Sure the election is over, but Emily Heist Moss still worries that she’ll have to spend the rest of her life defending her rights.
For a while, I managed to hold it together. There was pie to eat and wine to drink and a couch to sink gratefully into. There were friends to laugh with and sigh with, dishes to clean up, and an 8am meeting on my calendar to shake my fist at. There were distractions galore.
Around midnight Tuesday night, when my friends trickled out of the apartment, yawning, and I was alone again, I stretched out on the couch for the long wait. I remember how I felt in 2008 watching Obama’s acceptance speech, and I wanted that feeling again.
The TV was a whirl of confetti and silly hats, of fumbling reporters exhausted beyond belief, searching for more words, more facts, more spin to fill the time. I checked on each of the races I’d been counting on, the eviction of Illinois’ Joe Walsh, the legitimate destruction of Missouri’s Todd Akin, the ascension of Massachusetts’ Elizabeth Warren. I zoomed in on Maryland, Washington, Maine, and Minnesota, checking on the ballot initiatives that would represent a gut check on our country’s feelings on marriage equality. Could it really be this good? It took the check mark on Tammy Baldwin’s name, the nation’s first openly gay Senator, before I really started to cry.
For all my reading and ranting, for all my writing and tweeting and blogging and pounding on tables, I don’t think I realized what a weight the last nine months have been on my psyche. I have felt like my friends and I were under fire, like we were trying to build something beautiful while idiots lobbed Molotov cocktails at us, trying to knock our creation down before it reached critical strength. If only they could punch enough holes, they thought, maybe we wouldn’t get where we are going.
Marriage equality for me is a personal battle, grounded in the real faces of my friends and family, the potential futures of my hypothetical children. I do not ever want to have to explain to them that I, in any way, no matter how small, cast a vote against their rights. I do not want to try to justify to them what could possibly have been more important. In four states Tuesday night, other Americans came to the same conclusions. This is a big one, but it’s not the only battle we fought and won.
For nine months, I have felt like my body was on an examining table with cavemen poking at it, like it’s some sort of mysterious and evil object with strange and misunderstood capabilities. What is this thing, they say to each other, this single woman with her birth control and her career plans and her sexual autonomy? Perhaps if we cut her choices, they say, she will follow the path we’re prescribing. They don’t know us, but they presume to strap us down anyway.
This feeling will never completely go away—there will always be the individual idiots with their retro misogyny, their transvaginal ultrasounds, their woefully lacking knowledge of the female body. There will always be these squawkers afraid of change, and afraid of what happens when you let us out in the world. But this election was not about them. Or rather, it was about how much they do not represent the rest of us. There is a threshold, after all, for what we can tolerate. Is it as high as I would like? Not yet, but it is not as low as I feared.
I didn’t feel like I felt after the 2008 speech; I couldn’t get back there. Instead of hope and change, those buzzwords of four years ago, I felt relief and gratitude. There are warriors on our side, new ones with fresh stamps of electoral approval and battle-scarred veterans who have been through these gauntlets before. There are tens of thousands of people who see a ballot asking them to condone discrimination who say no. There are enough voters who think of their sisters and daughters and friends and can’t imagine voting for men who want to limit their futures and dictate their choices to push those archaic views out of Congress.
We have allies, but I am still scared. I think that’s why I couldn’t stop crying. I am so afraid that I will spend the rest of my life trying to explain to people that I am not the capability of my reproductive organs; that my choices will be dictated by that rich combination of love and friendship and work and need that informs all humans’ choices, not by my biology; that the structures of my family and my friends’ families are just as legitimate and worthy of respect as one that is more traditionally shaped.
On Twitter, there echoed thunderous sighs of relief. We had won, for now. But as President Obama said, “That doesn’t mean your work is done.”
Emily Heist Moss is a New Englander in love with Chicago, where she works in a tech start-up. She blogs every day about gender, media, politics and sex at Rosie Says, and has written for Jezebel, The Frisky, The Huffington Post and The Good Men Project. Find her on Facebook and Twitter.