The president and his 63 million followers will be associated with the doldrums of American history.
The news that the President of the United States, the leader of the free world, has destroyed the freedom of transgender people is numbing.
And before I continue, don’t even remotely suggest to me that banning transgender people from the military doesn’t deny us our freedom. This is ban without reason or substance of fact. It is about hate, fear and pandering to the worst among us ― and about refusing to let a group of people be free from those very same things.
I’d thought by now the hate emanating from the Trump administration could no longer shock me. I was wrong. Still, It’s only the familiarity of such hatred that allows me to think logically, especially when all I want to do is scream. Indeed, perhaps, it’s the magnitude of this piece of hate that puts me at this keyboard instead of sobbing in the street.
Sitting here processing this, I’m fully conscious of the fact that I’ve spent the morning racing through the Kübler-Ross model of the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Only the intensity of this particular day makes each phase highly distinct, if not new.
It began with the New York Times chime on my phone telling me of the news as I crawled out of bed. I, at first, denied it was true, knowing full and well it was. As I showered, I resolved with anger to fight ― FIGHT with everything I had. As I shaved my legs, I moved onto bargaining with the universe, that somehow there was a still a way to make this right in my head. (Honestly, as a scholar I’ve never found much use for this phase; the world is what it is. But it seemed wise not to shave angry.)
Depression was next, and I’m still there. I suspect I will be for a while.
I’m on vacation in Colorado with my daughter, and my support network here is non-existent. It’s just me and her, though she knows me well enough to talk to me about what she heard on the news. She hugs me a little tighter and longer than usual before she goes back to what she was doing.
(It’s a hell of a world: a seven-year-old understands what the president does not. Though that seems to be true on damn near everything, not just transgender rights.)
It’s this last phase, acceptance, that has me vexed. According to Kübler-Ross, this is the part where the “individual begins to come to terms with what’s happened.” I don’t want to come to terms with what’s happened. I want to fight, I want to do something. Something. Yes, I know, that’s the anger phase, and going through the stages of grief is ideally a one-way process. Maybe it shouldn’t be, but that’s another post for another time.
In the here and now, however, what does acceptance mean? There is no changing it, there is no crusade as yet to even begin. And I return to another phase: depression. Right here, right now, I am a wreck. I know that’s OK; I’ve learned denying it makes it worse. Still, there is a little girl who needs me to be someone else: daddy. She’s away from home, too.
So I accept. Not forever, not even for long, but for now. To find acceptance, I retreat to where I often do: my books and my knowledge, though this time I’ll need to go much further back than the latest transgender scholarship.
I got a history degree a long time ago; a bachelors, I think. It seems so far removed from what I do now, that I don’t think about it much. In truth, however, I’ve come to realize it’s the foundation upon which my sanity is built. This thing we call progress doesn’t proceed smoothly, nor run one way. It moves forward, and then retreats, sometimes wiping out much of what happened before. More, while progress moves quickly at times, at others it seems to go almost at a crawl, if it’s moving at all.
This knowledge serves we well at times like these. As a transgender person I feel like the last few years have been a mighty surge forward, only to be followed by a retreat, one that seems to move quicker all the time.
Being part of history has been mostly exciting and empowering until this past six months, but now it’s brutally hard. It was much easier to view history from the bleachers or even the winners circle than it is here in the trenches. (Forgive my collision of metaphors; It’s been a long morning.)
And yet. It is here that I find a tiny bit of solace. As a historian I know the names of David Duke and George Wallace, names that all by themselves define racism. I also know the names of Andrew Jackson and Woodrow Wilson, two men who despite holding the title President of the United States, are now also defined forever by their racist place in history.
History will remember Donald Trump like these men. His actions today - announced on goddamn Twitter - will forever cement his place as one of America’s great bigots. Children will learn his name in history books as a man who overtly ensured that narrow-minded intolerance would have the full effect of law. Millions of people, for as long as this country will stand, will know that Donald J. Trump stood for hate, just as my daughter knows today.
All of those students of history will know another thing as well: that 63 million people voted for this man, knowing that he was a man of hate and intolerance. History will record that 63 million people decided that this was acceptable - without one damn bit of grief.
I’ll make sure of that.