Confessions of a Token Libertarian


I have never been known as “shy.” Not even close. In kindergarten, I went from coloring table to coloring table, asking if anyone wanted to be my friend. I frequently let my opinion be known to whomever is willing to listen. Because of my sociable and opinionated nature, I quickly become the “token libertarian” in my non-libertarian friends groups.

Before I started my master’s program, the members of my to-be cohort went out for dinner together. I had promised myself that I would not define myself as the resident libertarian before classes started. After a few awkward ice-breakers, however, one member asked, “Soo… who is everyone voting for this election—Barack Obama or Mitt Romney?” Before my brain connected with my mouth, I retorted, “Those aren’t the only two candidates.” He asked me to clarify. “Well,” I said, “there’s Gary Johnson and Jill Stein.” The woman seated beside me said, “You’re a libertarian, aren’t you?”

I cautiously nodded. I was outed, immediately boxed into “token libertarian” status.

There are certain benefits in being the token. Many people ask my opinion on various political issues (healthcare is most common), and, being the intellectual extrovert that I am, I enjoy vetting and debating whatever they want to discuss. When I’m alone, members of my cohort will slink up to me and admit that they agree with me, just not publicly. I get to talk policy, philosophy, and politics all the time, and since I’m passionate about it, I don’t mind so much.

That said, there are moments when being the token can be difficult, particularly in school.

My classes in undergrad, and now graduate school, have largely been discussion-based, so my hand is always waving in the air to proudly share my political philosophy with my peers.  Too often, I can feel feel my classmates’ disgust with my ideas in their eye-rolls, exchanged glances, and dramatic sighs. Professors are rarely unbiased, and they make that fact known. Occasionally, the class will confuse my ideas for the views of classical liberals as a whole. Trolling and teasing can easily be misconstrued as bullying and mean-spirited. Being the token libertarian can be a lonely business.

In spite of the difficulties I face in academic settings, I would rather not shy away from engaging in political discourse. I am proud of my libertarian ideals. There is nothing more satisfying when someone reaches out to me because they want to explore libertarianism more. My tokenism has acted as a center for recruitment; few want to be alone in their political beliefs. Many feel more comfortable with exploring libertarianism when others are vocal about similar beliefs. Sometimes they need one individual to share their views with them. I find it gratifying and exciting to be that person. Tokenism, for now, is a part of my identity as a libertarian woman.