How Bigotry Redefines Love

I was stunned last year, when my husband, in between sobs, told me his family would not celebrate our wedding because of “religious reasons.”

From the earliest days of our relationship, it was clear to me that family was the most important thing in my husband’s life—so much so that Scott spent a good portion of our third date constructing his somewhat complicated and sprawling “family map” for me. I quickly learned about his close relationship with his parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and half-siblings in Texas, Scotland, and Thailand.

Scott’s “family map.”

As a teenager, years before my husband first heard the term transgender, he thought he must be a lesbian, and came out to his Christian family in San Antonio, Texas. He knew they were Christians, but didn’t know they were “that kind” of Christians. He felt a distinct chill, but as he tells it, “Nothing was said or done that couldn’t be taken back.” During college, he finally learned the word to describe his life experience and realized he would have to come out to his family again, this time as transgender. If they weren’t thrilled about having a lesbian in the family, he couldn’t imagine how they would react to this news. To his surprise, there was almost a sense of relief not to have a gay person in the family, as if there were nothing wrong with dating girls if he was doing so as a man. They immediately started calling him Scott and using the right pronouns. They seemed to understand and support him, and he felt incredibly fortunate to have loving parents and extended family members, which is too often not the case for those in the LGBT community.

So I was stunned last year, when my husband, in between sobs, told me that half of his large Texas family—whom he considered to be more like siblings and parents than uncles, aunts, and cousins—would not celebrate our wedding because of “religious reasons.”  

“Wait—they’re not OK with my being Jewish?” I asked. It was the only thing I thought of when he mentioned religion, even though we’d spent the previous Christmas in San Antonio. We all sang Christmas songs together. I sat through my first White Elephant gift exchange and walked away with a tube of fast-drying, LED-activated glue. And, of course, Scott had happily attended all of their weddings. The idea that these people would choose ours as the time to air their true feelings about our “gay relationship” was so unfathomable that it didn’t even enter my mind. But that’s exactly what happened. Scott explained that, to them, we were “two girls getting married,” and they had to draw the line somewhere. Even Scott’s family members who were otherwise especially supportive were prone to the spoiling effect of the others’ cruelty: In “not wanting to choose sides,” they chose the side of not attending, either. Scott was devastated.

My husband was depressed for the better part of the last year. At first, he felt fear and anxiety around the new administration and the uncertainty of our safety in this country, and then it was the condemnation and delegitimization of our marriage and relationship. It broke my husband’s heart to know that, with the exception of his parents, the rest of his family would not be there to celebrate the event he’s imagined and wished for from the time he was a child growing up in the South. He will forever associate our wedding with this awful period in our country’s history, and the crushing rejection of the people he loved most.

Our story is not unique. Family discord is common in the LGBT community—it was more surprising that my husband hadn’t previously experienced any rejection or discrimination from his family in the 20 years since he first came out as queer. The most telling part of the story is that this change in their behavior happened in the year following Trump’s election. I believe this discrimination was a direct result of our new political climate: the rise in hate crimes, the human rights violations and rollbacks, the thinly-veiled rhetoric coming from the White House. Whereas people might have thought twice before expressing their ignorance in the past few decades, it became socially acceptable to be an outright bigot in the wake of the election. There is no longer any room for equivocation. After a lifetime of shunning all labels, I adopted the label of “queer,” because it suddenly feels very important to declare my position and be very clear about where, with whom, and for what I stand.

I’ve never considered myself to be a political musician. I’ve always written songs based on my personal experiences; I write when something affects me so deeply that I can’t not write about it. This year, for the first time, that meant that my songwriting became overtly political. I released a six-and-a-half-minute long protest song called “Machine Age” as the first single from my upcoming album. The song came out in a fit of inspiration, uninvited and faster than I could write it, from beginning to end almost exactly as it is in its final version. My only edit was the omission of one verse. This one verse was the angriest I’d ever written:

Don’t say it’s your god-given right to feel the way you do

’Cos I wanna smash your face in, yeah it’s my religious view

’Cos my god tells me we’re better off without people like you

And it’s just what I believe, and isn’t my faith valid, too?

The verse was a response to the twisted rhetoric brought to us by those who believe there is only one god, and their god is that god, and everyone else is going to hell. It bitterly encapsulated my anger towards the hypocrites who use their so-called faith to justify bigotry and hatred, whether by refusing to bake a cake, serve someone in a restaurant, or celebrate their wedding. When I sang that verse, whether alone in my living room, or in front of an audience, I felt so much anger that my voice trembled, and my heart felt like it might burst. It was so angry that its delivery was almost deadpan—that terrifying kind of anger where you’re too enraged to even raise your voice. The sensation was not unlike the fullness I feel in my heart when something serendipitous and wonderful happens; the way I felt when I met my dog, Elliott, or after my first date with my husband—but it was the inverse of love. I know the power of music, and I knew firsthand these words were powerful enough to incite rage, whichever side the listener was on. And that is why I cut the verse from my song.

When hatred becomes the status quo, love becomes resistance. After a year of internalizing the hate with the result of recurring illness and constant depression, Scott tried another tactic. He decided to love everyone.

“But what does this strategy look like?” I asked. “How can I love someone who hates me, and for whom I feel so much hate?” Scott replied, “What would you do if you saw an elderly man in a MAGA hat take a nasty fall down a long set of concrete steps? He’s bleeding on the sidewalk. Do you help him?”

“Of course I do,” I said.

“So love these people from a distance, the way you would love an old man in a MAGA hat who fell down the stairs—you’ll help him up, you’ll call an ambulance, and you’ll sit with him until it arrives, but you probably won’t invite him to dinner.”

Scott, of course, knows this firsthand. The topic of family celebrations is largely avoided in our household for now, in the wake of the trauma surrounding our wedding, but we are making an effort to feel love for his family despite the lack of love shown to us.

Some practical steps we take to support our healing include yoga and meditation, sharing our experience with friends and receiving the benefit of their wisdom, and consciously working to shift our own expectations around the role his family will play in our lives. The feelings of comfort, trust, and support Scott experienced for the past 15 years around his family are not coming back, and he is actively going through the grieving process. We constantly work on acceptance. There is huge power in facing the truth head-on, and we are using that power to consciously rebuild our lives, so that the real outcome of this ends up being something even better than the illusion of what we had.

The bulk of this work is done outside of his relationships with his family, but Scott did take one concrete step towards directly addressing his heartbreak when he emailed the cousin responsible for the bulk of it, and asked this person to at least acknowledge the pain caused by his actions, if he could not apologize for the beliefs that prompted them. His cousin agreed that a simple “Sorry, we’re busy” would have sufficed, rather than using our wedding invitation as a way to affirm his religious zeal—and asked for Scott’s forgiveness, which Scott granted. And if he can forgive, then I know I can, too.

I do my best, but I’m not always there. In my music, I’m reminding myself to try. “Machine Age,” as it exists now, encourages love over hate—it ends with a mantra, in which I repeat, “I believe in love more than I want to hate.” Even though I didn’t feel loving when I wrote this song, I want to feel love.

I think I feel it right now, as I sit at the kitchen counter in our small apartment on the Eastside of Los Angeles. Dogs bark on our street, where nonwhite families have installed security cameras and American flags. Every day that we carry on with our lives, spend time with friends and the people we love, pursue our passions, and take care of ourselves by refusing to engage in the hate being spewed at us is a day when “love wins” moves from hashtag to reality; a day when my husband, “transgender actor Scott Turner Schofield,” becomes “actor Scott Turner Schofield;” a day when Danica Roem moves from “the first and only transgender woman to win a seat in state legislature,” to the first of many candidates to win—right now, at least 40 trans people are running for local, state, and national office throughout the country. There is so much to be angry about—and so much to be thankful for.

Terra Naomi is an indie-folk-rock singer and songwriter from New York and Los Angeles, known for winning the inaugural YouTube Award for Best Music Video. “Machine Age,” the first single from her new album (coming September 2018), was recently hailed as “the first truly great song to come at the expense of the world’s collective sanity.” (Jubilant). Follow her on Twitter here,  Facebook here, Instagram here, and listen to “Machine Age” and the follow-up single, “Nothing to Hide,” on on Spotify.