Scoundrel Time

Calm-Downers, Resisters, and Bags by the Door


“Jesus, what are we going to do now?”

Out of the mouths of babes, or one babe in particular, comes the question du jour, and possibly du mois and de l’année, too.

A day after the recent presidential election, what some grieving voters call 11/9, I chat over coffee with a gay millennial acquaintance who had cast his protest vote for Jill Stein. Intense, green-eyed and passionate, he cites the reasons we’ve heard a million times: Trump is awful, but I never thought he’d be elected, so I took a stand. I didn’t trust Hillary. The system is broken, and I thought it was time to blow up Washington (which if I hear one more time, I may spontaneously combust).

He can’t face me, so he stares into his black coffee, a liquid mirror reflecting how dark and wired we both feel, as he expresses his morning-after regret that the Trumpeteers won.

“You live in Maryland, you didn’t tip the scale,” I say, reassuring if not forgiving. “It’s not like you were in Alabama. If you’d been in Alabama and missed your chance, my response would be different.”

“I never in a million years thought,” he starts. “The polls, everyone on TV…”

“Keep a bag packed by the door,” I interrupt, stone-faced.

“What?” He looks puzzled.

“A bag,” I say. “You asked what do we do now, and I assume it wasn’t rhetorical. So here’s my advice: Keep a bag ready. Maybe a backpack. Something large enough to carry you through hours outside. You’ll need it for the protests. You’ve said you care deeply about the issues.”

“I do,” he says.

In the span of an hour, we agree on so many of them—closing the ever-widening gap between haves and have-nots, the myth of trickle-down economics, real climate change threats, women’s reproductive rights and equal pay, basic freedoms of speech and press, healthcare for all, and decrying invasions—cyber or otherwise—from foreign powers like Russia. Neither of us is a one-issue voter, but we reaffirm how much we care about maintaining and furthering LGBT equality.

“Then get ready to be a resister.”

“Fuck​,” he sighs.

“Bring a phone charger and, I guess you don’t need a camera or video recorder, since, well, iPhone,” I continue with a small lilt, pointing to our gold 6’s laying side by side on the table. “Oh and water. Lots. I never hydrated enough when I marched in gay rights and pro-choice rallies in the 80s and 90s, anti-war protests in the 00s. You feel so messed up the next day, especially if you go drinking with friends afterward. Also, a towel, Chapstick, and power bars.”

Despite all this, I don’t want to play the older guy card. When I was younger and heard ‘been there, done that’ exasperation, I patronized and pretended to listen. Before I learned the personal is political, I’m sure I dismissed as prattle whatever the older one thought I knew nothing about. I didn’t see how history could be relevant.

Fast forward and I’m mortified about this election, out of synonyms for vile to describe Trump and his Trumpeteers, and worried about the future in a way I’ve never been before. Faced with this younger guy looking to me for wisdom, part of me wants to pull out both my pants pockets and shrug, “Sorry, bud, I got nuttin.”

But in the moment, I’m more equanimous than know-it-all. We get our moment in history at whatever point of the evolution continuum we land, and it’s not like we choose it. Every generation has its challenges, successes, and failures. One’s experience doesn’t invalidate—or even compare with—that of the other.

In my response to sad younger gay guy, I’m more sotto voce and searching than superior and sure.

Truth. I share that I went to many marches and know what it feels like to have to fight for my rights as a gay man, demanding AIDS research funding and treatment, civil liberties, and, most recently, marriage equality.

Consequences. I tell him what I see coming down the post-election pike—possibly the most powerful Vice President in history (since the President doesn’t seem to want the job, as much as he enjoys tweeting and campaigning) and a Who’s Who of old-school homophobia cabinet running daily operations. To lead our government, Trump has chosen many longtime road warriors against LGBT rights and likely will now use their platforms as pit stops to refuel and put prejudiced pedal to the metal. Trump’s positions change with the wind. But his cabinet selections are mostly far-right, fervent, unswayed by wind, and ready to act.

“When I talk to friends on the hill, they tell me not to worry,” sad younger gay guy says. “The wheels of government move slow. You can’t change things quickly.”

“I’ve had friends and family tell me the same,” I reply. “Like ‘What makes you think the GOP will come up with a plan to repeal and replace Obamacare in four years since they haven’t come remotely close to a concrete alternative in six?’ And ‘LGBT rights are protected by corporations now, and corporations are king in Trumpland, so what harm can bigots really do?’”

I call these people the calm-downers. They want resisters like me to stop feeling upset and angry, or any emotion other than docile grace. During one conversation, a calm-downer began reciting the Desiderata. I told her I was sorry, but as much as I’d like to “go placidly amid the noise and haste,” I’m not there.

Zombies also go placidly amid the noise and haste, I thought at the time. It’s a lovely sentiment that’s fitting for some other circumstance, not the Trumpeteers’ threat to peace, prosperity, and equality. As for the other renowned line, ‘whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should’? The only thing that’s unfolding in my home is the fresh towel I’ll be adding to my packed bag by the door.

The resister bag is on my mind as I rally a bit of cheer and say a post-coffee farewell to sad younger gay guy. What I learned from our coffee chat: not everyone has had to fight for their rights, and the possibility of doing so feels like freezing cold water in the face after years of toasty warm progress.

My friend assumed that marriage equality, access to gay adoption, and a cultural shift toward LGBT inclusion would continue unabated. There wouldn’t be any more need to not ask or not tell, right? I’ve never taken those rights for granted. But like him, I was hopeful. I didn’t understand the national freak-out over trans bathroom rights and figured even the conservatives had bigger fish to fry. And that move toward LGBT workplace protections? Hey, why not? We’re on the right path.

As he walks off, I want to tell him that I’m more disappointed and less confident than I let on.

That I’m gutted by how many chose to believe the worst rumors about Hillary, while ignoring the worst facts about Trump.

That the big difference between us is simply this: when it comes to feeling threatened as a gay person, it’s not my first time at the resister rodeo.

But I don’t say those things. We’ve said enough for today.

For a few minutes, I sit alone staring at my empty cup, debating a refill, and talking myself into staying both Zen and engaged. The two emotions seem at odds, but I need them to be codependent. I don’t want to be depressed and inactive until 2020.

I contemplate the official inauguration of Trumpeteers, the procession of our reality-star-in-chief and the new fact-free, off-kilter reality he’s ushered in behind him.

I want to look away, avoid the meteor crash I fear is coming, and head to the moon or Vancouver.  I won’t. Nor will I go placidly through the next four years of this particular noise and haste. I’ll go determinedly, resisting potential infringements.

As I write this, I’m getting ready to attend The Women’s March on Washington the day after inauguration. I’m making calls, signing petitions, and resisting several habits that threaten my verve—all steps in the right direction.

I no longer watch television news programs, including politically oriented, bloviating talk shows. Prior to the election, I immersed in them nightly. Now I get my news surgically, cutting directly to sources I trust like The New York Times and The Washington Post.

I’ve grieved the notion of this baleful, orange vulgarian holding the highest office in the land. We see ourselves in our leaders, but I resist seeing myself in him, looking at his face or listening to him talk. I’ll pay attention to what he does, but say nyet to the visual.

I used to love walking the block and a half from my home to 16th Street in Northwest Washington, where I could see the White House and smile, thinking of the Obamas—two classy grownups and their daughters—living inside the hallowed walls. Now I avoid turning my head south as I cross the street.

Every morning, instead of checking news on my iPhone, one bleary eyeball affixed to whatever fresh hell streams down from Trump Tower, I meditate and listen to lectures from author and spiritual leader Marianne Williamson. For months, she’s been focused on the election, and her talks draw heavily from both the news as well as A Course in Miracles, a spiritual path I’ve followed since 1990. She said one thing recently that’s stuck with me like a mantra:

Look at the crucifixion, but do not dwell on it.

I’m not one to sling biblical references, but in the context of this election and our current world situation—ISIS terror, corruption, corporations as king, greed vs. love as a core value—“look at” means read the news. The legitimate kind with accurate sourcing, facts, and data—not the fake crap. Being spiritual isn’t a passive ticket to brain death. As Mahatma Gandhi once asked, “Is not politics a part of dharma too?” Don’t look away from the bad, as dystopian as it sometimes seems.

“Do not dwell” calls us back from the abyss. Don’t let witnessing the worst of humanity in our united divided states ruin you or render you ineffective in the ongoing fight for good. Don’t apologize for moral outrage; it’s born of love, not fear, and can prompt action. Don’t get cynical, which may be fashionable, but is just an excuse for not helping.

Today, I wake up, wander down the hall, and see my backpack hanging on the closet door. I wonder if my young pal took my advice to heart as I sink to the floor to meditate. After a few mindful minutes, my still, small voice within says grieve, then get busy.