Every Sunday for the last 12 years, I have called my conservative Republican mom and talked to her for upwards of an hour. I tell her about my work, and try to keep her entertained with cheery, funny anecdotes. I share good news and paper over bad. I keep the conversation flowing and effervescent. In each call, I work hard to come across as someone happy, with lots of friends and lots to do, and nothing to complain or cry about.
I have upheld this ritual through breakups, bereavements, depressive episodes, periods of trauma, and years of acute political turmoil. I’ve only wavered and broken kayfabe a few times — when my dad died, for example, or when Trump was elected. That time, I curled up on a bench and sobbed, begging my conservative mom to understand what her vote had done to me. I shook and sputtered borderline incomprehensible things about how much it hurt for her to vote the way she did, how betrayed I felt as a sexual assault survivor, a trans person, a scientist, or a person who needs birth control.
She believed we could agree to disagree, so long as we never discussed or even thought about our disagreements.
She reacted with the same equanimity she always projects when unwanted emotions rear their needy heads. She was worried I was stressing myself out by thinking about it too much. She believed we could agree to disagree, so long as we never discussed or even thought about our disagreements. It made me feel that by refusing to stop glaring at our differences, I was the one hurting myself.
That’s how it’s always been in my family. I feel like the renegade, the unstable queer one, with big emotions and strange desires that alienate me from my family’s politics. I feel responsible for minimizing the conflict that my existence creates. I’m not supposed to express emotion, start fights, or remind anyone of the chasm that separates my life from their traditional, “family-oriented” values.
I’m done carrying that responsibility. It’s been slowly poisoning me for years.