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Valerie L

Hey Captain,

I (he/him) have had a rocky relationship with my family for a while now, due to being queer in a family of Trump supporters (among other things), but always made sure to come visit my parents for a week for Christmas. It’s the only time I spend in their house, and I do it with plenty of safeties in place and reasons to escape the house if I need time to myself. For better or worse it’s tradition, all the kids come home for Christmas, and Christmas at my parents’ is lovely enough that I was willing to wade through the bullshit for it.

This changed last year, when I was unwilling to make a mid-pandemic flight (to Florida! Yikes!). That turned out to be the right call, because flights and Florida aside, they just randomly invited people outside their pod over on Christmas Day, and generally flagrantly ignored masking mandates and other safety precautions. They were “understanding” about my reluctance, for their definition of understanding, but it involved a lot of back and fourth and asserting boundaries.

And now I have to rehash the that conversation, because parents and brother are staunch anti-vaxxers, and, concerns about just generally traveling during the delta-variant aside, they are completely unvaccinated for Covid. 

Captain, my mom has talked to me on multiple occasions about how the vaccine is becoming a “lifestyle” and I should think hard and “do my research” before getting it. She talked my 87 year old Nana out of getting vaccinated. I’ve managed to keep my boundaries pretty well up until this point, changing the subject or blatantly shutting down vaccine conversation whenever it comes up. But now I’m going to have to tell her that no, I’m not traveling down to Florida, yes, the virus is still a concern even though my brother got it and he’s fine, and yes, it is because you’re unvaccinated. I’m dreading it.

On the plus side, I have a lovely adoptive family, all vaccinated, who live much closer, who’re having me over for Christmas in a celebration I know is going to be an absolute blast. But, again, that means I have to tell my mom that I am seeing people for Christmas, just not my actual factual parents.

Can you give me some good scripts for this conversation?


Vaccines Save Lives

Dear Vaccines Save Lives,

The script you’re looking for is something like “Mom, Dad, I’m going to celebrate Christmas close to home again this year, and until everybody’s vaccinated I’m not doing any indoor visits or holiday travel.” “Close to home” covers a lot of ground, and you don’t have to tell them what your actual plans are, but if you do, ‘“They’re vaccinated and good about masks and other safety precautions, so I feel comfortable going there” is true, right? 

Your mom will undoubtedly tell you her usual Bad Science talking points and you can say, “Mom, I don’t think you have good information here, and I really hope you’ll change your mind and protect yourself and the people around you so that we can spend time together. Anyway, I’m planning to stick close to home for Christmas this year, I’m just letting you know so that you can plan.” 

You told them that you weren’t spending Christmas together last year and the world didn’t end when you said the word “no,” so you know that you can do it again. It won’t feel good, and it’s unlikely to change any minds. But your family all made choices that severely limit your choices. If they get angry at you for staying away, please don’t wave away how angry you are that they could have taken – and could still take! – steps to make it safer to gather and refuse. This isn’t a case of you letting them down. 

I wish I could help make it easier for you (make your mom understand, make everybody’s choices not hurt so bad), but I can’t. The same exact people who inspire “my family sucks, and yet I fear disappointing them at holiday time if I don’t drag myself across state lines and report for duty” letters every year are still at it, with even higher stakes. (Vaccination means you are unlikely to catch a deadly case of COVID-19 requiring hospitalization, but “mild” COVID-19 is still a big deal. You’re not silly to want to minimize your risks here! )

You can’t fight the sea of misinformation and selfishness your family is mired in all by your lonesome, but you can set your own risk tolerance and take steps to protect your own life (well-being, sanity, peace, enjoyment), one holiday at a time. If you didn’t love them, it would be easier, but you do, so here we are. I know, I thought this year would be better, too, but it isn’t. 

P.S. It’s September, there’s no law that says that you have to tell your parents right now and turn this into a four-month argument/dread-fest. Once you’ve made the decision about what you’re actually doing, nobody can make you go to Florida, so break the news when it works for you. Also remember, you’re not asking for permission about a thing you might decide, you’re informing people of a decision you’ve already made. No vaccine? No visits. No vaccine, no visits.  

P.P.S. Anti-vaxxers, if past mentions of the vaccine on this blog are an indication, you’re going to want to send me long, weird, rambling emails. Can we save everyone time if I tell you to fuck off now? Appreciate it! 

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