A study on navigating conservative family members

Off the Beat

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“Who do you think you’re voting for?” My cousin asked me. “Like, if you had the choice.” 

It was 2016, and I was sitting in my grandfather’s house streaming the Emmy-deserving, hit TV show “The Bachelorette” with my cousins. I turned around, already ready to laugh, and realized she was serious. For me, had I been able to vote, there would have been no option. Vote for a man with a documented history of racist, sexist, generally bigoted behavior or the other candidate? Not to say that Hillary Clinton is a saint herself, but to me the choice seemed glaringly obvious. 

It’s hard to imagine two sets of political opinion more incongruous during an election cycle than those of the middle-aged, small-town Massachusetts conservative and the young, queer, Los Angeles-raised English major.

To establish something about me, something that is scary to publically put in writing for the first time: I am transgender.

My identity was very hard for my entire family, extended and nuclear, to understand for a long time. They struggled to comprehend how I had been feeling for many years when they felt I had been happy before I came out, and they worried I would change into someone I had previously not been. 

My identity was a difficult thing to grasp for my extended family, hailing from Massachusetts, which is where I spent my childhood summers and holidays. While I grew up in the metropolis of Los Angeles, a place where more than 200 languages are spoken, most of my relatives were raised and live in majority-white, mainly Irish-Catholic, communities — even grocery stores boast “ethnic food” aisles that include Italian cuisine. 

Don’t get me wrong — I dearly love my family. They have raised, fed and housed me, as well as lent me support through supremely difficult periods of my life. The point of my piece is not to ridicule them but to say that, in the least, it is complicated to navigate familial relationships with people who have political and social ideas so incompatible with your own. 

Privileged members of society are afforded the luxury of being able to have varying degrees of political involvement. Minority groups have no choice but to be political when being political means asking others to afford you basic human rights and general respect. Politics become everything for marginalized communities. Although I am far from the most marginalized member of either general society or the queer community, to exist in and of itself is a political act.

How do you describe the specific feeling of watching someone you love make a show of political support for a bigoted politician who would — in some cases, quite literally — gladly watch you and others like you disappear from the country? 

Generally, when such a display occurs, the refrain remains the same: “It’s nothing against you.” 

Can such a decision ever not be against me, against marginalized groups as a whole, when everything the individual stands for is directly antithetical to my safe and happy existence? It’s nothing against me? It feels like it is everything against me and against other marginalized communities.

My family has always loved me, but they have sometimes failed to understand the implications of their political actions. I struggle to feel justified in my anger when I know the same family who voted against me also provides for me. 

Some days, I am simply tired of fighting for the simple right to be angry that my existence, that the existence of any minority group, is a political opinion. I am not an opinion. I am a person. 

It is, at best, annoying to feel as though you have a responsibility to educate people about your identity; at worst, it is a black hole that sucks your energy until you feel as though you are too tired to continue. 

So how do you reconcile the political views of your family members when they act in a way that conflicts with an integral part of yourself? 

In my experience, perhaps you can’t. 

After working on my viewpoint over a number of years, I know I will never reach a point where I can comprehend the political decisions and musings of those in my family who support Donald Trump and his lackeys, and that is OK. Part of learning to practice compassion for yourself is understanding that you are under no obligation to have respect for opinions that lack respect for you.

For me, politics are integral parts of my life because I cannot be a transgender man while Trump is president without being political. But I am political and a million other things — I am smart and funny, and I like to spend my spare time reading, writing and spending time with my friends. 

So until my loved ones can fully understand the implications of their political actions, I’ll stay being me.

“Off the Beat” columns are written by Daily Cal staff members until the spring semester’s regular opinion writers have been selected. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter @dailycalopinion.