Feeling Unsafe in Trump’s Rural America

This weekend Daniel and I got out of town and stayed at a lovely AirBnB out in Deming, WA — about 2 hours north of Seattle. Our AirBnB hosts were delightful people and our stay was great. Along the way I figured out that I now feel unsafe in rural America.

You don’t have to get far outside of Seattle to see pro-Trump signs. They’re on the side of I-5 as well as alongside small backroads but all primarily in rural areas. This isn’t surprising, urban centers are typically lean liberal (read: Democrat) and rural areas typically lean conservative (read: Republican). As someone who grew up in a rural, very conservative, area of the country I have first-hand experience with the racism and homophobia that go with such insular, isolated, usually-religious communities. Rural areas didn’t suddenly get more racist or homophobic the day Trump was elected, but they did get implicit affirmation that it’s OK to vent those opinions vocally, just like their new President did on the campaign trail.

As we left I-5 in left-leaning Whatcom county I started to feel more uncomfortable, wondering if it really was safe for two gay guys to stay at an AirBnB in a very rural area. After we checked in and walked along the road to the Nooksack river, I wondered if it was safe for us to be seen together as trucks with gun racks drove past. When the owner of the general store looked us over as we walked in together I wondered if we were in a safe place. I don’t know if we were or not but I felt unsafe all the same.

We got back to Seattle without incident this afternoon and I read about how Trump praised leaders of homophobic groups, as sharp contrast to former-President Obama’s proclamation of support. It’s no wonder I don’t feel safe in Trump-land.

I’m realize I’m being irrational, but I told Daniel that for our vacation this fall I didn’t want to visit any US county that went to Trump. That effectively nixed our plans to visit Alaska. I’m not all sad about this though, there are tons of wonderful blue cities in the US and literally hundreds of countries to visit where I feel safe. I’m sure they won’t mind taking my liberal US dollar either.

Body-image struggles

I’ve always struggled with body-image issues and been unhappy with how I looked. It’s only been in the past decade that I’ve had moments, rare but wonderful moments, when I liked what I saw in the mirror or in a photo. Despite quickly approaching 40, those moments are occurring more frequently now.

I’ve worked on this blog post off and on for many months now, unsure of how to approach the topic. It wasn’t until I read my friend Scott McGlothlen’s post Posing Naked: The Good Kind of Awkward (link is safe for work) that I realized what I needed to do was just be honest and vulnerable.

It starts early and follows us forever

Like many of us, my body-image issues started very young. I remember in middle school my dad took my brother and I to an after-school basketball program. I had so much shame taking my shirt off for the “skins” team that I refused to go back after the first night. I’m uncertain my Dad had any idea the real reason why I refused to go back, but to his credit he didn’t force me.

I am very fortunate that I didn’t grow up in a hyper-masculine household. I was never shamed by my family for how I looked, yet shame I had nonetheless.

In college I once went on a bike ride without a shirt and was ridiculed waiting at a stop sign by guys in a pickup truck telling me to stop embarrassing myself and put a shirt on.

In 2012 while I was riding a bus to work someone took a photo of me, posted it on Facebook, and their friends proceeded to comment on how disproportionate I looked.

Neither of those incidents did anything to make me feel better about how I looked.

Physical and mental workouts

Over the years I’ve put a lot of effort into how I look and how I think about myself.

Shortly after I started working for IBM in 2000 I got a gym membership and began working out in the mornings before work. Every workday lifting weights or running. 16 years later and I still go to the gym every weekday morning before work. On the weekends I run with friends and sometimes run half-marathons.

I have undoubtably made progress on how I look physically, progress I am very happy about. I have also made noticeable strides in how I feel about myself and that’s the progress that I’m happiest with. I’ve finally accepted that I will never look like the models we’re marketed with and that’s OK. I don’t always love what I see in the mirror, but I am at least content with the image I see. That’s huge strides from two decades ago.

Take more, not fewer, pictures

Because of my body-image issues, I’ve almost always hated pictures of myself. My mental critiques run something like:

That photo has the profile of the nose that I hate.

I’m smiling like a dork in that one.

Oh god, all you can see is how skinny I am.

Yet in some ways pictures are one of the best things to show us that we change over time. That those hours at the gym are actually doing something, something we don’t see day-to-day in the mirror. That concerted effort of eating better really has shrunk those love-handles. That maybe, just maybe, we’ve grown into that nose that we hate1.

Pictures provide a great opportunity for some mental growth too although posting them on social media is a double-edged sword. It’s hard being vulnerable, and strangers can be real assholes sometimes, but nothing gives you a shot of confidence than having friends like and comment on a picture of you.

If the social-media hive-mind thinks I look good, maybe I do.

Maybe the internal record I play for myself is a broken reflection of the reality, a reality that others see differently.

Recently a friend who dislikes pictures of herself showed me a photo of her taken at a work party that she adored. In the photo she is beaming and beautiful — just as she appears to me every time we’re together. In that photo she was finally able to see what the rest of see daily.

Maybe we need to take more pictures of ourselves to finally capture those moments for us that others see all the time.

Photoshoot

For my birthday in 2016 I gave myself a rather interesting birthday present: a photoshoot. Those moments when I liked what I see in the mirror had come more frequently and I wanted to memorialize it, for fear it might never happen again.

I asked my friend and photographer Ryan Pennington if he were willing, and he agreed. I knew Ryan would make me feel at ease and that at the end of the process if I didn’t like any of the photos, he would know it was due to my own issues and not his skills as a photographer.

Sometime during the middle of the shoot Ryan took a picture and showed me the camera. Without really thinking I exclaimed: “Damn, he’s hot. Oh wait that’s me!“. That’s the sign of a good photographer, folks.

The shoot was 7 hours and produced 800 photos. That set got culled to a final set of 70 that I love. Let me say that again a little louder: I have 70 photos of me that I love. I didn’t think I would ever be able to say that.

I shared several of them with friends on Facebook and guess what: they loved them too. My friend Jason Silzer commented on a photo with this pearl of wisdom that I am still trying to integrate into my reality:

Now you see what we all already see.

That’s so incredibly hard to believe, but I keep trying.

All of us struggle

Why am I writing all of this? My hope, my vain hope, is that knowing I have body-image issues helps someone else realize that they are not alone in theirs. That everyone has body-image issues. Old, young, men, women, boys, girls, straight, gay, cis, trans.

That good looking guy walking down the street? He probably has some body-image issues. And that cute girl always posting pictures of herself on Facebook may be dealing with some of the same self-esteem issues you are. We always present our best selves to the world, particularly on social media, but that doesn’t mean we alway believe the image we’re presenting.

It’s incredibly hard, but I encourage you to try and see yourself as others see you. None of us are as ugly as we think.


1 Ok, that will never happen.

#WhyIMarch: For visibility

Saturday, the day after Trump’s inauguration, I am joining the Women’s March in Seattle, a sister march to the one happening in Washington, DC. I am marching for visibility. Visibility for myself, my partner, my female friends, my friends of color, my LGBT friends, my Muslim friends, and others.

I have zero confidence that the incoming administration seeks to represent or benefit anyone who isn’t an affluent old white straight cis male. Look at how Trump’s top 4 cabinet positions are all white males, the first time in 28 years. Or how all of his cabinet is anti-LGBT. Or his intent to deport illegal immigrants and build a wall between the US and Mexico. Or create a Muslim registry here in the US. Or how he personally treats women, as exhibited by his treatment of Fox news anchor Megyn Kelly and his comment to “grab them by the pussy”.

I hate to break it to Trump, but straight cis white males are in the minority in this country. Hell, males alone are in the minority in this country.1

So I’m marching to make sure Trump and the rest of his administration know that we are here and we are not going away. We will stand up for each other and actively resist any efforts to erode our civil liberties. We are angry and we are motivated.

March with me.

Not in Seattle or Washington DC: find a march near you.


1 In 2010, 50.8% of the people in the US were women according to the census.

Doing Good

Daniel and I have serious concerns about the incoming administration’s attitude and commitment to the environment and the rights of anyone who isn’t an old straight white guy. While we may not be doing well, we can at least do good.

We sat down and made a list of organizations that were tackling issues and supporting groups near and dear to our hearts. We focused on organizations that support women, LGBT, people of color, and immigrants, both locally and nationally. We ended up with a rather large list of organizations we wanted to support at the end of 2016 but not enough money to support them all like we wanted. Instead of giving everyone a medium amount of money, we gave big to a few organizations and gave small to the rest.

Primary organizations

We gave big to these organizations, wanting to focus locally and in areas that directly affect our LGBT community and women.

Local

National

Secondary organizations

These aren’t any less important than the others, but we feel it’s more effective to give larger donations and there was only so much money to go around. We believe in the work these groups are doing and wanted to let them know they have our support.

Local

National

Where are you doing good?

What organizations are near and dear to your heart? What groups are you supporting?

I am not OK

The results of last Tuesday hit me really hard and I’ve been in a media blackout since then, both social and mainstream. I’ve had several friends reach out and ask me how I’m doing.

I am not OK.

I am not OK with what the election means for my family’s physical safety. For the safety and security of my LGBTQ friends. My female friends. My Muslim friends. My Jewish friends. My friends of color.

I am not OK with the fear and depression permeating my community.

I am not OK feeling as though we just undid 50 years of social justice work.

I am not OK.

Everything you need to know to participate in the WA State Presidential Primary

The Washington State Presidential Primary takes place Tuesday, May 24th. Being a mail-in ballot state, ballots will be mailed to all registered voters on May 6th. Here’s what you need to know to participate in the primary.

Validate your voter registration

April 25th was the deadline for updating your voter registration for the primary. You can still register to vote in person until May 16th.

Now is a great time to make sure your address is correct for the general election in November. The deadline to update your address online or by mail is October 10th. You can do so in person until October 31st.

If you aren’t registered to vote, you can fix that right here.

You must pick a party

Washington State does not require voters to register with a party and any voter can vote for any presidential candidate in the primary. On your ballot, however, you will be required to affirm that you are only backing one and only one party, either the Democrats or the Republicans, for the primary.

This means that if you participated in the Democratic caucus, you can only vote for a Democratic candidate in the primary. If you did not participate in the Democratic caucus, you can vote for any candidate from either party in the primary.

Voting for a Republican candidate

With Ted Cruz and John Kasich dropping out of the race, and Donald Trump seen as the de facto GOP nominee, you may be wondering why you should vote at all. And the answer is important: you should always vote. The truth of the matter is that the Republican nominee is chosen at the convention and there is still the possibility of a contested convention. Moreover, you should vote for your voice, as part of Washington state Republicans, to be heard.

If you want to vote for one of the Republican candidates, and did not participate in the Democratic caucus, you will need to:

  1. Mark your ballot for one of the four candidates:
  2. Select the Republican Party box on the outside of your ballot
  3. Sign your ballot, put a stamp on it, and mail it.

Ballots must be postmarked by May 24th.

Voting for a Democratic candidate

Washington State Democrats used their caucus on March 26th to select their candidate and will not be using the results of the primary to allocate any of their delegates. Said another way: if you did not participate in the caucus you have missed your chance to vote for one of the Democratic candidates prior to the general election.

But you should still vote.

Too many times people have used misinformation to disenfranchise others of their right to vote. Despite believing my information to be correct and linking to the Washington Secretary of State website, you should always question when someone is telling you not to vote. Always vote. Always.

If you want to vote for one of the Democratic candidates you will need to:

  1. Mark your ballot for one of the two candidates:
  2. Select the Democrat Party box on the outside of your ballot
  3. Sign your ballot, put a stamp on it, and mail it.

Ballots must be postmarked by May 24th.

Other Resources

You should have received a copy of the Washington State Voter’s Pamphlet in the mail already. If you haven’t, you can access a PDF of it online or find a copy at your local library.

The Washington Secretary of State’s website has additional FAQs as well.

Vote!

Regardless of who you vote for, I strongly encourage you to vote. The next president of the United States will shape the country over the next four years and you have a say in who that will be even as early as the state primary.