Friday, November 11, 2016

Step Up

I originally wrote this post for my Facebook feed -- which explains the first paragraph -- but am hopeful that by posting it here I might reach a wider audience, however small.

I realize that this post will seem to contradict my previous one (about everyone needing to calm down as none of us have the ability to foresee how things will play out), but while the presidency is one thing, the reaction of a citizenry already needing little provocation to act on their thoughts is another. 

Some of you know this, but most of you don't:

My child, Emma, is gay and identifies as non-binary, and is in a relationship with someone assigned male at birth who identifies as female and is in the process of transitioning. During election night, I received text after fearful text, was called at 2:30am, Facetimed again in the morning, and texted throughout the day. Emma was so distraught that they (Emma) didn't get out of bed to attend classes. Emma is worried about many things, but right now mostly about their girlfriend who attends school in Michigan and who is terrified to leave her room, as she had been subject to threats long before yesterday. Worse yet, her mother and stepdad moved to, of all places, North Carolina this past summer. Her father lives in Texas and is not part of her or her siblings' lives.

Emma’s own decision not to leave their room had little to do with fear, because they attend a women's college in Massachusetts (Mount Holyoke) that admits students transitioning in either direction (MtF or FtM). It is an outstanding institution not only academically, but for engendering an  atmosphere of inclusion and acceptance that is not to be found in too many places (a women's college is the safest place for a transgender student, and which is why Mount Holyoke doesn't discriminate between MtF and FtM). Emma's girlfriend (who is wonderful and who we adore) doesn't want to change schools to join Emma as she wants to finish her degree in genomics there. Meanwhile, I told Emma that her girlfriend is welcome to live with us here in NY during breaks, but both feel that no place is a safe place any more. Still, some places have got to have less risk attached than others, although it's sad that one has to even think in those terms.

It isn't just legislation that they are both worried about, although that is of great concern on so many counts (health care but one of them). It's the same thing that worries me, and this is it: In a country run by someone who openly mocks those who are "different" (the quotation marks are intentional); who chose as his running mate a person with an anti-LGBT agenda high on his list; and who has never throughout his campaign addressed and condemned those supporters who are proudly racist, xenophobic, and virulently LGBT, his supporters will feel that much freer to harass, discriminate against, and physically assault anyone they want with the belief that they will get away with it. And it’s possible that they just might.

All of us have some amount of bigotry in us, and we can deny it all we want. Some of it, I imagine, is simply a result of the accident of birth; depending what color we are born or what ethnic or religious group we are born into may sharpen our perception as much as it may obscure it. We might not blatantly act on our biases; in fact, we may not even realize that we have them. If we do recognize them, it might be that much easier to justify them especially if we've been on the receiving end of bias ourselves.

Being straight, white, Christian, and U.S.-born (I’m talking all those elements combined, and being male doesn’t hurt, either) is to live effortlessly, moving through society without having to think about what others might be thinking about you. I’ve lived with that realization my entire life. You may think that growing up Jewish in New York City, and in Brooklyn in particular, was considered a norm, and that it wasn’t an issue. You would be wrong. There were adult neighbors who spewed slurs at me and my family. One even tried to hit one of us with a stick as we passed their house. I had to take a circuitous route home from Hebrew school (which was across the street from my elementary school and only a few shorts blocks from my house) to avoid a gang of kids who knew when I’d be passing their street and were waiting to jump me. They called me a dirty jew, a monkey, and lots of other lovely appellations. And even more unfortunate, their street was the one before mine. Once one of them even chalked slurs on the sidewalk directed at me, in case their spoken words and fists didn’t speak quite loudly enough.

Many of us are familiar with the words of Edmund Burke, the Irish-born 18th century statesman and member of Parliament: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

It’s time for all of us to do something. Don’t look the other way because it doesn’t affect you. You just might be next.

Step up.