The Bush dodger returns
It was an immediate reaction.When the network news organizations announced that John Kerry was conceding last November’s presidential election to George W. Bush, I knew what I had to do: run for the border.No, I was not fleeing to Canada. In fact, I was heading to the other side of the 49th parallel. The mom, apple pie, and Chevrolet side. You know, the American side.That’s right. I made the reverse commute. In early February I returned to the United States after living in Canada for most of the past two years.My longtime partner, Vicki, is Canadian, and the two of us moved to Ottawa, her hometown, in April 2003. Things would be better there, we thought.She would sponsor me as her common-law spouse, and we would start our new lives together, no longer second-class citizens. Our relationship, a solid and happy one, would finally receive the legal recognition it has earned.The two of us enjoyed our first few months up north. We watched a lot of hockey, drank a lot of beer, and talked a lot about how better things were going to be now that we left stuffy Old Glory behind.But although I went to Canada full of hope and great promise, I never really felt settled. Deep down inside, I felt guilty. In fact, I felt like a coward, because I didn’t stay and fight.I didn’t stay and fight for equality rights. I didn’t stay and fight against an unjust Iraq war. And I didn’t stay and fight for the Left in what many believe was one of the most important presidential elections in U.S. history.No. When the going got tough, I went to Canada. Instead of a draft dodger, I was a Bush dodger--and dodging was something I had never been known for before in the 34 years of my lesbian life.But you know, I said, what did I care if several states were looking to pass a law banning same-sex marriages? What did I care if the religious right was remerging as an important political player in American politics? I was now living in Canada, home of hockey, poutine, and Chrétien--who coolly told Shrub to take his Iraq war and shove it.But my entire Canadian life was a sham. I was a poseur.I rarely watched Canadian television. Instead I was glued to the American cable news that was beamed into the Canadian apartment Vicki and I shared. I watched CNN, MSNBC, and eventually, just before I left, the Fox News Channel. I had to hear the latest sound bite, the latest press report, the latest spin, the latest outrage.When I was listening to a friend or an acquaintance bash the United States--which happens more than some Canadians would like to admit--I would quietly nod in agreement, never raising a word in my...our...the country’s defense.And when Bush visited Ottawa late last year, I halfheartedly went to the protest march. But it didn’t feel right. It wasn’t like New York City in 2003, just before “shock and awe,” just before I left for Canada.Oh, sure, there were sharpshooters on the rooftops of Parliament and big black helicopters in the sky, but something just wasn’t right. I was an American Girl--interrupted.The funny thing is, for all of my American pining, I never did cast an absentee ballot in November’s election. But if you had asked me only a couple of months ago if I had voted, I would have lied and said yes. Such was my shame.So when I tearfully watched Kerry and John Edwards concede in my Ottawa living room last November, I decided then that I had to go home. The only thing I had to do was convince Vicki. It was going to be a tough sell.After several years of living in the United States under the weight of uncertainty that often comes with a “TN” visa--one must reapply for it every 12 months--she was relieved to be in Canada, where that would no longer be a concern.But then, in one of life’s great opportunities that we reluctantly take advantage of, Vicki was laid off. And as she began to look for new career opportunities, I tried to steer her once again toward the United States. It worked.Of course, I didn’t have a job in Ottawa because I couldn’t work full-time in Canada until my permanent residency came through. The only problem was, I hadn’t applied for it yet, and I never would. I couldn’t bring myself to do it. It never seemed right to me: becoming a Canadian resident, on the way to become a Canadian citizen--to become a Canadian.That’s just not me, because I am an American, for better or worse.Yet if you had asked me last April how my residency paperwork was going, I would have told you it was “in process.” Such was my dirty little secret.No, no Canada for me. I would rather remain a disgruntled American queer. Free to be oppressed, free to be maligned, and free to be trampled upon, all in the name of political expediency.But also free to try to make things better. To get involved; to stand up and make my voice heard. To join the chorus line of other gays and lesbians who have marched and petitioned and organized to make a difference, one kick at a time.I have never been politically active in the 34 years of my lesbian life, preferring instead to be sexually active instead. But I have awoken. I am ready to take up the mantle for positive change--not just for gays and lesbians but for all Americans.And it’s funny. As I drove through upstate New York early last month, on my way home from Canada, there was a part of me that wanted to signal to the drivers in the other lane.I wanted to warn them about all those crazy spellings.