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.