OutPower

Reconciling Identities & Roles – Aharon McKee

OUT ON THE HILL is the official blog of the Victory Congressional Interns. Views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of LGBTQ Victory Institute. Learn more about the internship at victoryinstitute.org/vci

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The Sunday before Labor Day, I was scrambling to pack my bags and make it to the airport on time, in preparation for a trip that I knew would be life changing but didn’t know how. I felt a million different conflicting emotions as I boarded my plane for D.C. — excitement, intimidation, tranquility, fear, hopeful anticipation. I knew for months at that point that I had secured the internship, but even landing in D.C. it still didn’t feel real. I knew generally what lay ahead of me, but I could not fully internalize the fact that I had been given an opportunity this robust and exclusive. It felt more like I was preparing for a long vacation or an immersive weekend. The array of emotions that I felt as I prepared to leave South Carolina confused me. I should have been nothing but energized, happy, and exhilarated about this unique opportunity. But I wasn’t — I also felt strongly intimidated, precarious, uncertain. I couldn’t put my finger on what this internship really meant for me. I likely will never know the extent to which it will shape my life and career, but I had not even begun to think about what it means for me and the community I was selected to represent. I was busy with the packing, the preparation, the anticipation, the logistics. Before I boarded the plane, it barely crossed my mind to sit and think, really think, about what my presence in this position means for me and those who will come after me.

As my flight comes to an end, the Capitol visible from my window seat, I still don’t have answers to my questions. Personally, politically, culturally; what does this internship mean for me? What does it mean for me to be here? What does it mean for our community?

I am not the type of person who intentionally seeks out queer groups to homogenize myself with. In the small conservative towns that I have grown up and studied in, I have grown accustomed to consistently holding drastically different experiences and viewpoints than most of the people around me. Friend groups, churches, classes, organizations; I am rarely accompanied by people who have faced similar forms of societal aggression. So much so that it feels extremely foreign to be in a program like this, surrounded by people who have also delt with the blatant homophobia and microaggressions that people like us face daily. The disconnect between my identity and my social conditioning in a conservative, straight world has made it challenging to really understand what my presence in this program means. Although I am not heterosexual, I rarely associate myself with the LGBTQ community. Being in a program surrounded by other LGBTQ people while working in our extremely heteronormative government has forced me to begin reconciling these conflicting emotions and identities.

The unprecedented nature of being gay on Capitol Hill has made these thoughts and emotions even more challenging to temper. In one sense, it is intimidating to have no blueprint to follow, no roadmap of what to expect. In another sense, it is liberating to chart my own course and create footsteps for those who will come after me. Balancing these two realities while reconciling who I am, where I come from, and what that means for this position are questions that an opportunity of this caliber brings to the fore, because you know the decisions you make are bigger than you. The way I represent myself and our community will influence how straights and queers alike view what is possible, applicable, and acceptable for the LGBTQ community.

Getting used to an office job, living in a big city, and casually running into some of the most powerful people in the world has been a change to get used to. Being among the first and only to enter exclusive spaces has not. Personally, it can be intimidating to go at something wholeheartedly knowing you are among the first to be challenged in this way. Politically, you know you are held to a substantially higher standard than those around you and those who came before you. Culturally, though, I am aware that my presence in this position is unprecedented. I am aware that casually running into the most powerful people in the world means that the most powerful people in the world are casually forced to run into me every day. Casually forced to see us, in positions to influence policy — to influence the future. While I am still not sure what this internship holds for me, and all the things that I should or should not feel, I do know that my presence in this place is unprecedented, and that is not a small responsibility.