Sure, there are some huge differences between myself and Hillary Clinton. To start, she’s running for President of the United States whereas I am a standup comic currently on my way to perform in Minneapolis. Rest assured, I am better at delivering jokes about Pokemon than Hillary. Hillary also seemingly knows Michelle Obama better than I do since I’ve never met Michelle Obama, and though this is odd given my status as America’s favorite lesbian comedian under age thirty-five, she owns more pantsuits. But I am voting for her perhaps for the most controversial reason I could publicly state: I relate to Hillary Clinton.
(GASP!) Yes. I do. I will explain.
I grew up with Hillary. I was born in 1981, so Bill Clinton’s presidency coincided with my first awareness of the news and the world. I remember him best from the opening credits of The Animaniacs, but also his voice, his jogging, his scandals. I don’t remember much of his governing. I was a child. Similarly, I remember Hillary from that time as the woman standing next to him during speeches and walks to/from Air Force One. But I remember Hillary standing by herself as well. I remember her taking up space. Giving speeches. Being a mother. I didn’t realize at the time how rare this sight would be going forward in my life—how infrequently I would see the wife of a politician choose to openly express political ideas of her own.
In 2001, the same year Hillary became a Senator from New York, I joined an improv group at my college, essentially beginning my comedy career. I was in school in Boston, and though I didn’t live the direct impact of September 11th, as with everyone in our country, the World Trade Center’s falling broke my heart and impacted my soul, as did the presidential response. Like many Americans, I scrutinized George W. Bush’s words and actions. I hoped for peace, that my fellow Americans would be treated well regardless of their national origin or faith practice, and that we would endeavor for safety and justice over revenge and fear. Like many Americans, I watched Hillary stand with survivors in a wind-breaker, not as an emissary of her husband, but in her own official capacity as senator. From that moment forward, I expected to see her stand for and with the country all on her own.
By 2008, when I watched Hillary run for president for the first time, I had begun doing standup. While my standup career seemed to have real legs—I was constantly improving and moving up in the Chicago comedy scene—this generally positive response was balanced by a streak of pure hate which I encountered in the form of hecklers, anonymous online commenters, bookers and sometimes even other comics. The love was wide and helpful and hopeful, and the hate laser-focused. It sounded like “Shut your mouth and get off the stage, dyke!” And those are just the words I can type here for publication. There were worse.
At the same time, opposition to Hillary had began to kick up. The moment she moved into the spotlight and declared her intention to run, the buzz of negativity around her grew. She was shamed, berated, questioned, torn open at every turn. She was told to: Compromise. Smile. Be more feminine. She was critiqued as too cold, too focused, disgusting. And I will tell you: when I heard those words, I knew what they meant. They were the same words that have been levied upon me. They were fear words. Words meant to keep women in our place. Words meant to destroy women like us.
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Women like us? Yes. Like Hillary, I speak with confidence. Sometimes I yell to make a point. I am not overtly feminine, by some very narrow and restrictive measure of femininity. I work tirelessly at my craft. I believe sexism is real and I openly acknowledge it is and still I work harder because of it. I believe there is a greater cause behind my work, as I openly fight for women and LGBT folks to be treated equally. In private, I am tender and a bit sensitive. At work, I know exactly what I want and I aim to get it. I work in a male dominated profession and most of my colleagues, allies and closest friends are men. Those men love me. They would hug me like Barack hugs Hillary—with understanding and solidarity. And yet, men that don’t know me sometimes find my mere existence to be challenging.
Any of this sound like Hillary to you?
I imagine lots of other ambitious women will see themselves in these words. We know the drill. We know that our actions will be perceived as domineering, shrill and overreaching though the same would be perceived as strong, confident and apt if done by men. It’s almost like there’s a cultural system at play deep within all of us that affects the way we interpret facts. Anyway…
Here is where I will be accused of voting for Hillary Clinton with my vagina. Of course, I cannot vote with my vagina, as it is distinctly lower than the voting booth would allow, but further: At a time when abortion access is more under attack than it has been since Roe v Wade, where basic healthcare is stolen from communities that need it most under the guise of a false morality, voting in the interest of my vagina would probably be a good idea. And still, I’m not voting for Hillary simply because she is a woman. No women are doing that. That’s not how anything works. If it was, we’d all write-in our grandmothers or best friends or Kristen Stewart. If we really wanted to vote for women simply because they were women, there would have been a female president elected in 1920, the first time we could legally vote.
No, I am voting for Hillary because she is the single most qualified candidate to ever run for the presidency, with a political career so varied and long-lasting, we literally do not have another person to which we can compare her. And it is a total bonus that she is a woman. Not because a white woman of Hillary Clinton’s income and education is reflective of every single woman in this country, but because seeing a woman in the White House will irrevocably change the life of every woman in the United States, just as Barack Obama gave hope and newness and beauty and diversity to an office so long held by just one type of American. I want to see a woman of color in the White House. I want to see a non-Christian president. I want to see the fullness of the American experience reflected in our governing body but right now Hillary Clinton is running to be our first female president and you know what? I’m. With. Her.
And yes, there are very good, nonsexist criticisms to make of Hillary Clinton. Over the course of her career, she has affected major positive change and made good decisions. She has also made bad decisions, shady decisions and decisions I’m sure we don’t know about. In that way, she fits perfectly in the pantheon of American politicians. We are an imperfect country with a history of both repeating our mistakes and of striving to be better. We are flawed, varied and complex. And we are trying. And that’s how I feel about Hillary too. Perhaps I am jaded, but my general response to her history in politics, to her mistakes and failures is: Is she trying to do better, be better, listen better and has she improved? Then I’m. With. Her.
Of course, there is no real way to predict the future. She could get elected and prove she’s learned nothing and improved in no way. But she used to think gay folks shouldn’t get married and now there are married gay folks in her commercials, her speeches and working on her campaign. She has proven she can evolve and that she wants to. Heck, one of the major party candidates for president is openly telling us that he does not want to evolve, improve, regroup, learn or adapt. His name isn’t Hillary.
Frankly, the way she has campaigned by including voices beyond those traditionally in power makes me feel optimistic. This year’s Democratic National Convention felt so much like my America. In sharp contrast to the Trump-focused and nearly-violent Republican National Convention, the DNC seemed to be mostly about ceding the floor to those who public policy affects the most so they can speak on their own behalf. Sarah McBride, asking that we work harder to give full protection to all transgender people. The Mothers of the Movement, asking that we work harder to end gun violence. The Khan family, asking that we treat Muslim Americans as if they are just that: American. That is who we are. That is what we’re working for.
And to those Democrats who feel disillusioned about the primary process: I’m grateful you, and to Bernie Sanders, for your passion and your message which helped transform the Democratic platform, engage younger voters and truly shed light on the many ways current legislation leaves so many Americans behind. If you can’t do this for Hillary, do it for all the people she would represent, the same people that Bernie Sanders cares so much about, and who have so much to lose.
Yes, this election is about how we see America. I see America as a place that wasn’t once great but has fallen but as a place that can be made ever greater. I see America as a land of opportunity where that opportunity extends to our ability to improve ourselves, our culture, our policies, our prejudices. I see Hillary Clinton as a strong, qualified leader. I see her mistakes. I see her improvement. And I see the utter garbage that has been levied upon her all the while she improved. Perhaps that is what I relate to about her the most. We know her flaws, her scandals. We know the words and sentiment people have spoken about her. And we know that those things didn’t stop her. Because she persists. Under pressure, through disaster, beyond pain, she persists. Which is, after all, what I love about my country, and on my best days, what I love about myself.
Cameron Esposito is a comedian, actress and creator of the television show “Take My Wife.”