When I learned who had won the presidential election it felt like someone had knocked the wind out of me. In those first moments of reckoning, I found myself longing for my mother’s comfort, so I called her. But, instead of the cathartic conversation I desperately needed, our 3 a.m. phone call was filled with calculated words and hesitation; in spite of my heartbreak, I could not bring myself to say what I needed to the most.
As a queer person with religious, often traditionalist parents, I have long felt forced to compartmentalize my existence in order to survive. Because the majority of my extended family lives in Central America—where unfavorable perceptions of queerness have created a culture of pervasive taboos —I, like so many, have kept quiet about many of my lived experiences. At 26 years old, I remain closeted from almost all of my relatives. And while both of my parents know about and have tried to be supportive of my identity, we have not yet reached a place where I am able to speak candidly to them about my experiences.
Even before Election Day, it was hard to ignore the painful silences that underpinned my interactions with family. But, in the last few days, reflecting on these familial ruptures has been especially unbearable. So, as a means of survival, I have found solace in other places.
The Internet can be an incredibly polarized place. It can be scary to take up space somewhere where individuals can use their computer screens as protective veils while they spout hate, but the Internet is also rife with communities that hold space specifically for marginalized individuals. For this reason, these closed spaces are crafted with safety in mind, in order to foster empathy and understanding, and utilize strict community guidelines to ensure respect and safety for all, something that is not always guaranteed out in the real world.
This week, I have come to lean heavily on virtual networks and online healing spaces held for queer and queer/trans people of color in order to get the support that my family has not been able to give. Engaging with these groups has proven crucial to my emotional health, and provides me with daily reminders that I am not alone in my struggles.
When I broke up with my ex-girlfriend of four years and didn’t feel I could be open on my main social media channels, my fellow group members—many of whom I had never actually met in person—held me up; sending me playlists and Netflix recommendations, and even helping me to find a queer-friendly therapist. Recently, when my abuelita made a snide, though well-meaning, comment about my perpetual single-status, my group members helped me flesh out my feelings and validated my decision not to correct her. Now that the United States has elected a homophobic white supremacist as president, these groups are resolving — with more fervor than ever — to hold space for one another, especially members who have less privilege. And for that I am thankful.
For those of us battling paralyzing distress in the wake of this election, having access to emotional support is pivotal to healing and survival. Dealing with grief can be sticky and confusing, but doing so without a support system can exacerbate our circumstances. Grieving in isolation often prolongs the grieving process, which can ultimately give rise to — or intensify — mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety. For some, taking time and personal space is healthy and necessary. But for those like me who crave community support, feeling isolated can amplify the gravity of our situations.
As a person who struggles with maintaining mental health, this week has been a challenge, but I know that am not alone. Hundreds of posts littering my queer-focused groups attest to this fact.
Scrolling through the countless comment threads, one can find links to thoughtful articles, invitations to queer laser tag, and links to crowdfunding initiatives for struggling individuals. There are raw, honest posts — complete with nuanced trigger warnings — asking for help with everything from insomnia to racial microaggressions to Trump-supporting parents. There are members offering free, home-cooked meal services (delivered by bike!) and massage therapy for those in desperate need of a warm meal or consensual human touch.
At the risk of sounding like a stereotypical millennial, I can say with full confidence that I have found my truest community in spaces made up of pixels. The support provided to me by these online groups has transcended physicality and, perhaps, convention. In the aftermath of this political tragedy, the demonstrations of kindness, empathy, and support I have witnessed in these virtual communities have shaken me to my core. Despite the nightmarish circumstances many marginalized individuals currently find ourselves in, the experiences I have had serve as powerful reminders of the many untapped resources existing beyond physical relationships.
I still have hope that I will one day reach a point where I can get the emotional support I need from my family. But even if that day never arrives, I have come to learn the true power of community, and it isn’t a lesson I will easily forget.