Those of you who’ve read a few of my articles know already that I belong to an ultra-conservative (politically and religiously) family. “Family,” in this case, encompasses all of my cousins, aunts, grandparents, and most of my more extended family (second and third cousins included!). What’s more, my family is not your passive ultra-conservative bunch – they read (though I dislike some of their sources), they discuss, and they crusade extensively.
In other words, my family is one big, self-affirming group. Except for me.
A discussion among friends in similar situations recently led to an informal poll of several dozen of our acquaintances about being on the political and religious outs with their families. To our surprise, we discovered we are not such rare birds. In fact, lone ladies in families with unified, differing belief systems are all over the place. In my case, I abhor capital punishment, I think “feminist” is a positive term and not a cuss word, and I believe that corporations must have limits to their greed and that capitalism, though great in some ways, has flaws we must address as a society. Like those we polled – and many of you Persephoneers, too, I suspect – my contrary views constantly land me in hot interpersonal waters with my loved ones.
Most in this situation learn early to bite their tongues. Others cannot handle the constant stress and simply cut off contact with the family altogether. Personally, I can avoid responding to an antagonizing comment four out of five times, but it’s the fifth time that inevitably erupts into a Facebook discussion or a lengthy email chain in which all members gang up to prove wrong the crazy liberal democrat. (Note: I’m actually a moderate, but if you’re at all left of waaaaaaay extreme right, you will look like a liberal.)
Then there’s the stigmatizing, which takes many forms for lone ladies like us. In my case, the stigma of being “the political enemy” in addition to the fundamental belief among the family that I “misinterpret the scriptures” mean that I bear the burden of all the family’s negative feelings about the very worst examples of liberals and apostates. That I’m neither a liberal nor an apostate doesn’t matter. As a deeply empathetic individual, I sense these negative generalizations, and in a more concrete sense, I experience them first-hand around the visiting table.
Yet I believe the most damaging effect of all this disagreement is the sense of isolation so many of us feel. Those of us who do not conform to the family views experience a barrier to family affection. At family get-togethers, for example, we must stand aside (in my case, physically) when the group begins to discuss politics or social issues. Likewise, we become the cause of awkwardness and discomfort in conversations, whether we intend to or not. For example, whenever my father begins to blurt out racist, hateful words about the president, my mother looks pleadingly at me to say nothing or leave the vicinity to avoid conflict.
The truth is, families in complete agreement with one another affirm their mutual beliefs, which enables them to feel closer as a unit. People need such affirmation; people need to preach to their respective choirs. Affirmation means a great deal to social animals. So for that reason, our families have every right to pat each other on the back for their opinions. Yet for someone who just doesn’t see eye to eye with her family, that is affirmation and family time she does not get to share.
As a result, we turn to our social spheres for affirmation. And these days, we communicate with our social spheres mostly through texting, email, or social media. The latter of these poses the biggest problem. Now we are social creatures, Persephoneers, and we need the same affirmation our families presently receive from one another. That much of this affirmation must happen through social media makes it all the more imperative that we don’t have our opinions policed. However, families find our beliefs distasteful and often feel as though they must speak up against them, especially in a public forum. Does that sound like a familiar scenario to you? Does it resemble, say, that visiting table environment in which you try, politely, to bite your tongue? For this reason, while we could hide these comments and discussions from our families, I have to ask, should we really have to?
And the answer in my opinion is, no, we shouldn’t have to. Personally, stubborn creature that I am, I refuse to pretend for the sake of family normalcy that I’m something other than I am. Perhaps this is where those of us who find ourselves perpetually on the political and religious outs with our families have to settle for our own sanity. We should not have to pretend we believe, feel, or act other than we do with the people who should accept us as we are. It’s one thing to bite your tongue at the occasional family get-together, and quite another to bite your tongue every day of your life. Those who find themselves in a large body of affirming family members have the privilege of easy affirmation; the least those family members can do, in my perspective, is let us have ours.
Does any of this ring true for you? If so, what’s your situation like? So many of us would love to hear your stories, thoughts, and perspectives on balancing political or religious conflicts with your families! Do you feel like this problem arises more for daughters, sisters, and nieces than for sons, brothers, and nephews?