Conversations with my father tend to be few and far between. Technology is the usual barrier: I am an awful millennial who relies on iMessage to reach my loved ones, while he prefers to speak on the phone. I call him on my walks home and our banter remains the same: He’s got jokes about who this mysterious ‘Heather’ is on the phone and I ask him about an episode of Law and Order from 15 years ago and his weird interest in Minions.
He wants to know how things are, and remains intrigued by but unsure of my actual job title. I reply that things are fine, a little about the weather and the state of my new apartment. It’s a normal conversation, easy and familiar and like any we’ve had before. Until it’s not.
I let it slip.
A big It.
Caught up in the moment, without thinking and without missing a beat, I mention the breakup of a brief relationship: “I was dating this girl, but I’m not anymore. Oh well.”
The words escaped my lips, and as I heard them, I wished I could grab them before they went from my iPhone in Washington, D.C. to my father’s landline in upstate New York, but of course even an awful millennial knows that’s not how technology works. In a brief flash, I contemplate everything from death to dropping my iPhone in the nearest puddle. But then, in a moment that can only be described as completely out of character, I feel completely zen. I exhale — hadn’t done that yet! — and clarify.
“I’m gay,” I say, with a shrug. And there it is.
Now, before you ask if I had plans to confess the world’s worst kept secret to my father in the middle of the U Street Corridor, I can only laugh and say no. I’m a planner. I like to envision things and plan for scenarios. And in this instance, I pictured telling my very southern, Black father about my love of women over his kitchen table. We would be drinking terrible beer, and I would carefully, but casually, tell him that his one and only daughter — the same boring, New York Football Giants loving, C-SPAN obsessed daughter he’s loved for the last 33+ years — really, really likes women.
So that’s how I would have planned it. But I hadn’t planned on Donald Trump.
Yes, it’s true: I owe this particular coming out party to our current Disaster-in-Chief. After months of post-Election Day melancholy, and with each passing day of this administration, I have felt the world spinning out of control. In losing that control of political institutions that I have long held dear, I have been able to approach things that I had previously feared. I mean, we’re all going to die, so why not be honest with my father, with myself, and with others?
Never before have I wanted to talk about the impact of and the necessity for identity politics, but this presidency has been an assault on all my identities: Black, queer, female, and Democrat.
As I write this, a bill to yank health care from 22 million people is wending through the backrooms of the Senate as protesters light up phone lines and try to save lives. The Supreme Court has moved decisively rightward thanks to a stolen seat, and will soon hear a case from a baker who doesn’t want to make me a cake. People on Twitter are suddenly experts on the 25th Amendment and how exactly to draft Articles of Impeachment. I watch my beloved C-SPAN through gritted teeth instead of nerdy admiration, horrified at how far into the abyss we’ve fallen as a country.
Since November, I have found myself uneasy about and unfamiliar with everything that brought me to Washington. I moved here over a decade ago to work in politics, day to day, in jobs that help keep the institutions of the federal government moving forward. Now I am unable to embrace these institutions that I have long held dear. Now we are relegated to repeated phone calls, tweets, Facebook posts, Medium missives, hell, even Spotify playlists, while my party — the Democrats — struggles to find its footing. It’s been hard to see them largely ignore and undervalue the 94% of black women who voted for Hillary Clinton.
This election has made me want to talk about being a queer Black woman, and how difficult this president, and his rhetoric, policies, and appointees, have made life for people who look like me. Never before have I wanted to talk about the impact of and the necessity for identity politics, but this presidency has been an assault on all my identities: Black, queer, female, and Democrat.
But I'm also just a person, one who wants to be happy (which was surely what the founders intended). The other day, my friend joked, “Donald Trump is going to kill us all, so we might as well be happy!” Even though she wasn’t even being particularly political — we were just shopping at Target — I took her words to heart. Between the morning Twitter tantrums from our president and rapid-fire news cycles punctuated by breaking news alerts, now more than ever it’s critical to remember to enjoy the stuff that matters. Drink the good wine, eat the chocolate chip cookie, be smitten with whomever, whenever.
So, in pursuit of my own happiness, while casually walking down a street in northwest Washington, I told my father. There is a finite number of things I am able to deal with on any given day, and I don’t want lying to my family — to my daddy — to be on that list.
And what a release to feel that weight lifted off of my chest! Washington, D.C. continues to be much of what you see on the news, but my day-to-day life has become much brighter. Telling my father has helped me be more aware of my own happiness and priorities, and this confession — something from which I have derived great joy — is at the top of that list.
So, what did my father say, as I stood there on the corner of I-cannot-believe-I-just-said-that and 14th Street? In typical Southern fashion, he responded with a drawn out, "Mmhmmm."
"Are you okay?" he asked, tentatively.
Yes, I told him. Despite a certain presidency, I am doing well, very well.