Re-educating Conservative Friends & Family

How do I explain to my very conservative friends and family what queer means? xoxo

Oof. Well, it’s not easy and it requires a lot of patience, I’ll tell you that much. What queer means is pretty simple, and could almost be covered in just one sentence, but if we’re talking very socially conservative people the conversation won’t stop there. You probably have to defend why queerness is not a bad thing, why discriminating against queer people is bad, etc etc. It very much complicates something that could be very simple, and it is a very much emotional and continual process. In terms of actual content, “queer is not straight” is short, simple, and to the point. If you’re getting a good response, you can delve into the term as a culmination of intersecting marginalized identities… but don’t use that phrase, because it is super inaccessible to someone who isn’t necessarily involved in these communities. Meet them at their level and build up. With intersectionality, one of my favorite quotes is from Gloria Anzaldúa and very poetically addresses this: ”Identity is not a bunch of little cubbyholes stuffed respectively with intellect, race, sex, class, vocation, gender. Identity flows between, over, aspects of a person. Identity is a river, a process.” How much you want to go into terminology of queerness is up to you and up to how you think the person will respond. Sexuality is way easier to broach than gender and trans* issues, so in thinking about this education as a process, this is something you can maybe build up to.

I’m going to link you a game called A Closed World, it’s a simple in-browser rpg that was made to address queer issues in a beautiful and accessible way. To be honest it lacks subtlety (the character literally fights their demons) but it’s gorgeous and I think really touches on what you’re asking about, in a very personal way. It’s from a queer perspective, and regardless of whether or not you identify as queer I think there are some good parallels you can draw and run with. I’m not saying the game will magically solve your problem here, but I think it’s a good starting point for the hurdle you want to overcome.

The character fights their demons with three different tools: logic, passion, and ethics. At any given time on any given demon, one works, one is completely brushed aside, and one issues a lot of damage. In turn, the demons rattle your composure, insult you, say the things that hurt the most. You can breathe to regain composure and if you need to, you can walk away. For anyone who has experienced coming out or attempted re-education in a somewhat unsupportive situation, this rings very true. I feel like I’m rattling on about the game a little bit too much, and I don’t want you to think that I’m shying away from your question, so let’s segue into the application and action of how to do this.

Come to the conversation prepared. I think it would be best to have one-on-one talks for two reasons: one, it shows the person you’re talking to that this is something very important to you that requires both of your full attentions, and two, different people have different responses and in thinking about self-care, because that’s vital in these conversations, it will be much more manageable for you. You know these people, so I think the best thing to do would be to estimate how you think they would react, and then start with those you think would be most accepting and positive and work your way up. That way, when you get to the most stubborn/bigoted/etc, you will have a support system behind you. I also want to disclaim that this is not something you should feel you need to charge into all at once. I mentioned breaking it up into one-on-one talks, but it’s a really emotionally draining thing to do and it’s something you should take your time on. I know the idea of charging through and just getting it over with is really appealing, but I know at least for me it’s more rewarding to put time and effort into these talks and to be able to decompress in-between. This stuff doesn’t exist in a bubble either, and someone who doesn’t know anything about queerness will probably have a lot of questions that will come up later.

I think the logic/passion/ethics deal rings very true in real life, and it’s important to prepare for that. If your dad is someone who needs hard evidence, research some facts that you think would make the talk more accessible and “valid” to him. Pay attention to the people you’re talking to, gauge their responses and don’t be afraid to change tactics. Be persistent and calm, listen to what they say, and one thing that I actually find to be helpful (under certain conditions) is to affirm that though it is not true (use phrases like this instead of “you’re wrong”; this is an emotional conversation but it’s also an educational one and people don’t like thinking they’re wrong or somehow bad), that is what is taught and perhaps that you understand why and how they came to think that way. My approach to this is very passive and low-key and in a lot of ways keeps the needs of the person I’m talking to before my own and I don’t want you to feel like I’m telling you to abandon your feelings and thoughts in order to placate your family member and friend. A lot of people don’t like doing it that way and that’s not a problem, this is just how I approach it.

Don’t forget self-care, though. Breathe. Create a calm space. Allow yourself time to think. If someone says something very hurtful to you, tell them that it hurt and why. You care about these people and these people care about you, and that’s something to keep in mind. You can walk away, and you can disagree. If they’re having a really hard time with it, maybe say something like “I don’t want to push this right now, can you think about what I’ve said and we can continue to talk about this later?” It will allow you to get out of a somewhat toxic situation, and it’ll give them time to process what you’re giving them.

Man this is so much word I’m sorry. I hope some of this helps, and again, this is my way of doing it and don’t feel like you can’t change the layout and approach. Good luck, and feel free to come back if you need more specifics than this!