America is an idea, they say. For me, it is the one that began to form while watching television in the 1980s. In Diff’rent Strokes and Cagney & Lacey, I understood that in the United States, difference is tolerated, even celebrated. In the United States, nobody would tell me who to be.
Sometimes we are disappointed when reality does not live up to our ideal, but in this case, the opposite happened. When I first arrived in New York at the age of 19, the sliding doors of JFK airport opened to reveal a whole new world. It was a world where the faces in the crowd were different from each other. Already I could see the difference; I already knew this was where I needed to be.
It was no surprise, to me anyway, that when I finally got out, 16 years after that first trip, New York was where I did. It was no surprise that New York was where I met Danielle, the woman who is now my wife. When I moved here to be with her 11 years ago, I felt not only that I was finally where I was meant to be, but also that I was who I was supposed to be too.
Barack Obama was in his first term as president. It was a time of hope and change for everyone, not just me. If someone had told me what the next decade would bring, I wouldn’t have believed them. Now I know how dangerous disbelief can be.
It’s been a few months since the US Supreme Court ruling in Roe v Wade – which in 1973 meant pregnant women were entitled to an abortion during the first three months of pregnancy – was overturned. . This effectively allowed states to ban abortions before 12 weeks.
There is an option to stay and fight, just as we fought for years in Ireland to make it the country we knew it could be
This historic reversal has mostly lost its place in the headlines because of inflation, rising crime, the war in Ukraine. All the while, state after state is banning abortion or severely limiting access, creating a confusing patchwork of laws where a woman’s right to choose in the United States depends on where she lives.
As the battlefield shifts to the right, some people must cross state lines to access abortion services or even the morning after pill. For some of us, there are other battlefields as well – battlefields much closer to home.
Much has been written about what a divided and fractured country is like, but unless you live here, you probably don’t fully understand how it plays out in everyday life. A divided country is not just about watching different news channels. These divisions mean more than avoiding certain topics on the Thanksgiving dinner table. They mean more than quietly unfollowing certain people on Facebook.
A divided country means that the morning after the New York Pride Parade 2022 in June, when my new physical therapist asks me what I did the day before to make my knee so inflamed, for the first time in a long time, I find myself trying to read his eyes above his mask before telling him as I dance on the The Irish Consulate float in the parade.
A divided country means that for the first time in years, I wonder if I should hide or reveal who I really am.
This may seem extreme; you might think that’s an overreaction, an unfounded fear, especially here in New York. But given Judge Clarence Thomas’ remarks that the legal basis for Roe’s annulment could apply to same-sex marriage — indeed any same-sex encounter — we are concerned. Given that the “Don’t Say Gay” law went into effect in Florida earlier this month, given that the things we thought would never happen continue to happen here in the United States, I must respectfully disagree .
So what do we do? Where do we go from here?
Back to Ireland, where the rights of women and the LGBTQI+ community are better protected now than they are here in the United States. As Ireland has become a country that holds in high regard the ideas of difference and tolerance that I craved as a teenager, returning to Ireland is definitely an option. But there is another too: to stay and fight, just as we fought for years in Ireland to make it the country we knew it could be.
Today, as I write, thousands of people across the United States are writing emails, making phone calls, sending information about abortion clinics and morning-after pills, making donations to charities, plan marches, sit-ins and conventions. And there are thousands more, like me in my physical therapist’s office, taking smaller but equally important steps every day.
By choosing not to hide, by choosing to speak out, to be who we are even when it’s scary – especially then – we don’t let fear win.
These actions matter, big and small. Because if enough of us take them, that’s how we come back. This is how the idea of America becomes a reality again.
Yvonne Cassidy is a Dubliner who moved to New York in 2011. She is working on her fifth novel; its previous four: The Other Boy, What Might Have Been Me, How Many Letters Are In Goodbye? and I’m Right Here, are published by Hachette. Her essay Tuesdays was published in Grabbed, an anthology about sexual assault, empowerment and healing. She has taught creative writing extensively and currently teaches at Irish Arts Center and the Jewish community center in Manhattan
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