To brine or not to brine the turkey used to be the hot-button topic that divided families on Thanksgiving. Not this year, especially for many in the LGBT community, who are trying to decide whether to break bread with their family members who supported President-elect Donald Trump. That’s because Trump and some of his closest advisers are widely seen as racist, anti-Semitic, misogynist and homophobic. This year the tough questions are: To boycott or not to boycott? And if you decide to sit down together, how do you protect yourself from any gloating or vitriol?
“I’m not so much scared to go home as I am dreading it,” said Dustin Miller, a 29-year old gay man who messaged me this week when I asked Facebook readers for their holiday survival strategies in the wake of the election results.
Minutes later I heard from a married lesbian and mom who comes from a Mormon family. “I struggle not to be the one to push them away,” she wrote, “but this is bigger than just having a difference of opinion — they are against a fundamental aspect of who I am.” Yes, Trump’s election and the extremist positions he’s trumpeted are in a category of their own.
Many of the Facebook messages ended with pleas for advice: “Should I call them out on their views?” “Must I go?” And my favorite, in the lighthearted bracket, “Other than drinking myself stupid, any suggestions on surviving?”
It deeply saddens me that so many LGBT people need help getting through a holiday that symbolizes gratitude and community, but I’m not going to sugarcoat this election’s impact on people of color, immigrants, women, the LGBT community and others. Sure, it helps (a little) knowing Trump’s win doesn’t represent the majority of American voters. (Hillary Clinton is currently ahead by 1.4 million votes in the popular count.) But it’s dispiriting to think that more than 61 million Americans did choose him — and next week, they’re coming for dinner.
While I know not everyone who voted for Trump is biased, one post-election tweet spoke a commonly held truth among many in my community:
“Not all Trump supporters are racist, but all of them decided that racism isn’t a dealbreaker. End of story.”
You can substitute “homophobic,” “transphobic,” “xenophobic,” or “Islamphobic” for “racist” and come to the same conclusion. Thus the raw, bloody feelings of so many in the LGBT community — and now we’re expected to serve up an attitude of gratitude along with sweet potatoes and green bean casserole?
Conventional holiday advice tells us to suck up our differences and remember that family triumph over politics. In that vein, Judith Martin, who writes the Miss Manners column, reminded an audience in Kansas City after the election that “if you can’t restrain yourself to treat [others] with respect, how are you going to get along with anyone?”
For some of us, that’s really challenging advice to follow because of how disrespected we feel by Trump and the GOP and how fearful we are of what’s to come in a Trump administration.
If that sounds familiar, you have my permission to take a pass on this year’s family Thanksgiving. “The best thing I’ve ever done was to skip the blood relations stress fest . . . and have a Thanksgiving with my queer friends and family,” a friend suggested. Another solid option: Google your local LGBT center and see whether they’re serving Thanksgiving dinner or need volunteers that day.
But if you decide to attend, go and be out and proud — especially if you’ll have an opportunity to be a role model for kids who might be present. “You might be a lifeline to one of these kids,” explained Lynn York, a fellow writer. “Your ability to be present and to express your views in a civil manner — that might be life-changing or maybe even lifesaving. That’s worth a few hours of pumpkin pie and social torture.”
In the meantime, here are some other survival strategies:
Lean in: “Use this holiday as an opportunity to learn something about the other side,” Joseph Burgo, a blogger and gay psychotherapist, told me. If this election has taught us anything, it’s about how little the two sides understand and respect one another, he added. I’d also add: Practice the art of listening, especially before you speak. Use friendly body language, make eye contact.
Rise up: Broach political topics, but practice civil discourse. “Don’t accuse relatives of being homophobic, transphobic, racist,” advised GLAAD’s Nick Adams. Calling someone out won’t change their attitudes.
Step in: If anyone goes off the rails about the Supreme Court or “religious freedom” bills, change the subject and be prepared with a list of “safe questions.” “Uncle Maurice, congratulations on that new job — tell us all about it.” It may feel awkward and obvious, but it’s okay to redirect the discussion to prevent a nuclear meltdown.
Give up: If you know your table will be a fiery mix of blue and red, LGBT and straight, decide on a no-politics dinner and let your guests know ahead of time. Use humor to make your point. “Can we please talk about something other than politics? Like, remember that time our house burned down? That was fun, right?’” said Jennifer Boylan, a transgender advocate and professor.
Don’t drink yourself stupid: Alcohol and politics are notoriously bad mixers. Try to have yourselves a Happy Thanksgiving — and remember, there are only 206 weeks before the 2020 elections. See, that’s something to be thankful for.
Email questions to Civilities at firstname.lastname@example.org (unfortunately not all questions can be answered). You can reach him on Facebook at facebook.com/stevenpetrow and on Twitter @stevenpetrow. Join him for a chat online at washingtonpost.com on Nov. 22 at 1 p.m.