Written by Megan Bott
When I was younger, cypress roots would stand at my feet and every Sunday I would lift my hands to God in prayer, promising Him my eternal devotion and offering up my shameful love for another girl. I told myself I was called to be like Abraham, the father of all men, who was willing to sacrifice his son Isaac (whom he loved most in the world) in order to be right with God. I was willing to cut off a hand if it reached for Samira’s skin, gouge out my eyes if they searched for her presence—far better for me to lose one part of my body than for my whole being to be thrown in hell. And I, 14, loving this girl as I had never loved anyone before, vowed at the altar and to my pastors and to my God never to disgrace my family and myself by loving another woman.
Now, as I stand on Independence Avenue awaiting entrance into the inauguration of Donald Trump, I am reminded of the cypress trees that root themselves in the swampland of my home. I am reminded of thick trunks and Spanish moss and the voice of my father, who echoes Trump in his cries of nationalism and desire to see the landscape of this country return to the ghosts of its past. And then, as I listen to Trump proclaim that his success is a watershed in American politics and that his inauguration represents the transfer of power from Washington to the people, I notice the man in front of me wearing a shirt comparing homosexuals to animals. Quickly, I am 14 again, seated in a chair and holding back tears as my pastor asks me if I have ever lusted for a woman and I swear that I have not but she calls my thoughts vile anyway.
However, I am not 14. I am 19 and, according to this man’s shirt, Samira and I are nothing more than a pair of apes. This was the first time that I felt true fear outside of the deep south. This was the first time that I realized the things that I fear most do not come from the Deep South, but rather from people—this is not divided by regional lines.
I wrote this in hopes of offering someone, somewhere a semblance of insight into the events of Jan. 20. I wrote not of Trump diction shrouded with empty promises of a newfound safety in this nation thanks to his presidency, nor of the sobering quiet that followed the crowds leaving the National Mall in droves once the proceedings concluded, nor of the police in riot gear and a charred limousine whispering of earlier flames. However, I also did not write of the woman on the train that gave me a pink hat that her mother knit, nor of the pervasive camaraderie in the crowd of 500,000+ people that Saturday afternoon at the Washington Monument, nor of the impact Angela Davis’s words had on empowering the spirit of one so confused by a shirt on the body of a stranger. I did not mean to write this as a lesbian from Louisiana. I did not mean to lace my words with the landscape of my home—but, I suppose, when one is searching for comfort, they first seek the mantelpiece in the living room.
On Friday, I cleared off every photo of Samira and I from my mantelpiece. I left the space clear for Trump to inspect, for Trump to deem me good, for Trump to find me worthy of this nation. On Friday night I was mute. In the dark, without a smile plastered across my face, my mantelpiece cast shadows I was not ready to fight and the Louisiana humidity that always sits in my lungs like a cloud kept me strapped to the bed. On Saturday, my community knocked. I invited them in and they again taught me to speak. They helped me out of bed and hung photos on the walls of my body and taught me again not to fear. These women helped me make my mantelpiece mine again, helped me cover it in both photos of my family and my love. On Sunday, it is the Holy Day, the day God rested, the day I rested.
Today, it is Monday. Today, my mantelpiece is filled again with women all over the world reminding me of the work left to be done. Today, it is Monday and though I am still confused by that Mississippi River water still flowing through my veins, I know that my home is not a place for shame and my future is not a place for fear. The future is not a place for fear.