Sometimes I feel my dual nationality pretty keenly. There are times when I am fortunate to feel proud of being a citizen of both the United States of America and the United Kingdom. The recent strides taken in both countries for marriage equality, for the right of gay and lesbian men and women to have their love for each other be enshrined in law on equal terms with heterosexual marriages, seemed to me a precious cause for hope in this world.
But then there is June, 2016. The UK tacking towards international isolation and a potentially massive economic crisis entirely of its own volition largely based on the lies and half-truths of a mob of brazenly self-interested politicians, a compromised media establishment, and, I can’t help but feel, a deeply ingrained, jingoistic sense of national superiority. Then in America, a presidential candidate and election campaign bringing out the worst aspects of the nation’s character, and in the middle of it, a tragedy like there’s never been.
Forty-nine innocent people, members of the LGBTQ community gunned down in one of the few places they were supposed to be able to come together and feel completely safe. Killed by one man and a weapon of war that has no business being sold to anyone in the civilian population.
So there follow the same old arguments. The same denials of a basic truth, that America’s obsession with guns is not, and cannot be, worth the terrible price. The blind insistence that the kind of regulations which have been successful elsewhere in the world are not even worth trying in the United States. And again the media response, distracted by xenophobic fear-mongering and a bizarre compulsion towards taking mainstream ownership over the persecution of (astonishingly resilient but still vulnerable) minority groups, whose ongoing struggles in connection with this tragedy must be acknowledged, not put to one side.
Much has already been written about the initial reactions of the Republican Party’s presumptive nominee for president, and I have little desire to dwell upon the subject at this moment, but the self-aggrandising and corrosive message is all too familiar by now, and again I can’t help but feel despair at the support this charlatan still receives.
This year, however, I find myself in a pretty rare and, yes, privileged position, even beyond the usual social, cultural, and political advantages of straight white hetero Anglophone dudes. Earlier this week, I sent off my voter registration and absentee ballot application request to the town clerk of New Castle, New Hampshire. It’s the first time I get to vote in an American federal election, and it is a right (if all goes well) I look forward to exercising. And in case there was somehow any doubt, yes, I’m with her. Before that, however, a week tomorrow, I’ll also be voting for the UK to remain in the European Union. The circumstances surrounding them aside, I feel fortunate to be able to take part in both of these momentous decisions.
At the risk of conflating two separate, but equally complex, political situations, to me these nevertheless feel like voting for the same cause – or, rather, for the same hope. Yes, perhaps in both cases it’s voting for a compromise, for an imperfect candidate and an imperfect institution. But it’s also voting for the first woman president and, I believe, for mutually beneficial co-operation rather than a self-imposed exile. For communication rather than conflict. For building bridges rather than building walls. For tolerance rather bigotry. For empathy rather than callousness. For hope rather than fear. And, yes, love rather than hate. These things I believe in, they are at the core of my values, and my choices are, I hope, in great part the result of reasoning them out as best I can.
But that’s not all. Because I have brilliant, talented, extraordinary friends from other countries in Europe who we are fortunate to have contributing to our cultural and intellectual life, whose own lives may be upturned, or at the very least made unduly stressful and pointlessly more complicated (more so than this whole situation has already inflicted) by the UK deciding to spurn its neighbouring allies and trading partners out of, it increasingly seems, wilful pride.
I have friends in the LGBTQ community, whose heartache I cannot imagine, whose struggles I have not had to endure, whose kindness and bravery is inspiring to me. I’m lucky to have them in my life. So, yes, in both America and Britain, I will be voting with my heart, as well as my head. On both sides of the Atlantic, those who disagree will, I’m sure, be doing the same.
It’s hard not to be hypocritical in such matters, hard not to respond to what feels like an onrushing tide of anger and fear with more anger and fear in return. It’s hard to know when to call it like you see it and when to step back and re-evaluate. It’s hard to disengage when it’s healthy to and, when defeats come, hard to re-engage when it’s important to. I don’t know how much of any of that I’m able to achieve.
But I still believe that it is imperative we keep trying. I believe that change, even if it’s incremental change, can be realised, and that it can make a difference. That people’s lives can be saved and improved by our actions and our votes. That we actually can work together to build more perfect unions and better worlds. Because, if nothing else, it’s necessary.