How To Navigate Sexist, Racist And Homophobic Conversations With Your Family This Christmas
A few ways to deal with Uncle Obnoxious and Great Aunt Transphobia.
While in theory the festive season is all made for TV movies about cherishing your family members, not even a Yule Log’s worth of buttercream can ice over the cracks that inevitably come out by the time to sit down for lunch with the extended fam.
Cue Grandma asking when you’re going to pop out some babies and that one second cousin reminding everyone that yep, racism really is a thing while you’re trying to eat your turkey dinner in peace.
Need a little advice on how to make it through unscathed? We’ve got you covered.
It’s ok to avoid the conversation entirely
There is nothing more frustrating than feeling like your family don’t get you or your values, but if you’re the odd one out in a sea of very different opinions, it can also feel overwhelming to be the one having to constantly call offensive behaviour out.
This is your Christmas and if it is easier on your mental health to avoid having big conversations that you’ve already had hundreds of times, that’s ok. You aren’t going to challenge any perceptions by doing this, but if it’s what you need to do for your sanity, safety or both, your self-preservation needs to come first.
But if you don’t challenge beliefs, they won’t ever go away
It’s worth remembering that there is a difference between believing sexism, racism and anti-LGBTQ prejudices are wrong and actually doing something about it.
It can be so hard to have IRL conversations around these topics, particularly with family members who you love, but that’s what makes it so important. Maybe you struggle with keeping cool or perhaps you don’t feel informed enough to communicate your point, but either way, unless you stop making excuses and start calling people out, things are never going to change.
You will have to listen
If you do want to engage a family member on a topic, you’re also going to have to listen to what they are saying, no matter unpleasant it may be. Whether it’s pure bigotry or there is more to their views, you’re going to have to listen to their fears and experiences if you really want to understand why they have the opinions they do.
You also have to afford them the same respect you’re asking for from them, which is to at least hear you and your opinion out. If you don’t, it’s just going to end in an argument, which might feel good but also might ruin everyone else in the room’s holidays too.
Comebacks are cool BUT…
Sarky comebacks might feel great in the moment but don’t necessarily always get the point across. Have the conversation but remember it isn’t your job to do emotional labour for these people and change their minds unless you want to.
You also need to remember you might not be able to change their mind even if you give it your all. Them hearing you out might make you feel better, but it’s not guaranteed.
While you might not be able to change the mind of the racist, loudmouth of the family, you absolutely can make sure they don’t hold too much influence over everyone else there by speaking up with the other side of the argument. What do you think makes more of a point: rolling your eyes at a family member’s bigoted quip or calmly and patiently explaining why you think it’s totally inappropriate?
At the dinner table it’s worth remembering that it’s not just the loudmouth listening, but all the people around you, so by not challenging them and doing so with logic on your side, you are essentially okaying their viewpoint to everyone else...
Don’t forget the quiet ones
All of these issues are of course complicated and multi-faceted to dissect, but that’s what also makes it even more worth having a level discussion with a family member who isn’t confrontational or explicit in their beliefs, but perhaps who floats through life personally unaffected by racism or homophobia, for example.
By explaining the issues and having a few facts up your sleeve about why it’s so important to be openly acting as vocal allies for these communities, you are more likely to have an effect than by taking a confrontational stance.
Essentially many of your family members might not know LGBTQ+ people or people of different ethnic backgrounds and therefore are probably able to live their lives without really understanding why now more than ever it is so important to be standing up in solidarity. If you love them, they are probably worth putting in the effort to at least alert them to the realities of their current perspectives.
So what can I do?
Call people out, don’t shy away from big conversations and stand up for what you believe in! Stand up for people who aren’t necessarily represented in your direct family group but equally the people who are. Someone always talks over or negs on your female cousin? Remind people she is talking and worth listening to. Your auntie's favourite quip is “it was much worse for gay people in my day"? Agree that it probably was, but bring up all the things there are still left to do to for the whole LGBTQ+ community's safety, representation, access to healthcare and equality. Someone asks you when you’re going to get a boyfriend? Offer them the idea that your value is more than who you’re dating with their mince pie. When your religious cousin says “BUT the Bible clearly says XYZ is a sin,” it’s fair to remind them that while you respect their faith, these aged texts aren’t enough justification for their own sexism or homophobia.
Or y’know, just text them this iconic West Wing clip…
The one about being able to burn your own mother at a family gathering for wearing two different threads is really quite something in the age of Per Una.