How do you tell your Israeli teacher you were late to class because you woke up and found out your rights back home will be taken away?
How do you even get out of bed at all, when your body is in a new country but your heart is at home, a home that is under attack?
I woke up this morning and saw this. I saw my rights and the rights of those I love directly under threat. I saw my friends ready to fight to the death to keep them. Hyperbole? Not nearly enough. Because people will die. People are dying. Whether directly by violence at the hand of others, or by the internal hatred that results from it (for example, trans people are 36% more likely to commit suicide than cis people, with an overall rate ranging from 41-46%).
I woke up this morning and had to convince myself not to play hooky. I’m a good student. I love learning. I hate missing class. But I couldn’t decide if it would be worse to go to class and find no one talking about the elections, or to go and have to listen while students from other countries laugh at America’s current predicament, or worse- support it.
There may have been a pep talk in the mirror and a fairly indulgent pastry for breakfast. Life can’t stop because something horrible happens, and unfortunately, being halfway across the world in a place unaffected by this tragedy as of yet, life can’t even take a short break.
I thought it might be easier to be abroad during this time. A long, painful story short: It’s not.
As soon as Trump’s campaigning began, my accent became a large sign over my head proclaiming, ‘Ask my about my political views’. I began to dread meeting new people, as the inevitable question would come (a fun conversation opener for them, a moment of true unpleasantness for me); “So what do you think about Trump?”
Or the even worse, and surprisingly common, “So you support Trump, right?”
It took me two years to learn there is no right answer to this. No matter what my answer is, I run the risk of offending someone I just met and/or opening up a political conversation I don’t want to have and won’t enjoy.
If I say I don’t want to talk about it, I always, every single time, have to spend at least 5 minutes explaining and justifying why, which generally ends up devolving into exactly the kind of political conversation I didn’t want to have in the first place.
And oh, the conversations. That was when the normalization of hate speech started, for me. Either I could continue to be shocked and emotionally drained by the things I heard, or I could come to expect them, in a dreary I-have-lost-all-faith-in-humanity sort of way. As we approached the final election I was told all sorts of things I’ll never forget;
“Trump will win because of the Jews, who control the economy via Wall Street. They love him and his racism! He keeps them rich!”
“It’s amazing you’re so academically-oriented, when other kids from your [Latinx] background are thugs and raping people on the streets.”
“Hillary can’t be president, what if she gets her period?”
“Ugh, stop bringing sexism into this! We’re dealing with two objectively equal evils!”
“Queer people already have more privileges than the average citizen, they’ll live with some taken away.”
Living abroad doesn’t mean that America isn’t part of my every day reality. But it does mean that for the majority of people around me, it’s all hypothetical. People here keep telling me to buck up. Stop being so pessimistic. Think about how funny it is an idiot like him was elected. The day after Trump became president we had a 30 minute discussion in class, led by non-Americans, about how Hillary was evil too and things would be bad either way and how this was going to affect… Europe.
Considering how eager people were to ask me how I feel about Trump campaigning, you’d think more people would ask me how I feel about Trump being elected. How I myself am going to be affected. How I’m already being affected now.
Instead, a random stranger shouts at me as they pass by, “Two words for you: Trump Forever! Ha ha!”
Instead, a random stranger reprimands me as I walk by, “Why are you out here? You should be watching the news!”
Instead, my classmates, my neighbors, and the bartender tell me, “Stop looking so sad. It’s not that bad.”
“Let’s just talk to each other today,” my American friend says wearily. A small cluster of us huddle together on a bench outside. We’ve made the group decision not to talk about it, but it keeps bubbling up all the same.
I feel sadness, and shock, and above all, fear. A type of all-encompassing, invasive fear that can all-too-easily turn into hate. I already feel increasing frustration every time a non-American wants to talk to me about this. If I have to justify my feelings one more fucking time, if I have to explain why as a queer Latinx Jewish woman I am not just gently disappointed but literally and legitimately terrified for my life, I’ll… what, exactly? Punch them? Yell at them? Take all my internal turmoil out on people who didn’t cause it in the first place?
Is that really so different from how Trump got elected in the first place, with people blaming immigrants, Muslims, Latinos, women, homosexuals for stealing jobs and ruining the economy?
(I mean, yes, because I’m not voting for the systemic removal of the basic human rights of those who upset me. But the core idea, that my own inner distress excuses external violence towards others, remains.)
My teacher asks, multiple times, “But is anyone considering that Hillary being a woman had nothing to do with it?”
I’m shaking in class. My jaw is clenched as tightly as my fists; if I start arguing now, I’ll never stop.
I want to be with my community at home. I want to be with my friends, my family, my fellow protestors. I want to reaffirm my faith in my fellow Americans- tell me you’re not all like that, tell me you want me here, tell me I’m one of you. Tell me you’ll fight for me, like I will fight for you. Tell me my feelings are valid. Tell me you’re feeling them too.
No one is supposed to sit shiva alone.
The smog lies heavy over Haifa today. I live in a building on top of the mountain, knowing I will have to walk into it eventually.