In a piece at Salon, writer (and ZOMG secret liberal) Lizz Schumer describes coming face-to-face with her family’s conservative worldview:
We agreed to disagree that afternoon, and the bumper sticker lives in my desk drawer to this day because I know what’s important to me. I don’t hold my political opinions like a sword, ready to skewer anyone who feels differently. …
Politics turns families inside out. It hurts me to know that those I love more than anything disagree on such fundamental issues as marriage equality, health care, immigration, some environmental issues and tax reform. It hurts even more to know that the pervasiveness of politics this time of year is likely to draw us further apart than ever. I am more than the sum of my beliefs. I have to think that they are, too.
… I will share my opinion when asked, but I won’t fight it to the death of our friendships. I value those more than any spot on a ballot.
Cry me a river. I’m sure it really does hurt Ms. Schumer that she and her family disagree about so many issues, and this is a well-written piece describing her (s0-far) “coming out” experience. But to someone who doesn’t have the choice of simply not discussing the difficult things, or agreeing to disagree over differing opinions and political stances, it reads like a boo-hooing of crocodile tears from someone who hasn’t actually had to face much.
Those are harsh words, and they’re not any harsher only because I know that I, too, am a less-than-stellar ally to people who are worse off than I am. But think about it: Ms. Schumer has the luxury – and yes, it is a luxury – of “agreeing to disagree” about opinions because for her they are merely opinions. They’re not who she is, what she lives every day of her life.
She doesn’t face getting thrown out on the street because she’s QUILTBAG. Roughly 40% of homeless youth are QUILTBAG, and most of them are homeless because they were rejected by their families. Not their opinions, not their political stances, they, themselves, the children, were rejected by their parents, their families. Now they have nowhere to live, nowhere to go.
But putting a bumper sticker on her car is too controversial for her, too likely to create discord and maybe some uncomfortable conversations. Kudos to Ms. Schumer for signing a petition and the other work she’s done, but the way this piece ends is nothing but an insult to the people who can’t simply separate their work and family life, who don’t have the option of deciding for themselves what is and is not more valuable than “a spot on a ballot.”
I’m not saying she needs to come out as a flaming liberal, dye her hair into a rainbow and affix the bumper sticker to her forehead. I’m not even saying she should put the sticker on her car. But she shouldn’t write about her own struggles and then end on a sanctimonious note that manages to combine whiny self-defense with implicit accusations that those of us who do, in fact, face discord within our own families should be blaming ourselves for not valuing what’s most important and silencing ourselves or hiding our identities.
I don’t face this as a QUILTBAG person, but I do face it on the basis of my religion. Star Foster, among many others, has mentioned how her family relationships have been damaged by being Pagan. I myself am thinking deeply about this because depending on what steps happen next in my effort to get recognized as clergy, I may be “outed” to the conservative members of my family. Do I tell them, and get it over with, knowing that they’ll harass me, belittle me, and probably sever all communication with me? Or do I wait and hope that they don’t Google my name and that there are no slow news days this fall where reporters revert to the “Look, a Witch!” form of filler?
So, look, Ms. Schumer, I’ll listen to your “coming out” story, and I’ll sympathize over the problems of family discord and the difficult decisions about how much, when, and where to stand up for one’s values. I won’t criticize you for your decisions in those areas; I’ll even share some of the hard decisions I’ve had to make and talk about when I’ve decided to stay quiet. But don’t give me this crap about how noble your silence is, how it’s in the service of higher values.
This is the kind of conciliatory bullshit from would-be allies that ends up as just more victim-blaming for people in tough situations. You’ve just succeeded in not only staying quiet but providing added momentum to silence those whom you claim to support.
Go ahead, cry me a river about your bumper sticker. But don’t tell me you’re staying silent because it’s the right thing to do.