Remember when your ‘radical’ ideas caused trouble over the dinner table?
Christmas for all of us can be a challenging time in terms of being somewhat forced into family gatherings and conversations you’d really rather not have. Add into the mix a pretty, to use more a flattering adjective, conservative extended family, and at best you sit seething through meals, or at worse you decide to speak up and are told to not be so argumentative. Don’t get me wrong, it’s lovely to be home and enjoy the festivities, but I can share with you here just a few of the more challenging episodes I’ve been through in the past couple of weeks.
First up, within hours of getting home, came the relentless and even daily, “so, do you have a boyfriend yet?” questions. Despite much protesting that I was not interested in the “lovely looking boys I’ve seen on Facebook with you”, and not even considering the fact that I’m closeted, this has become a slightly painful reminder of a way I’m expected to behave, and a milestone I’m expected to reach very soon, namely bringing that “special friend” home to meet the family.
Going on holiday with a couple my parents’ age is a perfectly palatable idea were it not for the questionable (read racist, homophobic, sexist) attitudes they seem to harbour. When talking about why men’s boots always seem to only come in black, my slightly dry comment that “masculinity is a prison” didn’t go down that well, and similarly my “the future is female” t-shirt stirred an unreasonable amount of trouble one evening at dinner. Jabbing a finger at me and asking my parents why they let me wear such a radical t-shirt, as you can imagine, earned quite the eye roll from me, and a similarly disregarded comment that there is nothing radical about equality. As usual, I decided to ignore the comment in the interest of familial harmony until he said that they should make one that said the future is male and he would wear it because that would make it equal. Now, at this point I decided to correct him and point out that, in fact, it was the past that was male and we don’t need t-shirts to remind us of this. Props to them, my parents both found this conversation quite amusing, and also seemed to support my side, not that it meant the family friend really took it to heart.
On the sad, sad day that was George Michael’s death, the conversation at the dinner table turned to him and how almost every person could remember his or her favourite song and memory associated with him. Into this nostalgic reminiscing I tuned into a conversation spreading from the end of the table regarding whether each person knew he was gay when he first became famous. Aside from some reasonably problematic comments about “rusty gaydars”, the final straw for me was when one man said “how could you not tell? Did you not see the way he walked in that video?”. Stereotypes in general are a controversial topic for some, since it is claimed they are all based to some extent on truth. This level of assumption of someone’s sexuality, however, was especially resonant with me being closeted and “not looking like a bisexual girl”, and so really did not sit right with me. However, not wanting to be “that liberal girl” fresh from her first term at university, to my shame I kept silent and just glared down the table and made a concerted effort not to half heartedly laugh along with the joke.
That is the crux of it, I feel, that in most of these situations it’s not always that you should literally stand up on the table and wave the flag for being a decent human being amongst the turkey and crackers, but, if this doesn’t take your fancy (I hope at least one person has done this, frankly), then just not being complicit in such backhanded comments can begin to communicate to relatives that what they’re saying just simply isn’t okay. “It’s a generation thing” or “it was alright in the old days, people weren’t so sensitive then” are the most common two retorts that I’ve experienced and I’m sure they’re pretty universal, but I think the main thing to take away from this is that they’re referred to as “the old days” for a reason, and we all have a right to feel comfortable being who we are.
I’m lucky that most of my stories from the holidays are amusing more than genuinely troubling, and I know this isn’t the case for everyone. I hope everyone had a relaxing Christmas break, and I send all my love and support to those to whom these anecdotes ring at all true x x x x