A couple of months ago I had a bar conversation with a bunch of Americans about the upcoming elections. None of my newly found friends were happy about their next president. To them, it was obvious that Hillary would win. They were Bernie Sander supporters and hadn’t quite gotten over his defeat. Trump was out of the question, of course. “No one will vote for Trump.” With glasses of beer in their hands, they were confident, unafraid.
I haven’t seen them since the election, and I can only imagine how they felt. Shocked, confused, disoriented. Like they woke up in the middle of a dystopian novel.
As for me, I was upset, but I cannot say that the Trump victory came out of nowhere. I had my “Trump moment” back in 2013. I was in Russia, my home country, walking from a class with a couple of my university friends. We were stopped by four people, two females and two males, and asked whether we would sign a petition against a homophobic bill which would soon be labeled by the government as the “gay propaganda law,” or something like this. I signed the petition, of course, but I felt like those four were wasting their time. In our time, such a bill would never pass.
Later, I don’t know how much later, weeks or months, while I was browsing the internet, I saw that the “gay propaganda” bill was now the law. I was stupefied. I couldn’t comprehend how someone living in the same country, at the very same time as I, could support something like this.
I read more about the law. It claimed to protect children from harmful influences. It equated being gay with being a pedophile. It stated that it’s against the law to tell minors that “homosexual lifestyle” is not inferior to the “traditional family values,” technically making it illegal to say to a struggling gay teenager that there is nothing wrong with him or her. The very name of the law was ridiculous. Homosexuality, unlike homophobia, cannot be propagandized. I thought about those four people on the street with a poster and heart-shaped sticky notes of assorted colors. I really hadn’t seen that coming.
The only consolation is that at least the penalty for breaking this law is a small fine, about $60, so the freedom of speech is still affordable. In any case, that was a moment of awakening. I realized that legislated homophobia was not only confined to the borders of my country, that, for instance, a similar law existed in the UK until as recently as 2003, that comparable laws are still active in several US states. In my “before” world, homophobia belonged to the past, and maybe to a handful of far, far away countries. In my present, I no longer have the luxury of ignorance.
This summer when the Brexit was announced, I thought I knew exactly how a lot of people in the UK felt, those who didn’t vote because they had something more important to do that day and were sure that the majority would vote “in” anyway. So why bother? Leaving the European union probably seemed inconceivable to them. It turned out to be a perfectly desirable outcome for a significant part of the country.
It’s always easy to dismiss the opposing side, call them a bunch of crazies, but assigning labels doesn’t help. If anything, it just makes the impenetrable walls between us higher, more resistant. Sometimes, I wonder whether I would have been a liberal, if I wasn’t myself, if I had been born to a different family, in a different country. I want to think that I still would have, but there’s no way to know really. What is clear to me is that the world around me is divided, filled with people with contradicting beliefs, and even though it might be tempting to hide in a bubble of like-minded individuals and dismiss anything distressing as impossible, sooner or later everyone is bound to have their “Trump moment.”
Tatiana Duvanova is a Russian born emerging writer. She is presently located in Albuquerque, NM, where she is pursuing her MFA in fiction, teaches college writing at the University of New Mexico, and reads for the Blue Mesa Review.