by Chris Bodenner
A reader writes:
I always remember years ago when a very racist uncle from Jacksonville, Florida was visiting my sister and her family. He started using the "N" word and my 6-year-old nephew turned to him and said, "We don't use that word in this house". The uncle never said another racist remark. It was wonderful to see a child slap down an old bigot.
I'm curious as to how readers deal with homophobic relatives. My partner is from Indiana and his immediate family is very supportive and gay friendly, but his more distant relatives are a complete question mark. I am dreading meeting his father's cousin's family for Christmas. My partner is apprehensive as well, since in his words they are "complete hicks." There is no way I'm going as his "friend" this time. We are way passed that in our relationship.
I know I am pre-judging them, and everything could go completely fine. It could be a chance to show them that gays are just regular people too. Or, after several whiskey cokes, someone drops the gay f-bomb and my beefy partner ends up shouting in someone's face.
This series is giving me a smile. For years, the usual tradition was that we would spend Xmas Eve at our parents house with mostly my mother's side of the family. Xmas Day was spent with cousins/aunts/uncles from my father's side. A recent development over the past decade or so was that my father's side has become increasingly right-wing.
For the most part they're uneducated, and it started slowly with some born-again-conversions popping up, and some recent deaths have led to some turning hard to fundamental religiousity. And there's been some rightward movement overall. For example, at an event this past year, a cousin's husband pulled me aside and extolled the virtues of Carl Paladino (the family is in Western NY) and how I really need to look into joining the local Republican committees where I live (the Philadelphia area).
It's become increasingly difficult for me and my immediate family to deal with that side of the family, even for that one day I see them, and I've generally tried to keep the conversations as vanilla as possible. My brother-in-law has a particular tough time - he's Jewish, and there is that fundamentalist antisemitism lurking beneath the surface (they killed Jesus, you know) that has never quite been completely expressed, but it's enough that he gets uncomfortable - especially when some of them decide to join hands for a rather lengthy and sometimes graphic prayer.
I especially feel for my gay cousin. He came out a number of years ago and currently lives in San Francisco with his partner, but for most of his life he was the pride of that side of the family - intelligent, well-schooled, helpful, talented; everyone doted on him. His immediate family, whose views aren't the same as the rest of that side, fully accepts him.
Anyways, a remarkable thing happened last year. After the food was set out and people were eating, I happened to notice that I, the progressive atheist, was seated at a table with my wife, an agnostic raised without any religion at all, my Jewish brother-in-law (from SF himself, no less), my sister (who married the Jewish kid and is raising her children Jewish), my gay cousin and his partner who was meeting the family for the first time, and we were all engaged in random conversations.
There was a seat open and the husband of one of my cousins sat down. Don't know too much about him except that he's a fundamentalist born-again and he married my cousin fairly quickly after her divorce. He sat down with his plate, looked up and out of the corner of my eye, I watched as he looked around the table at who else was sitting there. He quickly turned back to his plate, downed the contents about as quickly possible and left. Granted, I'm probably assuming a lot about what went through his head, but I did enjoy it, because, for the first time in years, at that table and in that room, we had a majority and wouldn't have to deal with the usual hateful garbage that usually comes out.
I'm not sure if we'll have that majority to back each other up again and make things a little easier this year, and despite the fact that I really do love my family and want to see some cousins, aunts and uncles, I still am really not looking forward to going this year. Given the election, I'm expecting more than the usual Fox News talking points about Obama, and heck, maybe someone gets bold and reveals some birtherist tendencies, which would be amusing, but more than anything else, as much as I love confronting, debating and challenging, at this point, it's just a waste of time, and most of them are lost causes, and I'd rather just spend what little time I have in town seeing friends and the family from whom I don't hear racist, hate-filled bile.
Sorry for the lengthy email, but just figured I'd share as I kill time at work before I leave a little early. Hope everyone at the Dish has a Happy Holiday season, and a Merry Christmas to you, Andrew, and I'll probably keep checking in here and there over my break.