I didn’t want to write about this today. I didn’t want to write a personal essay, or to get emotional, or to feel tears welling up in public.
I wanted to write about Islam, or the role of government, or Trump’s white house craziness, or something. Simple. Topical. I wanted to take a position, and defend it.
That is my comfort zone. When I am debating, when I am crafting logical or rhetorical arguments, when I am breaking down an opposing idea, brick by brick, until I crawl out from under the rubble, bruised but smiling, I feel at home. Usually, I’m victorious, especially on platforms like Twitter, where people frequently underestimate my knowledge of certain topics and end up looking foolish and blocking me.
I’m a humble person about a lot of things. Most things.
My skill as a polemicist is not one of them.
On topics I am sufficiently comfortable with, at least, I am not afraid to say that a) I know what I’m talking about, b) I will win this debate, and c) you will look like an idiot.
I try to be honest with my readers, even when it bruises me ego to do so, so here it is: I have a big ego about certain things I’m good at, and sometimes it turns me into a jerk. The other day, I had a very painful experience with my family. It reminded me of something that I talk about all the time in terms of politics, but doesn’t come up as often in my real life: winning is not all that matters.
I hope my family will read this article, or watch the Periscope I did about the situation right after it happened. I will be as fair to them as I can. I try to focus on how I can change and what I can do, because ultimately, all I can control is myself. That said, they have also engaged in some extremely toxic behavior, and I am not going to ignore that by blaming only myself (another tendency I retreat to after I have calmed down).
A little background.
Things with my family (hereafter referring to my mother and younger sisters. My father is a liberal/progressive but we enjoy debating and he understands my point of view for the most part.) have felt tense for about six months. Though I have been involved in conservative media since before the 2016 election, I took it on as a serious career path in January of 2017 when I joined Halsey Media and became a co-owner of the network. I left my ex-husband around the same time, and threw myself into working from home, knowing I needed to support myself as best I could. My family was/is supportive of me working from home in order to be with my son, though they have never liked my views as someone on the right.
The first real issue I had was when national media outlets blamed me for the Pizzagate shooter. My family sided, more or less, with the media. I didn’t feel they gave me the benefit of the doubt, or the chance to explain myself. Fortunately, this blew over within a few weeks, and things were more or less normal, if a little bit “off”. For the most part, we all tried to keep my politics and job out of the picture, and instead just talk about other things.
This has taken a toll on me over time. It’s hard to be excited about my job and how much I’m growing as a commentator and business owner, and not really be able to share the specifics with the people I love. It’s hard to know that my interests are not something I can bring up, because it causes conflicts and fights. It’s hard walking on eggshells with the people who used to be my best friends in the world.
Things came to a head again when a local rag-journo wrote a hit piece about me and my views on Islam. Again, my family took the side of the media. It didn’t occur to them to maybe ask me why I am so passionately against Islam. Instead, my mother sent me a message that absolutely broke my heart. It still breaks me heart to think about it now. Something along the lines of “I don’t even know who you are any more. You went too far this time. I’m afraid you’re going to get someone hurt and end up in jail. I will never bring Dawson to visit you in prison.”
This makes me sick. To use my child as a weapon to shut me up, out of fear that if something were to happen, my family would try to take him away from me… it’s wrong. It’s just wrong, toxic, and emotionally abusive. And worst of all? She never felt the need to apologize for it. Instead, we just carried on, interacting only on the surface with each other, never talking about anything that might be offensive or controversial.
As I’ve written recently, those who seek to avoid all suffering end up causing the most suffering of all.
Which is exactly what happened.
I hadn’t visited my parent’s house in a couple of months. I missed it. I missed the country, the clean air and blue skies, letting my son run around the yard, and mom’s cooking.
Within a few mins, I was having a great time. My son was outside with his aunties and my mom, and my dad and I were at his bookshelf, looking for books for me to borrow and discussing various political issues. It’s a shared interest of ours, always has been, as long as I can remember. When everyone came inside, we moved on to an intentionally non-controversial topic: North Korea. Turns out, even North Korea is just too conflict-inducing.
We get heated. We’re Greek and sometimes too loud. I admit that. But that was not what set things off. My sister chimes in that we shouldn’t be talking about politics in front of my son, he doesn’t need to hear my “skewed views”. I was not impressed. I went into my sisters room and sat on my phone for half an hour, trying to calm down. I could overhear my mom saying “It would be nice if Stefanie would visit”, as though I was on my phone because I’m addicted to it and not because I was sick of being shut up every time I talk about my interests in any fashion.
Eventually, I came out to get a drink, and my mom goes on as she always does, cheerfully talking about some toys she got for Dawson. I was cold. She asked if I was mad.
This is where it became my fault. I should have just talked about the weather or something. But instead, months of anger and frustration at being shunned rose to the surface. I told her I was mad. I was furious. I told her I was ashamed that my family had raised me specifically to think for myself, to be independent, and to defend what is right… and as soon as I grew up and did just that, they spit in my face.
The rest is a blur. My sister screaming at me that I was an “Islamophobic c*nt” and an “unfit mother” (she did apologize for that part). Her telling me that when dad and I talk all she hears is yelling, me telling her that when she talks about theatre all I hear is retarded squawking (which of course she took literally, not as a comparison to how she speaks about my interests).
Other stuff was said on both sides. We all screamed in front of my poor son. It ended in me telling my mom I was ashamed to be her daughter and I that I didn’t consider myself part of their family any more. I took Dawson out and sat in the car until my dad drove us home.
I said some terrible things to my family, and I am sorry for saying them. I love my mom. I love my sisters. They are still my family.
But there is a nugget of truth to even my angriest, most unhinged moments, when I feel the emotional pain seize me to the point where I just want to destroy everyone and hurt them fifty times worse than they have ever hurt me.
I am ashamed that my family taught me to do something, and then immediately turned into jerks when I did it.
I am ashamed that my family treats me like a criminal reject, home from prison, that they have to be nice to.
I am ashamed that my mother and sisters exemplify the quote that evil can thrive because good men do nothing.
I am ashamed that they never bother to actually ask me what I believe or why I believe it.
But I am also ashamed that despite my skill at defending what I believe, I still haven’t figured out that I cannot use the same tactics with them as I do with my father, or anyone else. I struggle with black and white thinking – I always have. I always need to know what I believe, where I stand, where I’m going, how I’m right, how I’m wrong. My family is good. My family is bad. I’m good. I’m bad.
I love my family. I had a great childhood. I want to be close with them. They have done a lot for me. They love me. That doesn’t mean that their behavior doesn’t need to change.
Compromise is not only appeasement. Compromise has to come from both sides.
The aftermath when my dad brought me home is what could happen with my mom and sisters, but never does. We went for a walk and got burgers. We talked. We saw both sides and talked about how I could improve and how they could. We hugged goodbye.
That is the compromise I will make with my mother and sisters. Not the compromise my mom patronizingly speaks of, that she “just has to love me”, which of course means she “just has to stay on the surface and avoid talking about anything that actually matters”.
If they want me to be close with them, to visit, to have dinner, to interact with them outside of them just seeing my son, I want to talk to them. Lay it out. Yes, that will probably mean conflict.
My issues with my mom and each sister are different.
With mom, my issue is that she fears the government or other people harming me for my views, and instead of fighting them with me, she tells me to shut up.
With my youngest sister, my issue is that she never wants conflict at all, and as a result pulls away from me because she’s disgusted with my views but won’t talk about why.
With my middle sister, my issue is that she has views counter to mine – and sees absolutely no need to substantiate them. She posted a video on Facebook about how Islam is the most feminist religion. Did I yell at her that she’s “smartphobic”?
No. I left it alone. I rolled my eyes, and kept my mouth shut.
If she wants to be a pro-Islam feminist while I stay an anti-Islam antifeminist, fine. If she doesn’t want to debate those views, fine.
If she wants to silence me and tell me only she is allowed to have an opinion?
Well, back to the top of this article. She can debate her ideas, and lose.
So much of me wants to text my mom, and text my sister, and tell them that I am sorry, that it’s all my fault, that I don’t want to fight any more either. Instead, I will keep letting it rest. Maybe I’ll email them this article. I’m strong enough to let them be angry with me for a little while. It’s okay that I don’t have all the answers.
Winning is not everything, but compromise cannot consist solely of appeasement.