How do you get along with people who have different views?
Don’t ask me, I wouldn’t know.
I’m back from my end-of-year hiatus, and as much as I’d love to share some super inspiring New-Year-New-Me content, that is not what I have on deck today.
Something happened recently and it got me thinking. A lot.
I started writing this post because I was thinking so much, and because the more I thought the more questions arose, none of them answered or answered well, and all of them opening the door for another hard question. Humaning is hard and dealing with other humans is really hard.
Today we’re talking about something we have all experienced over the past few years. Polarization. Differing opinions. When to take a stand and when to let it go. How much is too much. And what do we do when those we care about have opinions that make us cringe, or cry?
It’s not light and airy, but it’s honest, and I hope some of you can relate. (Or maybe that you have the answers to all life’s hard questions and would be happy to share?)
Without further ado, let’s get into this shit storm.
I’ll set the scene: It was New Year’s Eve. I was spending a cozy night in, playing Boggle with my mom and niece after a family dinner of Lasagna and a cake that was so sweet it almost sent me into a coma. Miley Cyrus and Dolly Parton gave us the obligatory New Years’ background noise, and my littlest nephew sat curled up in his chair playing a video game.
I took a scroll through my Instagram feed between rounds of finding words, and clicked to watch the story of a friend. In it, he made some witty remark about the number of flights he’s taken in 2022 (41) as a sendoff to the year gone by. He ended the caption with “Sorry Greta.”
He was referring to climate activist Greta Thunberg, and while it could be taken as a reference to his personal carbon footprint, I didn’t read it that way. You see, timing is everything. If you haven’t read about Greta Thunberg’s now famous Twitter feud with former kickboxer, influencer, and outspoken misogynist Andrew Tate, you can click here for the rundown. The timing of my friend’s “cheeky” Instagram post, just days after the internet erupted with news of this feud and Andrew Tate’s subsequent arrest, made it appear that he was not, in fact, just talking about flights. Like maybe he was, in a tongue-in-cheek way, saying “Sorry Greta” because he’s on Andrew Tate’s side.
If you don’t know who Tate is, click here to read about his famous misogyny, how he has been banned from Twitter (pre-Elon, obviously) for his offensive and dangerous rhetoric, and how he was arrested and charged with orchestrating an organized crime ring, coercing young women into pornography for profit. He is not a good guy. And certainly does not hold the views of anyone I would consider a friend.
Or would I?
This little Instagram post made me wonder. Does a misogynist live in the ranks of my inner circle?
He’s never acted like one in front of me. But I’ve been fooled before.
So, there I sat, distracted from Fletcher’s performance on the TV, starting a fight over Instagram DM.
It started out half-joking, me telling him the post was douchey. But it spiraled and lasted longer than either of us could have anticipated. He was drunk, out for the big night, and since I don’t drink, I was sober.
I’ll state clearly: I am not the hero of this story.
How do you separate the person from their ballot? From their political contributions?
From their Instagram stories?
But though the timing was wrong, my discretion in need of polishing, the call-out selfish, even, this small, seemingly innocuous exchange led to something bigger. A wider conversation about misogyny and feminism, values and opinions. The drop from the shallow to the deep was swift and ever since then we’ve been in a weird place. Me wondering just how far apart our respective views are, whether that gap can be bridged, and whether it’s worth trying or if the ideals that build my sense of self are more sacred, more worth protecting, than any relationship.
I should note he denies being a follower of Andrew Tate or a misogynist. He thinks our views are similar and that what transpired was a misunderstanding. But I’m sensitive about this stuff. Not because I’m a snowflake, but because it’s important. To my safety and my self-respect. I couldn’t just drop it; My brain wouldn’t let me.
Y’all, I’ve been thinking. And wondering.
How do you get along with people who have different views, opinions, ideals, and values than you do? How do you make it work?
A stunning hair shot captured by the guy who is probably not a misogynist.
Perhaps if I were like my mother, who would call herself “Apolitical”, then these differings of opinion wouldn’t bother me so much. I could shrug them off “You think what you want, and I’ll think what I want.” Maybe we could meet in the middle.
But though I am my mother’s daughter, I am not my mother. This thing, this separating people from their opinions, this ‘agreeing to disagree’ is hard for me. Really hard. As open-minded as I want to be, the truth is I want to be open-minded to the things I’m open-minded about. I want to be open-minded in a liberal sense. Open-minded to new ways of living, different cultures, exotic foods, non-traditional relationships and living situations, unique ways of being, and of loving.
I don’t particularly want to be open-minded to people and opinions I feel threatened by. To those ones rooted in racism, misogyny, homophobia, antisemitism, xenophobia. The ones shouted proudly (a la the Proud Boys or Andrew Tate) or the ones whispered quietly (defending confederate flags as “cultural symbols”). It’s hard to be open-minded toward the people who seem to want people like me—the “open-minded” ones—to perish.
How do you separate the person from their actions? How do you separate the person from their ballot? From their political contributions? From their Instagram stories?
The problem is that folks are perfectly nice. They’ll say please and thank you and smile at me sweetly, not knowing I’m the lesbian they don’t want to bake a cake for. Men will treat you with dignity and respect, wrap you in loving embraces and shower you with words of affirmation, then tell you they don’t believe there is actually a “patriarchy”. They’ll tell you that word in itself is—get this—sexist. And through all the smiles and the politeness and the sincere connection and the gestures of good will and the love, for fuck’s sake, I can’t shake this feeling that I don’t know anyone. That every one of them could have inside them something ugly lurking. Something harmful.
Any one of them could trick me into laughing at their jokes, then stab me in the heart. Trick me into comfort or even love and pull the rug from under me.
And my guard is up.
How do you separate the person from their opinions?
Just A Couple of F*ggots
One time, in a country far away, I laid in bed next to a man I loved after a day of fun exploring the town. We were snuggled up, each one of us on our respective phones. Debriefing, a bit of scrolling, but still connected, our limbs intertwined. He showed me a picture of him and a friend sitting close in a cockpit. He laughed and said “Couple of faggots.”
As easily as if he’d said “Today was fun” or “What time is your alarm set for?”
A mighty blow. Thrown so casually.
If you’re new here, or in case you’ve forgotten, I’m bisexual.
If it sounds like it couldn’t get worse, then your head is in a similar place to where mine was at the time of this incident. But it did get worse. Because after I informed the man that I loved, who claimed to love me, that “You can’t say faggot, that’s super offensive,” he didn’t apologize. Not for saying a slur that fell out of fashion in the 90s and not for saying it TO me, the person for whom the slur was created.
Instead, he doubled down. He argued. It’s not offensive, people are sensitive.
“Hello, I’M the people!” I said to no avail.
“I don’t mean anything by it,” he countered.
But the thing with demeaning language like this—language that aims to chop into bits a person’s very humanity by making them ‘other’—is that they’re not ever innocent. The word is created of hate and vitriol. And perhaps there are groups of gays out there in the world who call one another “faggots” lovingly, but this straight man in bed beside me was not and could not be one of them.
I felt the ground slipping from underneath me, I moved away from arguments of morals and values and ideologies. “I’m half gay,” I told him, though he knew that very well. “My brother is gay and so is his husband. Some of my closest friends are gay. People I love… Me.”
And still the man would not budge. He was set in his right to use hate speech in casual conversations, to lob it at unsuspecting victims who’d let their guard down and thought the world of him.
I cried that night in the shared bed in our shitty hotel room, made shittier by the company. I wept for a loss of illusion that we could be compatible, despite some “differences of opinion.” I wept for the shame of sharing a bed and my body with someone who would douse me with gasoline-cruel words and watch me burn. For the longing I felt, the deepest embarrassing wish that it could all be undone. For a ‘coming around’, a ‘seeing the light’. An “I’m sorry I hurt you,” if nothing else.
If he wasn’t going to apologize to all of the gays, couldn’t he at least do it for me? Unbreak my solitary rainbow heart? Affirm my humanity?
Pride, with a side of self-respect and healthy boundaries.
I’m not scarred by the wound of his words. But my own behavior that night—the crying, the trying to make him understand, the wishing he could take it back and I could forget he used bigoted language in bed with me, the wish that he could just apologize to me, even if not to all the other gays in the world—That is what bubbled up and stuck, a scar that somehow aches whenever you look at it.
If you’ve ever loved someone who didn’t respect you, then you know the lurch in your stomach when you think back on it. Never because of them, but always because of you. “Why did I allow for that to happen?” “Why did I stand for that?” “How could I have ever cared about them?” and on and on. And if you’re entering into your own stomach-churning territory right now thinking about an ex, then you’ll probably take solace in what I am going to say next and what helps me curb the nausea of past mistakes.
Now we do better. We hold ourselves to higher standards of holding others to higher standards.
Boundaries, they call it. But it feels to me like reinforcing a wall.
For me, this incident and the shame that lingers sparked a fierce determination. We are not doing that again.
Never again will I try to convince someone of my worth as a human being. Will I try to convince someone of every human’s intrinsic value—despite and because of the characteristics that make them unique, “different”.
Never again will I cry, wanting them to reassure me they don’t think and feel in the bigoted way that they speak.
Never again will I betray my own self-respect to avoid conflict, to keep the peace, or to hold onto someone.
I can’t. I’m the only person I can depend on. I can’t let her down again.
This brings forth big questions:
How can I forgive people their ignorance? Agree to proceed when we have different values? When your values instruct you that people like me are less than. Or when your right to say every vile thing that falls off your lips is more important to you than the humans—even the ones you love—suffering the blows of your whims?
Is a man his words?
And for the future… How could I let someone get close until I know they’re not a monster? How could I just accept your opposing views, knowing the danger it puts me in?
The wall gets higher, my circle smaller. A deepened reliance on myself, a heightened hesitance to let others in.
Is there valor in being “open-minded”, in accepting everyone’s opinion?
Big questions and no answers
Smashing The “Patriarchy”
A close friend recently told me that the patriarchy didn’t exist, and that in fact the word itself is sexist.
And it brought me back to the moment in the bed in the shitty hotel room.
Imagine that. That everyone is wrong—all the women who fought for equality through the decades and centuries. That a man in his twenties might know more about this than all the history books that document it, and the legal cases that affirmed, then overturned sexist policy, and the marches and the signs and the rights, won, one-by-one, ever so slowly.
To look in my face and tell me that a patriarchy doesn’t exist when I’ve been living under it for all of my 36 years.
He thought feminism had gotten out of hand because one time a woman scoffed at him for holding the door open for her. I wonder if in his mind this slight is more egregious than the sexist policies feminism was birthed to fight: Women being unable to vote until 1920, not being allowed to have credit without a male co-signer until the 80s, or—my personal favorite—the spousal rape exemption that allowed men to rape their wives. This was allowed in some states in the U.S. until 1993.
Times have changed, and this young, bright-eyed male, a kind and intelligent guy, to be sure—believes now, because the western world around us looks so equal at face value, that it is. No patriarchy here, all’s well that ends well. And while we’ve come lightyears from where we started, the aftertaste lingers, reminding us that in fact this “patriarchy” is alive and well.
I wondered if my friend had ever questioned whether it was a good idea to go running by himself. I wonder if he’s had the experience of men—strangers—telling him “You’d look prettier if you smiled” and “Come on, it’s not that bad, give us a smile” like he was a court jester hired for a party. I wonder if he ever stood in front of the mirror at eight years old, in nothing but his cotton butterfly underwear, wishing the little belly above them would disappear so he could look better, making prompt resolution to diet. I wondered if he’d ever been sexually assaulted at school, by a friend, and been so unable to process the dissonant thoughts that came after that he did nothing at all about it. Just let it go.
The patriarchy is alive and well. I see it in my tiny lived experiences and in statistics like the percentage of Americans who have access to paid maternity leave. (Only about 23% of private employees. Zippia.com). Paid maternity leave is vital at the low-income spectrum for keeping families afloat, and for high earners it’s needed to keep women’s careers on track. The patriarchy is there in school dress codes that dictate how much of a young woman’s shoulder may be visible, citing the distractibility of male students. It shows itself in the fact that, here in the US, women’s bodies are the only ones regulated by the government. It’s in the Taliban’s ban on education for women and girls in Afghanistan and in the more than 200 million women in the world today who have lived through Female Genital Mutilation—a practice that is painful and dangerous for the recipient and offers no health benefits whatsoever. The Big 3 religions, the foundation for how many of us view the world—Christianity, Judaism, and Islam—all have patriarchal structures.
It’s not just here or there, it’s everywhere.
Don’t worry, I haven’t let the patriarchy stop me
A hard line to find
My friend wanted to ignore this. To tell me to be precise with my language, that singling anyone or anything out on the basis of sex (a la the word “patriarchy”) is sexist.
It’s an alarming argument, steeped in logic and the English language and ignoring all the facts before our eyes.
Who was this person I thought I knew?
In the days since this conversation happened, I’ve been mulling it over constantly. Not just the question of whether the patriarchy exists (this is settled fact, yes it does.) but also my feelings about the person. It’s what prompted me to start this post yesterday to ask the question: How do you get along with someone when you have such different perspectives?
It prompted me to examine my own degree of open-mindedness and whether I am that at all. (Am I just liberal and I use the words interchangeably?) I want to be a bigger person, to see a thing from all sides… in theory. But in practice, do I really? Do I really need to know why the man thought saying “faggot” to my face was acceptable? Do I need to get deep into the psyche of a man who thinks feminists have “gone too far” because of one woman unimpressed by his gesture? Do I need to entertain conversations about “Black on black crime” when no one has ever used the phrase ‘white on white crime’, when they never would because that’s not their point. Do I really have to live and let live if we’re living together?
I know that these times are polarized and toxic. I know the world would be better with more understanding. I know reaching across the aisle and gaining understanding, and allies, is how wars are won, how things get done. But how much of this burden must I personally bear? Where is the line between surrounding yourself with like-minded people and living in an echo chamber? Is there valor in being “open-minded”, in accepting everyone’s opinion? In allowing little cuts to bleed and bruises to form at the hands—and mouths—of those you love?
When I do look to the other side, is it really a search for understanding, or am I simply bolstering my own argument, digging for points to rebut?
Where is the red line of what I can no longer take, where I can look away, disavow a person’s views, or maybe the person themselves? At what point can I stop dancing around hypotheticals, throw in the towel, give up on them?
For issues that affect me directly—homophobia, sexism? For those that affect others but I think are important—racism, transphobia, xenophobia, antisemitism? At what point of listening to sentiments I find abhorrent am I allowed to just stop listening? To stop trying to understand? To just write them off?
At what point does my mental peace take precedent over being open-minded?
It’s a tricky thing to find, the line, and it’s much harder when you care for the person.
Just trying to find the line...
A Plea for Answers… Or Understanding
You guys know me. I don’t have any answers, only questions. They build and build, one atop the other, until eventually I get too tired to climb the steep hill of towering thought. I slip, and down they tumble, scattered in a blog post. A beacon to my people, all of you who somehow keep coming back to read what I write and feel what I feel, a plea for answers.
How do we get through it?
I’m doing my best and I have no idea if it’s good enough. I have no idea if a moral stand must be taken or if none of this matters and I can rest and dream and smile, oblivious and tolerant. Open-minded.
I’ll tell you one thing: If thinking about it is half the battle, I can happily report I’m 50% there.
If you’re wondering what happened with the friend with the Instagram post, we are no longer in a fight. He’s forgiven me for starting an argument on Instagram and I’ve opened to the idea that I may have been hasty in my assumptions. Maybe some other factors—my past experience, the lens through which I see the world— played a part in my reaction. Maybe I’m just closed-minded. We’ve agreed to have a deep, but hopefully amicable conversation about it. I have high hopes there is common ground and, as he suspects, less friction in our views than I thought.
If any of you have all the answers to life’s hard questions, by all means share them with the class. You can DM me or write them in the comments. I’ll be anxiously waiting, but not holding my breath.
Lastly, friends, dear readers, I’m sorry if I rained on your day with this post. But this is where my head’s been at for all of 2023, and given the state of affairs in the world for the last few (or more) years, I know that many of you have experienced something similar. With a family member, a romantic partner, a once-close but now estranged friend. I figured if anyone out there has the answers, we could all be better off. And if no one does, at least we could wade through this murky pond together.
Thanks for coming, it feels so good to be back.
(I’ll try to bring the sunshine next time.)