Grieving For The America I Thought I Knew

I felt something that went beyond disappointment after Election Day. I recognized it, but it took a minute to pinpoint what exactly was going on. I did a sort of mental checklist of my feelings.

Then it hit me. It was grief.

I was feeling the kind of grief that has been far too familiar to me. I learned a lot about grief in all the years of losing friends to AIDS, starting in my twenties, and my father and other dear friends to cancer. I had written about it over the years, too.

In fact my first major feature article on HIV-AIDS, in 1986, was called "The Survivors," and focused on the bereavement of gay men whose partners had died from AIDS. The first chapter I wrote when I was writing my book Victory Deferred is called "In Memoriam," and focuses on how the gay community expressed our grief as individuals and as a community.

We don't grieve only when someone we care about dies. We grieve when a relationship ends, or we lose a job we liked, or we don't get into the college we set our heart on.

There's another source of grief, too, and it's what I've been feeling. It's what happens when you are forced to confront a truth about someone or something that turns the image you had of it upside down.

When gay kids come out to their parents, for example, it's common for the parents to go through a grieving process. The kid they thought they knew turns out to be someone different, and they have to readjust their understanding and expectations accordingly. Getting to the point of acceptance, the final stage (and goal) of grieving, can mean for some parents going through the full grieving process -- from denial to bargaining, anger, depression and finally acceptance.

The election was a rude awakening to the degree of fear and resentment that rules so many of my countrymen's minds.

It was this kind of grief I felt after the election. It was the grief that follows disillusionment -- in this case about my fellow Americans.

I understand the anger and frustration of the white working people who supported Donald Trump. In my blue state of Connecticut, Trump won big here in the post-industrial eastern half of the state. I've seen with my own eyes the decline of my old hometown from a once-thriving mill town to a hollowed-out catch basin for low-skill, low-income families -- generations of them and overwhelmingly white.

Their willingness to throw everyone else under the bus -- African-Americans, Latinos, LGBT, the disabled, women, even a Gold Star family who happened to be Muslim -- is what stunned and dismayed me most.

I was shocked that so many men and women could vote for a man to be president of my country after he had so publicly and disgustingly mocked everything I believe and value about common decency, the strength that comes from diversity, and the respect all humans owe one another.

I had wanted to believe my country was on an upward trajectory, moving further along toward becoming worthy of its status in the world as the land of aspiration and dreams. I wanted to believe America is a country where any person, of whatever color or creed, is welcome to help create a society in which "E Pluribus Unum," "From Many, One," is believed to be our strongest virtue.

My life's work as a journalist has been driven by these values. My 30-year commitment (and counting) to documenting and reporting on the impact of HIV/AIDS has been my way of "doing my part" to help create the just and compassionate nation, and world, I want to live in.

The election was a rude awakening to the degree of fear and resentment that rules so many of my countrymen's minds. It frightened me to think that I, or anyone else "different" from the white heterosexuals who supported Trump, could become the next target of their rage, resentment, or violence.

It stuns me to think the president-elect of my own country was the one whose words and behavior were perceived as giving permission for reprehensible behavior.

All this felt traumatic to me, and that felt all too familiar. But what is also familiar to me from my vast experience with grief is this: I have learned that I am a strong and resilient man. I have survived multiple traumas in my life, and still love life and feel hopeful about my future.

I'll apply what I've learned about bereavement to work through this latest trauma. I am confident I will survive this one, too.