Paige Schilt

Feeling A Part of, and Apart from, the Nation: Or, Why Do I Have to Take it Personally?

Filed By Paige Schilt | November 06, 2008 2:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: African-American, Barack Obama, election 2008, of two minds, presidential elections, Prop 8, W.E.B. DuBois

Damn it, I didn't want to be sad yesterday.

As soon as the election was called for Barack Obama, I raced to the shores of Austin's Lady Bird Johnson Lake to join a jubilant group of friends and strangers. We banged on drums and pots and pans, danced around, and shouted with joy. We hugged and said, "I can't believe it." We stood in a circle and shared our hopes and dreams for the future of our nation. I have never felt so much a part of my country.

So how is it that I woke up this morning feeling like a lead weight was resting on my chest? Why is it that people are still celebrating all around me, but now I feel set apart, as though I'm watching the festivities through bulletproof glass?

It's Prop 8, of course, but I don't want it to be. Although my wife and I were married in California last June, and in spite of the fact that so many people have poured (and are still pouring) their hearts into defeating Prop 8, I really don't want to care about it this much. And I realize I've been trying to shelter my heart from the potential blow for a while now.

For weeks I've been telling myself that electing an African American president who pledges to end the war and make health care accessible is more significant than a few last-gasp anti-gay ballot measures. Today, as I've dragged my gloomy countenance around town, friends have been eager to assure me that the losses in California, Arizona, Arkansas, and Florida are just temporary setbacks in the momentum of full equality for LGBT Americans.

And I believe all of those things, really, I do.

But I'm always shocked by how personal it feels when one of these ballot measures passes. It's like a big, fat rejection. I know their supporters don't know me and my family. I understand that lots of voters were victims of well-funded and coordinated campaigns of misinformation. But it still sucks when my civil rights can be subjected to a vote and a majority of folks - even a tiny majority - get to decide that I don't deserve what they have.

But what hurts even more is feeling set apart by my experience of the election. Although I've experienced lots of empathy and concern from straight friends, I'm sick of the liberal progressives who ask me, "by the way, what happened in California?" because they haven't even bothered to follow it. When I told one straight acquaintance about the losses in Arizona, Florida, and Arkansas, she said, "oh, well, that's just Arkansas." Pardon me if, as a queer parent who lives in Texas, I don't feel quite so cavalier.

Ironically, on the day when the U.S. is celebrating our first black president, my mind keeps returning to W.E.B. DuBois's The Souls of Black Folk. Across a gulf of race and history, my identification with DuBois's notion of double consciousness feels like a lifeline - a thread of American tradition that reflects my experience.

One ever feels this twoness,--an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideas in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.


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The Prop 8 news put a damper on my excitement, too. But Obama's election has helped me to believe that that hearts and minds can be changed. Have you seen how many Texas counties went blue in the presidential election?

I have no doubt that justice will prevail in the long run. I just wish it would hurry up!

Thanks for writing this, Paige. I hate that I feel cheated out of the joy I want to feel about Obama's election. I don't live in California, and I'm not especially anxious to marry my partner, so maybe it shouldn't hurt so much, but it feels like a slap in my face. It just seems so ironic at the very time we are celebrating a turning point in the struggle against racial discrimination. All of a sudden our struggle feels like it's back in the dark ages. And I'm sorry but all this happy talk about how our day is going to come just isn't working for me.

That's a great Dubois quotation.

Although I've experienced lots of empathy and concern from straight friends, I'm sick of the liberal progressives who ask me, "by the way, what happened in California?" because they haven't even bothered to follow it.

Amen. I always want to say, "Thanks. Your concern is overwhelming."