Fear of falling or of heights often defines one’s climbing experience. A certain amount of fear is good. It reflects healthy respect for the vertical realm and allows people to make good decisions that promote safe climbing. The trick is having just enough fear to be mindful, but not so much fear that one is paralyzed. One of the more remarkable things is to witness that transformation in a person from a paralyzing fear to a healthy and empowered fear.
As a result of a Trump victory, liberal America seems torn between a similar mindfulness and paralysis regarding fear. We need to stop dwelling on the fact that the unlikely happened, and instead assess, evaluate, and act to ensure that we do not lose much of the social progress gained in the last several decades. While not a Trump voter, I am complicit in the outcome of the election because I am more surprised and horrified than I really should be that this country can be so influenced by white men, and women, who are afraid to no longer be a protected class. Obviously I conceptualized this possibility before this election, but my white privilege protected me from feeling this threat enough for it to feel real. And real it is.
Life has a funny way of helping us see the things to which we are often blind. Spending time in the Bible Belt of America has inserted me into rural, often poor, often conservative America. For the first time in 20 years, I am profoundly aware that I walk this earth as a gay woman. When surrounded by locals, whether at the crag or in the town of Jasper, Arkansas, many people have addressed me as “dude,” “hombre,” “buddy,” and “son.” Either I have lost a lot of weight, including my entire bosom, or people in the south just don’t recognize a short-haired individual as female. Emma and I have also been the only women paired together as climbing partners at the cliff. During our first week in Arkansas, we approached everyone at the crag as if they were potential new friends. But in several instances, people would simply not engage with us. They would reply minimally or not reply at all. They would put effort into turning their backs and ignoring us. It took a few days for me to realize that this was happening because they perceived us as a gay couple. Once that dawned on me, I began to lock us into the van at night and to startle at every noise while sleeping. I changed the language I used at the cliff, making sure not to call Emma “sweetie” or the like. Then, Thanksgiving vacation came around and the entire energy shifted. The out-of-towners from Chicago, Iowa, Louisiana, and Missouri were all super friendly and appeared much less judgmental. Many of these out-of-towners were groups of people of color, multi-racial couples or families. Many of these people would have been in much more danger than I was if they had been here the week before. I felt relieved for the change in tenor and then instantly embarrassed that I had so quickly started to crawl back into the closet and hide under my whiteness.
At one point I thought about leaving, but realized that I was more uncomfortable than I was in danger. It might be more accurate to say that I was wide awake and aware and sitting with fear. I have been reminded of how privileged I am to NOT feel like this every day of my life. I have been reminded that many, far too many, people do feel scared every day of their lives. This is unacceptable, but unlikely to change any time soon. I vow to do what I can to work towards change.