At the Stonewall Democrats table at Fort Wayne Pride last night, I had a short conversation with a man who was hungry for connection. He was there alone, up for the evening from the small Indiana town he lives in, fifty miles away. I had talked the night before for several minutes with a young woman who was also at the festival alone—she’s being bounced from relative to relative this summer, the summer before she starts college, so that she can be away from her parents until school starts. I assume that her being a lesbian has something to do with the estrangement.
It’s not easy going to Pride alone. It’s not easy to approach any established community and make a connection. When I was in college and wanted to find a religion, I went to a few places of worship—the only experience I remember distinctly was the Jewish synagogue I went to. No one looked at me or smiled at me or spoke to me, and I never returned. When I was in high school, I wanted to go to “the Mall”—what the queer kids called the Liberty Memorial, which was the citywide hangout in Kansas City back then for misfits and queers of all varieties. The summer before 12th grade, I went there once, alone, internally writhing with the discomfort of being somewhere I knew no one and had no way of connecting to anyone. I can’t remember how it happened—either I saw my friend David there that night or else found out that he hung out there and went with him another time. And maybe while I was there with David, Becky saw me and recognized me from school—the details are fuzzy after so much time. Becky became my connection point, and by the end of the summer, I was at the Mall every weekend. But I remember still that lonely feeling of being on the outside, watching a community have fun, and having not the slightest idea of how to be on the inside.
I watched the man go from table to table, talking longer with the people at the tables than those in groups generally did, just as the young woman had the night before. Eventually, he circled back and started talking to me again. After a few minutes, he confessed to me, “Well, I’m on the other side from you-all.”
Dan Savage has no sympathy for the loneliness of the gay Republican (“And, hey, pull your head out of your ass before 2020, SWITCH, and you might have an easier time finding a guy who wants to stick his dick in there”) . . . but I have what the religious people might call “a heart for” lonely people—I notice them.
He told me that he had lived in for several years in Chicago and in California, but that he had come back to the small town in Indiana to help his parents and grandmother. He asked me about myself, and I told him I completely understood his yearning to be more part of the LGBT community, because I had felt estranged from the community once I stopped identifying as a lesbian up until recently. I told him that I felt that trans people’s activism had made the community more accepting of me, too, as a non-lesbian queer woman. He told me that while he lived in California, he’d been brainwashed by the Californians into voting for Obama. I told him that in my twenties, I’d been brainwashed by the Catholics into voting for Bob Dole.
He thinks that his personality is a better fit with conservatism—he is naturally monogamous, feels uneasy about changing definitions (he favors civil unions but not marriage for gay people, he’s conflicted about gender fluidity), and values family enough to leave behind what sounded like a less lonely life elsewhere to be an out gay man in Trump country. Social scientists have found heaps of evidence of personality differences between conservatives and liberals, deep-seated differences related to order and stability versus novelty-seeking and openness. Emily Laber-Warren summarizes a number of research studies with the conclusion that “conservatives are fundamentally more anxious than liberals, which may be why they typically desire stability, structure and clear answers even to complicated questions.” As a person with more than passing experience with anxiety, I find that this research helps me to feel less polarized in thinking about conservatives. The things that frighten conservatives don’t frighten me at all . . . but I do understand fear, and how vision-constricting and motivating it can be.
But whatever this guy’s hardwired personality traits may be, it’s a fact that in one place, surrounded by one set of people, he voted for Obama, and in another place, surrounded by a different set of people, he voted (I assume) for Trump. There in his small town, even though he’s a Republican, he doesn’t fit because he’s gay. In Gayland, even though he’s gay, he doesn’t fit because he’s conservative. I doubt that he is 100% living his truth, but I don’t think anyone is 100% living their truth anyway. But if his >90% truth is being gay and also being politically conservative, then his truth, in the world we live in now, will give him a lonely life on the outside of the two communities that are most important to him. Living your truth doesn’t always lead to a happy ending.
He came back to talk to me a second time because he felt like he was lying by letting me assume that he was politically liberal. People need to be seen and known in their wholeness; a conversation under false pretenses doesn’t count as a connection. I don’t know if I’ll ever see him again—I told him that some of the topics at the Stonewall Democrats meetings might be of genuine interest to him (recent topics were a lawyer’s analysis and explanation of the Supreme Court’s Masterpiece Cakes decision and a presentation by an estate lawyer to help people plan their wills and other legal documentation to protect them in case Obergefell is overturned by a future, conservative-packed Supreme Court), so maybe he’ll come. If not, well, it was the most substantive conversation I’ve had about politics with a Republican in years, so I’m grateful for it. Godspeed, little doodle.