"We don't shop at Target," said my sister, who was lounging on a lawn chair. It was 117 degrees out in her Los Angeles backyard. Perhaps that was a premonition for the heated discussion to come.
Sensing something I wholeheartedly disagreed with about to come out of her mouth, I paused. Should I ask why? I knew it would be bad. But I just couldn't control myself. I relented and asked why.
"Because of that whole transgender bathroom issue. I just don't think they should use them. It's not that I don't like trans people. But what if some pervert uses that as an excuse? They say they're a transgender person just to go into the bathroom and do something to my kid. I'd just rather none of them be able to use the bathrooms."
My face began to boil. I felt the words start to come up.
"It's perfectly understandable that you would want to protect your kids from harm, but that. is. compleeeeetley ignorant. I mean, the likelihood..."
She held up her hand and stopped me right before the rage fully projectiles out of my mouth.
"I thought we decided we wouldn't talk about this stuff. We're never gonna agree. I would just rather you just be my sister and not give me your whole LGBTQ-defending shit. I just want you to be my sister."
She was right. We had agreed to this, so I had to relent. I took another swig of my michelada and forced myself to cool the fuck down.
The topic of LGBTQ rights is a tough one in my family. Very tough. It has led to fights, screams, some unkind words thrown venomously and on occasion a deep conversation that has led to very little change of mind. As I like to believe, I'm slowly chipping away at them. However, I can't be sure of that. But I do it anyway.
I'll also admit that my reaction to anti-LGBTQ rhetoric spoken by my family can be kind of childish. When my mom reacted in disgust to something I can't recall involving lesbianism, I got so annoyed that I told her I've had plenty of sexual experiences with women and I didn't mind it at all. In fact, I liked it! Am I disgusting, mom? Am I? Kind of ruined her birthday lunch, but I couldn't help myself.
These prejudicial ideas they have aren't born out of thin air. Many factors contribute to hate, fear and discrimination. It wasn't that long ago that it was believed gay people were harbingers of deadly disease. If a gay man kisses you, you might die. That sort of ignorance breeds fear and hatred. It doesn't make it OK, but it adds context that we can build on as a foundation for education.
When you're Mexican, you grow up hearing the f-word or the Spanish variations of that word used openly against any man who doesn't fit the mold of the strong, machista Mexicano. If that man is actually gay, it's a lot worse. Lesbians are considered disgusting. The idea of two members of the same sex engaging in any form of affection or sex is considered harmful, repugnant, frightening or even dangerous. Trans people are freaks, and so on.
All LGBTQ people should hide away, because as I've often heard, "no one wants to see that."
Those same sentiments exist across all racial and ethnic borders, however. With time, learning and shifts in societal understanding, I have seen some progress within my own family. They have given me a space to talk about the issues I'm passionate about, even when they are often at the brunt of my attacks against their character. They were appalled and saddened by the shooting at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, because regardless of your sexual or gender identity, or even what you believe in, no one deserves to be targeted because of who they are and murdered or harmed in cold blood.
It's hard when you're deeply passionate about the rights and equal treatment of all people but your loved ones don't understand the problems with various inequities and discriminatory beliefs. It's in these moments when I see how love is kind of unconditional. My family doesn't get a pass from me, but our familial harmony forces me to let some things go, and believe me that is a dry, bitter and mountain-sized pill to swallow. I let them go, though, so a deeper conversation can happen later, not in the heat of an angry moment. I've cut off some extended family members completely for reasons that include their bigotry.
My sister just wants me to be my sister. I can't blame her for that because feeling like your loved one is your adversary is terrible. So how do you reconcile being an ally and being a loved one to someone you see as one of the problems in our world? I'm really not sure. It's impossible not to get angry or want to force understanding onto someone, especially when you know they're better than what they're projecting. But sometimes, I just have to be a sister, and it often feels like defeat. Is a break in the fight for equal rights allowed for the peace of your family? I still can't decide.