Guest Essay: Getting Married in the Time of Trump by Tasha Coryell

I was unemployed when we got engaged. We went to the beach and I felt guilty for the trip because surely someone without a job didn’t deserve time off from their life. Hillary Clinton hadn’t yet secured the nomination and my social media feeds were filled with sexist memes from Bernie Sanders supporters. I thought, “If no one respects Hillary Clinton, how will I ever get anyone to respect me?”

I got the call about the job, the one I wanted, the day after Hillary Clinton secured the Democratic Party nomination. There is no correlation between her success and mine or lack thereof, but the timing made it feel that way. I donated money to her campaign. I bought a t-shirt that had “HRC” stamped diagonally across the front. These things, I felt, were enough to ensure that she won. She didn’t and they weren’t.

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I have lived in Alabama for almost five years now. People ask how long we are planning to stay as if it would be natural that we would want to leave. I want a lot of things: a published novel, a house that I own, a dog, a baby, a higher paying job. Leaving isn’t anywhere near the top of the list. I like Alabama football, sitting on porches, the mild winters, and the summers so hot that it’s impossible to move. I like cheesy biscuits and crawfish boils and the dark smoky bar. I could list the things that I don’t like, but most people already know what those things are because for most people, those things are all that Alabama is.

Like a lot of people, I barely left my house for days after the election. I felt wary of Alabama when I first moved there from Minnesota and then felt a renewed wariness when the state voted heavily in favor of Trump. People in Alabama are very nice. They pride themselves on it. Niceness is a rhetoric that the Right uses a lot, this idea of being a “good person” trumping all sorts of other sins. After the election, this niceness wasn’t enough for me. I was suspicious of every person I talked to, wondering what sort of awfulness they harbored inside themselves. There was a brief fad, so momentary, where it was advised that allies wear safety pins to indicate that they were a safe place. I never wore a safety pin as the backlash was nearly immediate, but I wished that others around me would so that I would know they were someone experiencing the same grief that I was.

My fiancé and I hired a wedding planner. This wasn’t something we had intended upon doing, but we toured the venue and we liked it and she repeated the words “stress free” a lot. I was never the sort of person to dream of getting married. I didn’t have a wedding Pinterest, I didn’t know what colors I wanted my wedding to be, or what I wanted my dress to look like, or have a perfect group of girlfriends to stand by my side. I love my fiancé, but getting married doesn’t feel like an accomplishment. Getting married, as it turns out, doesn’t cancel out the feeling of heartbreak when Hillary Clinton loses to Donald Trump. I thought that being in love with someone forever was supposed to inoculate me from those aches and I was wrong.

The first time I made a phone call to my senator, I made my fiancé call first because I was scared. I am scared of things all the time. I am scared to make phone calls, scared to march, scared to picket, scared to rally, scared to show up at my senator’s office and yet these are all things that I have done since the election. I am not scared to get married. Legally binding myself to a person that I love and who loves me is less scary than losing my bodily autonomy due to anti-abortion laws or losing healthcare privileges or watching as homophobic and xenophobic laws are passed under the guise of religious freedom and safety.

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My HRC shirt is crumpled up at the bottom of my t-shirt drawer and my Hillary buttons turned upside down. My wedding dress, covered by a white garment bag, lies across the bed in the guest bedroom. There are days that I feel embarrassed by all of it. Embarrassed that I so fervently supported a candidate that lost in such a horrible way and embarrassed that I spent so much money on a dress when I could spend it on donations to the ACLU or Planned Parenthood. Despite this, I can’t stop tiny moments of optimism from creeping in. On top of my crumpled HRC shirts, there are new shirts. One for the Tuscaloosa Democrats that I wear for voting registration, one for Emerge Alabama, an organization that recruits, trains, and networks for Democratic women running for office, and one for the West Alabama Clinic Defenders that so staunchly protect a woman’s right to choose in a state that fights so ardently against it. None of these t-shirts mean anything on their own. They’re just t-shirts. But they’re a sign, when I open my drawer, that a tiny voice of hope still exists. That there are many little blue blinking dots across the state of Alabama.

During college, I took a course on Victorian Literature. In Victorian novels, marriage is nearly always the concluding action and when it’s not, it’s a noticeable disruption of the narrative. The election of Donald Trump has disrupted my narrative. Following the election, a group of women in Tuscaloosa formed an activism group that has since been named the Kudzu Coalition of West Alabama. Our first meeting was held in a park. We didn’t have a microphone or any leadership. Some people brought signs and our loudest members yelled from a bench the names of various organizations to join and different actions we could take. I was worried that the meeting would be the only one and that we would never solidify into something whole and productive. Since then, we’ve established leadership, split into seven different action groups (healthcare, first amendment, economic justice, human rights, education, environment, and political development), come up with a slogan (We are a collection of progressive voices committed to transforming our community through collaborative, direct action), hosted a series of panels, and have endlessly hounded our senator (Richard Shelby) to meet with us through phone calls, letters, a series of pickets, and most recently by camping out in his office and writing postcards. At a time when I am supposed to be thinking about my upcoming nuptials, I am largely focused on getting my representatives to talk to me.

I think about my wedding in the moments in between. Many of our friends and family are coming from out of state and for most of them it will be their first time in Alabama. My fiancé is originally from New Jersey and I am originally from Minnesota, but we never talked about getting married anywhere else. In an al.com article from February 2015, when a court case first ruled gay marriage legal in Alabama, there was a couple who planned on getting married that said, “I’m not going to go anywhere else to be married. If everything else I do is here, why should I go somewhere else to get married.” I read this article again and again, read it so indelibly that this quote is still printed in my mind over two years later. My fiancé and I fell in love in Alabama. We work in Alabama, we live in Alabama, we sleep in Alabama, we have friends in Alabama. I might think about our wedding less than I think about politics. I might spend more time protesting in front of the Federal Building than I do wedding planning, but the reason that I do these things is because Alabama is our home and in fighting for our country, the state that we live in, I am fighting for our relationship and our future.

***

Tasha Coryell lives in Tuscaloosa, Alabama where she is an active member of the Kudzu Coalition of West Alabama, the Tuscaloosa Democrats, and the Tuscaloosa Young Democrats. She is also on a committee to help bring Emerge America, an organization that helps recruit, train, and network Democratic women for office, to Alabama. If you would like to help support Emerge Alabama, you can donate here: https://act.myngp.com/Forms/-4976616767132530944

 

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