It’s safe to say we’ve entered a strange place and time in the United States. Some are of the opinion that Donald Trump is going to “Make America Great,” while others think he’s an evil being working to dismantle the world as we know it.
I’m not going to pretend that throughout the transition from Obama to Trump that I haven’t been fearful. Honestly, I’ve cried and even found it hard to sleep.
My conservative friends have patted me on the back and assured me that everything will be okay. That Trump is going to bring necessary changes for the advancement of our nation. On the other hand, my progressive friends have warned me that we need to be vigilant. “Don’t go to sleep,” one of my buddies recently said. “This is the moment that we need to be more prepared than ever.”
It takes a single news headline or inflammatory Facebook post to send me into a tailspin. And I don’t like it. I don’t like how it makes me feel inside.
How have we (as Americans) allowed a massive divide to drive us insane?
It’s made me reflect like never before. It’s made me look deeply into my own progressive mindset. On my drive home the other day I asked myself outloud, “Why am I a progressive?”
I grew up in a culture that is far from progressive (or at least it wasn’t when I was a youngster.) I remember telling one of my Mom’s friends about my desire to go to USC. She shook her head and told me how I was going down a slippery slope for not continuing my education at a Christian school.
Her comment made me want to run and never look back. There was something deep down inside of me that told me there was more to life. I felt compelled to learn more about the world and people with differing mindsets.
My first friend in the USC School of Journalism was Mike Levenstein. He is Jewish, and was honestly my first Jewish friend. Ever. We’d walk around school cracking each other up and registered for many of the same classes. We told each other how it felt like we’d known each other for years. He was my soulmate friend — and still is to this day.
And then, my Mom was shocked when I brought home a boyfriend. A beautiful, athletic man. He was also Jewish and Israeli to boot.
She was wary at first because of our cultural differences, but then she fell in love with him. Our relationship led me to so many new experiences — a trip to Israel, a new understanding of pole vaulting (he was an amazing one), and an introduction to love.
USC brought many other friends into my life – a Nigerian trackstar, Muslim friends, gay friends, straight friends… you name it. I became exposed to all sorts of different cultures and vantage points.
I felt so enriched by the relationships I was building. Over a period of time, my mind expanded to a different sense of understanding and self-acceptance. My fear of the outside world dissipated, and I wanted to learn more about it all.
This included me immersing myself into all sorts of religious writings. I read everything from Buddhist scriptures, to the Bhagavad Gita, to the lost books of the Bible. I found comfort in the idea that if there is a God, this intelligence is so much bigger and more welcoming than I ever knew.
I came home for a weekend, and my Mom happened into my room at a moment in which I had a sort of catharsis. I read something that hit me so hard that I was crying.
“What’s wrong, Jen?” she asked.
“I just realized that everything and everyone is connected. I’m just overwhelmed with emotion.” I tried to describe it to her, but instead of her feeling moved it freaked her out.
“I’m a bit worried about you,” was her response.
“Mom, there’s nothing to be scared of. I just think that if there is a creative force in this world. It’s more beautiful and welcoming to everyone than I ever knew. It’s so much bigger!”
She left my room in a sort of a daze. I realized she didn’t quite get it.
And then, poor Mom got the real shock when I finally admitted to her my deepest secret. Something I had held in since I was 12-years-old.
Right around my 26th birthday I admitted to my mom that I am gay. I tried to explain to her that I had tried and tried to be “normal” and tried to want to be married to a man, but it would be a lie. It just wasn’t me.
It was a horrific moment, really. For some wild reason I didn’t think she’d be surprised. I thought she knew the deepest part of me, but she had no idea that was my truth.
We both shed a lot of tears together.
She asked that I speak to a pastor and family friend about it. I trekked to his office one summer day, and we had a discussion that changed my life.
I shared my story with him and feared he was going to rebuke me. I thought he was going to suggest I go to some sort of recovery group for gay men and women. However, he looked me in the eye and said, “Jenny, if you are certain you’re gay… if that’s your truth, live it. I’ve known so many men and women who have fought their sexuality for their entire lives. If you deny who you are, you will be more focused on being what you aren’t than using your talents to the fullest. You are on this earth for a purpose. Use your talents.”
He also told me to find a partner that I love with all of my heart and to commit my life to her.
After our meeting, I felt a huge cloud lift. I could finally be myself without shame.
I thought I had met her. The one I would spend my life with. She is Swedish, with big blue eyes. When she smiles, the world brightens. We began dating in 2007. There was a major challenge – she had moved back from California to Sweden. We created an adventurous life between both countries.
I was happier than I can ever remember being. I had finally found her.
We were hoping that laws would change – that Obama would usher in gay marriage, along with immigration rights for multi-country couples. In 2008, Proposition 8 was proposed and the fight began. We were so stressed out over the whole thing. All we wanted was for Lisa to be able to apply for a greencard, and we could live in peace.
I remember people standing out on corners with their signs, fighting against my right for the pursuit of happiness. In an effort to open a few of their eyes, I wrote a long letter about me and my partner. How the immigration laws are tied into marriage. Our only hope for security together was marriage.
I handed my letter to a feisty woman and explained why I was giving it to her.
She nearly spat in my face and said, “I’m sooooo sorry for your problems. They aren’t mine!”
I was shocked, and I felt as though she wanted to smack me.
Anger rose inside of me and I turned to the group and asked them, “Are you Christians?”
“Yesss we are!” another woman yelled back.
And then I lost it, “You know, if Christ were to come back today, I swear you’d crucify him. You’d kill him all over again.”
What I said hit one man so hard, his face dropped. “I sure hope not,” he replied.
I went on my way and wonder to this day if anyone read the letter I poured hours into.
As you know, Proposition 8 passed and it took until 2012 for the courts and Obama to make a shift.
By then, Lisa and I had travelled back and forth numerous times and it had taken a toll. Sweden had gay marriage rights that I could have taken advantage of, and Lisa had tried and tried to get a VISA into the U.S.
In March of 2012, Lisa flew into LAX and was taken into secondary for questioning. Homeland Security told her she had overstayed two days, 10 years earlier. They wanted to deport her back to Sweden immediately, and wouldn’t let her call me for hours. In the end, the officials let her stay for a handful of weeks, but they took her travel VISA away.
So it came down to a big choice, either I move to Sweden full time or we walk away from our five year relationship.
Around this time, my Mom’s health took a turn for the worse, and we decided we needed to be in our respective countries. I have never cried so much in all of my life. My best friend was now 5,000 miles away, and somehow I was going to have to be okay with letting it all go.
I’ll never forget the night that Obama announced he was going to suspend the rules for binational couples. At that time, there were more than 35,000 couples in our position.
I should have been celebrating that night, but I sobbed because it was too late. We’d been through too much and decided we had to move on.
These experiences have framed my progressive mind. They have all led me to where I stand today.
I can’t help but blame conservatives for their need to legislate morality, when they claim to be the freedom party. I can’t help but be frustrated for their fight against my rights, and the demise of my relationship. They had everything they could ever want — their churches (where many gay people aren’t even welcome), their families that are protected by the law, and their version of God that is in theory sanctioning their world.
And my Mom, I remember when I told her Lisa and I broke up. She cried.
“You know why I loved you being with Lisa?” she asked me. “Because I saw how much she loved you. I saw how she loved you.”
My Mom, my beautiful mom, evolved as result of my journey. We both became better and more open people together.
That is what I think this life is all about. Progression. A deeper understanding.
And above all else, LOVE.
I’m not sure where the Trump administration, the congress, and senate are headed, but I hope it is going to be better than I fear.
I hope they find value in the rights of every human being.
That is my plea, as my story only scratches the surface. There are other men, women, and children out there who need love and support far more than I do.