A Onetime “Closeted” Republican Decides to Come Out — and Slam the Door.
The term “closeted” has been used to describe many marginalized groups. It rarely has been used to describe a brown woman who is a Republican. Let me explain.
Growing up I was the girl version of Alex P. Keaton. When Family Ties would air during prime time, I would beg my mother to let me watch. Not because I loved the snappy one-liners of Justine Bateman’s character. I loved how Alex would use Socratic method to lay out conservative arguments with his parents. I took copious mental notes. My divorced Indian parents were split down the middle when it came to politics. My mother was Elyse Keaton while my father was a skinnier, browner, better dressed Archie Bunker. My mom would host ACLU meetings at her house. My dad would play golf with rich, white, old guys secretly hoping he would become one of them.
In 1996 I was excited to cast my first vote. Because of my age, I had missed the 1991/1992 elections by two years. During his campaign, Bill Clinton came out like a lightening rod and energized everyone from my politically active (and democratic) mom to the sleepy manager of our high school canteen who couldn’t get excited over a can of coke.
It seemed like everyone gave a shit about politics that year, fueled by angry Nirvana lyrics, a crowd surfing Eddie Vedder and a sense the “Bush Era” reeked like the locker room of a “white people only” country club. The ‘90s were coming. Everything was new, cool and felt like the world was on the precipice of something major. People were electrified. I, on the other hand, was horrified.
I was a young conservative political junkie, with aspirations of eventually running for office — and I was unimpressed by Bill Clinton. He wasn’t the savior I was looking for in American politics. I didn’t buy his “putting people first” agenda. His economic policies of supplying more FHA loans made underprivileged people straight up poor. He cheated on his wife so I definitely was not buying his family values agenda, and his tax cuts to help out the middle class and make the “rich pay their fair share” didn’t make any sense.
At 19 I was smart enough to know that discussing my political leanings in a liberal town like Northampton, Massachusetts would be socially hazardous. The more I looked for someone to discuss my political views the more I was met with incredulous side-eye, disbelief and laughter. I would test the waters at Smith College’s Friday afternoon teas by dropping bombs like “I think George Bush did a great job overthrowing the Soviet empire.” To their credit, my dorm-mates tried hard to be inclusive, but my conservative bombs would suck the air out of the room. Ashamed and not wanting to add to my already low self-esteem, I went underground. If age prevented me from voting for a Republican candidate in 1992, it sure as hell wasn’t going to prevent me from voting in 1996. That year I joined the Young Republicans of Smith College and voted for the candidate who reminded me of my dad. I voted for Bob Dole.
Years later in 2008, a new candidate was taking the United States by storm. His name was Barack Obama. I had just graduated from J-School where I was able to find a small group of my people — they were members of the American media who were also voting Republicans. As working journalists we weren’t allowed to donate to campaigns but we sure as hell could vote. These weren’t former Fox News employees or writers for The Nation. My people wrote for national newspapers that have New and Times in the title. They were producers at a then flailing network called MSNBC. My people were both men and women. My people were also scared. They warned me about “coming out” before we graduated. They feared, specifically since I covered fashion, I would be unemployed if I hinted at supporting another Bush in office. But the financial crisis was happening and it was my job to point out where Obama’s economic policies in his campaign platform didn’t make sense on networks that had no political slant. As a feminist, silencing my opinion didn’t sit well with me. This time around I was no longer the insecure girl afraid to use her voice and express a fact-based opinion. I was coming out of the political closet and it felt good.
What happened next felt like knife to the soul. The heightened anger mixed with sheer frenzy at me expressing my views was almost too much for me to handle. Instead of backing down, my voice got stronger. The more people challenged me for not wanting to vote for our first black president, the louder my voice got. This time around I convinced myself to firmly stand up for my political beliefs. I wasn’t going to be in the shadows anymore. America was a free country after all, right? Ideally, I should have been able to express my opinions in a respectful debate, but the opposite happened. Long time friends wouldn’t speak to me. Professional meetings turned into screaming matches. I became the punching bag for everyone who hated George W. Bush, the war in Iraq and all the domestic inequalities happening state side. The louder people expressed their anger, the louder I got until it turned into a tornado of ad hominem slings and three-quarters of my Facebook friends de-friending me. Still, being vocal about my political opinions remained important. I got louder and fierce. They were going to go high I was going to go higher with more facts. If this was a “witch hunt,” then I would give anyone a reason to hunt me down.
Eight years later another political storm was brewing. The nation was becoming more politically bifurcated, with both sides becoming louder and more extreme. The Republican Party that I had supported since 1992, started to look less red and more like a repulsive orange hue, a shade prompted by our current president. Having been one of the original voices supporting the anti-democratic movement in the United States by having an on-air platform, things were starting to look dangerous. The ad hominem slings once aimed at me from the opposite side were aimed at me from within. If you weren’t extreme, you weren’t supporting the country. My patriotism was questioned. And for the first time my brown skin became a liability. After 24 years, I questioned if I was going to vote red ever again.
Then Donald Trump was elected.
As much as I wanted to tell myself “he wasn’t that bad” the more I compelled myself to assign the rigorous fact checking I used with Barack Obama. I realized our president either 1) truly didn’t know what he was talking about 2) was too dumb to figure out what he should be talking about or 3) all of the above.
Even more of a mystery: my political cohorts were defending the President in logical, Socratic method arguments. These weren’t uneducated, illiterate, backwoods, off the grid living militia members. They were seemingly bright, politically active professional people living in liberal enclaves like Park Slope, Brooklyn and Santa Monica, California. What’s more, and the part that saddens me the most, my strong Republican sisters from my college days, who run companies, VCs, foundations, and families, were spotted around town (more specifically at a townhome in the Upper West Side) sporting MAGA hats. The first amendment applies to everyone, including women who want to support our president, but for me, that was the final straw.
I saw a bumper sticker the other day with a photo of a weeping president Lincoln. Under the photo it read “It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to.” I’ve never related to a sticker more. While I am out of the political closet as a Republican, I am now committed to voting against my party because of what it has become. Will my “people” meet me with the same incredulous side-eye, disbelief and laughter? Probably. But if it means me enduring another “witch hunt” from the other side to be a catalyst of change for good, then count me in.
Ina Roy, M.D. Ph.D.
I want to speak specifically as another Indian-American woman. I’m not sure where in the US you grew up, but for those of us from the middle of the country, here’s some news for you: Trump didn’t come out of nowhere. The GOP has been headed this direction for a long time (hello, Southern strategy). The fact that a lot of brown people (usually men) ignored the signs until we ended up with Trump is not a credit to those people, you included. And I’m tired of people who’ve voted GOP leadership in multiple elections sounding surprised when the party has ended up as the party of Trump and McConnell; the gerrymandering, the implicit racism, the absorption of cheap versions of Christianity were all there and were ignored. You’re probably younger than me — my parents came to the US when there were still quotas of 10 immigrants a year from India — so maybe you didn’t have the experiences that resulted from GOP policy that my family and I did. I really want to believe that this is simple naivete , but honestly, it’s disappointing that it took so long for people in your situation figure out; it’s an embarrassment that it’s taken so long, and the fact that you’re still not thinking about, for example, the nightmare scientific ignorance that we’re living under is…disappointing.
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