I got married a couple weeks before the election …no big deal. I mean, getting married to my true love was a big deal, but the ceremony itself was small, sweet, and as stress-free as possible. A pop-up wedding, you could say. We were aiming for a holiday elopement but big feels around the election were getting a bit cray (for good reason) and our friends were starting to catch wind of our secret engagement. So, we decided to get hitched earlier You know, to preserve the mystery. Queer marriage culture is different.
We got our wedding license back in September. I brought my birth certificate, my name change document, and my driver’s license. It may have been a good thing that we arrived at City Hall close to closing time. The person processing my paperwork was unsure about whether it was ok to give me a wedding license since I had not changed the info on my birth certificate to reflect my current identity. I confidently ensured her that it was ok. I explained I would not have been able to get a driver’s license that said male, with my new name, if I had not given the DMV proper proof of who I am. I told her I understood that this situation was confusing because there were no guidelines for her to follow, no clear cut path.
She finally accepted that I was not trying to be deceptive. I’m not sure if that’s because she thought that giving us the license was the right thing to do or because it was getting late and she could see that I was not going to back down quickly. Or was it because I had tried to empathize with her about how confusing the process is when you’re trying to figure out how to give a trans person a marriage license? I’ll never know.
Recently, I listened to an episode of the Freakonomics radio podcast called “Trust Me.” The episode focused on “social trust” (a belief in the honesty, integrity and reliability of others) and “social capital” (the networks of relationships among people who live and work in a particular society.) It emphasized that countries with high social capital have citizens with better individual health outcomes. Freakonomics also claimed that those with higher social capital tended to have higher overall wealth and that this wealth was statistically unrelated to how “skilled” the citizens were.
These messages reinforced my belief in the deep value of community. In times of great dischord (2016, for example) our social capital can help keep us upright through waves of difficult emotions. It can get us a meal, a job, a hug, a silly cat photo. Since the election, social networks have been keeping my Providence queer community afloat. We send each other love notes and vow to look out for one another. We have potlucks and protests, movie nights and dance parties. We are honest with each other. We are reliable. We show up.
Queer social capital is why I was not worried about having a last minute wedding. I knew that my community would be there.
I ran into another trans friend of mine at a bar on election night. I had entered the bar with another crowd of mostly queer people, including my wife. When it became clear that Trump was likely to win the election, I felt very tired all of a sudden. My friends were a mixture of tearful, angry, and hopeful. They were hugging and yelling and talking to strangers to get their take. I wanted to sleep and avoid the roller coaster ride that was sure to last into the wee hours of the morning. Then I noticed my trans friend. We started talking and I started to feel the energy pour back into me. He bought me a whiskey, restoring my energy to wait out results with my friends when five minutes before I was sure that I was going to fall over from exhaustion. Seeing another trans brother created some spark of connection. Knowing that I had another friend with my particular set of differences who was willing to protect my welfare in that moment, simply with whiskey and conversation, woke me up.
The thing is, according to Freakonomics, the more diverse a place, the less social capital exists. Sure, we can feel all connected in our little tribes, but can we reach outside? America is very diverse. Can we figure out how to build a national sense of social trust? We can’t get away with simple bonding; we might need to do something political scientist Robert Putnam calls “bridging” in his book, “Bowling Alone” (2000.)
Bridging social capital is how larger social networks get along. Bridging means that different groups share and exchange information, ideas, and innovation. This ideally builds social capital among the groups representing diverse interests and widens the network of trust. It makes sense on paper, right? Realistically, how do we go about making it happen? This isn’t going to just happen no matter who is President. It is up to us to do the work.
Connection doesn’t just happen, but what we do individually affects our community, and ultimately, what we do in the the U.S. affects the rest of the world. So, during this holidaze season, what will your New Year’s resolutions bring? How can we build bridges in lil Rhody? How can we build bridges through our conversations with our families, chosen and otherwise, even when we disagree? It’s time to give again, time to show up.
Freakonomics Podcast “Trust Me”.
Bonding Vs. Bridging I People, Spaces, Deliberation