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  • Writer's pictureTanya Rubinstein

These Last Four Years

Last week, Cid showed me a picture of us from four years ago to the day that it appeared on his timeline under "memories."

We were in NYC, he had just performed his one-person show at Don't Tell Mama for a room full of producers, and we were newly, fully committed to each other after having had both a professional relationship and then on/ off dating for about a year. My only child was thriving as a sophomore at college in Boston. Life was good.

"My God, I've aged" he said, as he peered at the image.

I looked over at the photo on his screen, first at him, then at my own face.

I took a sharp breath, really seeing myself captured in that moment.

"You?" I replied, moving in closer to see.

"I look like I've aged ten years and I know that I've gained close to twenty pounds since that pic was taken."

Looking at the picture, I felt sad as I realized that I don't even remember, on a visceral level what it's like to feel as carefree as I did in that moment.

But I also am aware that I am wiser than I was four years ago. Like many of us who are living and waking up through this era, it's been initiation by fire.

We did the math.

It was thirty-five days before the 2016 election. It certainly seemed unlikely, if not outright impossible to me that Trump could win.

After all, the man was a joke in Manhattan, even thirty years ago when I worked on the Upper East Side, across from Trump Plaza. The man who had now been exposed for "grabbing by them by the pussy" had surely done himself in with women after that comment. He was clearly delusional to be running at all.

I can only speak for myself though I know I'm not alone when I say, my own denial about the depth of shadow issues in our country and in my own lineage was still attempting to protect me from the narrative that was playing out in real time in America.

As Cid and I walked arm and arm in the warm misty drizzle that night at least forty blocks back to our hotel, the way you do when you're in Manhattan and newly in love, I remember feeling hopeful, and as if perhaps anything was possible for us. Even through were were older when we met, me forty- nine and Cid sixty-three, it seemed as if our story would go forward uninterrupted.

Yes, Cid's transgender, but at that moment in time, that did not seem like a deficit, but rather, an asset as "the world" was expanding in my mind.

We'd been touring the country with his show, it had been getting rave reviews from the diverse audiences Cid pulled in. He was overall, respected and embraced by all but a few conservative family members and friends.

At that moment, I really believed that "the world" was "our world."

As a life long liberal and then progressive, I still was in denial about the way both my whiteness and my cis-ness was protecting me from really seeing and feeling the world and the way things are for so many others. As a women, I had certainly tasted my fair share of misogyny and lived with a near constant low grade anxiety as the mother of an adventurous beautiful young woman.

After the show in NYC, I flew home to New Mexico to work with my clients for a month, then back to Portland, Maine the week after the election to be with Cid to celebrate a milestone sobriety anniversary of his.

When I saw him waiting for me in the parking lot outside the terminal, I felt relief, and though I tried to compartmentalize my feelings, not of the usual joy that I normally felt whenever we were together. We had spoken daily on the phone of the devastation we both felt since the election.

I would only understand in retrospect that I was operating in one of my common trauma responses which dampens my feelings: "being highly productive." It's so easily confused with resilience both by me and others.

I'd already kicked into high gear and was actively organizing a local and national storytelling/ monologue event with a collaborator in NYC as a response to his presidency.

But when I was with Cid, after a few days, my body started to thaw and stark terror for everyone I love began to peak out from underneath my public facade of defiance.

However, it wasn't until a few months later, a few days after the inauguration itself when we were lying in bed on a week-end morning, and Cid read me the news, that the full force of the new narrative began to hit me on a somatic level.

The day of the inauguration, this administration scrubbed all mentions of LGBTQ people from the websites of the White House, Department of State, and Department of Labor. A week later, a ban of Muslim people entering the country was enacted. The governmental website that was resource for people with HIV/AIDS came down.

My blood ran cold.

This was of course, well before, the children in cages at the border, separated from their families perhaps forever, support of white supremacists "good people" in Charlotte, withholding medical care to covid patients in NYC because they're a blue city and the list goes on and on and on.

We've learned a lot in these past few years. For me, as an "out" queer person after years of living as "straight-ish" in my bubble in Santa Fe, marrying the love of my life, a transgender person, during this time in history, I had a reckoning around privilege that would not have happened for me before.

This growing awareness in me became a Pandora's Box. Although I considered myself both a social and political progressive before, the reign of Trump unraveled pieces of my identity. It's been humbling and necessary.

I was called out publicly in 2017 on unconscious white liberal supremacy by Layla Saad and a few other high profile Black women in an online progressive entrepreneurs community that I was part of at the time. It took me three days to understand the harm I'd actually done, unconscious white "centering" when I compared my husband's experience as a trans person to that of a black person.

White centering was not a concept I understood as part of me until that day, despite having Black and brown friends all of my life, as well as reading Richard Wright, Alice Walker or James Baldwin. I truly thought I was above doing something so unconscious.

I was not. It opened a door. I walked through it and I'll be walking that road for the rest of this life.

As I look back, I think of my frustration speaking to cis men about what it feels like to work around the male gaze and am shocked that until that recently, I was so disconnected from unconscious white bias within me that I didn't automatically make that connection. It's humbling to say the least and I'm incredibly grateful to know that it's there. For as long as we don't address these energetically and somatically, it exerts control over us as well as how we relate to others of all races.

It also weakens our access to our own souls. That is the big learning for those of us who are in white bodies.

Which brings me to Trump.

I feel no need to have forced compassion for him or be told to pray for him. The sanctimonious posts going around suggesting that we prioritize "loving our enemies" and "radical forgiveness" feel co-dependent and enabling at best, and a version of cult speak at worst. Though his story has been more co-opted and manipulated than most any in history, Jesus was a dark skinned Jewish radical who despised hypocrisy and fought for the poor and exiled of all kinds.

Until the kids are out of cages, can't out impulse toward compassion be best used in that direction?

While repelled by Trump, if I dig deep enough, it's not too hard to access compassion for the child he once was.

I've read Alice Miller's account of Hitler's childhood. I've read historical accounts of Fred Trump. I've read "Bush on the Couch" about George W. All were physically and/or mentally tortured children. And, none of their stories are unique or uncommon, except for their access to power.

We live in a violent society. We come from a violent culture. I'm talking to those of us who are from white European ancestors in particular. I've been reading about the witch burnings in Europe, the patriarchal and religious hatred projected onto the female body which were much more extensive than we've been taught.

When Bill Clinton was in office, the U.S. stood by and enabled a genocide in Rwanda. Our involvement in the the trauma that's inflicted by police departments on Black bodies in particular as well as on, brown bodies, Indiginous bodies and white bodies that are from the "wrong" social class, homosexual, or disabled has never been a thing of the past. It's all happening right now, as it's always been.

Yes, I look older and feel exhausted; I'm one of millions who's been dragged for these four years. And I'm aware that I have much more privilege than most. I feel more awake to the reality of my country and to my internalized shadow, which in many ways, like all truths uncovered, is a profound relief. It creates a path forward and opens the door to alchemy.

Two nights ago, after Trump was admitted to the hospital, Cid, who never is able to sleep through the night noted that he slept unusually well, the next morning.

I looked at him and asked "Better than you have in four years?"

He just laughed and said "I think so."


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