Around the holidays, a lot of LGBTQ folks, particularly in the South, have to deal with difficult family members or friends and the ensuing difficult conversations. Trying to help Aunt Carol or Uncle Don learn why some of their beliefs are outdated or prejudiced is often nearly impossible, but read on to learn a few tips for making these conversations a little more successful.
Don’t expect overnight changes
First and foremost, when having a conversation trying to educate someone about the difference between sex and gender or about friends and loved ones of differing faith backgrounds, remember: family members are not going to immediately say, “Oh! You’re completely right.” Their beliefs and ideas are entrenched in who they are, just as yours are. In these conversations, approach with the idea of incremental change. The goal is not to completely overhaul their belief system in one go, but to plant a seed of doubt about a preconceived notion or idea. Eventually, someone may be won over with consistent effort.
Change happens continually
Building from the previous tip, these conversations have to be had consistently and frequently. Approach your relatives each time you interact with them and extend the olive branch of conversation. You have to be willing to put in the time and effort to push them forward.
Know your stuff
If you plan to enter into these conversations when you head back to Small Town, U.S.A., educate yourself on topics you think may come up. If you are able to share insight and stories about other identities, particularly those with less privilege than your own, it is your responsibility as an ally to others to bring educated understanding.
Do not enter conversations with anger
Everyone has had a moment at the dinner table where they want to stab their steak knife into the table, but shouting or yelling at relatives or friends who express problematic or prejudiced beliefs is not going to win any new champions for equity. Try and enter these conversations from a neutral place to help your relatives/friends learn something new or different from their previous experiences.
Approaching a conversation with compassionate accountability means that your relative or friend is responsible for the insensitive comment they have made, but you help them work backwards toward why they hold that belief instead of outright accusing them of hate speech or bigotry. In these situations, there are some obvious words and conversations where you can’t approach from this angle (i.e., slurs toward groups of color or queer people, expressions of violence, etc.), but utilizing compassionate accountability through smaller conversations can help both parties realize their common ground.
Action strategy, not ‘-ism’ strategy
When faced with a prejudiced comment, try to hold the mentality of the person’s action having problematic or unkind implications instead of immediately labeling the person a transphobe or racist. Often, people will shut down if they are labeled as one of these terms; if you can, direct the conversation toward why that single action could be misinterpreted or hurtful, and see if you can learn together how to move forward.
Be cautious of outing yourself to make a point
In these situations, LGBTQ folks are often tempted to make a comment like, “Well, I am bisexual, so it does matter to me!” Revealing your identity in this manner places it as an angry concept in the minds of your family or friends. Utilize stories from your life to help others understand, but keep yourself safe and avoid angrily bringing your identity into spaces where you will be in danger.
Self care is important
Remember: these conversations are labeled difficult for a reason. You matter more than immediately changing Barbara’s perspective. If you feel unsafe or unable to continue with a conversation for whatever reason: tap out. Taking time with these conversations matters. Don’t overstress yourself or you will run out of resources to help others learn with you.
Know resources for you
If you are feeling unheard and unappreciated in situations with family, remember there are resources available online or over the phone. Here are a couple of important ones:
National Suicide Prevention Life: 1-800-273-8255, suicidepreventionlifeline.org.
The Trevor Project: 866-488-7386, thetrevorproject.org.
Trans Lifeline: 877-565-8860, translifeline.org.