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There are a lot of things my parents and I don't see eye to eye on. I'm convinced it all started when I was in middle school and a cute drummer wanted to take me to the school dance. They insisted that he was "trouble," and forbid me from wearing a spaghetti strap tank top when I hung out with him and his friends later that summer. We argued for hours on end about both him and the shirt. I accused them of being annoyingly old-fashioned and painfully conservative; both parties were so worked up that we just couldn't reach a truce. I consider that to be the first battle that sparked the war, so to speak.
"You send your kids off to college and they become liberal!" my mom likes to say at Christmas parties when I visit for the holidays. She's been recycling this phrase since I was 18 years old, and it always gets a laugh from neighborhood friends and family.
I offer a half-assed smile and playfully shrug in front of everyone, just so I don't disturb the peace. The greatest lesson I've learned with conservative family members is that you have to pick and choose your battles, or else you'll just run yourself into the ground.
With everything that's currently going on in our country, there are quite a few things my family and I could fight about if you put us at a dinner table for more than 10 minutes — like the Middle East conflict, equal rights for women and the LGTBQ community, or the criminal justice system. Luckily, I don't have any family members who have ever supported Donald Trump, but that doesn't mean there aren't a lot of political topics that would heat the place up.
Yet after so many years of quarreling, yelling, and not speaking to each other for days due to differing opinions, my family and I had nothing really to show for it, except for a faint residue of guilt. At this point, I feel that we, like the rest of the world, have done enough fighting — so I figured there was nothing to lose by approaching 2017 with a ceasefire of sorts. Which is why I made it my New Year's resolution to speak more rationally and calmly to my conservative loved ones, even in the moments when we were on opposite ends of the spectrum.
My first rule of life as a lonesome liberal floating around in a family of conservatives is to keep your cool. Try not to get emotional and keep it civil. Secondly, know the facts on the matter, and share them. You can't argue with science or data. Though I had known these things for a while, 2017 was going to be the first year when I actually committed to acting them out — because I haven't been so successful in the past.
For example, the last time we talked about same-sex marriage, one of my family members said he was still "on the fence" about whether human beings could be actually be gay at all. No, really. I'm not making this up. I'm related to someone who still thinks sexual orientation is a choice. Of course, when he brought this belief up again, it set me off. I screamed, accusing him of being a heinous, not to mention ignorant, excuse for a human being. You can imagine how that turned out.
Later on in the year, my dad and I talked about transgender rights. In March, Republican lawmakers in North Carolina passed House Bill 2, which prohibited trans individuals from using public restrooms that didn't correlate with the gender on their birth certificate. I was infuriated that we lived in a world where a legal form of discrimination could still stand. Somehow, over dinner one night, we got on the topic.
My father said that if he saw a trans individual walking into a woman's public bathroom, he wouldn't let my mother go inside until they had left. When I asked why, he simply said, "Because I don't want her to be in danger or get hurt."
Never mind the fact that a 2013 survey at the Williams Institute at UCLA showed that 70 percent of trans individuals have themselves been harassed or physically assaulted in public restrooms. Never mind the fact that there are zero reported cases of a trans or gender nonconforming person attacking or violating another human being in a bathroom ever, in the history of humankind.
But I let my emotions get the best of me yet again, and even though I knew these statistics, instead of bringing them up, I just scolded my dad until I was blue in the face and he stormed off to open another bottle of wine.
Clearly, I wasn't going to get my family members to see a different side if I kept approaching every conversation with pent-up anger. So I decided to approach the next year with a more compassionate attitude. Even if I sometimes couldn't believe the words that came out of my family members' mouths, responding with hostility wasn't going to change anyone's minds, and it would only create a wedge between us.
I recently wrote an article about the most common myths regarding abortion, as told to me by an OBGYN. Although I specifically focused on the clinical perspective, I knew it would spark an ethics-related discussion among certain people in my life — but I shared it on my social media platforms anyway. Sure enough, a relative approached me about it.
From off the bat, I could tell they hadn't actually read through the whole piece before they formed an opinion on the topic. They were offended that I would support a woman's right to terminate a pregnancy, then attempted to convince me that late-term abortions were particularly heinous, since they violently took the life of an unborn child.
I could feel the same frustration bubbling up inside of me, the same hot lava that coursed through my veins when my father implied that trans individuals were a menace to society. Then I remembered my 2017 resolution, and instead reached into my pocket for the facts. I told my relative that less than one percent of all abortions were late-term terminations, and that these were only performed when the mother was at risk of losing her life, or the fetus's physical health was in danger. These two- or three-day long procedures are medical emergencies, and I told her that the language used around these abortions is often so bombastic that the truth behind them gets lost (Trump, we're looking at you).
The conversation then veered to whether having an abortion would compromise your odds of conceiving in the future. My family member insisted women who ended a pregnancy were not only making an unethical decision, but that they were harming themselves at the same time. I repeated what the OBGYN had told me — that there would only be a risk if you had your cervix dilated multiple times from multiple procedures. When done by a medical professional, the procedure is such a safe one that there you don't have to worry about your future chances of having a baby.
We spoke for a few minutes longer, until finally my relative sighed and said, "I guess we'll never see eye to eye, will we?"
"No, I guess not," I responded.
A few long seconds of silence went by. Just as I was about to kick off my exit strategy, they chimed in.
"But what about all those stories I heard about women not being able to get pregnant again after having an abortion?" they suddenly asked.
"Well, it's just one of those myths," I said with an even-keeled voice.
We hung up on decent terms and exchanged sentiments of wanting to see each other soon. I didn't completely change their mind on the topic, and I'm sure they still have a conservative view on abortion in general. However, I did plant a small seed of truth — one that would have never made its way into their head if I had just been screaming at them. And that felt good.
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Images: Gina Florio