By Mark J. Williams
I’m fairly certain that six months from now I’ll be dancing with Donald Trump supporters at my gay wedding. Yet, I’m not sure which is more surprising: that I welcome their attendance or that they actually want to be there.
I know that’s not a popular opinion, especially among my friends who feel so hurt and betrayed by loved ones who voted for Trump that they’ve vowed to disown them.
“How can you invite those people to share in the happiest day of your life,” one person wondered. “I don’t even want to be in the same room as them.”
I understand the pain. I watched in horror during the election when Hillary Clinton, who was even my choice for president eight years ago, lost. My wounds are still very raw, too, and I’m scared of what’s going to happen to my civil rights. Some people say that Trump isn’t my arch-enemy here, he’ll go after other minority groups first. Is that supposed to comfort me? It’s awful the way women, Latinos and Muslims have been targeted.
I certainly don’t want Trump to be in charge of my civil liberties, especially with the way he holds up a pride flag one minute and then suggests he’ll appoint a Supreme Court Judge who will overturn the Marriage Equality Act. It’s terrifying to think that after years of fighting for the right to get married, mine could be over before it ever began thanks to one red swoop.
Now, I know I’m somewhat protected here. Even with conservative judges, the Supreme Court still voted in favor of marriage equality and another case would have to appear before them to even provide an option for abolishing the law–who knows if that will ever happen? But, what about all the immigrants he plans on deporting? For LGBT Muslims, for example, this could mean certain death. Yet, as awful as “who knows” and feeling “somewhat protected” are, thinking about our new vice-president’s vendetta against my community is what truly frightens me.
It seems to me like this guy flat-out hates us. He once called us “a discrete and insular minority,” which isn’t exactly something you want to put on a Christmas card. He openly supports conversion therapy, asking congress to fund “institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior,” was against abolishing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and believes religion is a reasonable motive for discrimination.
So, let’s say Trump doesn’t pay us any mind and Pence has a sudden change of heart (or, perhaps a heart-attack), I doubt either will stand in the way of a right-wing congress passing discriminatory laws. It’s sad that I’m finally getting married, but now I’m afraid tax benefits will be stripped away, businesses can deny me party favors or a wedding cake because it’s against their religion, and what in the hell is going to happen to the rights of the transgender community? This is supposed to be a happy time for me, and I’ll selfishly admit that, but now figuring out ways to protect my marriage and the rights of others has taken over the joy of what this moment was supposed to represent.
Yes, the pain is raw and the uncertainty is giving me an ulcer, but I don’t want to be someone who stops speaking to my loved ones over who we voted for. I think of someone like my father, a retired Irish-American construction worker who, for reasons I don’t understand, is a Republican. We haven’t actually talked about this election; after years of hot-mouthed debates during the Bush administration, we’ve adopted a “don’t ask, don’t tell,” approach to politics. We took a similar approach when I first came out to him twenty years ago, and I think it’s both funny and heartening that it’s now easier for us to discuss my love life than who we voted for.
Yet, he’s made it pretty obvious that he wasn’t supporting Hillary Clinton and based on the bits and pieces I allowed myself to overhear in his conversations with others, he claimed it was because she wasn’t “trustworthy.” Yes, I could point out the ironies, but we already know them. The point, of course, is that decisions are complex and not everyone who voted for Trump is a monster, not everyone who voted for Clinton is a saint. A sinner, perhaps, according to the right-wing, but I wear that label with a badge of honor. “Send me to hell,” I tell them. “That’s where all the fun people are going to be, right?”
My father and I weren’t always close, and my sexuality certainly played a role in that. I first realized I was gay when I was 12 when I was watching the Olympics and got an erection during men’s swimming. But, I grew up in a strict Catholic household where homosexuality was a sin. At Sunday mass, priests described gay people as sinners who’d end up in hell, while church ladies gossiped about men who’d gotten “gay cancer.” I was terrified this would happen to me, too, so I forced myself to be straight. It took me almost ten years to tell my father I was gay, and another 15 years to introduce him to a significant other. I was so nervous, but my father was beyond welcoming. He patted Michael on the back and they talked about football. Later, my dad said, “what took you so long? I really like this guy.” He’s not an emotional person, but he almost cried when I told him we were getting married and when he spent six months in the hospital after a failed hip surgery, he’d tell me “thoughts of walking down the aisle at your wedding is what keeps me going right now.”
Maybe I’m being too forgiving because he’s my father, but my dad probably wasn’t thinking about what the Trump administration would do to my rights and obviously wants me to get married. I really don’t know if, say, an unemployed factory worker in Ohio, who drank the Trump tonic because she dreams of a better job, gave any consideration to the LGBT community’s rights under Trump. I don’t know this because I can’t yet bring myself ask people why they voted for him, but wouldn’t it be nice to actually have a calm and rational conversation about this? What if that person said, “I’m sorry, I’m not anti-LGBT, but I saw Trump’s plan as a way for me to get a good job and feed my family?” Would that make me understand, or even accept their opinion?
I don’t want to be accused of making excuses for anyone, no matter who they voted for, but I think politics are always more personal than we may share. I would love to say that I always voted with the greater good in mind, but I will always go for a candidate who embraces the LGBT community, even if they weren’t as qualified or had something else in their platform I didn’t agree with. It’s easy to assume that Trump supporters hate me because that’s easier to deal with than the actual complexity of our choices, but I do not wish to hate them. Instead, I think of my wedding day, when my husband and I, and even our dog, will be sharing the day with our family and friends that include Trump supporters. I’ll joke like something out The Godfather, “no blood will be shed here today, that is my wish,” and hope that political talk is pushed aside for fine wine and dancing.
These people will be here in celebration, and not out of obligation, and I believe they will be truly happy to us. And when we’re all together on the dance floor and Lady Gaga is blaring through the speakers, will it matter how we’ve cast our vote six months prior? Perhaps I’m living in a dream world, or I don’t have enough oxygen due to living in a New York bubble, but it sure would be nice to see people for who they are, even if that means discussing who they voted for. I’m just not sure I’m there yet.
Mark Jason Williams is an award-winning playwright and essayist. His work is also published by The Washington Post, Salon, Good Housekeeping, Out Magazine, The Denver Post, Jezebel, and The Daily Dot. He is currently working on a memoir. For more information, please visit markjasonwilliams.com.