Voices on Voting: Voting While Queer

by Colleen Palmer

Colleen spends her time learning as many new things as possible, as well as trying to rid the universe of unnecessary shame at Safe From Shame. You can find her on Twitter as @inametaphor.

I dread voting this year. I don’t usually; usually I do my civic duty and assume everyone else will do theirs. I try to learn as much as I can about all the candidates, starting with the highest governmental level and working my way down, though I admit I don’t often get as far as the local judges and city commissioners. Those for whom I don’t feel enough information, I leave blank. I don’t value voting a party line, and I don’t value voting based on advertising. (The fact that I ingest neither television nor newspapers helps.)

But this year, I’m on the ballot. This year, in Minnesota, my coworkers, my friends, and the people with whom I interact every day will be stepping up to the little table and making a checkmark based on how they feel I should be able to live my life. It’s an unsettling feeling, meta in an almost painful way. Voters all across Minnesota are making their mark based on what they think of me, or what they think people like me are like. And the day after the election, I’m going to go to work, like I always do. And probably to the grocery store a few days after that. Seeing the people living in my apartment building. I will always have to wonder: do they hate me?

There’s a lot of talk about Minnesota’s attempt to codify heterosexual marriage in their constitution. At times, I feel like a one-issue voter, and I hate myself for it. I try to weigh all the issues; do as little damage as possible with the greatest amount of good. I think if this politician actually cares about the poor and dispossessed among us; if they support reproductive freedom; if they align with my environmental values, then surely it’s not so bad that they don’t support my right to get married … right?

I hate myself for it, but at the same time – that’s my life they’re checking a box against. During the 50s, I imagine that people had to look around and wonder “do these people, who seem so polite, secretly hate me?” Hell, I suspect that during the 2008 election, the Obama family had to face that. “How many people do we know that will vote against him because he’s black?”

I don’t want to be a single-issue voter, but this is not a hypothetical issue for me, just like reproductive rights are not a hypothetical issue for many people who have a uterus. I can’t make this election not “all about me,” because my legislature forced the issue when they put my life on the ballot.

I dread voting. I dread seeing the person next to me, wondering if they wished I would just quietly disappear, hoping that voting to enshrine bigotry in my beloved state constitution will make me leave. But I dread the day after more. Because regardless of the outcome, my neighbors, friends, and acquaintances have been forced to make their votes all about me, too. Will people avoid my eyes if I look like I’ve been crying? Will people try to get out of conversations with me if I look like I’m happy? People at work know me, and they know my fiancée. Will any of them have the grace to look guilty?

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