Xander was one of the people who first came to mind when I decided to reach out to the conservative people I had spoken with a decade ago. Back then he was very actively involved with the Oregon Republican party and he had such an interesting and unexpected combination of beliefs and identities. I really couldn’t predict how he would have responded to everything that we have been through since 2012, but I knew he would have strong articulate opinions.
When we talked in 2012 he had just come from performing in a burlesque review, and he had also recently lead a successful push to update the Oregon Republican party’s platform by removing all anti-gay language – in part because it was too much government intrusion into people’s personal freedoms and in part because he just believed it was right.
Read about that conversation here.
We met at the end of May on the covered back patio of a bar in NE Portland, while the rain poured down loudly around us. His mustache was still waxed – pointing slightly different directions this time, and he gave me a friendly but tired glare from under his bent cap.
I asked him if he was still involved in the Oregon Republican Party and he said not as much as he had been back then but he was trying to get more involved again because the party was “ going sideways.” He had recently attended Oregon’s Dorchester Conference, which is the oldest annual political conference in the United States and the place where Oregon conservatives gather, make speeches about their policy ideas and wrangle for leadership. He said that the two loudest voices at the gathering were “both borderline fascists” and he followed that with “ and I don’t say that lightly.”
He told me one of the most popular candidates said his solution to the rise of homelessness in Oregon would be to “compel them into camps”, guard them with police and if any lawlessness took place throw them into jail.
Xander said he was “pretty sure historically we had a word for those camps, when we concentrate people into areas with forced compulsion…”
I asked what keeps him involved with a Republican party that even he perceives as moving towards fascism, and his response was to try and keep them from doing exactly that. Then he started talking about many of the meaningful accomplishments of the 20th century Oregon Republican party, stuff that I also strongly admire – like the legislation making Oregon the first state to ensure that every stretch of the coastline was public – no one can own a beach here – and the bottle bill which created the refund money for bottles and cans to encourage recycling. Back when conservative meant something to do with conservation…
Hadn’t this decade challenged his alignment with the Republican party given his concerns over the fascist leanings it has been bowing down to? Absolutely, he said but then moved into talking about gun rights.
It was just days after the Uvalde school shootings and for me no argument for gun rights could ever counterbalance the reality of America’s metastasized mass shootings, but I also noticed that in some ways my own stance on guns had shifted maybe slightly over the last decade. He told me how the first time he had ever shot a gun it was with the queer gun rights group the Pink Pistols whose motto is: armed gays don’t get bashed. He also told me how his dark skinned Mexican-American grandfather had helped liberate people from the Nazi concentration camps in the second world war, and how he had learned about all these historical instances in which firearms saved minorities lives and protected them when nothing else would, including the police. The historical reality that Black, Indigenous and other marginalized peoples have used guns to rightfully defend their communities, often from state-sanctioned violence, challenges my once crisp clarity that most guns should basically be banned from civilian access. It was illuminating to see how my own politics have become more closely aligned with Xander’s in at least this way, and yet it isn’t a move left or right on an imaginary flat axis of political alignment. It is a move away from faith that any political system can be trusted entirely, and toward a sense of how essential it is for people to actively stand up for themselves against injustice.