By Ellison Wade
This is part one of a series on holding friendships across party lines. Check back in the coming weeks for future installments
What I expected to learn from such an experience, I’m unsure. But there I was, providing him a platform. Hoping I suppose, naïve romantic that I am, he’d hear himself and be as off-put as I was.
I’ll refer to my buddy simply as James. I’m thirty two years old, a year James’ senior. We met in high school. One could describe our early twenties as a drunken blur, a monument in dedication to underachievement. One could describe it as such only if one wanted to paint us in a flattering light. We were losers, full stop. James was first to board the ship to Adult Island when he enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. A strange path for a gay man, I thought at the time. The “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, I would have thought, would be enough to keep him away. But then, much about James’ life always seemed antithetical to the person he was, and I think that might be why I liked him so much.
James and I kept in touch. I called him regularly. He stayed in the Marines for around eight years with minimal visits home. But the people in my life I care most about, I tend not to let go of. A couple years ago, James retired, medically separated and honorably discharged. He took a lot of physical damage to his brain during his time in the Corps, and as a result, can’t really function without special (very expensive) glasses. Tragedies aside, I was glad to have my friend home. Time had changed us. He and I were both married, both of us to women, he had a child, I did not. We were both responsible adults. I’ve asked him why he made the switch from men to women a few times; I generally get the same response: “I wanted a kid.” Fair. James and his wife split fairly recently. When I asked him if he’s back to being gay, he mockingly quotes Kevin Spacey in saying: “Yes, I now choose to live my life as a gay man.” Jamie is a fun guy to hang around, and funny. He has a sense of humor about everything. Calling him likeable is an understatement.
James coming out to me as gay, some fifteen years ago, had virtually no impact on me. In fact to this day we still bring up my complete lack of reaction the day he told me: little more than a shrug. However, his revelation to me in late 2015, that he had turned in his liberal membership and become a Trump supporter, was far more difficult to swallow.
We haven’t butted heads, rather, we’ve had thunderous, heated debates for hours at a time. Going round for round until neither of us could really recall where we started in the first place. Spats which would probably end most friendships, and yet, we’re always able to shake it off rather quickly. That said, politics now dominates the conversation, taking the place of film, music, books, etc… It’s to the point where I can’t really even recall what we must have discussed before the 2016 election. I’m constantly trying to change his mind, and of course, constantly failing. He doesn’t really try to change mine, probably because he doesn’t care what I think. I don’t have the luxury of such mental fortitude.
Writing for this site inspired me to sit down with my buddy and hear him out. Let him say all the things on his mind, without interruption. No arguing back. He was interested in the idea, so we sat down a few nights ago for a few hours and I let him spill it all. For the most part, I kept to my word in not pushing back and just let him say what he wanted to say. Admittedly, a time or two, I caught myself beginning to argue. At certain moments I was boiling with rage, barely able to maintain composure as, what I felt were factual inaccuracies, were spewed. Still, the point of this wasn’t to argue, but to try and understand, and I mostly managed to stay impartial.
When we finished up, I had definitely stumbled upon an understanding I hadn’t arrived with. Not the understanding I was expecting, mind you, but one all the same. Be sure to check out my next article, where I’ll go in depth into our conversation, where he stands, and what I walked away learning.