I have a confession to make. I'm American. Please don't hold it against me.
If it's any consolation - which, unless you think national identity is conferred by ancestry, it shouldn't be - every traceable ancestor I have comes from England or Scotland. Pending the results of my Ancestry DNA test, so far as I know I am British through and through.
But I'm American by birth. As are my parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents. Damn it, I'm a Yank. I don't like this any more than you do.
I'm telling you this because, invariably, there will be some of you who dismiss my views on your upcoming General Election. Fair dos. What can an American possibly know about British politics, and why would he even care?
There's a simple reason why, as an American, your election matters to me: Donald Trump. Y'all may not have noticed, but we're currently being governed by a madman. Lady Macbeth was more stable than Trump is. Britain, our most reliable ally, is the only country I can reasonably see being the proverbial adult in the room - and Theresa May, by offering Trump a state visit straight off the bat, has abdicated that role. He clearly isn't going to listen to what Angela Merkel says - he won't even shake her hand - so America needs Britain to be the grownup. In order to do that, y'all have to nick this childish Hard Brexit crap in the bud. You're the last, best chance the free world has.
But that's not even my primary reason.
I love the United Kingdom. Since I was 10 years old, a working class kid in Dayton, Ohio, whose only exposure to your country was - and I kid you not - EastEnders repeats on PBS, I've wanted to be one of you. Dot Cotton became like a second grandma to me. Through the years I developed a love of the Spice Girls, of David Beckham, and eventually (thanks to the wonders of the internet) of Brian Dowling, the winner of Big Brother 2001. It was Brian who taught me just how accepting your country is of gay people - gay people like me. From there on I found myself dancing alone in my bedroom to Steps, pinning Gareth Gates posters onto my walls, and rolling my eyes every single time Vicky Pollard was on screen.
All of this sounds basic to you, I know. Just because I know Walford or the Big Brother house doesn't mean I know Britain. But through years of reading Digital Spy forums, Hello! Magazine and each of the broadsheets - as well as the tabloids - and watching everything from Benefits Street to Britain's Got Talent, I feel like I've got a handle on British pop culture. (Yes, that includes the exploitative documentaries on Channel Five.)
If that's not enough, I crowdfunded a trip to London to cover your 2015 General Election. I raised money in large part because of previous work I'd done, including a 2010 undergraduate research project on Section 28 (which prevented local councils and schools from talking about homosexuality) and Margaret Thatcher's own role in promoting neo-Victorian morality. Most of my history degree was dedicated to studying British history, with a special focus on 20th century Britain. To give it added relevance, this means I was writing about Ken Livingstone before he became obsessed with Hitler.
Truth is, I've been commenting on your politics since 2009, when I was (oh God, I hate to admit this) supporting the Tories. I became a regular commentator on British politics in 2013 though, and it wasn't long after that I endorsed the Labour Party (though honestly, I had such a small readership I don't think anyone cared). Since then, I've written about British politics for the Advocate, the Daily Dot, Pink News, the Gay UK Magazine, the Independent, and yes, the Huffington Post UK. I've interviewed parliamentary candidates, a baroness, and been featured on the BBC World Service. Additionally I've been cited in the Telegraph, Virgin Media, and elsewhere.
I want to be British. I want to move to Walthamstow (yes, Walthamstow) or Barnsley (yes, Barnsley - I've not decided just yet if I want my kids to grow up in a big city or smaller town) and raise a family and have my children participate in Harvest Day festivals and say "lift" instead of "elevator" and not have them be as jingoistic or sexist or violent as their American cousins. It would be nice to raise a child in a country where I don't have to worry about them being shot in school, or never seeing a woman as head of government, or fearing that they're going to die because they can't afford basic medical care.
Truth is, I care about your election because I want to be British. I'm trying desperately to find a way to immigrate. I want to cry at the X Factor auditions, laugh on Fridays at Have I Got News For You, and see what's on sale at Wilko (cos they always have good sales, y'all). I want to complain about how bland Weetabix is, defend Marmite as the delicious treat it is, fight over whether the milk goes in before the tea (IT DOESN'T), and forget that Starbucks doesn't pay its fair share of taxes as I order a cup of coffee. And I want this on a daily basis.
I want your country to be my country. I want Britain to be home. I'm trying to figure out how to make that happen now, but in the meantime, all I can do is try to offer my two cents and hope you'll take my input. Because with any luck, in any time, I'll join you. And my kids will be one of you. And that means your election, especially with Brexit, matters to me immensely.
In the meantime, I'm American. But I don't want to be. I want to be British. Right now I can't be. I hope that doesn't mean you'll dismiss me, though. I may not be one of you, but I know you. And all I ask as that, as someone who hopes to join you soon, you'll listen to what I have to say. It doesn't mean you have to agree with me. It doesn't mean you can't correct me. It just means that I hope you keep in mind that someone, somewhere across the ocean, doesn't have a voice - but desperately wishes he did.