FPP spoke with essayist Max S. Gordon via email about the struggle to keep Trump out of our thoughts and conversations, how Pence needs to know he is not going back in the closet for him, and so much more. Come out to Shrine on Tuesday, November 7th when he joins Ibrahim Abdul-Matin, Yarimar Bonilla, Keesha Gaskins-Nathan, PJ Marshall, Matthew Olzmann, Suzanne Russell and Carla Shedd for One Year Later: Writers, Artists, & Advocates Respond to Our American Crisis.
What has this year been like for you? Bizarre. Even now, a year later, when I watch the news it still has a surreal quality. I see Trump at the podium, and I feel like, “This couldn’t have really happened, could it?” In some ways, I hope I never lose that feeling. I am very determined that this never be okay.
One of the most difficult things is keeping him out of my head. I have friends who are anti-Trump, but they won’t stop talking about him, day and night. I understand following the news, but they don’t seem to understand that Trump is a narcissist, and on some level, narcissists don’t care whether you hate them or not, they just want you to keep them on the brain. It doesn’t matter, as long as they are the only conversation. I consider it a victory if I have a few hours a day where I haven’t thought or talked about him.
How have Trump’s politics and policies affected you and your communities? How have you been unaffected? I notice I’ve been keeping my eye on people, trying to locate who is a bit sassier during this administration, who feels more empowered to harm. I feel we are in the testing stage, it’s still pretty early, and we’re all watching each other, thinking, how far will this shit go? What can I get away with? I think Trump feels the same way. One wants to be vigilant without being paranoid, but sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference.
The other day I was walking along a path in the woods in upstate, NY, and there was a white family in front of me. A couple in the group was distracted and stood completely in my way and they didn’t move. I had to very obviously walk around them. They didn’t acknowledge me or apologize for taking up the entire space on the road. It was like I wasn’t even there. I was so pissed. And the first thought I had was, “Is this going to be life in the Trump era? Black Invisibilty?”
Now, to be fair, the same thing could have happened if I had been white. They might have just been rude people. But I’m not white. And the fact that I was thinking that, that I was worried, means that Trump is affecting me on a deeper psychological level. The way you know he’s won is when you wake up one morning and decide not to go for a walk in the woods because you don’t want to have to risk dealing with that humiliation, that shame. The park then becomes all white. And that’s how it begins – that’s how the world gets smaller and smaller.
Has the current political moment affected your art or work life? If yes, how so? I’d like to think it has encouraged me to be bolder, to take more risks. That’s why I chose this picture. I think there is a process of coarsening that is taking place right now, a cultural homogenization. We can talk about walls, and bans, but it’s really all the same – it’s a war on difference.
Now Trump, on some level, no matter how much he panders to his base, is a New Yorker, and his time on The Apprentice means that he will always be a part of the celebrity freak show. It’s Mike Pence I’m really talking about here.
I wrote about Pence when he was governor, and my message to him was, in short, I’m not going back into the closet for you. People act like “the closet” is some cosy little space where you hang your shirts and jackets, where you keep a rack for your shoes, and a shelf where you tuck your sexual orientation until you’re ready to tell the world. But I think the closet for many LGBTQ people looks more like those tunnels in the movie, It. Sometimes you don’t know if you’re going to make it out of that shit alive. That’s why we have to keep telling the truth, and boldly.
What didn’t you see coming? Megyn Kelly hosting the Today Show. For some reason I feel really violated by that. I read her book, Settle for More when I was in London and what I found out about Kelly is that she comes from a pretty liberal family and community–we could have gone to the same high school. In other words, I think she had to contort herself into this racist thing she became on Fox News. She’s deeply contrived. And I’m offended that now on The Today Show she’s what she should have been all along–and she seems to be getting away with it.
I watch her studio audience sitting behind her and it feels like something from The Handmaid’s Tale. I’ve heard her talk about sexual harassment and I very much admire her sexual harassment fight against Fox. But I’d love for someone to ask her, “Has your consciousness about victimization and women translated to having more compassion for people of color and racial injustice?” I can hear her now, “And we’ll be right back.”
What should people focus on right now? A good friend of mine, the filmmaker Iyatunde Folayan, often talks about finding sanctuary. I think we need to locate those places where we are accepted 100% for who we are. In some cases, that may only be the bathroom mirror. We need to know where we are welcome, where we can express ourselves and not be reduced. I’m experimented right now with resistance through sensuality. I’m not saying we don’t still march, and act up, but when the black body is in peril, bath oils and candles can be a form of resistance. Right now, I’m dealing with my addictions to Coca-Cola and McDonald’s again because I’m really frightened when I read about Trump and North Korea and those are my childhood “fear foods” – they always pop up when I’m terrified.
Resistance for me must involve examining my self care as a man who is gay and black. It’s what my recovery from alcohol and drug addiction is about. I saw a black woman the other day in New York, beautiful in a yellow dress, so vibrant, absolutely radiant. Seeing her, in some way, helped me to deal with this whole Trump thing in a way I can’t exactly describe. But I do know that self care is an important part of one’s personal protest – especially when you come from a targeted group.
What gives you hope? The truth telling that’s been happening around bullies, and in particular, bullies and sexual assault. I’ve written at length about Bill Cosby, but it is amazing to see the conversation taking place now around R. Kelly, Bill O’Reilly, Roger Ailes, and especially Harvey Weinstein. With Harvey, there seems to be an unprecedented level of accountability. Anyone who was near him has to come forward and answer, “What did you know? And why didn’t you do anything?” It’s like Judgement at Nuremberg. And because of Weinstein’s power globally, this news has influenced the world. I’d like to think we’re moving closer to ending the reign of the entitled male, (and we’re finding out he can be a Democrat or Republican, straight or gay). If we are, the whole world is going to change, maybe overnight.
Is there a person, or a community, or artwork, or anything at all that has inspired you these past days? I’ve always been interested in Harriet Tubman. For me, she’s the original Wonder Woman. I marvel at her courage and her accomplishments. And she inspires me because it’s so tempting to think, “I can’t shine right now or be in my full glory because things are so bad in 2017.” But, I imagine things were pretty shitty in 1849, and that didn’t stop her from escaping in her late twenties and returning 17 more times to help others go free. Harriet teaches me: you shine where you are from who you are. The rest is weather.
When you visualize a bright future, what do you see? What do you hear? I am a child of the Seventies, inspired by “Free to Be…You and Me”, “Big Blue Marble”, “Vegetable Soup“. I feel those works encouraged compassion and understanding, an appreciation for difference. So I am not ashamed to say, I visualize love and kindness. I think Republicans and Democrats both have a lot to answer for. We play so many bullshit games when there is serious need out here in these streets. The bright future I see is an end to so many people’s suffering and pain. Life is challenging, I think we all know this, but it shouldn’t be this hard for so many. I keep seeing all these news reports about the opiod crisis, the opiod crisis. We don’t have an opiod crisis, we have a crisis of heartbreak.
The beautiful singer, Nancy Lamott had a song called, “We Can Be Kind“. And it’s true. I think we have to look for sanctuary in small acts of lovingkindness. Sometimes I don’t know if we have ten years or ten minutes left with this man in office, but I do know that I can go downstairs to the deli in the next moment and be kind to someone. And maybe the next moment is the only one that matters.