On Nov. 8, my Canadian immigration paperwork arrived at the case processing center in Mississauga, Ontario. Also on Nov. 8, voters chose Donald J. Trump as the next president of the United States.
I've been in Canada on a visitor visa, living with my Canadian wife, since January. For the past year and a half, I have listened with understanding and with frustration to family, friends, Twitter strangers, and celebrities joke that they were going to move to Canada if Trump was elected. At 4 a.m. on Nov. 9, after The New York Times finally confirmed our new reality, I hurried in a panic from my office to the bedroom to tell my wife. But when I got there, I couldn't make myself say the words. I stood by the bed and opened my mouth to say, "Trump won."
Instead, I dropped down beside my wife and sobbed. They curled their arm around me and whispered, "Oh, baby, I'm so sorry." All I could think was, I'm so glad you never have to go to America.
My wife is queer and transgender and a person of color. I am queer and transgender. And though immigration is difficult, though it's a lengthy, expensive, anxiety-inducing process, I can say unequivocally that being a marginalized person in the United States, looking at a future with President Trump, feels much worse.
I decided to immigrate to Canada because, when it came time to start our paperwork, same-sex marriage still wasn't recognized in my home state of Ohio. We had no idea what legal situations we could end up in if my wife decided to move to Cincinnati to be with me. More than that, though, I wanted to move to Canada because I had realized, after visiting several times, that people didn't do double takes when my wife and I held hands in public. No one stared nastily at us. No one shouted slurs.
It took me three years to save up money for my immigration fees. Eventually, I sold my car to pay for them. While I filled out my paperwork this May and June, I watched the world froth with people promising to move out of the country in the event of Trump's election. Part of me understood. I watched as anti-Semitism exploded, as white people attempted to undermine the Black Lives Matter movement with hashtags like #AllLivesMatter and #BlueLivesMatter. I watched conservatives rabidly oppose abortion access and transgender rights.
I watched the ugliest parts of the country seep out and fester.
And at the end of watching all of that, I feel more welcome in Canada as an immigrant than I did in the United States as a citizen. "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free" is all well and good, but that quote and that statue are not meant for me. Not for me, and not for the other marginalized folks who daily are subject to the violence of oppression officially endorsed by the president-elect and his cabinet, which now includes Stephen K. Bannon, future chief White House strategist, future senior counselor, and current anti-Semite.
Immigration has changed every facet of my life. I am happier than I've ever been, but I also moved away from my entire family and probably won't see them for another couple of years because I have to wait till my visa is processed, and I can't afford the travel fees, anyway. If I have a medical emergency, I will have to pay for it entirely out of pocket, then hope my American insurance will retroactively cover it. I am unable to have top surgery, change my name, or begin hormones until my visa clears. I am paying my student loans with the irregular income I make freelancing.
My tenuous future here is in the hands of people who examine thousands of immigration applications each year.
I've never been more aware that my ability to immigrate is an immense privilege. It took years of waiting and scraping and saving, but I was still able to do it. I moved away from my family, but I still have free and easy contact with them; they would still help me if I needed it. There are so many people who don't have the opportunities I've had.
Canada is not perfect — its First Nations peoples have a long history of mistreatment, for example — but my queer, trans life does not feel endangered here the way it felt endangered in the United States. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is in full support of transgender rights. My wife's health insurance will completely cover the top surgery I will eventually have, and the testosterone it is likely I will take. Those rights will not be threatened; my marriage will not be questioned. My wife, a person of color, is not afraid they will be attacked when they go out.
I am afraid for the folks who are already mired in the middle of Trump's racist, violent, volatile America. I am afraid of what a Trump administration will try to do to them; of what it will condone its supporters doing to them. I am afraid for the many trans, queer, black, Muslim, and disabled friends I met in college, who now march the streets in protest. There hasn't been a local protest where I live, so I'm calling my former senator, donating to the ACLU, and supporting necessary, life-saving hotlines like Trans Lifeline. I'm fighting, and I will not stop fighting until Trump is out of office.
When I flew to Canada in January, I thought to myself that I'd willingly give up everything to build a future with the person I love most in the world. Now I look back at that moment and I'm even more grateful it was me who sacrificed, not my wife.
For my wife, the trade-off would not have been worth it. Thanks to the results of this election, immigrating means that when I move on into my future, I'm walking away from a country that has never been prouder to reject me and my community — and that feeling is harder to process than any immigration issue I'll face.
Images: Erika Templeton Courtesy of Sam Schooler