Intimacy in the Face of Fear

I had been planning a column on rebuilding relationships after a particularly heinous election year. “Elephants Need Love, Too” or something silly like that. But something happened that I didn’t really expect. Donald Trump won the election and the already-strained relationships surrounding his candidacy began to fracture and crumble.

I was working out of town when it happened and have never been more desperate to just be home with my family — to feel safe. Was I literally unsafe? No, of course not. I was being put up in a nice-ass hotel by an organization I do consulting work for regularly. I had clean sheets, cable and two locks on the door. I was fine. But I felt that the world had gone sideways on me. And I wasn’t the only one. The day after the election, all my gender-nonconforming clients (every single one) contacted me because they were absolutely terrified of what was coming next in our country.

If you are reading this article right now, the probability is high that you are either a member of the LGBT+ community or a staunch ally. A few of you might be proudly neither, and are reading for ammunition against the cause. And that’s okay, too — it wouldn’t be the first (or last) time for that to happen, and it’s pretty mild on the range of pushback I’ve gotten regarding my advocacy work.

But for those of you in the former group? Some of you voted for Trump. I know this to be true, cuz you’ve told me. Some of you have also told me that you regret that decision now (your vote was cast in opposition to the other options on the ballot). Not an actual vote for a Trump presidency — because you didn’t think he would actually win. But reactionary, protest voting is a topic for another day. Plenty more of you who voted for him are thrilled that he won.

And you are right when you point out that he doesn’t have a track record of opposing LGBT+ rights in the country. But his ticket mate does. And many, many, many of his followers do — including those of you reading this for ammunition right now.

Donald Trump spoke against the instances of violence and hate speech. I understand that, too. But they happened, y’all. And they are continuing to happen. The Pandora’s Box of seething hate in this country was opened in the name of his winning bid for the presidency. And people are rightfully scared of the continued fallout.

And they want to know what to do now.

Generally, I write about sexual intimacy, right? It’s fun and informative and a popular enough column that Out In SA hasn’t kicked me out to the curb yet. But I got a text after the election results that made me realize that my original column idea wasn’t going to cut it right now.

The text was this:

“How do you push through the fear of standing up for what you believe in?”

And that brings us to the question of a different depth of intimacy and relationship navigation: It’s about speaking truth when terrified … about making difficult choices in relationships that no longer hold safe space for you. Pandora’s Box was opened by these election results. Maybe not by Trump himself, but by the other demons in our communities. It became immediately clear that they have been here all along and now they feel a sense of permission to show their true natures.

At the time of this writing, more than 400 cases of post-election hate incidents had already been reported. By the time you are reading this, that number will have likely grown exponentially. They’re out free now and we’re having to figure out how to navigate the same space as them. They may be in our workplaces — or in our local hangouts. They may be in our families or in our larger circle of friends. And the question now is: How do we take a stand?  It’s scary shit. Not just shutting down a stranger at the local coffee shop who is spewing venom and hatred … but in our own personal relationships. How do we push through that fear of standing up for what we believe in?

The answer for me has been one of pure selfishness. What do I want to remember about myself? How does my response fit into the idea I have about who I am? Do I want to be quietly embarrassed that I let something ride or proud of myself for doing what I strongly believe is the right thing to do?

I never want to remember myself as the person who quietly wore a safety pin on my #NoDAPL T-shirt while making donations to the Pride Center of San Antonio, but then didn’t get between the woman being harassed at the mall and the man harassing her, offering her protection, strength in numbers — and a chance to escape. I don’t want to be the person who won’t set boundaries with friends and family … remaining silent about texts, emails and conversations I do not want to participate in.

Intimacy in relationships, for me, starts with being proud of my actions, not just my beliefs. I can’t be good for others and with others if I’m not using my voice and being congruent in my follow-through.

This has become more clear in recent weeks — not just in outer social circles, but inner ones. I had to say “Yes, even with you. You who matter to me. You who I love. I can’t participate in this anymore. You can’t include me or implicate me or use my silence as an acquiesce.”

And the relationships in which we can do that … are the ones we both crave and deserve. And pushing through the fear is what gets us there. Because intimacy, in the end, means authenticity.

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