Reasons to be Hopeful

I’ve been seeing a lot of despair out there on the internet recently. I get it—the rise of fascism worldwide is both scary and depressing. But I want to give you some reasons to be hopeful. (Don’t worry! I’m sure my regular snark and sarcasm will be back soon!)

Okay, so as an old person, I feel obligated to tell all of you that the reason that fascism is resurgent all over the world is because they know they’re losing. Everything that fascists value—conformity, the subjugation of women, people of color and lgbtq folks, fealty to the rich, and, of course, widespread bullying to ensure these things remain in place—is under threat.

Note—I certainly didn’t say it was gone, as the death of Nex Benedict shows. But, as someone who went to school in the 80s and taught school in the 90s and early 00s, I can tell you that things have gotten much, much better.

I went to a small high school with a student body of about 200. Number of openly lgbtq students in the four years I was there? Zero. Number of openly lgbtq faculty? Also zero.

I went to a college with 10k undergrads and knew a lot of people there, including a grand total of two people who were gay and out. Zero faculty members.

It’s hard to explain to people now (and this is a good thing!) that not being straight in the 80’s was considered a shameful secret. To even suggest that someone was gay was malicious gossip. People threw “faggot” around the way they say “bro” now.

Go watch 16 Candles. Or better yet, don’t. This Gen X classic has not aged well at all. Whether it’s Anthony Michael Hall calling his friends “faggots” because they’re afraid to go into the popular kids’ party, or Jake “giving” his unconscious girlfriend to Anthony Michael Hall, this movie is now jarring. Because things have changed! We’re not all the way there by a long shot, but you simply won’t see characters meant to be sympathetic throwing around homophobic slurs or, if they’re male, acting like they own women’s bodies, in a movie anymore. Those attitudes, which, by the way, conform completely to fascist values, are now considered offensive and outdated.

I taught high school from 1993 to 2003. In those ten years, I had zero out lgbtq students. And two out lgbtq colleagues. In one Boston suburb where I worked, there was a well-liked science teacher who also coached sports. The kids called him “coach.” He called them “faggot.” It was hilarious, apparently. Kids were stunned when I told them not to use that word in my classroom, and, furthermore, to not say “gay” when they meant stupid (a usage that was rampant at the time). I was VERY MUCH an outlier in this respect. There was a lesbian couple on the faculty, and even though everyone knew they were a couple, they were not out, and no one ever said “lesbian” or “partner” or anything that might admit that they were romantically involved. These were their colleagues I’m talking about! Because they liked these women, and it would have been to painful to admit to themselves that the human beings they liked were also lesbians. (It also would have been considered malicious gossip, see above.)

I read with dismay this morning of yet another attack on transgender school athletes. This is bad, but also, I remember a time when we simply didn’t allow trans people to exist as themselves anywhere, but especially not in a high school setting. Any trans kid knew they’d be bullied relentlessly and the school would probably not do anything about it, because if you don’t want to get bullied, you shouldn’t wear a dress to school, now should you, Tony?

I never met anyone who identified as nonbinary until about eight years ago. I didn’t understand it (and, honestly, I still don’t! But I don’t have to! All I have to do is not be an asshole about it!) because it was simply not a thing when I was growing up. I mean, I guess it was, but literally no one I ever met or even heard of identified this way until the two thousand teens.

I could go on and on and on, but I think you get the point. When I was young, there was pretty much only one way to be, and that was a cisgender straight person. Fascists didn’t need to get loud and violent because their point of view was mainstream.

And as time passed, we’ve gotten more used to the idea that there are different ways to be yourself, and that they are all okay. As I said above, there’s still tons of work to do. Men pretty much still think they own women’s bodies, even if this is no longer something you can build hilarious comedy on, like when one of the protagonists of Revenge of the Nerds commits rape and it’s justified and celebrated by the movie. I’m not making this up.

Fascists are acting up not because they fear that we might win, but because we already are. I know cultures can shift quickly and that we shouldn’t take all this progress for granted (see: abortion restrictions), but please don’t give up or feel like we’re fighting from a position of weakness. They’re terrified. They should be. We’re winning.