Building Bridges After Election Day

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and her husband, former U.S. President Bill Clinton at her concession speech (Photo: Reuters/Carlos Barria)
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and her husband, former U.S. President Bill Clinton, at her concession speech (Photo: Reuters/Carlos Barria)

I stood with the crumpled up, stiff American flag clenched in my left hand. The rainbow button belting “LGBTQ For Hillary” pinned to my H&M puffer vest. I could feel the iPhone camera lens on me, snapping. A lady with yellow-lensed glasses and long grey hair was standing there candidly capturing the current paralysis that had overtaken my entire body as the light from the giant LED screen made my white paleness fluorescent.

It was over. He had taken Florida. She would go on to win the popular vote, as determined the following day, but the electoral college would confirm that our true national nightmare had begun.

I had been standing outside the Javits Center on Manhattan’s Westside since about 6:00 PM. The giant glass venue had been transformed into Hillary Clinton’s headquarters for the evening; the metaphorical glass ceiling we were supposed to break was to be literal as her supporters would roar through her victory.

But that’s not what happened, of course.

Had I arrived at the convention center earlier, I would’ve been able to secure a spot inside. But the crisp November evening was a pleasant partner as I stood at West 39th Street and 11th Avenue, yards away from the erected stage that would see many speakers.

Senator Chuck Schumer was in a celebratory mood when he took the stage early in the evening. The mothers of the children that were claimed by gun violence, sparking #BlackLivesMatter also shined a beacon of light for us. But by the time pop star Katy Perry graced the stage in red regalia to tell us that her parents had voted for Trump, but that wouldn’t stop them from sharing a Thanksgiving table in a couple weeks, the hope that Obama had packaged years ago dwindled. Governor Andrew Cuomo’s words said we were there to celebrate the first female president of the United States, but his nervous laughter said otherwise as broken-spirited supporters began to disperse.

After the Florida defeat was called, I was able to unhinge myself from my spot, my thrashed-at blonde hair miles away from its perfectly combed state that was memorialized in a #ImWithHer selfie I had taken with Javits in the background after arriving hours ago. I texted friends declining drink invites and telling them not to trek all the way down to Javits just to grovel in the ruin of a campaign I had believed in since its very announcement. No cosmopolitan concocted could make me feel fabulous enough to work out how to muster a smile and no words could be mustered to describe to my friends what I felt.

USA Election 2016 Hillary Clinton #imwithher, stronger together vs Donald Trump Presidency make america great again
Photo: Courtesy of Cooper Iron

It was something of a death march over to 10th Avenue, everyone either trying to decide whether Trump or Pence will prove to be our vilest villain or saying that they would slump back to Javits in a couple hours to hear Hillary’s concession speech, which never came that night.

Once I broke away, feeling thankful for the solidarity I chose in attending the evening alone, I tried to hail a cab uptown. Either my taxi-hailing skills were floundering for their first time in my combined nine months as a New Yorker or I had already become invisible.

I finally turned onto 50th Street, crossing over to the subway at Times Square’s northernmost tip. On my way there, in the shadows, wept a man who was being embraced by another.

“She can’t have lost! She can’t have lost!” he wailed.

The other murmured inaudible hope to him, hope that I knew he himself did not believe.

Grown adults cried out in despair as they exited Broadway shows, realizing the news and that they were stepping into a different America.

I sat on the train back up to Harlem, my paralysis continuing in a fevered blur. As the survivor of an infantile stroke, which left me with a weakened left side, I’m susceptible to tensing up when stressed or scared. But this was different. This was crippling pain. Think of Harry Potter’s scar whenever Voldemort strengthens.

I made it into the warm glow of my bedroom in Harlem, shaking my head at my roommate’s greyhound that tonight was not the night for cuddles, Cabernet, and Hilary Duff on Younger.

I sat on the edge of my bed, Facebook statuses and texts that screamed, sans context, that the apocalypse had dawned. Having tried to be a social media warrior of sorts to rally the Hillary troops over the past few days, I had to write something to my followers. I swallowed and wrote:

“I have gone into posting-overdrive, but I offer my final thoughts of the night:

I am a proud gay man. I am a proud disabled person. I am a proud feminist. I am a proud friend to those near and dear to me no matter race, religion, culture, or sexual identification. I am a proud ally to all of those who fit under that umbrella. However, tonight, I cannot say that I am proud to be an American.

Goodnight.”

The previous night I had posted an urge to my followers to remember how I felt when my fellow disabled journalist Serge Kovaleski had been mocked by Trump for having my own disability, albeit a more severe grade. It may be selfish to say that not enough people thought of that when they went into the voting booth. But is it not selfish of them to not consider their gay family member, their Muslim neighbor, their black coworker, their own daughters?…

Somewhere around 2:30 AM, after the announcement Hillary would not be speaking that night and after I had exhausted my disbelief over text with friends, I tried to sleep. The tossing and turning eventually turned into an uneasy nap that ended about 6:30 AM.

I awoke oblivious and without memory of what had happened the previous night. But then it flooded back to me, an image of him standing at that podium with acceptance of his new role and none whatsoever for the different shades that make up our nation. I felt my mattress drop out from underneath me as the black hole swallowed me.

I rolled over and checked my phone to find texts like, “People outside [his] HQ chanting ‘We hate Muslims we hate blacks we just want our country back” and “You will always have a safe space in my heart and in my home.” I then napped some more for a few more hours.

Finally, about 9:30, I thought I could do it. I threw my legs over the side of the bed and my feet hit the floor.

Game over. They started. The tears.

I had been numb the night before, but was now full throttle bawling, holding my head in my hands. Staggering to the kitchen, I prepared coffee and dried my eyes. I looked out my kitchen window at the gloomy and misty day that had so fittingly cursed the foliage of the trees of Riverside Park and across the Hudson, into New Jersey. I stared at the George Washington Bridge and the sobbing started again. I tried to gag myself in an effort to not embarrass myself in front of my roommate, in his room a few feet away.

But I felt scared. I was scared for my right to marry as a gay man. Hell, I felt scared for my right to anything as a gay man, safety included. I felt scared for my foreign friends’ security in their own adopted home country. I felt scared for the reproductive rights of my girlfriends. The list went on.

My go-to for a bad day is a good Sex and the City binge and although it was a mere day ago that I had patriotically joked with girlfriends about the Season 3 arch where Carrie dated a kinky politician into piss play, the self-care of a made bed, shower, and cute outfit were more important.

After tearfully watching Hillary’s concession speech, I texted a bit with my parents, who are both avid Hillary supporters. No amount of sad emojis or “Try to have a good day” messages could convey to me whether or not they felt exactly what I felt. In a couple weeks time, I’ll be traveling to our home in West Virginia for our family Thanksgiving.

I love my family’s beautiful homeland, but Confederate flags are commonplace in the state that Trump took with his naturally squinting eyes absolutely shut. I have family and loved ones there who undoubtedly either voted for them or threw their vote into the green. These are people I love and with whom I will be sharing a meal and dinner table. But do they know?

Do they know what it feels like to have homophobic slurs shouted at them from across a cafeteria? Do they know what it feels like to have been told by a family member that gay people go to hell? Do they know what it feels like to not be guaranteed marriage? Do they know what it feels like to take a deep breath before holding hands with someone of the same sex in public? Do they know what it feels like to want to rest your head on that person’s shoulder, but can’t given the neighborhood? Do they know how it feels to have their private parts grabbed at by nasty old men who don’t consent but think that liquid courage justifies the release of their perverted inhibitions?

I do. I know. I’ve been there.

I couldn’t let these thoughts fester in my mind all day. I needed an escape so I looked up showtimes for Marvel’s Doctor Strange film and stepped out into quietest Manhattan I had ever met. The foggy streets were scarce with people, no one speaking as they shuffled by store fronts that are emblazoned with signs in Spanish. A Maya Angelou quote was flourished upon a chalkboard in front of the Chipped Cup coffee stop, a single heart displayed on the one belonging to the Harlem Public pub. My beautiful neighborhood and its beautiful people seemed scattered like puzzle pieces. We had just been dealt the box, but the pieces will take four long years to put together.

Upon sitting down in my AMC Lincoln Square seat between the white man in business casual and the black man with his adopted white mothers, I noticed that I had never been in a theatre so packed with alone adults on a Wednesday afternoon. Could Benedict Cumberbatch becoming somewhat of a mystical ninja of sorts save us?

The answer was a weak yes. I enjoyed the film and was pleasantly surprised by Rachel McAdams and Tilda Swinton having roles. The billboard marketing had seemed to have left them out, something that stung even harder the day after a well qualified woman lost a presidency to a male reality TV star that casually joked, “You just gotta grab them by the pussy,” to an Access Hollywood host, the majority of America having just officially pardoned this behavior.

After the film, I strolled down Broadway to the Columbus Circle subway hub and there it was. Looming in the dark sky as if it were a fortress of evil in a fantasy novel was the Trump International Hotel and Tower. There was a string of peaceful protesters out front, three of whom were a family with a young daughter. With Demi Lovato humming in my earbuds I couldn’t hear what the gaggle of few Trump supporters, who looked as if they had stumbled out of a frat house, were preaching at my allies.

Social media skims on the subway revealed to me that already my gay brothers had been spat at by coworkers saying, “There go your rights, faggot!” among other things. I then had a quick stop home to chat on the phone with a girlfriend in Boston. We bantered the typical tearful utterances, most ending with “I don’t know what’s going to happen.” It was one of those days I wish I didn’t have all of my loved ones spread around three states and beyond.

Finally, I stepped into the night to head uptown for burgers with a near and dear friend, also gay. Being the security blanket that he is to me, I felt better and distracted. After dinner, we headed over to his apartment in Hudson Heights, again the George Washington Bridge staring at me as it shadowed his building.

There’s been a lot of talk of walls lately and now that talk could be put into motion into being something horrifically concrete. But bridges can be built, too. They can be built to form bonds between the likeminded individuals who may not be able to feel the exact struggles others are facing, but can acknowledge them and offer succor.

Later I sat checking my phone, seeing my friends on the frontlines of protests from 5th Avenue to the Boston Common two states away. But I was right where I needed to be that night, finally cracking smiles and laughs as I rested. I felt safe with my companionship. That night was a far better bridge into a new day than the one that shook me the previous night.

One down and 1,454 more days to go until Election Day 2020.

I had made it through day one. I thought to myself, today I have grieved and tomorrow I will begin to fight.

Cooper Irons

Contributor

Cooper considers himself a pop culture journalist with a love for personal storytelling, too. He is currently writing and freelancing with being a production assistant in NYC. He has written his own movie review blog, The Morning After... The Movies, since July 2010. "What I love most about living in NYC is in the event of having no plans, one can simply walk out onto the sidewalk and feel the city's energy and become inspired and excited by all of its possibilities."

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