I didn't sleep the night Donald Trump was named our Presidental-elect. I had a flight to catch at 6am and my anxiety over missing it combined with the collective anxiety pulsing through my Twitter and Facebook feeds kept me up. I left my apartment just as CNN was making its official announcement. Fatigue prevented me from processing what exactly had happened. "Donald Trump won," I said and allowed myself to sleep as the plane took off. Perhaps my exhaustion was playing a trick on me.
It wasn't. I woke up to long-winded Facebook statuses and Twitter posts from my friends, peers, and acquaintances expressing all the emotions they never imagined they'd be expressing post-election: anger, confusion, bitterness, and fear. The bubble around our democratic metropolitan ecosystem popped. America elected a man endorsed by the KKK to its highest office. America elected a vice president who vehemently dislikes the LGBTQIA community. America, it was not.
The reality of the situation hit me at once, waiting for the plane to deboard. Thousands of miles away, my community was hurting; sharing a somewhat thought-out Facebook status only worked to placate whatever emotions I was on the brink of feeling surrounded by strangers who just wanted to get on with their journeys. The day wore on, I and everyone else I knew carried on, but not without updates on how they were either harassed on the subway for who they are or how someone they knew was harassed in public by individuals who felt empowered by the election results to hurl insults their way. Fear filled my feed and fear is contagious. Sitting alone in my hotel room one night, I worried for my safety. Does my appearance out myself to strangers? I thought. Am I making myself a target by wearing what I wear or holding my body in a particular way? I had recently dyed my hair bright orange and reveled in how in touch with my queerness I felt because of it. Now the political climate was having me contemplate immediately going back to brown to not stick out so much when I returned home. I wanted to blend in, because blending in seemed safe.
Safe, however, is a word 2016 abolished. The June massacre at Pulse nightclub showed us that there is no true safe space. Establishments built and designed to celebrate one's own individuality in became war zones. The only safe space exists between us as individuals and communities. Going back to brown may have made my otherness less obvious, but it wouldn't stop someone from singling out another aspect of my being and yelling "faggot" in my face as I walked down the street in Manhattan's SoHo—which someone, a stranger, did a couple weeks ago. Terrible people exist. They always will.
The importance, then, as we enter the "new year, new you" part of our lives is to find ways to safely stand out for yourself. Remain conscious of your surroundings and where you're headed, and of others who may need you to get their back—even if it's a simple smile on the subway to let them know their presence and place is valid. Unabashedly staying true to yourself can be revolutionary. The importance of standing out doesn't mean being the loudest person in the room, the funniest, or the one with the most friends. It does not mean you act on sycophantic impulses. It means being you. It means standing tall in your own skin, not for another's sake, but for your own. New year, do you.