213. immiscible

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Water_and_oilEaster with my family could’ve been better.

It also could’ve been worse.

As with any group of people, family gatherings have a tendency to be tense. Disagreements arise. Remarks are misinterpreted. Old grudges revived.

These things seem more likely to occur when people disagree over some fairly fundamental beliefs. Like the existence of the supernatural, and the basis of one’s morality based on said belief in the existence of the supernatural. It seems silly, but it’s amazing how many things can go wrong out of this disagreement.

I actually missed lunch with the family yesterday on account of not getting an email saying that people were eating around 12:30p instead of 1:30p. I was coming from a picnic that my former fundamentalist group held in the morning at a local park. The weather was gorgeous, and we had a great time of just being together, talking, and enjoying nature.

By the time I got to my sister’s house, my dad had just gone home, my mom was getting ready to leave, and my sister had just put her kids to bed for their afternoon nap. So it was just my mom, my sister, her husband, and me, standing in the kitchen, talking.

It’s still unclear where things actually went wrong. I suppose it started when my sister made a remark about “Obama phones.”

If you’ll recall, during the 2012 election, there was a viral video in which a woman yells the praises of Obama, claiming (among other things) that “he gave us a phone.” This video was instantly picked up by media outlets like FOX News and other conservative blogs and used as evidence that President Obama was turning the United States into the Welfare States.

I pointed out that that program to supply low-income individuals with access to phones was not, in fact, started by the Obama administration but has actually existed for decades. I couldn’t remember yesterday which administration the program began under, but a quick Google search and a Forbes article from 2012 points to the 1980s.

That led to further comments about “Obamacare” and welfare fraud (“people selling their food stamps for cash”), and claims that, due to the ACA, many people have had their health insurance cancelled and are now being forced to pay more in premiums. That may be true. I don’t have exact figures or details, but I know that many of those claims were exaggerated and even fabricated by Republicans to attempt to discredit the health care law.

After a brief intermezzo in which we discussed whether it was necessary for my sister to take her child to see a doctor, discussion somehow moved to marriage equality. And that’s where the real fun began.

I think it started with my mom saying something about how we may always have to “agree to disagree” about certain subjects—such as “gay marriage.”

“It’s just marriage, mom,” I said. “Not gay marriage.”

That turned into a discussion about suing Christian business owners who refuse service to gay couples. “How would you feel,” I asked, “if you walked into a photographer’s studio, not knowing the photographer’s beliefs, hoping to find someone to document your wedding, and were told instead that they don’t agree with your ‘lifestyle’?”

They didn’t seem to see any problem with this scenario. “Why would you want to force somebody who doesn’t support you to be part of your celebration?” my mom wondered. Which is a valid question.

“So if someone has a sincerely-held religious belief that forbids them from serving African-American clients, that’s okay?” I asked.

“That’s not the same,” was the response.

Because Black people are born Black, but gay people choose to be gay? And, by extension, we can simply choose not to be gay anymore—which is to say, to cease to be ourselves?

Then my sister accused me of showing as much intolerance of her religious beliefs as I’ve accused her of showing towards me. Maybe that’s true. It’s difficult at times not to let my incredulity show when they mention “sin nature,” make disparaging remarks about the President and Democrats, or sniff at climate change and science.

I understand that they feel that their country is being taken away from them piece by piece, and see recent, rapid social changes like the heath care act or marriage equality as a threat.

But it also seems to me that they are unwilling to see that their views have real implications for our relationship. I’ve evolved a great deal over the last couple of years. It must seem like overnight to them. However, it’s particularly hurtful to hear them say that they won’t come to my (hypothetical-someday) wedding when I played in my sister’s wedding in 2008, an event that my entire family celebrated.

I hope no one pictures my family like the ignorant, hateful people of Westboro Baptist, or even some of the anti-equality supporters featured in the documentary Question One. They are lovely, well-educated, caring people. They also happen to hold a religious belief that has shaped their worldviews in a particular way that conflicts with my worldview. And neither of us really seem sure what to do about that.

My mom made an observation after my sister left. As much as I feel that they refuse to accept the “new me,” I’m still viewing them through the eyes of a teenage boy terrified of them finding out that their only son is gay. Yes, rather than risk rejection from my family in 2011, I preemptively shut them out and cut off contact with everyone. Both my sister and my mom commented how hurtful it’d been that I’d defriended them on Facebook.

I still question whether that was the best course of action. Rather than recognize the efforts my family was trying to make, I allowed depression, despair and anger to influence my decision.

But where to go from here in rebuilding our relationship when we can barely agree on some of the basics? It feels like trying to mix oil and water.

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3 thoughts on “213. immiscible

  1. I did a pre-emptive strike too. You can’t change that now. I don’t know about you, but in my case it was necessary. It was hard enough dealing with my own feelings without having to be scrutinized by family members.
    As I explained it to them at the time, my life wasn’t up for votes or debating. This wasn’t going to be a group decision. No one asked me if I ‘approved’ of their lives and choices. Why in the world would they get to do that regarding mine?
    I’ve chosen not to rebuild relationships. That works very well for what I want from life. I’m not sentimental, so interactions would basically be one very long and grating lunch as the one you describe above. I’d rather focus my energy on things that give me more satisfaction.

  2. The fundamental question you will ultimately need to answer (via introspection) is how much you want from these people to whom you are biologically related. As I said in a recent post on here, family is what you decide to make of it. My initial reaction is firstly, don’t be too hard on yourself. It is humanistic, instinctive behavior to shield ourselves from harm. Given your family’s reaction, are they trying to say that your actions, in retrospect, were unwarranted? That’d be a facetious. If they can’t even talk about the concept of attending your hypothetical wedding (which – it’s worth noting – is about showing support for your loved ones, not any type of indication that you support the institution to which they are joining) tells me that they likely don’t care much about what you do post about.
    Secondly, they show a sense of entitlement. In other words, because they are your family you should expose them to things that they have expressly stated they don’t want to see. How does that make any sense? I’d be rather shocked if you stated they read your blog postings on here, but they’d learn a lot more about you via these posts than by “Likes” on Facebook. I view it as an attempt to introduce guilt into you – a common (but not universal) tactic of religious people.
    Thirdly, and finally, you have a limited amount of social capital, more so because you’re introverted. It’s no different than a paycheck, in my opinion. As someone more extroverted, I “make” more than you in that regard, so I have more to spend before I’m exhausted. With that being said, do you wish to expend your social capital on your biological family? I’m not saying you should or shouldn’t, but if your only limiting factor for saying yes is that you have more common genes with them than other people who accept you, and nothing else, I think you’re exposing yourself to undue harm.
    I am grateful that I have had an incredibly-supportive family and after a very-short period of time, it became a non-issue for me. Family, like Facebook, has a purpose. If you would feel the need to censor (change the sharing settings) of most of your posts to avoid offending them, or your mother, father, sister, et al would simply choose to “stop following David” or “Hide David from my timeline,” it defeats the entire purpose of what Facebook seeks to be. I would be sad if you “unfriended” me on Facebook because I like what you write and what you have to say far more often than not, thus it would be a noticeable and appreciable loss. Similarly, the people about whom I truly care are appended with the label of “family” regardless of genetic commonality. I may use the term “family” and “friends” to segregate them in general conversation, but “like family to me” describes them well.
    I have one aunt (out of the eight siblings of my mom) who does not accept the fact that I was born gay. She is a right-wing nut who doesn’t want to discuss or debate politics, she wants to spout FOX talking points and argue why everyone else is wrong who doesn’t agree with them. She’s a fundamental Baptist. When she dies someday, unless things change, I won’t shed a tear, because it will have zero impact on my life. I will feel sorry for her children, my cousins, for their loss, because I’m close to them and they accept me as I am, just as I accept them. If I decide to go to the funeral, it will be for them, and only for them. They are my family…I just happen to be related to their mom.

  3. If I may, my advice is not to give up on them. Not to run because it is uncomfortable. You have much to offer them by remaining in their lives. Namely, a clarification on how to hold on to what matters and how to let go of what does not. Especially because they are Christians (if I read that right) they need to figure out how to balance their love for God and his truth and the truth that they are supposed to initiate and sacrifice for you as Christ does for them. It is a gift for Christians to have those in our families who disagree or who are on a radically different path. It helps us realize that our faith is not simply platitudes, but it must be expressed in sacrificial action.

    Not only that, I would wager that you desire their love too. I would challenge you to not consider their approval of your orientation as the only measure of their love. I’m sure you love them without loving everything they do/think/feel, yes? Let them love you. And don’t make them guess at how to do it. Tell them how they can love you better. I’d wager that they are eager to do so.

    In my family, I was the one who “came out” in a sense. I became a Christian in high school and began heading away from the liberal/agnostic/gay world of my childhood. There have been times with my family where the messiness threatened to interfere with our family relationships. Thank God for tolerance, in the true sense of the word, where we could have a relationship and really hear where the other was coming from without having to agree. No doubt you are in a hard place, but don’t let anyone tell you that all is lost. It’s messy, but not hopeless.

    All the best to you, friend.

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