Someone once said the purpose of families is to teach us to get along with people we have absolutely nothing in common with.
I was reminded of this idea a while back when my dad and I stopped in for a quick visit with some relatives. They live in a small BC town, one of those towns I find relaxing for a couple of hours before I start pining for my 24-hour drug store and my neighbours who don’t close their blinds.
My relatives are good people. They are always loving and kind to me but we have very little in common besides our family’s trademark short stature and hairy toes.
I quickly found myself speechless while those around me carried on conversations. There was the story about the kid at school who should be wearing a dress rather than taking auto mechanics-obviously a faggot.
There was the comment about the drunken Indians on the corner. And remember so and so, that sexy little thing from high school? Big as a house now. Such a shame.
I sat stunned for a long time, baffled about what to do. I didn’t want my silence to indicate agreement. But I also knew that, in a half-hour visit with people I see once every few years, there wouldn’t be time to discuss anything in a way that could create any actual change.
In a moment that has surely restored some of the lesbo cred I have lost over the last while, I thought of that Ani DiFranco song: “Gotta understand the grandness of the man behind the petty crimes and let him off easy sometimes.”
I decided to let it go.
I’m not saying this was the right thing to do. I’m not saying this is how everyone should act. I’m just saying that, in that moment, I made a choice not to take on that particular battle.
I find myself making these choices all the time. As a queer, there are so many battles; to fight every one is simply impossible.
I decide on a case-by-case basis whether I want to expend my energy now or save it for the next inevitable fight.
I can’t say this is a popular approach in our community.
More often it seems we choose our battles simply because there is a battle to be had. Many is the time I’ve sat at my computer reading yet another e-mail declaring a protest, a boycott, a condemnation of one kind or another and found myself questioning the motives of the sender.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for us calling each other on our shit, for speaking out against injustice and I’m definitely all for creating change in our communities. But only when the end result is understanding. When the end result is nothing more than pointing out how someone else is ignorant/wrong/bad, what does that achieve? That isn’t my idea of community building.
Frankly, I often feel less safe to speak my mind and argue for change in my own community than I do with people who are supposedly the enemy. Like my dad. He is this straight white guy with his fair share of privilege and we sure don’t always see eye to eye. But the amount of change I see in my dad often outweighs what I see in my own community.
My dad didn’t think much of feminists-until his daughter became one. But he rarely uses the words “feminist” and “tire biter” interchangeably anymore. Although he still jokes about me settling down with a nice paratrooper fellow one day, he had a great time watching last year’s Pride Parade.
And while I distinctly remember being upset by the rightwing nature of many of his beliefs over the years, he has recently taken to loudly booing George W Bush whenever he appears on his TV and even quoting Noam Chomsky to me. Noam Chomsky!
I don’t take responsibility for my dad’s open-mindedness but I do know it is because he loves me that he has been willing to look at things he probably wouldn’t have otherwise. It is because I love him that I’m willing to debate things with him that I wouldn’t be with others.
I believe that this is where and how true change and understanding happens.
M Scott Peck defined love as “the will to extend ones’ self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.”
To me, that’s what it’s all about. Anyone willing to have a conversation with me, to listen, to share and to “extend themselves” is more of an ally in my book than those supposedly on my team who are more interested in divisiveness than dialogue.
Having sexuality in common does not a community make.
I sat with my dad in a small town pub after that half-hour visit and raised my glass to this funny little furry-toed man across from me, my ally in this bizarre small town as well as my far more bizarre big city.
“To faggots, Indians and fat girls!” I proposed. He lifted his glass of near bear with one hand and wiped a tear of laughter away with the other and I felt okay about letting that battle go. And more capable of taking on the next.