It’s okay to have boundaries with your family of origin

Hi, friends–

Andrea Grimes, journalist and columnist extraordinaire, just did a piece at Dame Magazine titled “This is How to Survive the Holidays.” Part of that is having boundaries and not buying into the “cancel culture” bullshit that right-wingers are now slinging around if you deign to avoid your family because you don’t want put up with their toxicity.

This is particularly palpable this time of year because of all the holiday stuff going on, and all the expectations that you’ll spend time with your family of origin.

Or not. What’s important here is not that you feel forced into or pressured into a crappy situation with a toxic family/toxic family members but that you feel like you have a choice to do either.

Here’s Grimes:

And yet now, those with complex feelings about their families—especially people who’ve set boundaries to mitigate those feelings and the behaviors that precipitate them—might just be members of the bloodthirsty “woke mob” trying to inflict “cancel culture” on their loved ones.

The idea that family estrangement is a new phenomenon caused by “cancel culture” is freshly popular among “cancel culture’s” critics—those who believe “cancel culture” has run amok. –Grimes, from her piece.

Give me a damn break. “Oh, families are now being cancelled by the left!” I am eyerolling so hard right now. People have been avoiding toxic families for CENTURIES. Ask any living LGBTQIA person, many of whom limit contact with or are estranged from their families of origin because said families refused to accept them and/or booted them out and/or continue to belittle them even if a queer person decides to maintain some contact. Those of us who are queer have threaded this needle for years. Decades, even. Especially if those families are conservative and/or religious.

Yeah, yeah, I know. “Not all religions.” But the fact remains that the vast majority of conservative families are also right-wing religious. And in those right-wing/theocratic religions is a whole lot of anti-LGBTQIA sentiment. I can’t count how many queer folx I know who barely have a speaking relationship with their families of origin, if they have a relationship at all. The common denominator? The families are conservative/religious. Others escaped toxicity that involved abuse (all kinds) and wasn’t necessarily tied to anti-LGBTQIA sentiment, but being queer sure didn’t make it easier.

Point being, it’s healthy to have boundaries around people who cause you pain and harm.

Grimes continues:

The gist seems to be that if you abandon your family the good old-fashioned way, that’s fine. But if you tell Grandpa not to crack racist jokes around your kids, or you’re not looking for another shouting match about vaccines, or you’re tired of answering nosy questions about when you’re having kids or why you’re still single, you’re a “cancel culture” snowflake looking for a safe space. Nobody has any hard data on whether family estrangements are actually on the rise, but hand-wringing articles blaming young adults for inventing the idea of cutting off their families certainly do seem to be proliferating. 

She rightly calls it a “boneheaded premise.”

Because it fucking is. People cracking racist jokes around you and your kids is toxic and harmful. People refusing to use your preferred pronouns and not calling you by your preferred name are actively harming you. People refusing to accept your same-sex partner at gatherings are harming you. People spouting Qnoise and other conspiracy craybuckets are toxic. Conspiracy theories are often antisemitic and racist; Qnoise has antisemitic roots. And people who refuse to be vaccinated could potentially cause you, your partner(s) and your kid(s) (if applicable) harm.

Here’s Grimes again:

Eliminating or reducing contact, or resetting the terms of engagement, are sometimes the only ways in which people can establish real consequences that spur healthy changes in how we relate to each other. And yet the defining characteristic of “cancel culture” critics is their dogged entitlement to other people’s time and attention even and especially when it’s hurtful and harmful; the same can be said for problematic relatives who won’t stop their bigoted screeds at the Thanksgiving table, or the abusive boss who demands emails be answered at 3 a.m.  

“Cancel culture” framing of trying to keep yourself away from family harm denies you agency and denies you the right to advocate for yourself. Grimes notes the entitlement toxic/cancel culture people claim when they demand your time at family gatherings while carrying on with whatever bigotry and then calling themselves victimized when you tell them to stop/limit contact.

Grimes also notes that the freak-out over “cancel culture” with regard to family relationships emanates largely from conservative parents toward their non-conservative kids and relatives and though not limited to strictly right-wing families, it is indicative of authoritarian values of conservatism writ large. These values seek to silence dissent and do not facilitate healthy conflict.

So the issue is not people who are tired of dealing with toxic relatives and those relatives’ inability to navigate relationships in healthy ways setting boundaries to protect themselves. It’s the toxic family members and the unhealthy structures they’ve created and that they refuse to deal with. It’s not “cancel culture” to avoid your family or set strict boundaries with your time and energy as to how you choose to interact with them or interact at all. It’s self-advocacy and self-care.

And no, you don’t need to “prove” you were abused or assaulted in your family to “justify” your boundaries. And no, you don’t owe anybody your time or energy. Nobody is entitled to you or your time.

So ignore all the wackadoodle screeching about “cancel culture” with regard to your family boundaries and do what makes you feel safe and loved, not just during the holidays, but all days. You get to determine how much or how little contact you have with your family of origin.

And I also understand that for some people, not spending time with families of origin is not an option. In those situations, survive as best you can and have a lifeline available if possible. For young queer folx, for example, the Trevor Project offers chat/call/text capability 24/7. Make sure you have a contact via social media that looks fairly innocuous so you can get a dose of validation and love. DM’ing through the Tumblr app, for example, might be a good option. And if you don’t have a device available for that, try stepping outside for a few moments/petting a household pet/taking a quick walk and reaching out when you can. I know shit sucks in the moment, and families of origin can be intensely cruel, but you are resilient and you’re loved and needed beyond the boundaries of your household. And hopefully, you’ll soon be able to set the boundaries you need to.

The holidays can be really hard for some. Made harder by the pandemic. Try to offer a helping hand as you can, and if you know of someone who won’t be spending time with a family of origin for whatever reasons, give them a call and spread some cheer. We’re all in this together, so let’s do what we can.