Some years before certain media hacks started claiming there is a War On Christmas, I was accused of (among other things) being part of an assault on that holiday. It was 2001, and my paternal grandparents were coming up on their 60th wedding anniversary. Their anniversary was late in December, because they moved up the wedding (originally planned for the following spring) after Pearl Harbor was bombed and the U.S. entered World War II because my grandpa immediately wanted to sign up and go defend his country. I had been living 1200 miles away from my grandparents since my parents’ divorce when I was a teenager, but had remained in relatively close contact with them. Relatively close, that is, until I came out of the closet at the age of 31. To describe the communication afterward as cold and infrequent would be an understatement.
So I was a little surprised when, several months before the anniversary, some relatives from out there contacted me to invite me to a 60th Anniversary party, just before Christmas. I said that I would have to look into travel logistics, but it would be nice to see the old hometown again. The relative in question hoped that I would be able to stay through Christmas and so forth. I made the comment that I wasn’t sure how much time off Michael would be able to take, since he got a lot less paid vacation at his place of work than I did.
I could almost feel the temperature drop on the line. “Oh, no. You can’t bring your friend. You understand, that would really upset everyone.”
“You expect my husband to stay back in a hotel while I’m at the party?”
”No. We expect you to be sensible and leave your friend back in Seattle.”
They then explained (as if I needed to be reminded) that Grandma and Grandpa were elderly and weren’t as open-minded as this relative currently talking to me. They explained how many of the equally elderly siblings of both Grandma and Grandpa were planning to attend. “You can’t expect people their age to put up with… um, well, you know.”
I said that, as a matter of fact, I could expect that. And if my husband wasn’t welcome, than neither was I.
That wasn’t the end of it. Several other relatives called, urging me to come. Reminding me that this might be the last time I could see them, and surely I wouldn’t want to spend the rest of my life regretting that, just over a silly thing like this? Where was my family loyalty? Where was my Christmas spirit?
It eventually reached the point where I said, rather angrily, “You want me to take several weeks off from work, fly to Salt Lake City, drive 6 hours in a rental car, to attend an anniversary and various other social events, including Christmas all the time pretending that I’m perfectly happy to be spending the holidays 1200 miles away from my husband! If Grandma told you your husband couldn’t come to Christmas dinner, would you go?”
“I’m just saying that your friend doesn’t belong at a family event.”
Recently I shared this story with a couple of friends while we were discussing family issues, and one friend who is ordinarily diplomatic and calm reacted to this part of the tale with a vehement, “F— them! He’s your husband and he’s sweet and smart and gives good hugs!”
And while 17 years ago I didn’t mention the hugs, my final words before hanging up were quite similar.
Seventeen years later, some of those family members still think that asking me to go to all that trouble and expense to be a closeted prop in their fantasy of a perfect 60th Anniversary Party/perhaps Final Extended Family Christmas Reunion was a perfectly reasonable request, and I’m the bad guy for not subjecting myself to that.
And I want to point out, that even after the initial call that ended with me saying that if my husband wasn’t welcome I wasn’t coming, I went ahead and did the research on what it would take to get there, maybe just to attend the party by myself and then come back home to spend Christmas with my husband. That’s why I talked about where I would fly into and how long the rental car drive would be assuming only typical winter driving conditions in the two mountain passes involved in the journey. I also want to point out that before they told me my husband wasn’t welcome, they had already told me that because of my “lifestyle” it was a given that none of the relatives who lived nearby were willing to have me stay in a guest room at their house, so two weeks at a hotel at my own expense was an assumed part of the event.
Despite that, for a while I did consider subjecting myself to at least some of that as a sop toward an illusion of family harmony or something.
So I understand why some people who otherwise appear to be reasonable and even understand what it is like to be part of an oppressed minority, sometimes get up in arms when some of us are perceived as being less than tolerant of other peoples’ intolerance.
People are up in arms about Tucker Carlson Facing Advertising Boycott Over Immigration Comments to the point that supposedly reasonable people, like FiveThirtyEightDotCom’s Nate Silver to say that this is going to end all political discourse. The argument being that if we assume advertisers are endorsing everything that is said on a political analysis show, that soon we will have no actual debates.
I have four initial responses to this so-called argument:
1) Fox News, the network that broadcasts Tucker’s show, doesn’t classify his show as either news or analysis. In official filings with the FCC, in order to avoid what few regulations remain about libel and so forth, Fox News classifies nearly every pundit you have ever heard of as “entertainment.”
2) Tucker is not engaging in political analysis or debate, he is spewing lies (not opinions, lies) and inciting hatred against specific ethnic groups, religious groups, and transgender people. He is not making good faith arguments. To equate his program (and Bill O’Reilly’s whose earlier boycotts are being alluded to by everyone writing to defend Carson) with a serious political analysis program is a false equivalence. Incitement is not analysis. A lie is not a difference of opinion. Saying that some people don’t have a right to exist in our society is not a policy dispute. Locking up children in concentration camps after stealing them from parents who lawfully presented themselves at a border crossing to request entry is not a simple implementation of existing law. For some other analysis on this: Tucker Carson’s Racism is Not ‘Political’.
3) It’s a classic slippery slope argument. It’s the equivalent of saying that charging the alt-right guy with murder after he intentionally drove his car into a crowd and killed an innocent person means that now no one is ever allowed to state an opinion again.
4. It’s hypocrisy. None of these people ever scolded the National Organization of Marriage when they were trying to organize boycotts of companies that extended medical benefits to same-sex partners of their employees, or tried to get shows that included a single queer character canceled. None of these defenders of free speech said that those boycotts would lead to the end of all health benefits or all TV shows and movies. They only come out when it is the proponents of hatred that are threatened with consequences.
And to tie this back to my opening anecdote: here are the parallels.
- My husband isn’t a friend and our life isn’t a lifestyle. He’s my husband. Trying to reclassify him doesn’t change the truth of our relationship.
- Being civil if I bring my husband to a family get-together isn’t a Herculean feat that no one has ever been expected to perform at a family event. Big extended family get-togethers of every family include some people that others present don’t approve of but that makes nice and deals with it. Being disapproved of by half the family is practically the definition of in-law, in some families!
- Bringing my husband to family events isn’t me forcing a political agenda on the family, nor does anyone being civil to him imply that they endorse everything that we believe. Just as Cousin Daisy bringing her husband that thinks the moon landing was faked doesn’t make any of us who are civil to them flat-earthers.
- It’s hypocritical to claim that my declining the “invitation” which excluded not just my husband, but also my true self was the rude act, while the exclusion itself is merely a reasonable request. Yes, it was their party, and they can choose who to invite, but it is also my invitation which I can choose to decline. And while I had to get huffy on the phone, my huffiness was restricted to the relatives who were harassing me after I had already, as politely as possible, declined the invitation.
Which isn’t to say that I believe the exclusionary invitation was the polite or correct thing for them to do in the first place, but no one is required to aid and abet their own denigration. Because it wasn’t just that my husband wasn’t invited, but also that I was expected to effectively go back into the closet for the length of my visit. I was expected to agree that there was something wrong with me, and something wrong with the person that I loved. Further, note that they didn’t just say he wasn’t invited to the party, they were insistent that he was not allowed to accompany me on the trip at all. Think about that, for a moment.
Me not attending the family event (at considerable trouble and expense) was not me abandoning my family. Nor was it a decision I should feel guilt and regret over for the rest of my life. Neither was it an attack on Christmas. Just as declining to be kicked in the teeth is not an assault on the would-be tooth kicker.
Finally, to be clear: when some of us contact companies whose products we use and express our displeasure that their money (money that ultimately comes from us) is being used to spread falsehoods and to incite or excuse violence, we are not telling anyone that they don’t have the right to any opinion that disagrees with us. This isn’t censorship, it is consequences.