I woke up Wednesday morning thinking it was gonna be a different kind of day. I’d been counting down the days towards America’s Election like it was Christmas—“just two more sleeps”—because I was sure it would end this nightmare farce of a year. I felt sure that, for all the noise and bluster and pain pulled up in the past few months, America was too diverse, too progressive, too globally minded to elect this media-forged monster. I didn’t realize how naïve I really was.
I woke up Wednesday morning thinking this day would be different. I planned on watching the morning results until Florida’s called for Hillary and we could all breath, chuckle a bit, and have celebratory drinks on a floating tube down a Laotian river. And because I still lived in that ‘different’ kind of day, I was able to still laugh about the results appearing on my computer screen. I got to watch the red burning across America with a detached irony.
I got on the tubes with everyone else, sneaking a bottle of rum down the river, taking shots for “America being made great again,” taking shots for RIP America, taking shots for everything I believed in collapsing as I drank. I stopped at riverside bars, doing musical tubes, yelling clapping and stomping all through the mud and not thinking about anything except how much fun this was all supposed to be.
And then, halfway through the second bar, dancing on a table to Todd Terje and feeling the endorphins recede like the tide drawing away, I started to realize this wasn’t the world I’d woken up to. He’d won. Misogyny, racism, homophobia, and pretty much every other phobia had won. My chest started tightening. The music and the people were pushing into the periphery and I couldn’t breath.
A little panic is probably what’s called for here; then I realized it was an actual panic attack. Because I was thinking about my Hispanic American, my African American friends. I wasn’t sure if they were gonna be okay and I wasn’t sure if any of us would be okay. I ran into the jungle and started screaming, partially from fear, but more from anger, from feeling so let down and abandoned. Being alone and terrified. I was lying in the grass, red ants were biting my back, crying and praying my American friends who don’t fit into Trump’s vision of America would be okay.
I pulled myself together: it’s a party, aren’t I supposed to be having fun? Isn’t travelling always supposed to be fun? I try dancing, and when I’m running in the mud to get back to the tube, I whack my head against the lower rung of a bamboo roof, and the gash on my head makes me bleed in the tube all the way back to the village. There was a stillness in the purple sky buzzing with flies, I tasted blood while my feet knocked against the rocks. And somehow this all starts to make sense.
It was a mad day with mad people and I don’t know why I felt the only answer was more alcohol. Because even though I stayed out until 3, I still came home and bawled to her concession speech: the rawness of her voice, the empty hopelessness of her eyes. What an impossibly long day.
I woke up Thursday morning when this started making sense. I started realizing that, as much as I was afraid for friends all over the country, I was afraid for myself too. That as a gay man I’m suddenly less safe there; that, in addition to Mike Pence pushing for a repealment of gay marriage, Trump’s win justifies non-normative hatred by people who were just waiting for this chance; that countless cases of ‘fagot’ vandalism and violence have been reported in 48 hours. And when at least 8 transgendered suicides have been reported since, I cry more from solidarity than empathy.
I was the “it gets better” generation. I’ve seen a dizzying leap forward in countries across the western world; so fast, in fact, that maybe I’d taken it for granted. Assumed I’d be able to marry who I wanted, where I wanted, by the time I was at the age where I wanted to marry. Maybe I didn’t celebrate the jubilee the way I should’ve, never being willing to give a pat on the back when “there’s always bigger fish to fry.” I didn’t understand how many people were still disgusted by the thought of it, and how readily they’d take it away if we weren’t always fighting for it.
Canadians have a very strange relationship with our neighbor, being culturally so interconnected and yet so often politically separate, confused. But feeling so personally hurt by the outcome, I’m forced to acknowledge how intricately I connect with the country. So much of this has to do with pop culture, with my artistic heroes: thanks to movies, I can confidently rifle off streets, districts and characteristics of LA and New York better than those of Toronto and Montreal (despite having been to the latter and not the former). There was always this assumption I would end up there one day, and I’d been currently working towards a number of grad school applications for the east coast. All of that was rooted in a basic belief in the myth of America, in civil rights and women’s rights and gay rights and the feeling that, however rocky, so many things were getting better. Now all of that is so certain and wide-open.
This realization hurts all the more while being so far away from it. I’m so alone here in Laos. In the backpacker purgatory of Vang Vieng, the bigger the news story, the louder the party to drown it out with. It’s a clusterbomb of vodka buckets, Chainsmokers, and nights only the go-pro’s will remember. I could count the number of non-white people I saw on one hand, and the Laotians? Running the hostels or serving the drinks. Everyone’s talking about who they slept with or which country has the sluttiest girls, and I’m sitting there drinking from the bottom of my well. It’s no wonder I started screaming in the jungle: I’d been screaming inside for a while now and refused to admit it.
Don’t you understand? This isn’t real! None of this is real!
But I didn’t scream that. As usual I swallowed it back, smiled, and reached for the next drink. I did like I was taught in the boys’ Catholic School when everyone found out and wouldn’t talk to me for a full year. Like I was taught every time my Dad told me to shutup for talking too much. I smiled and reached for the next drink, because this is Laos! This is fun! Nobody wants to hear about politics right now! And when I’m sitting there crying over Hillary’s concession speech and they’re doing another round of Never-Have-I-Ever literally one table over, I understand just how divided I am from all of this.
Am I really the only one who cares? Or are most just better at pretending?
I woke up Thursday morning escaping from Vang Vieng, sick with alcohol, dread, and a regret veering towards self-hatred. The minivan rumbled its way across the shattered roads snaking between the mountains, and I thought of the secret war that lasted ten years here where America tried dismantling one of the most peaceful countries on earth. Kissinger signed a form, and now the Laos people still live today with the hundreds of thousands of bombs still undetonated, waiting in the trees and fields. Just what kind of secret wars, and on what peaceful people will the next eight years bring?
Sometimes we move through thickets where birds flutter above our car and bright yellow eyes still peer out of the darkness. Soaring mountaintops overlooking valleys shroud in mist. Trump doesn’t believe in climate change: Trump never believed in climate change. He appoints a whole team of deniers to his roster, and is this the end? Have we really decided that we’re so over-fucked we’d rather amputate the whole arm—the whole body—than put bandaids on open wounds? Just what kind of hopelessness will the next eight years bring? And just how many generations, my own included, have we damned this week?
Every action and its reactions, rippling across this world. This crowded, sick world. I can’t pretend what I’m doing here exists in a bubble to all that’s burning down around it. I can’t pretend that being a Canadian makes me immune to what happens over the border, particularly when our self-professed “progressive” Prime Minister congratulates the monster on his win. I can’t pretend I’m free to drink it down while those braver than me fight for everything they have left.
So what now?
We drive through villages along the way, sudden onrushes of noise where cows cross the street and chicken flutter in their cages. Steam escapes from roadside restaurants and old ladies hold out the bracelets they’re selling. Our bus stops and stalls as the driver yells to his (apparent) friends, sometimes getting out to settle cash, sometimes throwing out bundles on the road. Life goes on. It’s hurting but it’s going. And this is a piece of it I’m willing to fight for.
I’m not quite ready yet to fight back. I’m still not ready to go home. But there’s a part of me that’s increasingly believing there’s so much promise to being part of this generation, because whatever happens in the next two decades, man it’s gonna be a bumpy ride. And nothing will look the same after. I’ve got a lot to think about: we all do.
It’s amazing how despair can make you feel so alive. Maybe this is just the kind of jolt that makes people.