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I Broke Up With Family Over Donald Trump — And I Don’t Regret It

They opposed my right to exist

by BETH SHEROUSE

This week I severed ties with yet another branch of my mom’s family. This has become a pattern in recent years, for myself and numerous friends, despite growing up among family members that we truly believed would do anything for each other.

But it seems that the divisions brought to light by the events of 2016 have pushed many of us to the breaking point with our once-beloved family members.

Growing up as an only child, my first cousins on my mom’s side were my first best friends. We played together, went to school and church together, and made forts out of refrigerator boxes from the family contracting business where our grandparents and all of our parents worked. We fought and loved like sisters, despite being very different even as kids.

As we grew into adults, and our grandparents passed, the family fractured. My mom and her siblings fought, and our relationships became increasingly strained not only by those dynamics, but by their social conservatism.

Until 2016, though, we mostly tolerated each other, and even set aside our differences for the sake of occasional family gatherings.

Until 2016, I could still convince myself that I loved them and they loved me.

Until 2016, I managed to maintain the cognitive dissonance of loving and being loved by people who consistently voted and advocated against my basic right to exist as an openly queer woman.

And until this week, I somehow ended up living with and supporting a person who voted for Donald Trump.

Back in June 2016, my younger cousin, Krista, moved up to Atlanta — at my invitation — to try and get her life together after more than a decade of addiction, dating drug dealers, serving jail time and fucking up every chance anyone gave her. I still wanted to give her one last chance to start fresh and build a new life because we had been so close as kids.

Her father, my mom’s brother, attended a “white flight” private school in the early 1970s, which ingrained in him a level of bigotry much greater than any of my other family members. But it seemed that Krista was better than that.

Less than two weeks after she moved in, I woke to a text message from a close queer friend. “Mass shooting at gay bar in Orlando,” they wrote. “ I think it’s time to leave America … 20 beautiful queers taken … I can’t stop crying, shaking. This is too much.”

A vigil for the victims of the Orlando shooting. Photo via Wikipedia

In the subsequent hours and days we learned that it was not 20 dead, but 50, and more than that injured, most of them Latinx or other people of color — the worst mass killing since Jim Crow-Era atrocities such as the 1923 Rosewood Massacre, which happened not far from Orlando, nor from where I grew up in Florida and where my family has lived for generations.

In the midst of this horrible attack on my community and the soul-crushing grief and depression that quickly set in, I found myself living with someone I had loved and supported for 32 years, but who in subsequent months repeatedly demonstrated her disregard for me and everything I hold dear.

Within a couple of weeks, her professed dedication to social justice faded into constant complaints about the queer people of color in my life and the high population of poor black people in our neighborhood.

Her claims to have legions of queer friends turned into blatantly stereotyped statements about bisexuality, even as I became vice president of the nation’s largest bisexual advocacy organization.

As the election approached and both major parties seemed to be imploding, I deliberately reached out to her father, begging him not to vote for someone who hated me and all I stood for, knowing it was an exercise in futility.

When she came back from visiting her parents in Florida, Krista told me not only that she voted for Trump, but that her mother, whose sister is a lesbian, had my uncle fill out her absentee ballot for her.

I never imagined Krista herself would cast a ballot for that orange fascist, but the apple fell closer to the tree than I realized. “Part of the gift of this election is that people are making it impossible to not see how close they are to those nasty trees,” a friend in a similar situation said to me recently.

And that was the moment I realized that my family, for whom I was rearranging my life to help them out of genuine love, were not just politically different. Ultimately, our politics and our values were inseparable, and our blood was not as thick as I thought it was.

Krista no longer lives with me, and although it was her choice, we will likely never speak again. I thought I would be sad, or feel some sort of great loss, but I don’t, because in Trump’s America, the differences that have always been there have been brought into the light.

As queers and other marginalized people have been doing for ages, we have to give ourselves permission to choose our families rather than defining them by blood relations.

Families are the people who love and support us, unconditionally. Not the ones who temporarily hold back their bigotry long enough to get through an occasional holiday dinner. Blood is not thicker than water.

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