I experienced my first bought of anxiety at the Roar Shack reading series this last Sunday. Not nerves over a reading, but actual anxiety and the feeling of needing to look over my shoulder.
Just like in the aftermath of the Orlando nightclub shooting, Roar Shack was a place where people could come together and not feel alone in the wake of tragedy. It became that place again after Donald Trump won last week’s election. I volunteered to participate in the Live Write competition that happens at each reading where you have a few minutes to draft a story based around a prompt. The contest was between me and my friend Erica; we had tied in the Live Write earlier this year. When the time came to read our stories, our friend and host David asked who wanted to go first. I looked at Erica and politely said, “Ladies first.” David said something along the lines of, “You know, since you’re part of the patriarchy, YOU go first.”
Now, I consider David to be a very good friend and I know he spoke in jest, and I know I’m being paranoid when I say I felt a dozen eyes glaring at me as I walked up to the microphone, but it really did remind me what an outsider I am.
You see, it’s no secret that I went to Antioch University where social justice is a core value. It’s also no secret that I’m very politically inactive. I’m a registered Republican who always voted Democrat. I figured being a centrist would avoid confrontation with friends and family, but it has its own disadvantages. To my parents on the right, I’m a radical liberal. To my friends on the left, I wonder if they knew how uncomfortable it was for me to hear them say, “Fuck all Republicans!”
This was the third election I was able to vote in. I voted for Barack Obama twice, but felt no real animosity towards either John McCain or Mitt Romney. Lash out if you must, friends and family, but that’s the truth. This election was different. The campaign was so vicious that I avoided the TV on election night and didn’t hear about the results until well after midnight. When I did, I got onto Facebook at once and asked my friends to reach out to me. Especially minority and LGBTQ friends. I worried about them, worried about someone targeting them for violence, ridicule, and hate. I’m glad to say that – at least, to the best of my knowledge – none of them have.
But none of them are okay either. None of them feel safe. I sure as hell don’t.
As I approached the microphone at Roar Shack, a voice in the back of my mind reminded me that I’m a straight white man raised in suburbia who’s never gone hungry, never taken a punch, and can sleep easy knowing my student debt is minuscule compared to what most people have. As someone once bluntly pointed out, I have no reason to be afraid because the police will never shoot me or beat me to the ground.
But I can’t change what I am and where I’m from.
I keep thinking about writers like HG Wells who criticized British colonialism with The War of the Worlds and the British class structure with The Time Machine. I keep thinking about Robert Heinlein who wrote Starship Troopers in opposition of nuclear test banning before criticizing conventional social values with Stranger in a Strange Land. I keep thinking about Octavia Butler exploring race relations and sexuality in Lilith’s Brood.
The only thing I have are my words, and the revelation and conviction that those words cannot just be entertainment.