Today, I stand inside my apartment, in front of a closed door, as I have done each morning since Donald Trump became president-elect. The last time I had this much difficulty breathing, I was fresh from an appendectomy that excised the organ but couldn’t repair months’-long internal damage. My anticipated full-recovery date was November 13, my thirty-first birthday. This weekend, I turn 33, what some call the Jesus Year, the year we are meant for greatness. Three days ago, I watched the election results in the throes of a terrible cold that refused to let go, without surprise, with a rising mixture of feelings akin to what I felt during the climax of Sri Lanka’s civil war. I vomited once, and later that night, coughed up bloody phlegm. It felt as real as anything else, meaning it didn’t feel real at all.
Fibromyalgia means any bout of illness destroys me, physically and mentally, but for once I am grateful for this cough scraping the flesh from my throat, lungs, diaphragm, energy reserves, because it legitimated canceling my classes, it allowed me to stay in bed for days, to let my apartment go to shit, to utterly lose momentum on my dissertation, to wear the same pajamas day and night, through sweaty night terrors and takeout stains, and call all this something other than depression.
I can’t work up the courage to step outside.
I can’t work up the courage to properly reply to the surprising number of acquaintances on Facebook or Twitter who voted Trump or third-party and now are defending themselves on the basis of personality or conscience, calling themselves genuinely nice, saying I’m not racist, I have minority friends, I support LGBTQ rights, claiming If I didn’t vote third party I wouldn’t have voted at all, I knew it would be a matter of living under one bad choice or another.
What a fucking privilege it must be to know you can comfortably survive under either bad choice. What a flagrantly masturbatory act, in what has always been a bipartisan system, to choose this election as your call to conscience, especially when much of the rest of your rhetoric suggests you couldn’t handle the multi-party parliamentary systems, coalitions, and power blocking of western Europe.
The last time I called something a call to conscience I was recounting to my media ethics class how a journalist chose to knowingly face assassination for publishing truths that a repressive government did not want to hear. An act of self-sacrifice. You’re perverting that phrase. Reductively applying it to your act of voting for a candidate you know will not win in a bipartisan system, because you can afford to live with the consequences of either Clinton or Trump, without consideration of the many, many people who can’t.
It goes against conscience, if anything.
For those of you who claim me, or my sister for that matter, as your minority friends: you know I check off all the boxes. I am brown, queer, disabled, female. This is not female hysteria, and I do not need you to tell me that life goes on, the sun will rise, I just need to breathe and calm down. For the next four years, I won’t be able to. I will fear things that have always existed and have, post-election, surfaced so much more overtly: men pursuing women to slap their asses or attempt a crotch grab in public and high-five their bros; neighbors intimidating nonwhite residents with deportation or vigilante action; white men threatening to harm nonwhite infants, or ripping the hijab from a woman’s head and demanding she express gratitude for being made American. While bedridden, I fielded emails from current and former students, some deciding to quit wearing a hijab for their own safety, some seeking advice about toning down a flamboyant presentation, or about marrying a boyfriend or girlfriend in a hurry because s/he is undocumented. Well before this election, I’ve experienced much of this too, been humped on the subway, called a nigger or spic or dyke bitch, been asked if I taste like Tandoori or know all the poses in the kama sutra, been followed because I didn’t smile or say hello on demand, been targeted as an easy chick when pain hobbles my stride or publicly derided when I ask for a disabled seat, been “randomly” searched at Penn Station and Port Authority.
Being sick has given me time to reflect on the similarities between vigilante ousting of nonwhite residents from so-called Trump buildings and Sri Lanka’s Black July, when Tamil addresses were distributed and the mobs went door to door and looted, torched, and murdered. It’s common practice, since, to not number the doors in Colombo. I’ve already had the nightmare about the visible number on mine. I know what I can expect when I finally open it.
I have known since I was young that there is sense to be found in a longtime neighbor hacking your children to death because they are Other and bringing you a casserole the next morning to console you in your period of mourning. This is the sense I am making of all your talk of better tomorrows, stop with the Haterade, I’m sick and tired of people blowing this out of proportion. This is sized exactly to proportion. If you let this happen, by not voting, by voting third party, by voting for Trump, you can’t resent reactions that are hateful and divisive. That’s the character of the candidate you allowed into office. He can talk about unifying the country now, he can hold up a pride flag that says LGBTs for Trump, he can say he loves African Americans and Hindus but he can’t unring the bell. Just as you can’t, by defending your choice, claiming you aren’t bigoted, because you ultimately permitted a bigot to shape this country’s values for four years. And if you have been trying to persuade me it isn’t that long, it is, especially if each day is shrouded in fear, especially if you have a disability that comes with an energy deficit compounded by hypervigilance, especially if you take on the responsibility of maintaining safe spaces for others, be they students, colleagues, strangers who are suffering.
We have cried, many of us, every day.
Here I stand, trapped by my own door, thinking how privileged and lucky you are to not know these consequences as intimately as we do. To have homogeneous support networks that allow you to remain oblivious to the fact that you directly or indirectly voted all kinds of minorities into exclusion. I don’t have that luxury. My network is diverse and suffering. I worry about my parents, who immigrated legally but are not citizens. I worry about my sister because she works in human rights and is destined to meet all this face-to-face. I worry about myself and any of my friends who play with gender representations. I worry about my queer friends, some of whom are worried their marriages will be overturned. I worry about students who have to decide between personal safety and hiding signifiers of religion, sexual orientation, race, and ablebodiedness. I worry about rape culture. I worry about the state of education, when I already have students requesting on evaluations that professors should sound less smart and avoid using the difficult vocabulary in the readings.
And I worry about myself. I worry about being wrongly typecast as Muslim, as has occasionally happened since 9/11. I worry that, with everyone’s complaints about Obamacare, it will be replaced by something less affordable or sustainable, like COBRA coverage, or individual health insurance straight from the company. I worry that in such a situation I will have to remain enrolled in school for health benefits, or quit my medication at the risk of death or neurological damage, ensuring a return to debilitating pain. I worry that death will become preferable to daily survival for the next four years.
I know, I have to open this door, and I can’t move on from this, and I have to, and I can’t, but I won’t defriend you. I don’t intend to enclose myself in any one particular bubble. But I can’t unsee what you’ve done, and your alleged logic cannot combat that, and for the next four years, at least, I can’t imagine you or your mercurial rhetoric providing any solace.