By: Liberate Zealot
Content Warning: Discussions of homophobia/heterosexism, sexism, racism, classism.
Recently between politics, family dynamics, and my relationship with my boyfriend I've been thinking a lot about my personality and ways of dealing with things. Specifically the extreme changes they've undergone over the past 20 years and the reasons these changes happened. Two days ago Melissa McEwan reposted The Terrible Bargain We Have Regretfully Struck and it reminded me of my own Terrible Bargain, and how this bargain has changed me through the years.
I was born as an emotional, open, passionate person, and I continued to be so for most of my childhood and teenage years. I had temper tantrums, I cried a lot, I talked non stop, when happy I sang and danced in private (and sometimes public). My current emotional reserve, my quietness, my lack of demonstrativeness, are learned traits. They're the defensive wall I built around myself to shield me from the consequences of being Other in this society, and from being related to people who are very invested in keeping (people like) me as Other.
My grandparents think gay people are evil and Hell bound. They think anyone who is queer is a pedophile, and shouldn't be around children. We shouldn't be able to adopt, marry, and they think it's perfectly acceptable to fire people for being gay. Various other members in my family hold milder versions of these beliefs. My brother, the Future Priest, has assured me he disagrees with the Catholic Church about gay marriage, but apparently he doesn't disagree with their active and rampant homophobia enough to not become a priest. And it's the same for racism, and sexism, and (to a lesser extent classism and ableism) with my extended family. My cousin is a religious leader who thinks women can't hold leaderships position over men. Women shouldn't be in the military. Obviously he, and my grandparents, and my brother, are anti-choice, sex education, and contraception.
Now it's probably no surprise that I'm not out to these people (as I've never had a significant same-sex relationship the only family member I fully came out to was my mom, and even that was an amorphous and drawn out procedure). I knew about their belief that "The Roman Empire fell because God smote them for allowing gay relationships" before I had even acknowledged my queerness to myself. But I was pro-queer rights well before I realized I was queer, and my parents are pro-gay rights as well, and still we rarely say anything when my extended family goes off on a homophobic screed. Even after I did come out to my mom, we don't really call them out. And we don't often call them out on their sexism, classism, or racism either. If we say anything it's a gentle question to challenge, a mild disagreement, or an acknowledgement that this is a thing we do not discuss. When it seems like I'm going to stop being gentle and mild or challenge "too directly" my parents do everything they can to lead the conversation in another direction.
In a way nearly every encounter I have with the majority of my family is like The Terrible Bargain and ruining the day isn't even an option. If I refused to swallow shit, if I fully stated my opinions and emotions (my identity) then it wouldn't only be the day that was ruined, it would be my place and welcome in the family. Or maybe not, but the fear is too great for me to not swallow shit.
My family, quite vocally, sees people like me (and thus me) as an Other. In many cases as a reviled and hated Other. And so I swallow shit, I put a good face on things, I stay calm no matter the provocation (and if I can't I quietly withdraw), I'm reserved and emotionally distant. And I've done this and been this for so long (and been encouraged to do this) that I don't really know how to be or do anything else. When I'm emotionally invested, when the people matter (and I can't be all but certain of their unqualified support), than I don't know how to do anything other than swallow shit. It's not really that I learned I could not trust them on these issues that are important to me, but that trust was never an option. You never try to open yourself up to people who have made clear their hatred of those like you. And when those people are your grandparents, your aunts and uncles, your cousins (and later your brother), you learn to never open yourself up to anyone. At least that's what I took away from this scenario.
And I think of all the other people I know, the calm people, the sweet ones, the shy ones, cold ones, and the hard and angry ones, and wonder if swallowing shit was how they got that way too. If they're calm because after being forced to constantly accept being Othered by the people who love them, and who they should be able to trust, they can be calm and accepting when facing most things. If they're sweet from having to put a good face on while swallowing shit. If they're shy from never being able to raise their voice under the onslaught of Othering narratives. Or cold from inuring themselves to negative attacks from their family and society. Or hard and angry from being forced to swallow shit and unable to believe in ever not having to do so.