Love, Life Stories

How I learned to love my problematic family from afar

How do we forgive those who share our blood when their beliefs hurt us so deeply?

I spent Christmas Day with friends in the Van Ness neighborhood, right across the street from the University of the District of Columbia. It was in the middle of my first holiday season away from my native Louisiana and I missed my grandmother’s experimental gumbo; she made moderate adjustments every time we were blanketed by winter. My friends and I enjoyed a vegan meal, discussed the dilemmas of being trans, as always, and watched the Christmas-themed episodes of “Futurama.”

When I left the apartment, I decided to call my relatives. It was the second time it became an obligation; the first had been at just a few weeks ago, at Thanksgiving. A few minutes into the conversation, I was already wishing my fingers had never dialed the number.

The last time I saw them was for my grandmother’s 75th birthday in November, with an appearance that would read as cis. But the imagery of my mom, grandmother, sister, and aunt sharing space is recycled. It’s the same motion picture I’ve watched and experienced for more than twenty years. Their behaviors, attitudes, and baggage remained frustratingly unchanged, seemingly immune to the changes in my voice. As we spoke, I remembered each and every one of the emotionally-triggering holidays I spent with them. The thirty-minute conversation became a portal displaying the screenplay of my life in two translations: one with cropped natural hair, the other with a red cosplay wig.

[bctt tweet=”‘Why did they wait 20, 30 years to say something?’ my aunt said as she defended Bill Cosby.”]

Several times as a teenager, I hid in the bathroom, a temporary abstinence from the mac and cheese, turkey and gumbo, to escape the gossip, ignorance and cackling dipped in heavy religious sauce – the same seasonings that convinced me to leave the Baptist church when I was eighteen. Last year, I sat through a round of horrifying transmisogyny, victim blaming, and rape apologism. “They can’t do nothing because the statute of limitations has passed,” my aunt’s loud voice boomed with frustration as she defended Bill Cosby. “Why did they wait 20, 30 years to say something?”

Somehow, I sat through everything. In fact, I can’t remember how I mustered the strength to give them notice of my moving to D.C. throughout that catastrophe of an evening. This year, however, I listened to their offensive eccentricities through the phone as I walked to catch my train. Some of them: my sister still not finding her own way around the city, refusing to ride the buses because riding with our aging grandmother is easier; my grandmother’s pride preventing her from receiving a free turkey and ham from her church, but deciding to buy one in the following days; and my mother’s basic selfishness.

The call ended with my aunt reminding me of writing down a list of things I would like for monthly care packages before she handed the phone back to my grandmother, who urged me to be careful in a defensive tone. “I’ve been careful the entire time I’ve been here, and I need you to not remind me,” I responded shortly. We hung up on a cordial note, but I was irritated. I was still one of those queer and trans people who find the holidays difficult. I rested my head on the train window in despair.

[bctt tweet=”I was still one of those queer and trans people who find the holidays difficult.”]

My mood began to change as I walked to my house. At least it was only a thirty-minute phone call instead of a small house gathering where I was trapped for several hours. I realized I didn’t need their shenanigans to interrupt my first round of holidays without heavy commercial desires, capitalism, and Christmas Day church services.

Now, I simply refer to them as my relatives, whom I love dearly from a physical and emotional distance.

Family consists of people sharing love and acting on protection, defense, and care of those they are connected to. I’m in constant communication with family. Once I felt the first waves of acceptance, I walked into my house, settled into the peace that was waiting for me, and finished my bottle of moscato with a smile.