For Queer People, There’s Already 2016 Election Fatigue

Gay people will face pandering and divisiveness during this presidential election cycle.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Apr 17, 2015· 2 MIN READ
Hugh Ryan's work has appeared in The New York Times, Vice, The Guardian, and The Daily Beast.

Last month, Sen. Ted Cruz, the Texas Republican, became one of the first major candidates in the marathon slog that is our modern presidential election cycle. Usually, when I want to see people get hit while running an obstacle course, I binge-watch Wipeout, the popular ABC show. But as anyone on social media is certainly well aware, there is no escaping our country’s least-enjoyable reality show: America’s Next Top Presidential Candidate (until the Next One, and the Next One, and the One After That). This year, my election fatigue is already so bad, I won’t even watch political gaffes on YouTube.

I’m far from alone in feeling this way. If you care about queer issues—such as HIV criminalization, the recent string of murders of transgender women of color, or our patchwork map of antidiscrimination laws in states like Indiana—presidential politics can feel a little like the office Christmas party: a function where attendance, and faux enjoyment, are obligatory. Sure, the shrimp cocktails and free wine are nice, but I’d rather be at home doing something I actually care about—like tracking down obscure bits of queer history or rewatching episodes of Broad City.

This isn’t to say the presidential election doesn’t matter, because it certainly does. Having Cruz or Hillary Clinton in the White House will mean vastly different things for queer people and our civil rights. I can predict how the campaign season will unfold: On one side, we’ll have socially conservative Republicans trying to use gay rights to whip their fringe constituency into a frenzy. That may be peppered with a few moderate Republican candidates doing their best to talk the crazy talk. Perhaps one will be brave enough to stake out a centrist position on same-sex marriage. After all, on every reality show, someone has to be sent home first.

On the other side, there will be some pandering to gay people, with whistle stops at gay bars and house parties (gay money is still money, right?). We’ll be featured prominently in television ads—as Hillary Clinton has already done. A few well-connected and moneyed white gay men will be hired by the campaigns or promised posts in a Democratic administration. Maybe a lesbian will even get into the mix. Trans people or gay people of color? Probably not so much.

Online, queer folk will get into fierce battles over which candidate will deliver substantive action. In the end, most of us will get behind the mainstream Democratic nominee—because we don’t really have a choice. But we all know that things said during a campaign have little relation to what happens once a candidate is elected, so most of what’s going on now is still just hot air.

Before you call me bitter, allow me to do it myself. Hell, yes, I’m bitter.

My family is fiercely Democratic, and I’ve been politically active for years. I spent the lead-up to the 2004 presidential election in Ohio, campaigning desperately for John Kerry, who bored the crap out of me—but at least he wasn’t George W. Bush. More than once, as our bus rolled up into a new neighborhood, our local organizer caught my eye and motioned for me to hold back. “We’ll put you… somewhere else,” he’d say, noticing the plethora of anti-same-sex-marriage signs, many of them on the same lawns as the Kerry-Edwards posters we carried. And in 2008, I was teargassed while protesting at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota.

So, I’m not (entirely) an armchair activist. I simply refuse to pretend to be passionate about election cycles that seem so devoid of real options on many of the progressive issues I care about. Call me a year from now and I’ll happily discuss former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley’s foreign policy platform, or defend even a candidate like Sarah Palin from the routine misogyny of American politics.

Until then, I’ll be watching Wipeout.