On Liberal Bubbles and Bow Ties

by Misty Kornbluth

Misty Kornbluth fled her swampy hometown in Texas for gayer pastures at age 18, but she still visits on Christmas.

 

“What the fuck is that? A bow tie? The only people who wear bow ties are liberals and faggots,” my stepfather shouted across the dinner table. My oldest brother, about twenty at the time, had recently taken to wearing bow ties in the dead of Texas summer. Brilliant and a little gullible, he took the bait and coolly pointed out that Fox News correspondent Tucker Carlson wore bow ties and was definitely not a liberal. My stepfather guffawed, “then I guess you’re both faggots!”

Growing up in Texas, in a just shy of alt-right family, my overwhelming reaction to the ascendancy of Donald Trump was never how outrageous but rather how terrifyingly familiar. Before this election, I had never heard anyone with any kind of cultural legitimacy speak in the distinctly patriarchal tone of my stepfather. It’s a dialect from a different (fictitious time) when facts were man-made, when femaleness was an insult and people of color were predators attacking our nation.

I recognize my stepfather’s voice in all of Donald Trump’s speeches, which I think are less “speeches” in the traditional sense than what George Saunders describes in his New Yorker Trump piece as “nearly all empty assertion ... and bragging.” Men like my stepfather and our president don’t bother with facts, but seem to conjure their own reality, presumably from deep within their scrotums, and expel it into existence. The art of the self-serving, content-free assertion is one crafted by fathers and father figures everywhere; honed, I presume, in trenches or locker rooms or wherever there is a group of men looking to back clap their way into superior social standing.  Whoever chose Eve as the progenitor of lies clearly hasn’t spoken to an insecure man about politics.

My personal experience is that confident lies, spoken from the right place in the hierarchy, have a powerful, dizzying effect. My stepfather actually enjoyed lying just to fuck with us and sometimes the results were pretty funny. For a very long time I was convinced that Carlton from the Fresh Prince of Bel Air taught Michael Jackson how to dance. Slightly more cruel, he tricked me into telling the entire 6th grade class that our school dance was cancelled because Jesus found it inappropriate. Those kinds of lies I shook with the amazingly efficient playground fact check (maybe a case study for our intrepid media) -- but the bigger, crazier assertions took longer. It was somewhere in early high school that I realized the Clintons likely did not murder their staff, that there were no happy, well cared for slaves and that gay people are not inherent pedophiles.

There is a certain kind of man in the American right that doesn’t bother with sources or facts because the idea of tempered reason is sissified; these men think Obama effete and Putin a true leader. To them, the rest of us are too soft or too stupid to understand that violence is the only thing that ever gets anything done. My stepfather’s Putin was a high school friend of his who got drunk and beat a man to death with an axe handle he had stashed in his pickup. This story was originally trotted out to explain why I had a curfew when my brothers did not -- but what I remember most is the slight gleam of admiration in my stepfather’s eyes. Something akin to a “stay gold, ponyboy” sentiment applied to a man willing to kill over an argument at a pool table.

These are also the kind of men who obsess over loyalty tests, which I think is especially important for the nepotist. When your seat at the table is given and not earned, loyalty and deference to authority are the genesis of your power. When you’re incompetent, you need people to do what you say because you say so; because you say it’s true. Power, as Donald Trump pointed out, is knowing that you can shoot somebody and not lose voters.

I ultimately failed the loyalty test for my parents. The beginning of the end of our relationship came after my first semester of college. I had, against my parent’s wishes, applied to college and moved to Austin. At the time, I still thought their most heinous beliefs were the result of misinformation rather than some deeply held hatred. I had gathered a semester of research to comfort them about Islam and naively returned home ready to explain that Islam was not evil and faces many of the same challenges as Christianity. The conversation quickly turned to shouting and ended when my stepfather screamed "we should drag every Muslim outside and put a bullet in their head." My mom, for her part, sobbed about my lack of respect.

When the walls closed in and Donald Trump won the election and all the pundits who promised us he’d lose started admonishing me to climb out of my liberal bubble and meet the other side, I almost broke down. The weeks leading up to the election my subconscious, never subtle, had been running me through the Texas Chainsaw Massacre every night (the Jessica Biel remake, not even the original #millenialalert). At the end of my big escape scene, I would climb out of a muddy pit, my hands clinging to rusted objects lodged into the pit’s walls. And each night my stepfather’s hand would reach up, grab my ankle and yank me back down.

I fought like hell to make it to my liberal bubble of San Francisco. It may not be the most equitable city and it doesn't have the cleanest sidewalks, but it’s where I could finally admit my queerness to myself, where I could be unabashedly gay and loved and safe. I still haven’t told the parents who raised me (spoiler alert, Misty Kornbluth isn’t my real name), in part because my mom disowned me for leaving Texas and in part because they are homophobic, heavily armed and even more heavily drinking. It’s no coincidence that the call to leave the liberal bubble and meet the other side comes mostly from people who have never wondered if their parents might kill them;  who haven’t seen feminist hating, faggot bashing, and extreme racism up close; from people who never had to crawl out of that cesspool and watch the most hideous parts of it made animate through the election of a callous, idiotic, soggy Cheeto of a Manhattanite to the presidency -- our collective patriarch.

Don’t get me wrong, I really hope that for most people this is a brand new kind of scary. I just ask that if it’s new to you and you’re suddenly feeling the urge leave the liberal bubble and meet the “other side,” you think long and hard about who you let in. The rest of us are good here, thanks.

 

Lauren Tabak