We were coming back from one of my favorite Walmarts when we saw the flags. In what used to be amicably known as “Lesbianville” (both for the women’s college in the middle of downtown and for its incredibly large lesbian population), a Trump rally rambled through the streets. My girlfriend and I both felt it, the pit that grew whenever we were around Trump supporters — or, honestly, really any white people at this point.
Only a short ride away from my hometown of Springfield, Massachusetts, Northampton was one of our favorite getaway spots. It housed our favorite candy store, my aforementioned favorite Walmart, and two pizza places with slices bigger than your head. The best memories I have of my teenage years are the ones I spent in Northampton streets. Nothing bad ever really happened there — until now. Northampton is surrounded by farm towns whose populations consist of mostly Trump supporters, but I wouldn’t have been surprised if the bulk of the rally attendees were Northampton residents. The incredibly accepting place that it is, rally participants would have been able to live without the judgment that they often throw at others. When we drove past the rally two weeks ago, my daughter excitedly announced that there must be a parade going by. I explained that we would not be staying for it. We needed to be home — now.
It officially felt like there was no place that we could go.
I should have seen this coming. Over the course of the past four years, spaces that I believed would always be a refuge have been overrun with bigots spewing vitriol. Spaces like my favorite parks, the orchards we visited seasonally, and Northampton were littered with pro-police, pro-Trump and anti-Black paraphernalia. These were places I never thought Trump supporters would venture because of the sheer fear of being surrounded by the people they so claim to hate. But they wasted no time cruising through Springfield, flags waving high on the backs of their trucks.
The day after he was elected, I checked on every Black and Brown person I knew. I checked twice if they were women, LGBTQ+, or disabled. I didn’t make it through any of my classes. After falling apart in my first one, I trekked back to my dorm and found “grab them by the pussy” written on the wall out front. I cried the remainder of the day. Within the first nine months of his presidency, my family and I were called n***** while strawberry picking. That had never happened before.
Some of the biggest pieces of my support system could no longer be trusted. The mayor of my hometown — a man that my mother grew up with and someone that treated me like one of his own children — became a part of the infectious wave of loud racism and xenophobia. After consciously making both anti-black and anti-immigrant statements to television reporters and newspapers despite being a first-generation American himself, he still tried to hug my mother and I as if what he said would never reach us.
It sounds ridiculous that I’m just now realizing there’s no place in the country where we will ever be safe, but the optimist that I am had hoped that some places would be untouched. The danger of living in some place like Massachusetts is that you truly start to believe in the imaginary bubble, that there’s something that separates it (and the rest of New England) from the rest of the country.
I once had a college professor say that he preferred the South because at least they were upfront about their racism. Four years with Trump at the helm has created a boldness that didn’t exist here before. In the North, you were never quite sure who was planning your funeral while smiling in your face. When Donald Trump took over, the shame that kept Northern racists subtle was washed away; there was no one at the top to remind them to keep their wits about them. There was no one standing between them and the pre-Civil War sensibilities that their ancestors worked so hard to turn into polite jabs when confronted with a loss of power and control. The openness of his hatred combined with the large stage that is the American presidency pushed the floodgates open. As the years of this presidency rolled on, I was forced over and over again to come to terms with all of this. We would be in danger no matter where we were. We would always be targets. It was truly just a matter of time.
As the elections continue to speed in our direction like a runaway train, it is becoming more and more clear how much we need a complete overhaul. Those of us who are not heterosexual white men simply cannot survive whatever another four years of this would entail. We are quite frankly starting a reversal of essentially anything that would allow us to live a life without pain. Our healthcare, housing, environment, education, food, and dreams are on that ballot. It could mean the difference between being seen as a human and being seen as a two-legged game for the rest of our lives. Many of us have been scarred in ways we had hoped we’d never have to be. We have watched the purge play out in real-time, we have gone missing, and we’ve watched strangers be gunned down without so much as an explanation. Most of us are holding onto all of it, afraid that if we put it down, we’ll have to deal with it head-on. It is too heavy to carry for much longer.
It may be funny to say, but parts of me are grateful for what Donald Trump most likely did unknowingly. By standing in the President’s office, he disrobed our fair country — showing the world who we truly were. He exposed each and every flaw in our systems, showed who the cards are repeatedly stacked up against, and made it too hard for us to ever go back to that place. He turned many into fighters and organizers. He made us create opportunities for ourselves where there were none. Donald Trump gave us permission to set the country on fire instead of patiently waiting for the tides to turn in our favor.