My partner and I met in an elevator in Mike Pence’s home state.
I had to work fast. The Kinsey Institute is only three stories high. But that first shy conversation—“So, you’re here studying sex, too?”—became dinner which became a wild summer moving from Bloomington rental to Bloomington rental until our money ran out and we had to go back to our homes, hundreds of miles apart.
We wanted to go back to Indiana, but Pence’s 2015 “religious freedom” law made it seem like a bad time for two queer young women to be getting into the Hoosier spirit.
She moved into my apartment in Georgia a year later. We were still living there when the state was one signature away from legalizing anti-LGBT discrimination. We weren’t thrilled about that, of course, but we loved the chicken and the pickles and the people. Atlanta is still the best place in the country to be gay or bi or queer or trans, and I’d share a biscuit with anyone who wants to debate me.
Now, we live in a swing state that went for Trump this time around and, like many LGBT Americans, we were scared after the election in a way that transcended party politics. The new administration is stacked with figures that pose an unprecedented threat to LGBT rights: our right to work, our right to marry, even our right to use the bathroom.
But I’m not afraid anymore. I will be queer in Trump’s America.
Like many other LGBT people, we call ourselves “queer” because it’s a quick way to tell people that it’s none of their business who we sleep with—but spoiler alert: It’s each other and only each other. And the beauty of queerness is that it is irrepressible, like a spring rushing up to fill the cracks in the earth. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and gender non-conforming kids will continue to be born at the same unstoppable pace in every state, red or blue, and to every household, religious or not.
Queerness isn’t invited; it just shows up. It doesn’t check who you voted for before knocking on your door—or even who’s voting for you: Dick Cheney’s daughter is lesbian, Florida congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s son is transgender, and former Arizona representative Matt Salmon has a gay son. All of these Republican politicians with LGBT children have had to grapple with queerness one way or another because there is no getting around it.
Because so-called Real America has always been and will always be a queer country.
You can try to deny it, you can pass legislation against it, and, at the absolute cruelest, you can torture yourself or your children with conversion therapy to try to “cure” it, but queerness will never go away.
And neither will we.
When I reflect on my life with my partner, I try to block out all our memories of New York, which I loathe, or San Francisco, where a simple hamburger can somehow run you $20. These are LGBT oases, sure, but they are exhausting and brutal places to visit, let alone live.
Instead, I think about the moments we’ve shared in the so-called Real America that elected Donald Trump: driving north on I-65 past a windmill farm that would send the president on a Twitter tirade; kayaking on a turquoise river in Hernando County, Florida, which broke 60-30 for Trump; or slamming down an enormous plate of bacon cheese fries in the middle of the night at an East Tennessee diner—and only paying $7 for the privilege.
I think about cramming our butts into the same creaky Cracker Barrel rocking chair, or sipping coffee while the Chattahoochee crawls past our favorite bench, or finding the only gay bar in a small town.
This is our America as much as anyone else’s. There is no way to “un-queer” it. And I refuse to hide.
“The word queer itself,” as literary scholar Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick famously wrote in an explanation of the term’s etymology, “means across.”
“Queer is a continuing moment, movement, motive,” she added, “recurrent [and] eddying.”
Queerness crosses sexual boundaries and gender binaries. It is always in motion because to stop moving is to surrender to the people who want to box you in—the people who want to check your birth certificate at the bathroom door or who want to know who you sleep with before giving you medical treatment. My partner and I won’t stop moving because others can’t afford to be targets right now: We are citizens, we have jobs, we have health insurance, and we are loved by supportive family members, many of them Republicans.
Over the next four years, legislation will come and legislation will go. And things might get very bad indeed for LGBT people before they start to get better. But in the long view, trying to suppress our spirit or ignore our existence is a fool’s errand.
Over 7 percent of millennials now self-identify as LGBT, driving up the overall estimate of LGBT Americans to 4 percent of the population. The next generation is more openly queer—and more accepting of queerness—than any generation that has come before.
We will always be here and we will always be queer—whether you get used to it or not.
There was no way my partner and I could have foreseen how the next four years would unfold when we had our innocent elevator meet cute, ripped straight out of a rom-com. But that’s not a first meeting story we’re willing to give up. We will tell it over dinner until we die at tables in Utah and New York, Texas and California, Tennessee and D.C.
We have a red-state love story, full of sunsets over Trump country and long drives through places that many of our peers would fly over. It is our story and, whatever happens to our rights and whoever the president may be, we will keep living it. Because it isn’t always the powerful who write history. History is written by those who didn’t quit.