The 2016 presidential election disturbed me deeply as it did my friends and family, but it was only when we began driving away from San Francisco on Friday that I got in touch with just how deeply.
Holly and I were making our annual trek to the San Francisco Mycological Society’s mushroom foray at a rustic camp near the town of Mendocino, a trip we always enjoy even if we don’t find edible fungi. We look forward to the peaceful quiet of the redwood forest and quirky company of the fungi crowd at the old WPA-built retreat.
But as we drove further and further into the country I felt my anxiety rising. I began to feel vulnerable in a way that reminded me of how it felt to be gay in the 1970s. Even in San Francisco gay men and lesbians were being attacked and murdered on the streets. We warred with the cops, who invaded our bars and gathering places. We certainly couldn’t count on them for protection. Just holding your lover’s hand in public required courage, but we were young and (I speak for myself) confrontational.
This sudden unsafe feeling made me ask myself how long I had been feeling safe. It had happened so gradually I hadn’t even noticed but the past 40 years have brought changes in San Francisco, and I venture to guess around the country, that have combined to make us feel safer. Gay people, as a result of our own activism, now hold public office, run influential organizations and businesses. We no longer feel the need to be closeted in order to keep our jobs. We are such a part of our city’s civic life that we no longer can claim to be outsiders.
But we live in a blue bubble in the dense coastal cities. Already friends in rural areas and red states (how did the Republicons steal the color red too?) are posting stories of anti-gay attacks.
I’m not a crier, but by the time we got to Booneville I was weepy on my way to hysterical. Standing in line at a cafe I struck up a conversation with the woman in front of me who was black. I told her I was glad she was there. I was feeling that somehow the presence of this black woman would create a safe space. I was just thankful that I was not surrounded by white men, Trump’s people. I know. Completely irrational. The woman I spoke to was with her husband, a white man. She assured me that he is with her. She told me she is a counselor for kids and that many of the kids are terrified that they or their parents will be deported. Tears streamed down my face as I babbled incoherently about how we need to protect the undocumented. We need to re establish the networks we built during the Reagan wars in central America. We need to immediately develop institutions to keep people safe.
I weep for all people in my country who are vulnerable to attack in the new era of Trump. I will do whatever I can to protect you. We must do the best we can to keep each other safe.