Back in November, a couple of days after the election, I was asked to take part in a spotlight series on Wrote Podcast about American politics under a Trump regime. I happily agreed (parts one and two are online now) and it’s going to be a monthly thing we do for the foreseeable future. Remember the Weasley’s Potterwatch pirate radio station? It’s like that but with angry queers.
In the first episode we discussed something that’s stuck with me ever since:
There is a greater need for us to start writing about us as we are to preserve what’s going on. If anything, just so that there is another pulsating ping in history that we actually are documenting and journalising what we’re going through… Start writing. Start really putting the voice out there. It’s now just as important as it was through those HIV days when nobody wanted to talk about what was happening to us. It’s the same thing.
For those of us who didn’t experience the HIV epidemic firsthand, we recall those days in the ’80s and ’90s through a collective consciousness of art. Books, movies, plays, music, paintings, sculpture. All the arts rose up in a swell of voices that created a cultural phenomenon, a body of work that said We were here. Remember us.
Talking about something like that in relation to what’s happening in America today might seem incongruous at first. America has decriminalised homosexuality, legalised same-sex marriage, and a flurry of states and cities have passed queer-inclusive equal rights ordinances. In many ways, it’s never been a better time to be gay in America.
And yet, many of us are afraid.
Trump isn’t even *gag* president yet, but already the right wing has started dismantling our rights. Since the election, eight states have tabled anti-trans “bathroom bills” for the 2017 legislative session. (Alabama, Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, S. Carolina, Texas, Virginia, and Washington.) This despite the fact N. Carolina’s HB2 has cost the state upward of $600 million in lost business. And let’s not forget the NC legislature failed to repeal HB2 even after Charlotte struck down its equal rights ordinance as a quid pro quo for ending HB2.
These bills will come thick and fast all across the States in the coming months. Anywhere Republicans control the state legislature, the clocks will be wound back to the 1950s. And it’s not just queers they’re after. Ohio passed a “heartbeat bill” that effectively banned abortion after six weeks. That bill was ultimately vetoed by Gov. John Kasich, but under cover of the outrage over the draconian legislation he signed another bill outlawing abortion from 20 weeks. Make no mistake, the only purpose of the blatantly unconstitutional heartbeat bill was to enable the passing of the 20-week bill with as little fuss as possible.
The ACA is also under attack, although without a viable alternative Republicans might not have the numbers they need to outright repeal it. The defunding of Planned Parenthood is, predictably, also on the table. Revoking people’s access to healthcare will cost lives, it’s as simple as that. This new regime will happily kill their fellow Americans and not lose sleep over it. The only thing currently making them hesitate is the financial forecasting that says repealing the ACA will cost roughly $350 billion over the next ten years. To Republicans, that’s a much more significant figure than 23 million uninsured.
These numbers are staggering. Essentially incomprehensible for most of us. We could not easily picture 23 million people, and finding empathy for those numbers is difficult. What we recall of the HIV/AIDS epidemic is not primarily the numbers, but the stories. I’d have to Google to tell you that almost 240,000 Americans had died of AIDS-related deaths by 1995 (at the peak at a rate of almost 50,000 a year, or more than die of breast cancer), but I don’t need Google to remember Rock Hudson, or Freddie Mercury. Nor do I need Google to recall being moved by Angels in America, The Line of Beauty, The Story of the Night, or even—heaven help me—Philadelphia.
Literature moves in great cycles, following man’s turbulent history. The Victorians wrote of tuberculosis. In the 1930s, writers portrayed the Spanish flu outbreak that killed some 50 million people in a single year. The 1940s and ’50s brought with them a swell of Holocaust literature. WWI and WWII remain alive in the collective consciousness. Already, we have art dedicated to the experiences of those caught up in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, and of course 9/11.
As we approach the dark and difficult times that lie ahead, all of us, especially those most marginalised (queerfolk, women, people of colour), need to take the time to document our experiences. I’m not saying we all need to go out and write sweeping epics that will live for generations, but we need to become more than statistics, more than faceless numbers. Blog, tweet, write, paint, compose. Do what you can.
Support others as well. I know there’s been *cough* drama about Patreon this week, and I’m not suggesting go out and commit $$$ every month to artists and creators, but read blogs, like posts, give someone a retweet when they’re telling their story. Follow hashtags like #WeNeedDiverseBooks or #OwnVoices to find new authors, and check out lists of underrepresented writers/subjects such as this ace/aro spec fic database. The arts need an audience, and together we can create a groundswell of dissent that says we will not give up, no matter what they throw at us.
I’m including myself in this call-to-pens (and pencils, and keyboards). As a gay immigrant in a same-sex marriage, as somebody who relies on the ACA to get health insurance through the marketplace, and as a woman, this incoming regime feels oppressive in about a hundred different ways. I won’t be blogging about my personal situation all the time—self-care first, focusing on this stuff 24/7 is downright depressing—and there’s plenty I’d like to say and do but don’t dare because my residency is still probationary, but this feels important. Necessary.
To counter some of the helplessness I know a lot of people are feeling, check out Indivisible, a guide written by former congressional staffers on how to approach your member of congress and appeal to their better nature (assuming they have one). It’s also got some great advice if you’re interested in joining local advocacy groups, or campaigning with others in your state.