I’ve been in a mood all day.
One of those moods when my coworkers can hear me complaining down the hall. When I set the treadmill a little higher on my mid-day run because I am currently not drinking and need to relieve the stress some way. When you just want to hit the fast forward button and get the day over.
I didn’t sleep well last night. I tried to write but all the things I wanted to say but they needed more courage than what I was willing to give. I refreshed Twitter and read comments on Facebook posts and news articles. I fed my emotions with dark ramblings on the Internet because I couldn’t think of anything else to do.
Yesterday, the legislature in my home state of South Dakota passed a controversial bill that would regulate transgender children to use the bathroom of the gender identified at their birth. It’s a crummy bill and I am not interested in debating the merits of this bill. I know why some support it and, while I disagree, I am also no longer a South Dakota resident or voter so mine is just another voice of someone who left the state.
No state is perfect and, even the one I currently live in hasn’t had a state budget in eight months, but South Dakota is a magical place to me. It’s my up bringing, my childhood. When things happen there, I feel them deeply.
Ever since I left South Dakota I have tried to be its greatest ambassador, partly because I love my home state and partly because I’ve always felt a little guilty for leaving. How could I love a place so much but choose to build a life somewhere else? In all honesty, politics have little to do with it. I do miss my friends and family there, and sometimes I have dreams of South Dakota so vivid that I wake up longing for it. For me, I wanted to experience our big world. I wanted to find homes in other, unfamiliar places. That doesn’t mean that I love South Dakota less, rather that I wanted to take all that it’s given me and spread it around to the places I go.
My friends know that I love South Dakota. They often tease me about it. I get such a rush for declaring my statehood when people ask me where I am from and I use that small talk to inform them about South Dakota. I tell people that Crazy Horse is a better monument than Mount Rushmore, that the Black Hills are America’s best kept secret, that prairie sunsets are more beautiful than ones over oceans and mountains. All of that should take them to South Dakota, but what will make them stay is the people, I say. Honest, good hardworking people who know their neighbors and rally to support each other in time of need. The people there, I say, are some of the best you’ll ever meet.
I woke up this morning feeling a little less South Dakotan. I was afraid my coworkers would bring it up and I didn’t really want to talk about it, although I was the one who brought up the subject several times because I needed to give the lump in my chest some space. It’s not the first time residents from other states have poked fun at my allegiance to my home state or I’ve had to respond to stereotypes and misconceptions. I stick by South Dakota in those times, admitting there are small things that I do not like about it, but in general it’s a good place. But something feels different today. I can no longer be a fierce defender of my home state and its people. When they choose to govern in a way that treats others as if they are not human, especially youth, I cannot be a cheerleader for South Dakota anymore. It’s like the most authentic part of my identity has been challenged.
I hope that this is a temporary feeling, because I still believe in South Dakota and its people. I know many good, wonderful people who live there and want to make the state an accepting, warm place to live and visit. My friends and family are still there. It is still, no matter what happens, my home.
But, today I am sad. I am not going to try fix my sadness with political debates or shaming. I am not even going to declare that I will not go back. I am just going to be sad and hope that the love and compassion I know to exist in South Dakota will shine through.