I avoid things. This isn’t a new realization, however the intensity in which I avoid things became painfully clear when I was in the shower thinking this morning. It dawned on me, rather out of the blue (like most honest thoughts are) that If my life were depicted in a single room, it’d have bare floors with lots of closets. Behind each closet door would be an experience or packed away feelings that I’m avoiding.
Case in point – I changed my flight to visit my family no less than twice after the election. Why might you ask? Because I voted for her and they didn’t. They either voted for him or didn’t vote at all. After a lifetime of being an outsider in my family, I couldn’t stomach another round of picking & judgement. Frankly, after living in California for 10 years, surrounded by people that shared my views, I wasn’t ready to be out-numbered.
After months of excuses (some valid, some not), I went back to the deep midwest. After several hours of general catch up, it was my teenage niece broke the ice. She came home from school explaining a political survey they look in school that day and how she ended up scoring in several areas – not just one. This was the same niece who was the first family member to call after the election to discuss a particular Facebook post of mine about my anger & disappointment. We may not agree, but she questions. I’m thankful every day for her fearless questioning. As she posed the survey questions, I was shocked to find the table discussion rather varied. In the black & white world of either voting for him or voting for her that I’d been living in – there was far more gray than I expected which was refreshing. The resounding hot button items, though? Those were hotter than ever. Knowing I had a long visit ahead, I tempered my responses, pushing the bag into the “well, it went better than I thought closet”. Looking back, I’m positive they also did the same.
As the days past, comments were made. I passed off the snowflake comments as a reference to my hair color – not my party affiliation. A discussion with my young nephew about feminists being bad and his assumptions that liberals were baby killers was mentally filed in the “Well, at least we talked about it” closet.
It wasn’t until I came back West, and found myself shockingly angry when discussing the trip with friends and my tone changed from reminiscing about the fun we had to more serious, I realized I wasn’t just angry, I felt disrespected. More so, I felt misunderstood & confused. Will they ever get me? Where the fuck do I belong in this family? But also, do I really get them? Do they feel judged by me? Probably.
So I kept searching for middle ground. How could people I love more than life itself align on polar opposite sides of the fence? Because it’s not always about politics. It’s not a them vs us thing. The same nephew that called me a baby killer has one of the biggest hearts of anyone I know. He is repeating what he hears. I hope his exposure to different thinking is greater than the sum of same-veined rhetoric he hears. My mother, who didn’t find either candidate appealing but voted for him, IS a feminist whether or not she’ll acknowledge it. She’s a boundary pusher. She fought for her education, worked, had kids & showed up for every game, and hated that she couldn’t play sports in High School. My sister believes that women are already equal and lives in a predominantly white middle class area where it may very well appear that way. She’s also a healer & in many ways, the true matriarch of our family. Even my dad, staunch conservative he is, managed to raise two opinionated, STRONG women. He may not understand why same sex couples should marry, but to his credit, at least we can talk about it calmly. He welcomes debates and most often, we agree to disagree and have a good laugh.
When I was younger, my buttons were apparent- someone would push, I would erupt and leave. It became a game. This trip, I turned the other cheek. I kept the buttons hidden. After a lifetime of being the weird one, I realized my place isn’t the family isn’t to change minds, it’s to simply be different -to be the other voice. We may not agree on much, but I am them as much as they are me. They ARE my family. I’m proud to hail from a close-knit group of people who would drop everything to do anything for someone they loved. I’m proud to have been brought up with a set of christian values as a basis in which to question religion on even though I no longer identify with that religion. I’m proud of their work ethic & honesty. I’m confused by their quickness to disregard what they don’t understand. I’m confused by the black & white – us vs them mentality. I’m confused by a refusal to acknowledge facts like climate change. After some searching, I realize they most definitely feel judged by me. “That zero calorie drink has aspartame in it” to my “plates of brown food” comments to friends. I’ve spent a lifetime isolating myself with differences and suspect that if multiplied on a national level, the seeds of the divide between West/East Coast & Midwest can be seen.
I don’t know that I CAN change them – just as though they realized (likely far before now) that they can’t change me. But what I can do is temper my expectations, talk to the younger generation like the adults they are becoming and allow our differences to be seen in the same light & love in which I adore our shared histories. They are me. I am them. It’s complicated. It’s likely always going to be that way. Maybe that’s not the definite answer I was hoping to come to when I started this letter, but it’s the truth.