The rage felt so good, until it didn’t: The difficulty of cutting off abusive family members
A relative’s kindness toward me during my childhood didn’t give them a pass to have a rotten attitude toward my black, queer, adult self.
By Briana Lawrence
For some, the family they’re born into doesn’t always take too kindly to Pride symbols like that rainbow bumper sticker on the back of their car. It’s something that irritates the piss out of my mother, who has told me time and time again that she can’t fathom how someone can abandon their kid because, gasp, they’re queer. I have to remind her that not everyone has a mama like me.
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In some cases, they have an ignorant ass cousin who needs to be cussed out on social media.
Cussing folks out is a move that is, admittedly, out of character for me. I’m not one who drops f-bombs online save for being really excited for a movie release, but like most people in a relationship, I will go there if you cross the line with my partner. This is exactly what one of my cousins did.
Here’s a brief summary of the cuss out so out of left field that my mom, my nephew, an aunt, and two cousins checked to make sure I hadn’t been replaced by another queer, chubby, black girl. My partner made a post about her family, essentially saying she was done playing this, “do they accept us or not?” game. We’ve been together for 16 years, and at this point, you either rock with us or you don’t. Somehow, my cousin managed to dive into the far reaches of the galaxy and thought that I was talking about our family. This led to him going off on my partner’s post, accusing me of turning my back on my own family, and snapping at anyone who told him to… read?
He thought I’d been “brainwashed” into thinking that my family wasn’t there for me, and even so, he still loved me no matter if I loved “girls or squirrels.”
Terrible analogy aside (please, y’all, stop equating queerness to beastiality when you’re trying to say you don’t care), the whole “being brainwashed” thing set me off something fierce. So a cuss out was followed by a swift block. My strong words weren’t just to him, either. I made a declaration to anyone — family included — to never come at me through my partner again. And you know what? I felt pretty damn good about myself.
I’d contemplated not saying anything and just letting my partner delete the comment, and I even contemplated privately messaging my cousin. Look, y’all, it was Pride Month.
It was Pride Month, I’m about to be 35 in a few weeks, and after 16 years I cannot tolerate the bullshit — even if it’s family. I say it all the time whenever I talk about speaking against problematic folks: if they’re gonna make blasphemous statements in public, they get to deal with the rage in public. And rage I did. It felt so good.
Until it didn’t.
It weighed heavy on my mind after the fact. After the phone calls and supportive comments, I felt numb. I knew I was well within my rights of pure savagery, but my heart sank at the realization that I’d just removed a family member out of my life. And I know we make our own family, but that doesn’t stop the pain when you actually cut someone you care about out of your life. I think that’s important to talk about, because there’s this idea that making your own family is easy.
There’s this idea that, as an adult, it’s much easier to walk away from folks who piss you off, that you do it flawlessly and go about your business.
I had an entire day where I felt terrible, and y’all, this wasn’t even a cousin I talk to on a regular basis. But I remembered a time when we were much closer, back when we’d have family get togethers and play Super Nintendo in my room. We’re all adults now, though, and we don’t have that kind of time.
We could though, if I wasn’t “brainwashed.”
And before I knew it, I was thinking of a time when I wasn’t so out and vocal. Instead of feeling the anger I’d felt before, I felt sad. Because I’d probably have a stronger bond with this person had I just kept my mouth shut, you know? I’d have a stronger bond with a lot of folks, to be honest. And I know we go around saying, “That’s not who you want in your life,” which is absolutely true, but in that moment I thought of how blissfully easy it would be to just stay quiet.
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I’d love to say that I immediately told myself to not fall down that rabbit hole, but I was all up in my feelings, so for a while I enjoyed the fantasy. Sure, folks would keep on with their “girls or squirrels” commentary, but whatever, right? Because they still, “Love me no matter what.”It’d be easier to talk about anything else but my identity, purposely censoring a huge part of my life while others got to go on and on about themselves. “Don’t let those labels define you,” they say. Well, they do for me. I’m a black, queer woman in an interracial relationship. It finds its way into my career as a writer. It’s what I talk about when I do panels at conventions. My partner and I run a business together. My identity is vital to who I am.
Eventually, I did get out of this slump of thinking I was wrong for going off on my cousin, but I’m not gonna sit here and pretend like I didn’t waiver on my decision to remove him from my life. That whole “making your own family” mantra needs a disclaimer of how difficult it is to be strong enough to do something like that.
Even if you know in your heart that it would be best to cut ties with someone, you may feel guilty about doing it because they are, in fact, family.
The idea of not acknowledging them as such doesn’t work that easily, because once upon a time, this was someone you cared about — and probably will still care about, to some extent. And here’s the hard truth you probably don’t wanna hear: you will still think about them, fondly, from time to time. And it’ll suck. No matter how deep the cut, the good memories will linger in the back of your mind and resurface when you least expect it.
So I decided to change my thought process. Instead of feeling disappointed in the relationship that was lost, I focused on what was more important than those nostalgic memories. No amount of video game playing in my all pink bedroom back in the day could change what was recently said to me, to my partner, and to our friends.
A relative’s kindness toward me during my childhood didn’t give them a pass to have a rotten attitude toward my black, queer, adult self. Ever.
And with that, I’m moving on with my life, minus a relative and anyone else who has a problem with me as I am.
Happy Pride. For the rest of the year. For the rest of my life.
Briana Lawrence is a freelance writer and self-published author who’s trying her best to cosplay as a responsible adult. Her writing tends to focus on the importance of representation, whether it’s through her multiple book series’, or the pieces she writes for various websites. When she’s not writing about diversity, she’s speaking about it at different geek-centric conventions across the country, as she’s a black, queer, nerd girl at heart. After de-transforming from her magical girl state, she indulges in an ever-growing pile of comics, marathons too much anime, and dedicates an embarrassing amount of time to JRPGs. Check out her website, her Facebook, and follow her Twitter adventures over @BrichibiTweets!