Like so many other voters yesterday, I decided who to choose at the last minute. Even while standing in line at my neighborhood polling place, which was set up at the gay-friendly Episcopal church down the street, I was still undecided. My kooky neighbors–who were either volunteering or voting–distracted me from my sweaty palms and shortness of breath with gossip about our block, chitchat about the writers’ strike ending, and their frizzy, hippie hairstyles.
So who, in the end, did I vote for?
I voted for this guy:
…twenty-four years ago. I was in junior high then and taking Texas History, a requirement by state law. From the start, I was having a tough year. I had flat hair and an even flatter chest. I had to lobby my mother to get a bra just so I wouldn’t get weird looks in the locker room after gym class, and I wasn’t allowed to wear makeup. The boy I had a crush on (who was Muslim and is now, apparently, a Christian minister) had a pet name for me: “Snake Eyes.” The highlight of that very awkward year was my getting…braces. I actually thought that I looked prettier with a mouth full of metal.
Texas History was basically a propaganda class, and what I learned in a year could be distilled down to this: Those Dirty Mexicans tried to steal Texas away from Us, but We sure showed Them. I remember doing a skit about the quote-unquote Texas Revolution for that class where I played a Mexican soldier, naturally, in General Santa Ana’s army (who led the charge on the Alamo). I had one line and it was “Holy Guacamole,” spoken, naturally, with a Taco Bell accent.
During that year, our class took a few breaks from Mexican-bashing to study things of a broader interest, like the 1984 presidential race, during which former-VP-under-Carter, Walter Mondale, ran against the incumbent Reagan. My teacher even held a mock Election Day.
My parents weren’t U.S. citizens at the time, but they had distinct political views, nonetheless, that I had absorbed. Our first pet was a cat named “Jimmy,” after Carter. We had almost called him “Jesse,” after Jackson. We didn’t like Reagan, and we mockingly referred to him as “Ronnie” in my house. I knew, even at that age, that I was a Democrat.
Mock Election Day in 1984 was exciting. Geraldine Ferraro, Mondale’s running mate, was the first woman ever on a presidential ballot. She looked tough and mean, and I dug her. I thought the race might be a close one. I’m not sure where I got that notion, since my only sources of information then were Time magazine and the evening news.
My junior high was being renovated that year, so class sizes doubled with the diminished amount of rooms. Our classroom consisted of two small rooms put together, and half of the class faced the other, with the teacher’s desk in the middle. I forget the exact number of students in my class, but let’s just say that there were about forty of us. When the votes were tallied on mock Election Day, 39 of my fellow students had voted for Reagan and only one for Mondale.
It was a landslide that mirrored the real election, where Reagan carried 49 out of 50 states. Only Mondale’s home state of Minnesota and D.C. reprzented for “the other side.” Ouch.
Speaking of ouch, after my teacher announced the winner, the boys in Texas History wanted to know who the fuck had voted for Mondale. They vowed to kick that faggot’s ass. They quickly came up with a list of suspects; number one on that list was Troy, the lone male flute player at our school. The rest of the period disintegrated into angry chatter and threat-making. Dissent was our enemy. Dissent was for fags. Dissent had to, therefore, be crushed.
I never told a soul that I was the one until long after high school. It felt at the time like a secret I’d take to my grave. A few years ago, I published a short story based on that experience. And now I’ve told you. If there’s one moment from my childhood that best illustrates the difference between where I come from and where I am today, that’s it.
Dissent is what’s made the 2008 race exciting and unique. I hope we can continue to figure out who we are and how we want to be represented without knocking each other down in the process.
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