The decisions that I’ve made in the last year could only be made by someone who was 100% certain that they’d never return to the Trading Post Inn. I’ve said before my long layoffs from writing are due to the fact that I don’t like to focus on my old life and just want to plow forward into the future. And yet here I am again, having recently thought about the inn. Not seriously, but I did think about it. While my reasons for staying Kari are still there, the world in which we live has changed a lot in the last few months, I think.
Maybe the election of Donald Trump was a sign that the country has become more intolerant. Maybe it was that he just gave intolerant people a voice. Either way those attitudes are inescapable these days, especially now that I’m the target of that intolerance.
I haven’t been the victim of a hate crime, thank goodness, but I am now fully aware of just how differently Latina women are viewed by some in society than white men. How people automatically assume I speak Spanish, or that I have a husband and a giant family. If I get annoyed with someone they call me “fiery” and think I’m overreacting. It’s been almost two years since I woke up as Kari and I probably noticed sooner just didn’t realize it.
I was raised 45 minutes north of New York City and moved to the city after college. Everything about my life could be described as privileged. My hometown wasn’t the most diverse place in the world but my birth parents, bless them, raised me not to judge others who were different. I carried that mindset into adulthood and from my point of view America was well on its way to a “post racial” society.
I took that mindset with me when I became Kari, and was fairly oblivious to the minor prejudices around me. I guess I was too focused on the difference experiences of men and women that I never really took in the different experiences of whites and people of color in society. Because of that I didn’t really grasp the importance of the election while it was happening. Being from New York I was pretty familiar with both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. As Lane I my politics could be described as a fairly centrist, pro-business Republican. Like many Americans I felt we were moving towards a Clinton administration and was just casually laughing at the circus it had become.
Ashley was the opposite (and I’m really proud of her for it). She got into the election and participated as much as someone who can’t vote could participate. She joined the “Students for Hillary” and blogged, tweeted, snapchatted and did everything she could for her campaign. This included putting a “H” sticker on our car (which is still there) and pestering me at 7 in the morning to go vote so I wouldn’t have to stand in line after work.
On election night her enthusiasm slowly melted into worry and then finally despair when Pennsylvania was called. As she sobbed into her hands I reassured her that things were going to be OK, my obliviousness being mistaken for stoicism.
After that night…something changed. I work in a fairly diverse part of Detroit but I live “down river” in Trenton MI which is less diverse and less progressive. I don’t want to say redneck but it’s full of the working class types who flocked to Trump when he blamed their economic misfortunes on Mexico.
Most people are still too polite to say or do anything to my face, but when you see some of the things that Trump supporters write online and then realize that quite a few of his voters live in Michigan…you start to get a little paranoid. You start to vaguely worry if the guy in a red trucker hat at the grocery store staring at you might make an anonymous tip to ICE. Or if crossing the bridge into Canada one day could result in you not being able to go home without a giant hassle. That’s the worst part about this. The fear.
That fear made me wonder the other day, briefly, about the idea of going back to the inn to avoid the prejudice. I would never do it obviously, but the thought entered my head. And then the lightbulb came on. That’s how discrimination made people feel. To want to shed their skin and take on a new body that didn’t have stigma attached to it. Societally inflicted self-loathing.
I can’t help but wonder about pre-internet Inn victims. From a time when racism was even more of an issue than it is today. Of bigots turning into people of color and seeing some sort of karmic justice. Or the other way around. The sad reality of people so unhappy with their heritage that they leave it for the social advantages of another.
For the record I don’t think fate sent me to the Inn to teach me a lesson. Fate sent me to the Inn so that Ashley would have a better parenting situation. But I have learned so much about the way America is for different groups and that some days it would be so much easier if I was white again.
I don’t feel particularly attached to Kari’s Mexican heritage. In fact I sometimes feel awkward about it, like an imposter putting on a costume mimicking something that’s meaningful to other people. To me heritage always mean honoring and preserving the traditions of your family and people. My new parents are great people and I suppose I should be more proud and participatory not only for their sake, but also for Ashley’s so she doesn’t feel ashamed about who she is. Especially for the next 4 years.