The GOP Has Jumped The Shark (and How That Affects LGBT Youth)

In 2002, as a junior in high school, my oldest child told me that he was trans.

This was a child who had been through one personal and gender identity after another for years; who, after a dozen years as C―-, had suddenly decided to be called A――; who had self-identified as everything from heterosexual to bisexual to lesbian over the years. But this one–the biggest one of all–came as a shock to me. I probably should have seen it coming, I suppose: I mean the kid was clearly desperate to find the right identity and this one was low-hanging fruit in plain sight, since I am trans, having transitioned in 1998. But I didn’t expect it. And I didn’t react well, either, both because the copycat thing seemed too much and because I knew how hard it was being transgender and I did not want that for my child.

But there you go. He was and is.

In 2002, despite knowing that one of his mothers was trans, his school had no real experience with transgender teens. They had no idea at all how to handle him. He let them know going into his senior year, and they provided social workers and counselors, etc., but there were no policies for bathrooms or any such thing. (He just used boys’ rooms when he could get away with it or held it.) They would not even let him sing the tenor parts or wear a tux in choir, and you’d think choir would be pretty understanding. He spent a great deal of his senior year hating every minute of being there.

I think of him back then these days when I read about the retrograde efforts by the GOP to roll back the clock on LGBT rights, especially those concerning trans people. Whenever they pass or try to pass “bathroom bills,” whenever right wing activists hassle transpeople in public because of these laws and the publicity they create, whenever another state joins the lawsuit against the administration for trying to be human to high school students who happen to be transgender, whenever yet another transperson is beaten or murdered for the crime of being who they are, I think of my son struggling to figure out who he was and to be accepted for that person.

Symbol for bisexual, intersexual, transgender.
Symbol for bisexual, intersexual, transgender.

When I saw the 2016 draft GOP Platform, it made me sick. It’s vile. And it’s an anagram of that word as well: it’s evil. There is no point for several of its provisions but to foster hatred and fear, but then again that is what today’s GOP has come to stand for, when it comes right down to it. They are no longer about governing; they are about making people fear and hate others so that they elect GOP representatives who then can reshape districts to keep themselves in office perpetually. And if, while spreading that fear and hatred, they cause some gays, Muslims, transpeople, lesbians, immigrants, black people, Latinos, etc. trouble, well, so what? Collateral damage to inconsequential people. And I say that without hesitation because, if there is one thing that the Donald Trump campaign has proved, it is that a giant segment of the GOP is absolutely, unapologetically, intransigently prejudiced against anyone who doesn’t look like them and share their backgrounds and sexualities. And now they have written their hatred and fear right into their official platform, including their staple “eliminate gay marriage” platform despite having lost that battle in the Supreme Court, as well as the thoroughly discredited “pray the gay away” camps and (apparently) even Trump’s insanely xenophobic wall.

Basically, the GOP–in case it is not obvious to anyone paying attention–has jumped the shark.

The phrase refers to a TV show that, as it ages and its novelty fades, tries to renew audience investment by attempting some grand gimmick: a marriage, perhaps, or a child, or something really strange (like Grey’s Anatomy’s musical episode). It derives from a season five Happy Days episode in which Fonzie literally did jump a shark on waterskis. 

Most TV shows don’t recover from such contrivances, or at least never regain their former popularity. One has to wonder what will become of the GOP after this year of shark-jumping:

  • It has seen itself become a complete laughing stock with a seemingly endless series of televised debates among bickering candidates who each made the others look more like cartoons. 

  • It has watched in stupefied horror as the most cartoonish of all captured its nomination. 

  • It has been stuck in a dangerous political game since the death of Antonin Scalia, refusing to fill his empty seat and hoping it doesn’t come back to hurt them in the end. 

  • It has desperately and unsuccessfully attempted to handle its embarrassing candidate with kid gloves, and many of its stars will not even attend its convention. 

  • It has doubled down on its most absurd positions, including doubting both evolution and human-caused climate change.

  • And now, the Turn Back the Calendars Platform, the one that seems more like a Sunday School platform than a US political one, the most intolerant platform put forth by a major political party in this country in at least half a century. 

 My son is now 31 years old. The school he graduated from, like the school I just retired from as a teacher, today has several transgender students among the members of its GSA and policies in place to accommodate them. But I remember how hard it was for him, the pain in his face and (too often) the tears in his eyes when he came home from school and spoke of yet another incident. Fortunately, he had some friends he could laugh with and one friend in particular who understood and empathized with what he was going through. I don’t know if he would have made it otherwise: he wasn’t strong enough to do it alone. And that’s what I think about with all of this insanity: the kid in the school or the adult in their world who can’t do it alone but is alone, and is reading each day how much a major party in this their country hates and fears them and wants them gone, wants them to disappear. How do they make it?

And I remember the day my son was finally allowed to wear that tux to a choral concert. It was the last one of his senior year, the last one of high school. And seeing the joy in his face as he lined up with the other boys...he’s had a lot of darkness in his life before and since, but that moment is indelibly etched in my mind as one of the good ones.

Someone please explain to me who would have gained if it had never been allowed to happen due to hatred and fear. Because I already know who would have suffered.