As Trump’s inauguration looms ahead of us, I feel a shadow cast over my friends’ Facebook walls and a palpable fear in our conversations.
One friend is trans and fears they won’t be able to afford (or be offered) trans-related healthcare with the repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
Another is a freelancer who said the ACA allowed her to be insured for the first time since she was a teenager (she’s in her 30s now). She’s worried her asthma will once again disqualify her from coverage, as it was considered a “pre-existing condition” before Obamacare.
Another friend suffers from depression that is compounded by the uncertainty of life as an LGBTQ person in Trump’s America–and the potential discrimination they might encounter.
Still another works with LGBTQ youth in the South and said she’s received more hateful comments on her organization’s Facebook page in the last few months than she has in years.
“Why would grown men pick on kids?” she asked.
Whose name-calling and finger-pointing have sent mobs of trolls after his personal and political enemies.
Who has unleashed waves of emboldened voices that call the concerns of marginalized groups the babylike whining of “special snowflakes” (a term perhaps coined from Fight Club, which has somehow become a Men’s Rights Activist (MRA) bible).
I’ve already written about how marginalized groups’ fears of a Trump presidency and Republican majority are real and founded. And Trump and the GOP haven’t failed in fanning those fears, from Trump’s Cabinet picks to Congress’s dismantling of the ACA without a plan to replace it.
And what I think people who call us “whining special snowflakes” don’t realize is that our lives are at stake. Or perhaps they realize but don’t care about brown lives or black lives or women’s lives or LGBTQ lives or immigrants’ lives.
Through court rulings that give doctors the right to refuse care to trans people of folks who have had abortions (in the name of “religious freedom”), people could die.
By repealing the ACA, people could die.
By removing Executive Orders and federal policies that protect trans students, people could die.
Trump’s spewing of hate has made people more hateful. Has made empathy more difficult. Has put us in fear of our very lives.
But in their protectionist, us-vs.-them vision of America, Trump and his followers fail to recognize the bigness of the world. The value of kindness. The connections we have by way of our simple shared humanity. And the power that comes out of that.
As I’ve journeyed across the globe, I’ve realized how flawed the narrative of the “Other” is. How most of the places people cautioned me against (“Aren’t you afraid of traveling in ___ alone?”) are safer than the United States. That many cultures offer a radical hospitality that Americans can only dream of–even those used to “Southern hospitality.” That while I feared what people would make of my short hair or bound chest or men’s clothes, I’ve almost always been met with smiles and hospitality and open minds and hearts.
The open-minded staff members of a hotel who discussed philosophy and religion and culture with me in Agra.
The smiling welcome of hotel owners, including a bed-and-breakfast owner in rural Vietnam who encouraged me to return–but next time with a girlfriend.
The female friend-of-a-friend in Myanmar who bought me a men’s longyi without a second thought because my friend said it’d be a better style for me back in the United States.
Or the Thai hotel owner who told me I reminded her of her daughter and took a picture of me to show her. She, another staff member, and one of their friends gave me hugs as I left, and the latter even asked if she could kiss me on the cheek and giggled like a schoolgirl after she did so. (To my credit, I thought she asked for a hug, so I blushed and giggled, too.)
This when I was worried about what words to use in a language that reinforces the gender binary through the particles used in polite speech. When I worried about using one or the other and being gawked at for not being “woman” or “man” enough. When, fresh off experiencing some homophobia from hostel staff in Kuala Lumpur, I wondered if I was actually as safe being myself as I felt I was.
These are just a few examples of the kindness and hospitality I’ve received in my recent travels. And, granted, there are numerous factors that might be at play–including my identity as a white American and the money in my pocket. Perhaps things might be different if I were of a different nationality, race, or culture. But there’s also the simple explanation that acts of love and connection can transcend borders and identities and even languages–love and connectedness I experienced in my almost two years in South Korea, and in my earlier travels in South America and Europe.
Perhaps Trump’s gilded rooms are too cold and lonely for him to have experienced these things. Perhaps he was never alone in a foreign country and needed that stranger to point him to the right bus or train. Perhaps he never had to rely on the patience of strangers because of he hadn’t mastered but a few phrases in the local language. And because of this, perhaps he never was surprised by the way that generous smiles can bridge even the biggest of language gaps. Perhaps as he traveled in his private jet, he didn’t sit next to people of all different faiths and religions and races and ethnicities and backgrounds, swapping stories and concerns and realizing how interconnected we all really are.
So, I encourage us all to see and do what he and his followers aren’t doing. Let’s love our neighbors, but let’s also expand our vision of what “neighbor” is beyond those who look like us or believe like us. And while we’re at it, let’s expand the notion of what “love” means, so that it’s more than “tolerating” but is instead connecting with and advocating for. Because if you love me but stand idly by while my rights and those of the ones I love are stripped away, while our lives and livelihoods are endangered, that’s not really love.
Love is expansive and borderless and fearless and scary, and it’s not without its risks. As feminist theorist Judith Butler writes, “We’re undone by each other.” And yet, it’s only through such connections that it is possible to truly live.
So consider this another call for resistance. This Inauguration Day, let’s resist Trump’s attempts to make America hate. Let’s remember the poor, the widowed, the imprisoned, the marginalized. Let’s break bread with them. Let’s share with each other. Let’s serve each other. Let’s fight for each other. Because it’s only in this love for the “Other” that we will be able to overcome the darkness ahead.
So, dear snowflakes, let’s gather in love, with our voices and fists raised. Because, as John Pavlovitz notes, flurries might be brushed away, but an avalanche cannot be ignored.