By Bennett Kaspar
“How are you going to handle seeing your parents over the holidays?” she asked.
My breath catches in my throat, my stomach drops. I close my eyes, and I exhale slowly. It’s something I have been avoiding thinking about. My cousin, a 23-year-old college student in Michigan, asked me and my 25-year-old other cousin this very question this morning. They’re both feminist liberals who voted for Hillary Clinton. I’m a feminist, liberal, queer trans man who also voted for Clinton. But beyond political labels, the three of us are compassionate, empathetic humans who now have to go home and hang out with people who “love us,” but who hate the things we stand for.
To be honest, I don’t really have an answer for how I will “handle it.” The truth is that I am not sure I will be able to. I know I’m not the only one who feels this way. And no, it’s not the first time that my personal politics have made holidays uncomfortable.
When you grow up queer and gender-variant, you tend to adopt some pretty lefty views when it comes to things like civil rights and marginalization. When I was in college, this led to several very heated conversations with my alt.-right uncle that drove me to tears. I unfriended this uncle on Facebook a few years later over some racist comments he made regarding Barack Obama. I know that there is no bargaining, reasoning, or even having a civil conversation with this person—or others who may share his political beliefs. It would be easier for me to dig a hole to China with a teaspoon.
So, needless to say, I have been in this predicament with my family before. But still, this year feels different. Heavier.
Here is what I have come up with in terms of personal strategies for dealing with family (like my uncle) that voted for Trump, despite being very aware of how toxic he would be for marginalized people represented by his own family, like his daughter, his niece, and his trans nephew. We need to plan our strategies ahead of time so we are not overwhelmed and distraught.
I will be holding my headphones close, in case I need to tune out some oppressive background conversation. I’ll probably choose Rage Against the Machine, though perhaps also some classical music, for chilling out. And at night, I can listen to guided meditations to help me breathe through the stress and set good intentions for moving forward.
2. Solo time
I know it will be crucial for me to prioritize self-care and alone time. Reminding myself that even though I’m with family, I have a right to some time by myself. I do not have to be everywhere and please everyone all the time. I can, and should, remove myself from toxic situations and refuse to be baited into pointless trolling. If that means I spend most of the time out on the porch by the fire pit, so be it. I’ll get my cousins to bring marshmallows and graham crackers. I’ll bring the chocolate.
I have always wanted to try making meditation a practice. Four days with my family sounds like a good time to start making a practical commitment to deep breathing, and its healing power.
4. Checking in with “chosen family”
Do it however it feels best: texting, calling, IG-stalking. I plan to stay in touch with my chosen fam in all of these ways, both passive and active, to remind me what reality is and to comfort me that I am not defective for having the feelings I have.
5. Practice talking to those in the middle
I won’t be drawn into ridiculous conversations or tirades. I will use my time with the rest of my family to elicit real talk about what the consequences of this election are and what we need to do about it. We can shift things in two years if we start now.
6. Thinking of this as training for the next four years
We are going to have to develop some seriously healthy coping skills if we are going to survive this. And we have to survive so we get the chance to thrive.
I hope that we all can find some healthy ways to address the holiday stress ahead of time. Everyone please stay safe, stick close to your chosen fam, and engage in as much self care as you can. We need you in this fight.
Bennett Kaspar is a transgender lawyer from Los Angeles, California, who specializes in employment and labor law. He received his J.D. from the University of California, Irvine School of Law in 2014, and has helped numerous employers on a variety of issues related to counseling and litigation. Find more by Bennett at his blog, www.thatguykas.wordpress.com.