot “respect our different beliefs.” To me, respecting different beliefs means respecting if or how people worship, if they favor capitalism or increased government regulation, if they’re vegetarians or eat meat, if they send their kids to private or public school, or home-school them, if they feel more comfortable birthing in a hospital or at home, if they root for the Yankees or Mets. Where and when in the ever-loving hell did it get re-written that we’re supposed to respect the beliefs of racism, discrimination, homophobia, and misogyny?
These things are emphatically, unequivocally, not okay, and I am not okay with people who think they are. And, I’m sorry/not sorry, but anyone who voted for Trump voted for that. Anyone who voted for him decided that not only one of these things, but ALL of them lumped together in one frothing, raving, narcissist was okay in our highest office.
I know they aren’t all horrible people. I know they have their own personal reasons, a million of them that range from “I hate that lying cunt Hillary” (fucking waah, that is probably the lamest reason of all, because hate her or not, she was the ONE candidate ACTUALLY FUCKING QUALIFIED for the position, so if you’re that moral, you vote for her even though it’s going to cost you something) to “I’m angry, and this is a cry for change,” to “I cannot vote for a pro-choice supreme court appointee,” and everything in between. And I know this:
NO REASON IS GOOD ENOUGH.
Sarah Grimke, an abolitionist, writer, and women’s rights activist depicted in Sue Monk Kidd’s breathtaking historical novel, The Invention of Wings, is burned in my brain. Toward the end of the book, Sarah makes a final plea to her mother to free a slave, which offends Sarah’s sister, Mary.
“Mary stiffened. ‘We don’t need you to come here and lecture us about slavery. I won’t stand here and defend it to you. It’s our way of life.’
Her words infuriated me. I wondered for a moment if holding my tongue would help my cause with Mother. Was it ever right to sacrifice one’s truth for expedience?…
…It gave way inside of me—years of being here, co-existing with the untenable. ‘Your way of life! What does that justify? Slavery is a hell-concocted system, it cannot be defended!’”
That is exactly where I’m at, and where I will remain. After months and months of it during the campaign, I AM DONE LISTENING TO PEOPLE JUSTIFYING THE UNJUSTIFIABLE.
I have wondered how people could be complicit in such evil since I read Night by Elie Wiesel in 10th grade. I know some people bristle at the implication this is anything like what Hitler did, but that had to start somewhere, didn’t it? Well, I will not be complicit. (Part of me loves the sentiment, and certainly the practicality, of wearing the safety pins, yet part of me hates it. Is it really any better than scarlet letters or yellow stars? I have fallen in the middle and put one on my purse.) I will not be one who stands there waving good-bye to Jews on the train saying, “Gee, I’d really like to help, but…”
“It sucks, but what are you gonna do?” I heard for days after the election, from people that I love, and who voted for Hillary. “You’re letting yourself get too upset about this. You have to let it go. There’s nothing you can do about it.” It was infertility’s version of “You just have to relax,” which, for anyone who doesn’t know, makes a person struggling to have a baby want to kill the person who said it and/or herself.
Nothing I can do about it? That hurt. Haven’t they listened to me at all in the last year? I am a writer. I am an advocate for fertility and reproductive issues. I am exactly someone who can do something, and must! Now is exactly the time I need to be the voice I’ve wanted to be. It just got a whole lot more complicated and uncomfortable than it already was, because some of my audience and community voted against pretty much everything I believe in and want to fight for. Some of them are going to lash out that I’m political and inappropriate. Some of them aren’t going to “like me” anymore.
Then I realized, maybe it didn’t get more complicated; maybe it actually got simpler. Because I no longer care if I offend or alienate those people. Not that I will attack anyone personally; I will not. But the issues, yes, (not just reproductive, but racism, exclusion, homophobia, and the rest of the deplorable agenda), and I’m fine with anyone being just as done with me as I am with them. It’s a little disappointing, but hugely liberating.
Of course, I’ll be looking for other ways to speak out as well. I made my donations, and I’ll keep making them. I called two congressmen last week, and emailed another, and I’ll keep doing that too. I will support like-minded writers by buying their books and sharing their articles and posts, and reminding them I am with them. I will go to Washington in May and participate in Advocacy Day with RESOLVE. I will welcome suggestions and ideas of other things I can do as they come up. And, importantly, I will not become complacent, which is something I fear as the shock and horror of the election wears off, and the feral voice of a Trump administration becomes normalized.
I’m still working out the practicalities of moving forward with my newly emboldened blueprint among Trump voters—those that mean a lot to me, those that mean nothing, and those somewhere in the middle. Where and how do I draw my lines?
What I’ve figured out so far is it’s going to be different in real life than in my writing and online. It has to be. Real life is going to have to be interaction by interaction, and will look different on different days depending on people, environments, and moods, both others’ and my own. I still have to swallow a lot of bile at work, but Thanksgiving, for example, turned out to be an unexpectedly non-vomitous day.
I can be more rigid in writing and online, where we all have the options of “Unfollow” and “Delete” and “Scroll on.” It’s been said that Trump and his supporters dumped kerosene on an already existing fire. Kerosene is man-made and poisonous. My guiding principle online will be to be in the steadfast chain of people passing buckets of water to extinguish that toxic inferno, while at the same time bringing timber—natural and life-supporting—to an ever-brighter flame. Everyone is free to choose their own fire, but if they’re bringing kerosene they’ll have to go elsewhere; only water and wood will be in my pages.
What I know no matter what, is that I am moving forward with Sarah Grimke on one shoulder saying, “Speak up!” and Michelle Obama on the other reminding me to “Go high” as I do so (and certainly, both of these women could be on either shoulder). I will fail on some days. I will wish I’d said more, or less, or spoken louder or maybe (probably) that I hadn’t cursed as much. But I will re-charge every morning on my run, and try to do better each day, and I will not go quietly into the night of hate.
I still believe love wins.