LOVE the headline. It just says so much, y’know?
On a late summer evening, friends of John Stettin gathered at a bar called Kitty Cohen’s in East Austin to say good-bye. A carrot cake with “Good Luck” written in orange icing softened in the heat, but as far as they were concerned, the occasion was his birthday. “You can’t say, ‘Happy going away!’” said Jeff, his best friend, greeting him with a hug. “We’re just not happy. We’re all very sad about it.” Good-bye parties are inherently not that fun. They’re even less fun when they’re driven by a far-right takeover of the state government.
“Tell him he can’t leave,” whispered a woman seated under an umbrella. “There are too many Republicans.”
To hear Stettin tell it, that is precisely why he is moving out of what Rick Perry once described as the “blueberry in the tomato soup,” a predominantly Democratic city full of liberal expats like himself seeking progressive politics and an urban lifestyle at a red-state cost-of-living discount. “It was easy to just be in Never Neverland, floating with a bunch of other transplants having a good time,” said Stettin, who relocated from Dallas to Austin five years ago.
But then 2020 happened. As the pandemic raged, Governor Greg Abbott banned municipalities including Austin from implementing COVID measures such as mask mandates. The following year, amid a brutal winter storm, the state’s electric grid failed, killing hundreds and leaving millions freezing in the dark, and it has yet to be fixed. That summer, Abbott codified permitless carry and further restricted voting access. This past February, he ordered investigations into the parents of trans children for child abuse. By June, when the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, Texas was ten months ahead, having already effectively banned abortion with no exceptions for rape or incest and topped it with a $10,000 reward for informants.
“It’s like how a frog boils one degree at a time,” Stettin said. “They trigger-banned all abortion and they’re offering a bounty! What more do you need if you are a remotely liberal person to get the fuck out of here?” His destination was Massachusetts. “At least if I’m going to get into an argument with a guy in Boston,” he said, “he’s probably not carrying an AR-15 in his trunk.”
An EXCELLENT choice, Poindexter Hoplophobe. The People’s Republic of Taxachussetts is precisely the right place for you and your simpering shitlib compatriots. Get thee gone, toot fucking sweet.
This summer, that anxiety pervaded a stratum of liberal Austin, namely women, LGBTQ+ folks, parents, and people of color who fear a future in Texas and have the means to escape. The overturning of Roe seemed to remove the last obstacle in the state’s march to the far right, which is likely to be cemented in the upcoming election where Beto O’Rourke is way behind Abbott. While the Democratic mayor and the liberal city council institute token measures such as decriminalizing abortion, it’s cold comfort. One 25-year-old woman said she had her tubes tied, fearing the consequences of an unwanted pregnancy.
Progtards getting abortions? Their tubes tied? Sounds like one of those vanishingly rare self-solving problems to me, if on a too-slow-to-suit-me timescale.
One couple may relocate to the Northeast to carry out their pregnancy. Some job candidates are refusing to relocate. At Stettin’s party, his friend Jeff swiped open his phone to a note entitled “New Austin Cities” — a list of places that are what Austin used to be to him before he moved here from New York. It read, “Pittsburgh, Durham, Boise, Columbus, Jackson Hole, Chattanooga. Factors: Climate change, demographics, economy, location, taxes, nature, weather.” He plans to stick it out at least for now. “Global warming in the next ten years,” he said. “That’s gonna be fucking real.”
Oh, you betcher. As “real” as it ever was, at any rate. Although I must say, I always liked Pittsburgh quite a lot, and hate to imagine liberal locusts ruining it the way they do everywhere else they invade.
However many people leave, it will be small in comparison with how many keep coming. Austin is the fastest-growing metro in the U.S., and its population has increased by one-third over the past decade, with people from across Texas and the nation lured to the hippie-cowboy capital by tech jobs. In some cases, this explosive growth has bred at least as much discontent as the shifting political landscape. What was once seen as an affordable, creative haven is now a runaway boomtown, pricing out most of whatever was left of Austin’s proclaimed weirdness and drawing frequent comparisons to San Francisco.
Parents of trans children started to flee months ago. In March, Karen had just picked up her 10-year-old daughter from acting camp when she began telling her about an upcoming protest at the governor’s mansion against Abbott’s order instructing Child Protective Services to investigate families providing gender-affirming medical care to their trans children for child abuse.
Translation from the Libspeak: medical care=wanton mutilation. The “child abuse” stands as is, no correction required. To wit:
Karen (whose name is being withheld to protect her family) asked if her daughter might want to do a voice recording to share her story with the crowd. “Am I going to die?” she asked. Stunned, Karen asked why she would think such a thing. “Because everybody here hates me.” Karen pulled over, jumped out, and threw her arms around her daughter as they sobbed. “It was that moment when I knew we had to leave,” she recalled through tears.
See what I mean? This woman has severely damaged her poor child by convincing her that everyone in Austin, or anyplace else for that matter, “hates” her—solely to puff up her own overinflated self-regard and political vanity, no other reason. Child, let me assure you: nobody “hates” you, nobody. They aren’t even thinking about you at all, I promise, whatever your sick, narcissistic mother tells you to the contrary. She has some serious mental-health issues of her own, much as I hate to have to inform you of it.
A second-generation Texan, she stayed as long as she could. “I’ve always said, ‘I’m gonna stay and fight until they try to take my kids away,’” she said. While she said her daughter is not undergoing any sort of medical treatment targeted by the directive, she did not want to risk being separated from her children. In early June, they fled from Austin to Portland, Oregon. When she told her Republican father about her decision, he burst into tears. He said, “I’m glad you’re getting out of here to get someplace safe.”
Karen said she has PTSD from the experience, and she feels survivor’s guilt for not staying behind to fight with other families with trans children. But in the end, leaving is what she, and at least five other families she knows, had to do. Speaking from Portland, she said, “I am genuinely frightened for my home state.”
Don’t be, Countess Queefula. Portland sounds like just the place for you, and your home state will be better off without you constantly weeping and moaning all over the damned place from sheer irrational terror. Free advice: seek professional help after you’ve gotten settled into your new digs, without a moment’s delay. I’m confident some Portland headshrinker is going to just LOVE getting his/her hands on your extravagantly fucked-up ass.