I crawled. Exhausted. Devastated. Back to bed… It was five in the morning and I snuggled against my partner, hoping his warmth would ease the pain. I had just watched something I couldn’t fathom: the orange muppet I had been rolling my eyes at for the most part of a year had just been elected the 45th president of the United States of America. And though I am not an American citizen, the heartache was real. The dread was real. Racism and bigotry had won. Despair too.
I’m a man. I’m white and I’m European. I’m one of the lucky few born into a life of privilege and if it weren’t for the fact that I’m gay, I probably wouldn’t know the struggle that it is to be different. But I am gay. A faggot. A poofter. A queen. A pansy…. The long list of hateful synonyms never ends. I was born in a world that regarded me as perverted. Mentally ill. Good for the psychiatric hospital. I’ve been bullied. I’ve been threatened. Attacked. Physically. Emotionally. I’ve had to explain to friends and family that I wasn’t a drug addict just because I was gay, that I wasn’t promiscuous just because I was gay and worst of all that I wasn’t a paedophile. And yet I’ve lost jobs. “You must understand Jerome. You’re gay and they’re children. It’s just not done. It’s not you… well, it is you…”. Being white helps: If I don’t flounce, if I shut up and don’t say that I love men, I can go unnoticed. I disappear into the crowd. I’m just another white man in a sea of white men, my gayness hidden in my pants.
The Trump Presidency hasn’t started yet and it is already a nightmare for the LGBTQ community with a Vice President who believes that HIV prevention funds are best spent on gay conversion therapy. Let’s pray the gay away with shock therapy – It’ll do the trick, I piggy swear! The United States of America are not like any other country. No matter what we think, they set the tone. The world somehow follows. We can’t ignore what’s happening there – it might happen here too tomorrow.
44% of Americans followed the Presidential election on social media. That is where they got their information. Unfortunately due to advanced algorithms, Facebook only shows us what we want to see. We unfollow people whose posts bore or disgust us. The problem goes away. We return to fluffy cats and funny memes. We are whole again. In the end, we are only listening to those we want to hear from. Not a single person on my timeline rejoiced at the victory of Donald Trump or about Brexit for that matter. Not one! How can I fight those I don’t see, those I refuse to see? How can I change their mind? How can I challenge their view? How can they challenge mine?
How can we start a conversation?
If the fiasco of the Brexit and the election of Trump have taught us anything is that congratulating each other on how right we are doesn’t help. We have to convince those that oppose us. We have to become friends with them. We have to share beers with those who wish us harm. We have to be the bigger man and extend a hand to those who refuse to shake it. If we don’t go looking for them, they are not going to come to us. I am guilty of that too: I like my comfort. I like my little well-organized life with like-minded people. I’m surrounded by people who don’t really challenge my views. We all agree on what really matters. We read the same newspaper. We listen to the same shows. It’s time to go to them because if I don’t see them, they don’t see me.
And if you don’t see them, they don’t see you.
My homeland is next. France is voting for a new president and a populist, our own little version of Trump or Farrage, is about to take the crown. Marine Le Pen feeds on fear and wishes nothing more than to purge the country of its mudbloods. I refuse to see this great nation of mine go the same way as Britain and America. So this is what I’m going to do. I’m going to stop hiding behind my keyboard: I’m going through the looking glass. They are but a click away. All I have to do is find their pages and press a blue thumbs-up. I’m going to like pages upon pages of people whose ideas revolt me so that I can see how they’re convincing their people and most importantly so that I can start talking to them.
Breitbart News, Stephen Bannon’s baby, the online newspaper, which helped Trump get elected and is selling nonsense and hatred for all things not white, is about to start its French version happily riding on the fascist wave currently submerging my country. This is where hatred is brewed and distilled into the heart of the population. We cannot ignore it. We have to get involved. We have to read and comment on their articles. We have to fight misinformation and lies with facts. We have to engage people who might not want to engage with us. If there is a tiny hope that we might change a few people’s mind, there is still a chance. Britain and America fell by a few votes. We might be able to change that. A vote at a time. But it does mean getting involved. It does mean spending time arguing and debating. It also means getting better informed. Opinions aren’t enough anymore. I’ve been proven wrong many times in my life. I thought I knew, I didn’t. It’s also time for me to dig deeper. To research. To fact-check my sources. To not take the title of an article for granted and to see who wrote it, why they wrote it and who they are quoting. To listen to diverging points of view. To put myself in the shoes of people who have a different experience of the world from mine. To stop believing that I’m right and they are wrong, that I know better. There was anger in those votes. Anger I don’t understand. It’s time I did.
Shattering one’s bubble is inconvenient, I know. But we are the privileged ones. We don’t have to worry about where our next meal is going to come from or where we’ll sleep tonight. We are the ones who have access to culture and information and lead comfy little lives. It’s time we acted. It’s time we reached out without being patronising or condescending. It’s time we went through the looking glass.
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