My senior year of high school, my AP Government teacher had our class take a political spectrum test. It was pretty straightforward, answer "yes" if you agree and "no" if you disagree kind of thing.
The goal, obviously, was to allow 17-and-18-year-olds the opportunity to see where they stood when it came to politics. The test was designed to have several possible outcomes: Right Wing, Conservative, Moderately Conservative, Middle of the Road, Moderately Liberal, Liberal or Left Wing.
As I sat in that metal chair, looking around at the Obama and McCain campaign posters that littered our classroom walls, I painstakingly read each question and thought “How would a hardcore conservative answer this?” I then circled that answer.
At the ripe old age of 17, I would have put Rush Limbaugh to shame. I was not only a Republican, I was a conservative. I volunteered for local politicians, attended rallies, made phone calls, and passed out literature featuring aborted fetuses. I was doing God’s work, or at least that’s what I was told.
My locker at school was covered in campaign stickers and various other pieces of right wing propaganda. I wore buttons. I put flyers into the see-through slip in my binders. I was, for lack of a better word, obnoxious.
When my teacher returned our “graded” political spectrum tests, he gently laid mine out in front of me. It had, as I had strived for, a perfectly Republican score.
“You’ll come around,” he softly whispered. And, as teachers often are, he was right.
I cringe down to my bones when I think back on my behavior a mere six years ago. While I certainly wasn’t a Westboro level of crazy, I think back to how my classmates -- the ones who have since come out as LGBTQ -- must have perceived me. I think back to how isolated they must have felt around me. How judged. How angry. How alone. It makes me want to die.
It also makes me angry.
While I certainly will not play the victim -- because let’s be honest, it takes a lot of gall for a privileged, white female to play that card -- I will say that I’m disheartened with the Republican Party for preying on young, impressionable people to deliver their diatribe of hate.
I’m angry that when I was 17 years old, someone thought it was acceptable to tell me that I was an authority on what women should or should not do with their own bodies or whether or not people in love had the right to marry. I’m angry that they claimed God on their side. Most of all, I’m angry that I believed it all for so long.
After the Supreme Court announced the marriage equality ruling, a stream of tears came running down my face. They were happy tears; tears of joy and love and admiration.
I thought about all of the people who never got this opportunity, of all of the people who dedicated their lives to fighting for justice, of all of the people who died in the name of equality.
And then, selfishly, I cried for me. I cried for all of the people who fought against this. How backward and hurtful and shameful their message was and is still to this day. I cried for the fact that I was once one of them.
After I dried my tears, I posted a hopeful and celebratory message to Facebook. I think many, especially my high-school classmates, rolled their eyes. Some probably thought “Fuck her.” I’m sure more than one person thought it was a little too late.
And, in all honestly, it is. It is just a little too late, but I can’t change the past. I can’t go back to my former high school self and shake her. I can’t tell her that she’ll go to college and make new friends and learn new things. I can’t tell her that despite what she thinks, she does not, in fact, have it all figured out.
I can’t go back and tell her that, unbeknownst to her, many of her classmates and friends are members of the LGBTQ community. I can’t tell her to stop spreading hate, to start spreading love, to listen, to share, to open up her mind.
These days, I consider myself somewhat apolitical. After working in Republican politics for a brief period after graduation, I got burnt out.
But more than anything, I was confused. While college opened up my eyes to the social injustices of the world, I still couldn’t shake the fiscal or government policies of the Republican Party.
So, there I was, a pro-choice, pro-gay rights 20-something working for conservative candidates. But it got to be too much. I didn’t believe in what I was working for. I was a fraud -- and everyone around me knew it.
It’s been two years since I last worked in politics. And despite the fact that getting others to vote was once my job, it’s been the same amount of time since I last stepped inside a voting booth. For so long, being a Republican was a part of my identity. And now? Well, now I just feel embarrassed and confused and a little bit lost.
It took me a long time to realize that I was not the perfect Republican I had been pretending to be. I now consider myself to be socially liberal and fiscally conservative which means that like so many others, I fall into the gray area of unrepresented politics.
I believe in equal rights, a woman’s right to choose, a small government, the free-market economy, and states’ rights. Unfortunately, that means that when it comes time to vote, things aren’t black and white
I don’t know what will happen over the course of the 2016 presidential race. I don’t know who will get the nomination from each party, I don’t know who has skeletons in their closet, I don’t know who will flip-fl0p or who will embarrass themselves during the debates.
I don’t know if a Republican will finally step forward and say “I’m sorry for everything we’ve said in the past, but you know what? It’s 2015. SCOTUS passed marriage equality and Roe v Wade will never be overturned, so let’s concentrate on creating jobs and fixing our economy.”
And though I wish that would happen, I think we can all agree it’s more fairytale than foreshadowing.
I’m sure many reading this will be frustrated. Some are probably internally screaming “Just become a Democrat already!” but it’s hard. At least it is for me. For so long, being a Republican was part of my identity. It was my gospel. To turn away from it almost feels like I am leaving behind my religion, but I think that come 2016, I won’t really have a choice.
I’m deeply saddened by my past behavior and beliefs, and maybe I’m stupid for sticking around this long hoping that Republicans will change overnight. I’m anxious to see what this campaign trail will bring, because if things don’t change soon, I -- and many others -- will be done for good.