On Pain and the Inauguration

Today I am coming home to images of demonstrations across the country who protest the reality of Donald Trump as President—some of these foolishly violent. Tomorrow I will participate in the Women’s March in New York City, and in a peaceful way I will express my opinion. And on Sunday I will be speaking at Yale about “How to Lead from Pain”… and these all relate.

Here is how:

Many people who have read my book, To the Cross and Back, have said they don’t understand how after so much tragedy I can go on—at least outwardly—seemingly happy, when so many others with a similar past have turned to “drugs, crime, and the streets.”

Well, it hasn’t all been a walk on the straight and narrow—a lot of that on the book as well. But there came a point when I had to make a choice about my future. In my book, after listing the number of times that communities and individuals had screwed me because of ideology, I wrote:

“I have more than enough reasons to be bitter. I have more than enough reasons to feel vindictive. I have more than enough reasons to hide in my bedroom and plan revenge. But when I look at the story of my life, I also see I have more than enough reasons to love.”

Today on January 20, some demonstrators, influenced by the hate-filled rhetoric of the last presidential campaign, have taken to the streets and are trying to punch and kick their way out of a state of fear, anger, and disbelief which has knocked the wind out of our minds. But Trump is really a symbol who was given power by a population who reacted with a fear, anger, and disbelief of their own. They feared terrorism, joblessness, unfair taxation, the life of the fetus, and the diluting of a culture centered around their religion, among other things. Agree or disagree on the virtue of their fears, but they are fears just the same. And we all let this one man take advantage of all of us.

Tomorrow on January 21, I will march with thousands of other people who were insulted, belittled, demonized, objectified, and terrorized by a con man who exploited people’s fears, because he knew that fear energizes us. I will march believing it is more than fair to talk about security, about jobs leaving the country, about people crossing our borders illegally, about an abuse of the welfare system, about the unfairness of the tax code, religious freedom, and much more. But I march believing it is incorrect to enable a man unto the highest office on the planet because he hid his horrific character traits behind a skillful way to insult the other side—often on something as trivial as ratings and excitement.

On Sunday, January 22, I speak at one of the best colleges in our country about how we can move on from pain—and it couldn’t be more fitting. I hold my book in my hand and relive beatings, accidents, fractures, bloodshed, prejudice, racism, brain-washing, gay-bashing, need, poverty, sickness, abuse, depression, fear and hopelessness. But I stand now as a free mind, the first college-graduate in my family, an immigrant-American citizen, world-traveled, published, openly out gay man. I look back and see the two roads I had as choices, and though I mourn many circumstances, and I don’t regret the one I took, even if at times it was the hardest.

Donald Trump and Mike Pence represent a culture that is struggling to let go of power. They fed us fear of change and used scapegoats to rationalize their shortcomings and energize the crowd before them. And they succeeded, in part, because a significant segment of the population decided not to get involved. Fear, anger, and pain won the election—because we let them.

But to go out on the streets and burn the house down is choosing path #1—which is what many did when they voted for Trump (throwing a molotov cocktail at the government they identified as unfair). It is easier to find a scapegoat than to own up to our own shortcomings. It is easier to demonize an opponent than to reason our way to virtue. And it is easier to shout “stupid” than to admit we’re hurting.

I will fight for the scared, try to calm the senseless, and challenge the stubborn. But I’ve seen path #1 in the face, and let me tell ya, it ain’t pretty. Path #2 is challenging. It requires patience. It required strength. It requires endurance. It requires ears before tongue. When the time comes, it requires sacrifice before ego. And when diplomacy fails, it will require that we stand against an archaic ideology that stands in the way of human progress.

I in no way validate voting for and enabling an immature, bigot con man who has already caused so much harm to our nation—and we must stand up to hate—but I am saying that even the people who support him have a fear and pain of their own. Are we listening?

I finish with the words at the end of that chapter:

“We’ve bled enough, cried enough, killed enough—it is time to move on. Let us finally rise above our differences. We are religious and we are freethinkers. We are conservatives and we are liberals. We are Americans and we are immigrants. We are healthy and we are sick. We are straight and we are gay. But, my friends, we are all human just the same.”

Donald Trump may have won the election, but he didn’t win our hearts. He will make choices for the betterment of the country, and I hope they are good ones. I will support policies when they benefit humanity. I will support speeches that uplift our nation. But for every single time that hate is used as a distraction, or goes back on human progress, so help me, they’ve got something else coming—but that also goes to violent protestors.

President or not… no más pain and destruction on our watch.

Click here to learn more about To the Cross and Back.

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