February 25th, 2003

JOY

The Secret Society

The more I think about it, the more I'm realizing that being a conservative, particularly a young conservative, is like being a part of a secret society. I know it's pretty much assumed that young people in DC are liberals (at least by people who live in or around DC--most people who have never been here are convinced that it's a very conservative area), but I'm discovering more and more that it's assumed that *everyone* is a liberal.

I know for a fact that many of my friends are conservatives. However; I have also noticed that none of us simply volunteer our conservative points of view without either being confident that we are among a receptive audience, or are among good enough friends that we aren't going to be called Bible Beaters for mentioning an article we read in National Review. We never walk up to someone we barely know and share a chuckle over Ann Coulter's latest nickname for Katie Couric--we, like the liberals that assume the same of us, assume everyone is liberal until proven otherwise. Within the past few days, I have experienced an example of this assumed liberalness every single day.

On Friday, I was chatting with one of my neighbors while waiting for the bus. He and I tend to complain together about the condition of our apartment building, how poorly management handles any situation, and how we want out. We were discussing other places that would be nice to live, and he casually said that he'd really like to live in Ballston or Clarendon. I casually said I'd like to have marshmallows delivered to my door, but that's not going to happen either. We bitched about how expensive it is to live anywhere, and I suggested that there will come a point when the rents max out; there will be a limit to how much a person is willing to pay for a one-bedroom apartment, the question is just when that will happen. "Probably when that idiot Bush gets out of the White House and things go back to normal. I mean, jeez, whenever that moron opens his mouth everything goes wrong. I have this article from the Boston Globe that was in response to his suggestion that we buy duck tape, and they said we should use it to tape all stupid frat boys' mouths shut." Now, what George Bush has to do with the popularity of Clarendon and Ballston, or how him talking about anything will make people more or less willing to pay for apartments, or how Clarendon and Ballston have been increasingly more desirable areas to live since the Metro was built through them, I'll never know. But what fascinated me is that he just figured he had a like-minded listener who would not find anything wrong with his statements, but wholeheartedly agree.

The very next evening, I met up with old friends from college, some of whom I hadn't seen in years. One of these friends has been an out-and-proud Republican since I met him. A bunch of us had been at the table for some time and the last of our friends arrives to find a vacant seat between my Republican friend and me. She walks up to the table and shouts, "oh, maaaan! Why do I have to sit next to the Republican?" Don't get me wrong, this was in as good fun as anything. But I was surprised at my own concern with the repercussions of joking back that she was surrounded. I was actually worried about blowing my cover as a member of the secret society. What would she say? How differently would she treat me now that she knew that I may not nod along happily when she made some crack about Bush? If I had told her about who I really am, would she have chosen not to tell me that story about how she found South Carolina politics to be so racist and Republican?

Even yesterday, when I got an email back from my former boss about how neither of us have had any luck finding a new job since she got fired, she wrote that she "knew W was going to be bad for this already failing economy".

Feel free to dismiss this as overly dramatic or overly simplified, but is this what it feels like to be gay? Is that forced wince that I have to make at every "Shrub" joke that comes my way the same forced wince that a non-public gay has to make at every "hey, check out that hot member of the opposite sex"? Is the relief, elation, and unidentifiable bond that I feel when I find out that someone who I had simply assumed was a liberal like everyone else is actually a conservative like me akin to discovering another member of The Family?

I have read that it's a good time to be a conservative. Nobody made me be a conservative, I was born this way. The course of my being has made me choose a lifestyle that is unpopular with the media, lots of people my age, the majority of the metropolitan area I live in, and even some of my closest friends. But I'm still a good person! There's nothing wrong with me! I put my pants on one foot at a time like any liberal. But what I choose to do with my cable news channel viewing time; which newspapers I decide to read; or whether I find that picture of Bush holding a book upside down funny or not is my business. I know there's nothing wrong with being a conservative, but the conflicting feelings of daring pride and a fearful embarrassment are even making me hesitant to post this. What if some of the people who I like find out that I'm not a liberal? Will they still like me? Will I be ousted from the group because I subscribe to such a forbidden doctrine?

Maybe it is a good time to be a conservative: if the past has taught me anything, it's that the young like an underdog. They like to do what is different from what their family does and different from what they perceive the rest of the world is like. Maybe if enough young people find being a conservative "different" enough, our society doesn't have to be so secret anymore. Until then, I will smile and nod.