Skip to main content
Everything to Fear, Especially Fear Itself

A protest against excessive police force against the city's Black residents in Baton Rouge // Photo by Jonathan Bachman / Reuters

Some studies suggest that conservatives tend to focus on the negative more than liberals, have a stronger physiological reaction to perceived threats, and fear new experiences. I’ve heard the claims from these studies quoted by folks on the left in a kind of self-congratulatory way. We’re better/stronger/wiser/braver than that.

But I feel fear all the time. My centrist Democratic friends are constantly telling me I focus too much on the negative policies pushed by their centrist heroes. And, my god, I was in my forties before I ever dared taste guacamole.

Still, I’m going to follow the example of other self-congratulatory “liberals” and point out one difference I do see between conservatives and many leftist progressives. We stand up for what’s right, even when we’re terrified.

When I see 17 Republican state Attorneys General backing the wild case Texas has filed with the Supreme Court to invalidate the election results of four battleground states, I’m disgusted. That disgust is magnified a thousand times when I watch 106 House Republicans add their names to an amicus brief in support of this blatant attempt to overturn an election.

Being too afraid to stand up for my rights, the rights of others, for democracy, to stand up against bullying and tyranny and corruption, would be to embrace a hellish existence today.

Some pundits say these Republicans are “afraid” of the consequences to their own careers if they don’t publicly support Trump. We see the threats and intimidation thrown against the few who do stand up. There’s legitimate reason to fear.

In the past, folks like Ted Cruz, Lindsey Graham, and Marco Rubio spoke out passionately against Trump. Now they seem to worship him. Are they simply led by fear?

I’m scared every time I board a bus for work and have to sit with unmasked riders. I’m scared walking the last two blocks to the grocery, because there are no sidewalks along that stretch. I’m scared every time I give myself an insulin injection.

Every time I write a story or essay, I’m scared of making a fool of myself.

I was a virgin until I was 26, afraid because of my Mormon upbringing to accept my sexual orientation and end up condemned to Outer Darkness.

My first job after coming out was as an adjunct English instructor at a public university. Halfway through the semester, at the beginning of class, one of my students pointed to a flyer on the bulletin board. “A potluck for a gay student group? It’s going to be an orgy!”

“I hate gays!” another student announced loudly. “I’ll say it right to their face! I hate gays!”

I knew that in a class of thirty students, there had to be at least one LGBTQ student listening to this vitriol.

Scroll to Continue

Recommended Articles

“Thank you,” I said.

The student who’d just spoken looked pleased, but I watched as another student’s head swiveled toward me and our eyes locked. She understood immediately.

“I’m gay,” I continued.

The student who’d proudly declared his hatred started spluttering. “Oh! Well, you’re still a good teacher! You’re still a good teacher!”

I laughed, knowing that my abilities as a teacher, or lack thereof, were completely unrelated to my orientation. But I did at the very least take advantage of that day’s “teaching moment.”

I have been “out” in every job I’ve worked since then. That doesn’t mean “flaunting” my sexuality. It means using the correct pronouns. It means not lying.

A friend of mine was stabbed to death by a gay basher. I understand there are real consequences to being out. But even if I were to discover at Judgment Day that the Mormons were right and I was going to spend the rest of my existence in Outer Darkness, I see no reason to start living in Hell right now.

And being too afraid to stand up for my rights, the rights of others, for democracy, to stand up against bullying and tyranny and corruption, would be to embrace a hellish existence today.

I see my old right-wing missionary pals on Facebook ridiculing mask wearers for “letting fear rule their lives.”

I admit, I’m afraid. When I see a police car parked across the street from my house for no apparent reason, I’m nervous. When I take part in a Black Lives Matter protest, I’m scared. When my husband volunteers as security at a counterprotest against the Proud Boys, I’m worried.

Once, when I was eleven (God, I hope I wasn’t any older than that!) I peed on the carpet in my bedroom and blamed it the next day on my chihuahua because to reach the bathroom, I’d have had to make it all the way down a long hallway, in the dark, after midnight.

Do you believe me now when I tell you that by nature I’m a scaredy-cat?

I worry that my political essays will impact my ability to get a job interview in the future. I worry about a prospective employer looking me up online and finding my views on polyamory. As someone who used to worship alongside a Holocaust survivor, I experience every day what to me is a very real fear that I’m going to hear a knock on my door and be taken away.

Johnny Townsend

I used to marvel at how Christian women protested on Rosenstrasse to liberate their Jewish husbands. I marveled at Chinese pro-democracy students standing up against military tanks. I stared in admiration as a Black woman stood her ground while riot police descended upon her.

Johnny Townsend