Growing up in the U.S., we are constantly exposed to daily trauma—gun violence, anti-LGBTQ+ violence, racial violence, the list goes on.
I recently just spent the quarter abroad in Ireland, and in that short time, I became aware of how much my own personal anxieties surrounding violence are an effect of growing up in the U.S.
As an openly bisexual woman, I face daily anxieties walking anywhere alone, going on tinder dates -– with men specifically -–, going to bars or parties, wearing “revealing” clothing, or showing any physical or verbal affection for women.
I have too many female, non-binary and queer friends to count who have all expressed to me these daily anxieties — it’s sickening to know that this is a “normal” thing to experience.
There are other anxieties not even associated with gender or sexuality — anxieties of attending school, movies, concerts, grocery stores, etc. because of the possibility that there will be a mass shooting.
These experiences that I, and people like myself, have faced are often viewed as being a universal anxiety. I don’t connect it to living in the U.S. specifically, but with being human.
After spending a month and a half in another country and hearing the perspectives of people growing up and living there, I realized that some of these daily anxieties are not a communal experience.
On my first day in Ireland, our program director in Dublin took us out to breakfast and inquired about what it was like living in the U.S., trying to gain an understanding of the differing politics and norms between Ireland and the U.S.
He mentioned a recent tragedy that had occurred in Sligo, Ireland surrounding a hate crime against two gay men. I had asked him if that sort of violence was common in Ireland, and he immediately went on to explain how universally appalled and shocked the Irish community was by that event.
He explained that current-day Ireland is very LGBTQ+ friendly and that type of violence was not an everyday occurrence. He expressed that everyone was confused that someone would even think about doing something like that, let alone actually doing it.
Hearing what he had to say about it not being a common issue made me happy for the entire LGBTQ+ community of Ireland, but it also shocked me. I was just caught off guard that those events were surprising, unheard of, and locally seen as a humanitarian crisis and not a wormhole for political polarization.
As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I spend almost every day of my life being afraid that I am going to be called a slur, fetishized or physically attacked for being queer. And when these fears become a reality for me, or others, I am sickened and angry, but I wouldn’t describe it as surprising because I have experienced and witnessed these things so often that I am growing desensitized — because of the society I have grown up in.
This discussion of LGBTQ+ politics spiraled into a bigger discussion of Ireland's political systems and experiences. Our program director brought up that he had watched a lot of news coverage of the Black Lives Matter movement during 2020, and asked if police brutality was common, or if it was unheard of like the recent attack on the LGBTQ+ community there.
All of us at breakfast unanimously and uncomfortably chuckled and explained that it is an extremely common occurrence — that police abuse their power and murder innocent people regularly. He was shocked and explained to us that police in Ireland are unarmed, so he couldn’t understand how that was even feasible.
We started discussing with him that police violence isn’t the only regular occurring targeted violence. We commented on how since we could remember we have all been afraid and aware of the possibility of our schools being shot up. That every day we often look for exits and are trained to barricade doors during lockdowns, because you never know which day your school will be the next victim of a mass shooting.
After we told him this, he told us he couldn’t think of a time there had been a single school shooting in Ireland.
Sitting and discussing political and societal differences between the U.S. and Ireland, as well as just living in another country for a month and a half opened my mind up to the realization that these anxieties that I and others face may be rooted in the systemic violence of America.
For the entirety of my stay after that breakfast, I felt safe and quite honestly, completely free of all anxiety. Which for me, is a very, very rare occurrence.
I walked alone across all of Dublin at midnight listening to music at full volume with both of my headphones in, I openly discussed being queer with friends at pubs, restaurants and museums, I smiled and waved at officers that walked by and I attended classes with full focus on learning and not the nearest exit or barricading material. All things I have never felt safe or comfortable doing in the U.S.
Being in Ireland, I felt at home more so than I ever have in the U.S. Home should be a safe and welcoming space, a place without fear. The U.S. has never been that to me, and to those I’ve spoken to about this, it hasn’t for them either.
It sounds silly to think that it took me one conversation and a month and a half abroad to realize the extent of the trauma I and others have gained from living in the everyday violence of the U.S., but my own personal desensitization and assumption that these issues were normal, didn’t allow me to fully comprehend how not okay it is to be afraid every day of your life.
I know that there is violence in other places around the world, but my takeaway from my study abroad is that it isn’t everywhere.
There are places where people don’t fear being shot in chemistry, or at the newest Marvel movie, or buying groceries. Or places where people can hold hands with someone of the same sex, and not immediately be fetishized, harassed or potentially killed. Places where people feel at home and loved.
Everything about being abroad was perfect and refreshing. I felt a sense of tranquility I have never felt before, and may never again. And since returning to the U.S., I have been reminded of the fear, sickness and violence that infiltrates this country.
I hope that one day countries like the U.S. can experience the peace my program director expressed at breakfast. That one day things could be normal, whatever that may mean.
Thank you for listening to my ramblings,
Elaina Johnson, spring ‘22 copy editor