I find myself thinking a lot about this lately, for a variety of reasons.
The cliched rule is that you’re not supposed to discuss sex, politics, or religion in… group settings? I’ve always been kind of fuzzy on this part, because sometimes I hear “public,” but it’s also meant to apply to social gatherings with family or certain levels of friends, and that’s not always public. But it can’t be any social gathering, because friends are expected to discuss personal things, and sometimes you’re supposed to discuss those sorts of things in, for example, academic settings. (Sometimes. Depending on the nature of the conversation. And with limits, probably, but.)
But I find, as I get older, that this more often means that you’re not supposed to discuss “controversial” opinions about sex, politics, or religion. To wit: I once mentioned to my father that a coworker asked me (in logical course of conversation) if I was a feminist and I said “yes.” I didn’t even say “well, yes, why wouldn’t I be?” or “yes, that’s the only smart thing to be.” I just said “yes.” My dad, instead of being sympathetic about the rest of the conversation (which was about how I was originally fed up with a sexist-joke-making customer), told me that I should never talk about politics at work. “I literally just said yes, I’m a feminist?” I exclaimed. “That’s political, it’s controversial, just don’t do it.” This was months ago and it still stings. (Especially because the only repercussion of my saying this was now my other coworkers don’t directly complain to me about boys because they apparently assume (rightly) that my advice would be “cut that shit out of your life maybe? If you want to, because it’s your choice?”)
I would also point out that this might not be exactly the same in everyone’s situations. But the people in positions of power in my life are by and large conservative, so “controversial” means… my opinions that are not theirs. Which are plenty.
I’m not even necessarily a person who likes to discuss sex, politics, or religion. Discussing politics gives me a headache a lot of the time, and religion usually just baffles me. (I grew up going to church but in the least churchy way, if that makes any sense; I had a brief Jesus phase in high school, largely stemming from the fact that a lot of my friends at the time were into Jesus and I was desperate for belonging or something. I don’t know.) And discussing sex… well, I’m not going to shy away from discussing things like equality for gender and sexual orientation, if I have my way, but I don’t want to talk about actual sex things with people!
But here’s what I’ve noticed. The same people who would be aghast and offended if I so much as said “yeah, I don’t really do religion” are sometimes prone to thirty-minute monologues about their personal relationship with Jesus, and ain’t nobody gonna say anything about it. A customer could theoretically complain to a manager if I were to offhandedly say to them “I believe that there should be stricter laws about weapons control” to them, but I have overheard multiple of my superiors at work discussing how great guns are and, again, ain’t nobody. My heterosexual coworkers regularly discuss, if not their sex lives, then at least their romance lives, but were I to so much as say the word “girlfriend” I would likely be frozen out of… everything.
And families are no different. It’s completely okay to leave Fox News on for three hours and yell in agreement with conservative pundits, but my even mentioning things like gender equality, racial equality, or sexual orientation equality in idle conversation gets me told, subtly or un, to be quiet. With extended branches of my family, I’ve been treated do all manner of truly horrifying stories about at least romance and politics, but it’s my responsibility not to bring up an opposing viewpoint so as to avoid an argument or controversy, even if my opposing viewpoint is as meager as “but maybe let’s not be racist and homophobic?”
I’m not saying this is a giant conspiracy, necessarily. You hear about the opposite side of this all the time in… well, conservative news media. But at least in my experience, saying the word “Jesus” has never incited outrage from officials. (I did have a professor who outright called a kid out on using a racist-classist slur, and that was nice, but as I mentioned before academia is a little different, I think?) When your opinion is considered the default, there’s a lot more leeway in where you get to express it, it seems like.
Full disclosure: this essay was written 100% as a way to just get some of these thoughts down in a semi-clear fashion. It’s mostly just an observational piece. Because sometimes writing things down… well, it makes them seem a little less like I’m just deluded if I can articulate them properly.
–your fangirl heroine.