What I Wish I Could Tell Mike Pence To His Face

by Katherine Speller
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Between constant fear that we’re one tweet away from a dystopian nightmare, concern for the future of this planet I begrudgingly love, and crippling anxieties as an LGBT person, a woman, and an activist, I’ve lost a lot of sleep. With someone like Mike Pence one heartbeat away from the presidency, I’m understandably worried that my rights (and the rights of those more vulnerable than me) will be dismantled. For too many of us, 2017 has hurt.

Pride season has always brought out all sorts of emotional, confessional, and defiant identity-themed feelings for me, and the ongoing Trumpocalypse has undoubtedly left me in a more raw, more emotional state than ever. So, maybe it's that energy driving me to consider the long list of what I wish I could say to Mike Pence's face, given his particularly fraught relationships with the communities I love and celebrate.

Unrealistic fever-dream-y as it may sound, I'd love to imagine a world where, talking points and bible verses aside, he (or any leader with a similar record on LGBT and women's rights) might be able see what I see.

(Full disclosure: In my fantasy scenario, we're at one of the cozy, dive bars I love where the walls all feature R-rated doodles and the seats are sticky. The kid Pence bopped in the face is there. Pence is a little uncomfortable and would've preferred we meet at a Chilis, but I won the coin-toss for the home field advantage and remain petty as heck.)

Dear Mikey,

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I've called you many things over the years: a ghoulish Batman villain, a serpent in an ill-fitting human suit, a scarecrow stuffed with first-testament fire and brimstone literature. But today, I want to be above name-calling.

I want you to see me. I want you to see us all.

On a typical day, I want to believe that, like a T-Rex, your vision is based on movement. And, if I close my eyes and count to a hundred without moving an inch, your position of prominence won't be breathing down my neck for much longer, and you won't be able to hurt me or the people I love. On a typical day, I want to imagine that a joke like that will make me a little less scared of you.

But today? I want you to see me. I want you to see us all. Because maybe then all this — the worry, the anger, and, most of all, the joy — might make a bit more sense.

I Want To Talk About Love

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I want to tell you about my first and second crushes — I'm aware that gay kids might be a sore spot for you, so brace yourself for this baby bisexual memory dump. She was a red-headed girl in my pre-school class who always colored in the lines, who lost her first tooth and wrote her name neatly before anyone else. He had freckles and ran fast but stopped other the kids from salting a slug caught on the sidewalk.

At first I didn't understand why, when I said crush #1 and I were probably going to get married, my other friend said "that won't work." They didn't say that about a marriage with crush #2.

I want to believe that no one — including you — can deny the giddy magic of those small sacred moments that defy gender, scripture, and inherited-biases.

I Want To Talk About My Friends

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I want you to know how much of an honor it is to know and love and be inspired by my friends every damn day. How, even though I'm not religious these days, watching them is as warm and reassuring as seeking revelation. I want their humanity to sing to you in a way that you just can't shake.

I want to tell you about the one who took a little while to come to terms with the part of herself that loved other women. She had a hard time making peace with the list of shoulds and can'ts she was taught in school and was so worried about making her mother cry that she was willing to ignore that ache in her chest when she saw the smile of a girl she loved.

I want to believe that some part of you might be able to muster up a smile knowing she wears her heart on her sleeve these days and that her mother is really just hoping she'll bring a nice girl home soon.

I want you to know about the friends who floor me each day with their passion, their humor, and empathy.

I want you to know about the friend who forever flinched at the words "boy" and "man." I want you to imagine how they fumbled through a world split into halves that never really made sense, a world that punished them at every turn for failing tests of masculinity they never agreed to take. I hope you can picture the relief of finding the right words and the refuge of community.

And, God, do I want you to know how their laugh is so loud and carefree still, how their shoulders shake, and how all the bruising still couldn't take that away.

I want you to know about the friends who floor me each day with their passion, their humor, and empathy. I don't think I know how to describe their righteous sense of justice or their limitless compassion — even though their causes and values are directly opposed to so, so many of yours.

Still, on mornings where I catch one of them talking animatedly with their hands about all the ways we can be better to one another, I'd like to believe that literally anyone could admire them.

They're holding hands with the scared folks walking past angry protestors (who might have voted for you) to help get them to their doctors, the bathroom, or to safety. They're baring their souls and sharing their own painful stories despite blistering intolerance. They're reassuring people that they can reclaim their own bodies, that they can have fulfilling and whole lives not just in spite of their gender, religion, race or sexuality — but because of those things. And most of them manage to do it all while spreading so much joy it makes my face hurt.

They're the calm voices of reason in the back of my head that promise "it's going to be OK" over and over like a prayer.

I do hope you might get to know what it's like to have that, too.

And I Do Want To Get Personal

Courtesy of Katherine Speller

Maybe it's the years of Irish Catholic guilt and internalized self-loathing boiling over (OK, it's definitely that) but, Mister Vice President, I have to tell you this:

The first time I sat across a table from my father (a god-fearing, Catholic convert who carries a copy of the Memorare in his wallet and believes in all the ways that I just can't anymore) and explained how I loved, I threw up.

I want you to know that he and I don't agree on a lot of things, that he still says words that hurt, and he doesn't fully understand much about how my friends and I live. But, most of all, I want you to know that he said he'd try: He promised he'd always fight for me and he'd do his best to understand better.

More than anything, Mike Pence, I want you to imagine a world where all of these things — the stories, the moments, the glimpses into the lives of these magical people — might be worth your consideration.