I’ve refrained from commenting much on the Looking Glass, Bizarro World shitstorm that has gripped our country the past two months because I wanted to step back, take a deep breath and see where some of the chips would land … and whether, miracle of miracles, the Electoral College would function the way Alexander Hamilton planned it.
Well, silly me.
I went to bed about 2 in the morning of Nov. 9 — a half-hour before the Associated Press called the race for the orange menace. On the hour drive to work a few hours later, I was kinda distraught, and when I walked into the office, my boss asked me, “Are you alright?” “Nothing different than a lot of other people this morning,” I choked out as I sat and fired up the desktop and buried myself in my daily tasks.
But by noontime, the emotional snow and ice had melted, replaced by a scorching sun. By mid-afternoon, the feelings of depression were replaced by a quiet rage.
I mean, it wasn’t over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor — the election wasn’t an end, it was a beginning. And I realized quickly enough that you can’t fight from the fetal position.
This is a fight for the soul of America. Maybe the world.
And now that the bad actors have (predictably) tipped their hands — we pretty much know what we’re up against — it’s time to face this and deal.
And I’m ready for a fight. And now that the holidays are over, the real fun begins later today (Jan. 3), when Congress reconvenes.
Background: I’m 55, spiritually about 30. I transitioned genders eight, nine years ago — my epiphany came in early 2008; the transition took pretty much the next two years. I did it in Fresno, Ca., a very red-state, religious-“right” part of the world, where I lived from 2004-2012. To my great surprise and gratitude, I was welcomed by my friends there across the political and religious spectra with literal and figurative open arms. My family back here in Connecticut took some work — I came out to them in September 2009, and there were 14 months of weirdness and hell — but my devoutly Catholic elderly parents came around to me and accepted me, and they took me in when I moved back here in 2012. And out of hundreds of friends back here, I only lost two in the process.
I don’t walk around with a neon over my head — I pretty much only really talk about the gender thang in my writing these days — but I live in the everyday nontrans world, and either people don’t know, or if they do know they don’t give a shit. Even living in my red-state hometown, where I was bullied as a kid for being smart and sensitive and slight, and where there were more Trump signs than blades of grass the last year.
And my financial life has been pure shit, which is why I’m still living with my mom (my father passed on last May). The yin of all the wonderful acceptance and support I received through the transition has been matched by the yang of my economic situation.
In short, I spent all but the first six weeks of the Obama administration either out of work or struggling to make ends meet with (much) lower-paying jobs. I was first involuntarily retired in March 2009, when The Fresno Bee, that newspaper that brought me to California in 2004, discarded about three dozen of us in the McClatchy chain’s first mass layoff.
I wasn’t worried — I had a solid resume, with more than 25 years in journalism, from features to music to news to sports, so I’ll get another job in two months. And I had my two months’ severance.
Haha. I was out of work for the next 2 1/2 years. Right in the teeth of the depression-not-a-recession. Ran through my 99 weeks of unemployment. Hundreds of resumes with not even the decency of a response. The self-worth I was discovering through the transition was eroded just as quickly by the growing feeling of uselessness and worthlessness that came with my job hunt. A couple times I planned out taking a long walk into a short ocean, and had the place picked out. But I decided against it. (I’m scared to death of death, more than anything, I guess.) I eventually was brought back to the Bee as an on-call copy editor. That only lasted 10 months — the hours went from full-time to zero after Christmas, only picked up sporadically after that, and I was dumped again in another budget cut. And thanks to the kindness of friends, I was able to afford to move home.
So yeah — being much closer to New York, with plenty of job openings, and with my resume, I should have a much easier time finding a job than I did isolated in central California, right? Haha again. It took almost a year to land a job — a part-time contract gig as a copy editor in Midtown Manhattan, at MSN. I thrived, I was readily accepted, and I was about to get more hours. And two months in, most of the copy editors were dumped. At least I could see the cosmic, big-picture reason; two days after the job ended, Mom went into the hospital for the rest of the fall to fight cancer. (She’s still here and doing okay).
My old newspaper, the New Haven Register, hired me in January 2014 — just as Mom came home — as a paginator, laying out pages for any of the parent company’s 10 papers in the Northeast. I made $5K less than what I was making when I left for Fresno, and a third less than I made my first go at the Bee. Not enough to get out on my own again, but I could pay bills. Then the parent company, Digital First Media, decided we were making too much and discarded our entire department right before Christmas 2015. (Never let your company be owned by vulture capitalists. There’s a special place in hell for them. I hope.)
Cosmically, this one turned out to make sense eventually, too; I was around for my father’s last five months as he fought his second go-round with cancer. (The one encouraging moment during this period came when I interviewed for an editor position at one of the news outlets I respect most, The Guardian; I knew my chances were slim, being one of 15 candidates, but they treated me like a pro, both in the interview process and the rejection.)
And two days after his funeral, I started a part-time job at a company that, depending on the whims of traffic, is 50 minutes to an hour away. I took the job because my unemployment was running out and next to none of my (dozens more) resumes were answered. I’m only getting 29 3/4 hours a week so they don’t have to classify me as full-time at 30 hours; and I make just over 10 bucks an hour. Or, to put it another way, about $130 a week less than I was making on unemployment. And despite being pretty frugal, I’ve gone through about two-thirds of my bank account since last May, just to keep up with the bills.
I can say that my gender identity didn’t hurt me in getting the jobs I’ve had since coming out, nor were they the cause of me losing those jobs. But I often think of whether I’ve been subject to age discrimination — the one form of discrimination you can’t prove unless a company is totally reckless and/or stupid. Even in my late 40s I couldn’t land anything. I have hundreds upon hundreds of resumes and cover letters that have added up to months of wasted time.
My resume doesn’t suck. Hardly. I’m pretty damned versatile. I’m not looking at newspapers; I’m looking at websites needing a solid editor, writer and/or mentor; I’m looking at nonprofits needing a good idea person; I’m looking at someplace that could use my gender-identity trip in a diversity-advocacy position.
And the constant silent drumbeat has really done a number on my confidence in my ability; I stopped writing for a long spell — including my book — because, well, I lost my mojo. I can’t get hired, yet I’ve see the worst-written, third-grade-level crap on some websites. And hardly anyone was reading my blog posts anymore, and if I can’t get anyone to read what I have to offer now, and I can’t get hired, why bother with a book that no one will ever read? Do I really suck that badly? Am I worth anything? Am I even deserving of making enough money to sustain myself? Only now am I digging out of that hole. The encouragement and prodding I’ve received from friends has helped me believe again that I, indeed, have something to offer. Also, I’m not getting any younger, and as relatives, and relatives of friends, and friends have been dying way too fast of late, I guess I should get my story out there, especially given the current climate. I’ve started nibbling at the book again.
But in the interim, when it came time to the Obamacare selecting-a-healthcare-plan this fall, I was only eligible for the lowest-income plan. But that might be a silver lining. Here in the Nutmeg State, it means no deductions or premiums. And that includes dental; my teeth really need the work after all these years of well-disguised near-poverty.
And that leads us to now. And I find myself preparing for a two-front war, targeting me and millions of other people like me.
It’s not just the Orange Menace I worry about — all the things you already know: the sewer-pipe flow of lies and fact-free statements; the barrage of petty tweets; the narcissism; the bromance with Putin; the lack of financial transparency; the sexual violations; the failure to read, let alone understand, the Constitution; the Cabinet of Deplorables in the Swamp, starting with the Secretary of Exxon and the racist attorney general and working on down the line past a climate-denier for an Energy secretary candidate; the push for destruction of land for oil and natural gas; the possibility of a stacked Supreme Court for the next couple of generations. And oh yeah, the notion of an unhinged, thin-skinned hothead in charge of the nuclear football.
It’s more the Kraken of ignorance and hatred that he’s unleashed. The party rallies during the campaign that turned hostile and sometimes violent against the voices and dissent; the same hostility pointed at the media, even the mainstream corporate outlets that gave him billions in free airtime; the confusion of science with religion; the enabling of the racism, the Islamophobia, the homophobia and the transphobia that had been roiling just beneath the surface of a very loud minority. The empowerment of the Know-Nothing Party, 21st-century edition.
And, while he lost the popular vote by an “unpresidented” 3 million votes, the ultimate result has enabled the radical right (never confuse a “conservative” with a “radical”) in Congress, which has been lustily licking its chops for years waiting to seize this moment. The radicals have long wanted to dismantle Obamacare and, even more disturbing, Medicare/Medicaid — and, at worst, Social Security, too. And they plan to act on day one on the ACA without a replacement healthcare plan in place. (And Social Security isn’t the “entitlement” that these scum constantly claim — it’s our money, we paid into this system our whole working lives, goddamn it all. Earning $174K a year in the House, with many times that for staff and expenses, with federal healthcare and generous 401(k)s and pensions, for working a few months a year — now that’s entitlement.) I’m not sure what type of Christian, let alone Catholic, that Paul Ryan really is, but I’m pretty sure that this Jesus guy he claims to follow wouldn’t be very thrilled with him. Of course, the rules don’t apply to him. He operates in the name of “God,”so it seems.
So yeah — unless someone decides to hire me, the safety nets that have kept me from total collapse, both physically and financially, as I continue my futile search for meaningful work could very well be cut. I’m one financial blow away from a total freefall, even with living at home.
But that’s just one point of attack against millions of us.
I fear a President Pence just as much as I do a President Drumpf. He’s radical right, but with slickness and, it seems, a level head. And he’ll be leading the far right’s vanguard against civil rights — like Ryan, in the name of “God.” Against LGBTs. Against women’s right to choose. Against healthcare. As was the case with Dick Cheney, he’ll be the de facto president, as the titular officeholder, disinterested in the job in the first place, goes back to his Twitter thingy and building hotels and stiffing contractors and coercing foreign countries to stay at his hotels.
And like the goobers who were whipped into feeding frenzies on the campaign trail, some politicians now feel emboldened to act out as well.
And now, Texas — where Republican politicians have been ramming their social agendas down everyone’s throat for years — is readying its own “bathroom bill” to discriminate against us … in the name of “religious freedom.”Even though North Carolina, under sore loser Pat McCrory, squandered millions of taxpayer dollars on HB2 — and the state has since lost billions thanks to various boycotts — the Lone Star Republicans are going ahead with all this.
And who’s next?
Even though I live, thankfully, in a state where trans discrimination is illegal, I realize that 31 states still legalize this bigotry. And with the deadlocked Supreme Court, no one dares call them on their bullshit at the moment. And until everyone is free, no one is really free.
So yeah, heavy fighting to come in the Economic Theater and the Gender Theater. Can we win both?
When I lost my job the first time, in the spring of 2009, I wasn’t out full-time yet, and I had to have a sit-down with myself: Are you gonna interview for your next job as Fran or as Fran? I realized that I wasn’t going back, so at that point I told myself three things: 1) You’re not a freak; 2) You’re not a piece of shit; and 3) You’re not a second-class citizen and you won’t be treated as such.
And while I had trouble in later years with the second point as my economic situation ground me down, at the time I internalized all of the above. They became a mantra. They guided me through a crucial time in my life. Because what I internalized, I then projected onto the rest of the world. As someone with no self-esteem most of my life, I walked with a confidence I never knew I had. I mean, part of me was scared shitless, but I never let on. The world at large saw me as a woman and at the same time knew not to fuck with me.
And it’s those three points that I’ll take into battle as possibly the most dangerous period in American history begins to take shape.
I’m not sure where I fit into the battles — where I can best use my abilities to fight the internal assaults on our freedoms. But wherever this takes me, I’m ready. I’m pissed.
The main thing — and I hope others who’ll be fighting for their rights as well will feel the same way — is to not give up. It’s gonna be rough for a while. What none of us can afford to do is give in to our fears. We need, as I did eight years ago, to project the way the world needs to see us. After all, the creatures on the other side of the wall are scared, too — scared of losing their power, of losing their income, of losing their way of life. And just as importantly, we need to never internalize or accept their actions as anything resembling “normal.”
The radical Republicans in power, and the “Christian” “right” that support them, are pulling every dirty trick they can right now — and as I finish writing this, the House Republicans, with no debate, voted last night to gut the office of Congressional Ethics — to desperately hold on to what they still have.
It’s their own version of the Japanese soldiers who, in the face of defeat in 1945, dug themselves firmly into the islands they were defending, and it took some of the most vicious fighting of the war for the American troops to finally vanquish them. The radicals in this case know that their days will eventually be over. Strength in numbers: The country is a lot more enlightened than it once was about social and civil rights matters (save for the above-mentioned very loud minority), and its demographics are veering away from a white majority. And from big-money politicians. So they’re throwing everything they can at the rest of us. And it’s gonna really get ugly before the tide turns for good.
But strength in numbers. Their president-elect lost the popular vote by 3 million votes, after all. They don’t have a mandate. And there will be resistance all the way. And hopefully we’ll still have an America in two years, when it’s time to mount the resistance at the voting booths.
It’s showtime. Game on.