What It’s Really Like Having Trump Supporters for Parents

by Joanna C. Valente

I didn’t live in a bubble. I’ve never really lived in a bubble. One of the things that constantly irks me, post-election, when I speak with friends (aka my white friends) is how they always seem to excuse themselves, as if living in their bubble has somehow excused their shock that Trump (aka Less Smart Voldemort) won, as if choosing love is what’s important (which is easy when all of your friends and family believe what you do).

My parents — and most of my extended family — are conservative. They have historically voted for every Republican candidate long before I was even born, which is almost 30 years ago now. This is totally fine — we’re all allowed to have our beliefs and opinions, even if I don’t agree with them, even if their beliefs intrinsically contradict my own lifestyle and identity. This is what freedom is. This is what freedom looks like.

I’m a native New Yorker, so it’s not that my parents live in the middle of nowhere and have never spoken to other people who aren’t like them — which seems to be the portrait most of my liberal friends paint when they talk about Trump supports. Yes, there are many people in this country like that, but it’s time we broadened that picture, because Trump supporters can be surprising — and it’s important that we understand why people voted for Trump, if we ever want to make progress.

My parents were born and raised in the Bronx — my dad even went to Woodstock and wrote poetry and had a car with flower stickers. But, my dad changed — as most people do in some way. I never met the man who went to Woodstock. He, like many Americans, became disillusioned with the American dream, became bitter as he became stuck in the middle working class in New York, and also became more religious as he grew older. Of course, these are also generalizations, but they are familiar generalizations. Trump supporters aren’t just people who “don’t know any better,” they are people who are routinely not spoken to by Democrats. They feel left out, lost, angry. Just like liberals do.

That being said, I’m also not making excuses. My parents also have beliefs that I believe are wrong — and often say things that coil under my skin, and cause my spine to shiver. They have said homophobic, sexist, and racist things that baffle me — especially for people who grew up in the sexual revolution and during the Civil Rights Movement — people who protested Vietnam. Sometimes, I don’t know how to rationalize the beliefs, except that they are afraid. Like I am, but for different reasons.

I’m just going to put this out there: I’m a queer, non-binary human who writes about my sexual assault and abortion. I’ve been outspoken and vocal about my experiences and what I believe — some people have called me brave to write about my experiences and speak at Shout Your Abortion events to strangers. But honestly, this is not what makes me brave. Telling strangers my experiences is easy for me. Telling my family, however, has not been. For years, I pretended to be straight and cis to my parents — and carefully omitted any mention of my rape or abortion. I was afraid of their reaction, their disapproval, and their sadness. Why make them suffer? This past year, however, my parents found out about my queerness, my assault, and my abortion — and this coming out was insanely difficult for me — as these were my secrets that I was happy to keep.

I didn’t come out willingly. My mother had found articles I had written, despite using fake names (Joanna Christi, to be exact), despite changing the privacy settings on my social media — and this devastated me. I felt betrayed, in some way. But, we eventually got beyond it through difficult conversations — she accepted my choices, even if she didn’t agree. That, as you can imagine, meant a lot to me as someone who felt like I had so shield my identity from my family — and rightly so. My mother did tell me that she thought I “lost my faith in God because I was raped,” and told my sister that I wouldn’t have been raped if I didn’t “invite that boy” back to my room.

But then, Trump happened. All the seemingly good, helpful conversations seemed to dissipate like steam on a hot summer’s day — as if it never happened. Various arguments ensued — both on and off social media. What upset me most, besides the obvious, is the fact that both my sister and I are survivors of abuse. As parents of survivors, I would hope my mother might at least reconsider voting for an alleged sexual predator, a man who has called women pigs, valued them for their appearance, and even coined the despicable phrase “grab them by the pussy.”

That is what really cut me, deeper than any knife could. How can someone who knows that I’ve been abused tell me that Trump isn’t a rapist, because he was never convicted? As someone who never pressed charges against my abuser, that hurts to hear. It’s also just completely ignorant, considering how rape cases are handled — and why so many people, like myself, refuse to come forward — especially when abusers are partners, friends, family, and beloved community members — like in both my case and my sister’s.

Despite this jagged hurt lingering, like that lumpy ache in the back of your throat when you try to stifle a cry, I have been forced to reconcile this. Because these people are my parents, and they are people I love, just like my liberal friends — just like the people whose rights I want to protect. All I can say is that it’s hard to love anyone, but it’s especially hard to love those who have erased your identity, even without meaning to. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t. And that doesn’t mean because someone is a Trump supporter, we ban them form our lives. Not all of us have the luxury to do that — to unfriend, to ostracize, to estrange. Take it from me.

It would be easy for me to say, I’m done with you, but I can’t. Aren’t we all bigger than that? Isn’t this the time to do the hard work by calling our politicians, going to protests, educating others, making art, writing poems, and not just being complicit? It’s not that I’m making excuses for my parents, for Trump supporters, but if we remain in our glass bubbles, they’re going to shatter, and it will be your fault too, not just theirs.

Top photo: Facebook/Donald Trump

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