Diary of a Professional Teen is a weekly column of #deep thoughts by twentysomething teenager and youth expert Taylor Trudon. Every Thursday, she’ll talk about her feelings in relation to what it’s like to be a Young Person in 2016.
A few years ago, after a week of being away in Connecticut for Christmas, I returned to my apartment in Brooklyn only to realize that someone had been in my bed. My IKEA duvet cover was slightly disheveled, the pillows were haphazardly arranged. My personal space had been messed with. I stood in my bedroom doorway with my suitcase, too angry to move.
“Brianna?” I said slowly to my roommate, who was lounging on the living room couch watching Netflix, her laptop propped on the coffee table. “Was someone in my bed while I was gone?” I imagined dried bodily fluids stuck to my freshly washed, hospital-corner-tucked sheets.
“Oh, my sister slept in your bed,” she answered. “She was at the apartment on Christmas Eve and it got late so she stayed over.” She turned back to her laptop. Her nonchalant reaction made me even angrier. Didn’t she understand that this wasn’t OK? Wasn’t it obvious? But I said nothing.
I’ve always hated confrontation. I feel the need to fill awkward silences. If I ordered a steak well-done at a restaurant and it came back rare, I’d probably still eat it without complaint.
It’s taken me most of my adulthood to do it, but I’m gradually getting better at learning that sticking up for yourself — and others — isn’t necessarily synonymous with confrontation. And I’ve learned it’s not so much confrontation that I fear: It’s the idea of being uncomfortable. There’s always the risk that when you say how you really feel, you’re inviting an opportunity to show vulnerability, which can be received poorly.
With Thanksgiving this week, I’ve been thinking a lot about having to sit in your uncomfortableness. People are “dreading” Thanksgiving dinner because they’ll have sit next to their racist uncle. They don’t know how to talk to their parents who voted for Trump. They know it’s going to be awkward. They’re probably right. And that’s OK.
Understandably, this Thursday you’re probably going to want to avoid these awkward interactions with your family and friends, too. But doing the right thing isn’t always easy or comfortable. The thing is, for some people, these types of conversations are a necessary means of survival. When I think about my own discomfort at the prospect of sitting at a table with Trump supporters as a white, cisgender, heterosexual woman, I know it’s only a fraction of the discomfort that an LGBTQ+ person feels when sitting across from their homophobic family in a red state.
Luckily, there are ways of dealing with these kinds of situations, which will continue to be inevitable over the next four years. From how to talk to your racist relatives to teaching your cis parents how to be a trans ally if you also identify as a cis person, there are resources. It’s essential that we be open to giving and receiving constructive criticism. And while you probably shouldn’t expect your “Make America Great Again” hat-wearing family member to have an “a-ha!” Oprah-esque moment or praise Obamacare anytime soon, you can still politely invite people to challenge their own prejudices. This may be uncomfortable for all parties involved, but being too comfortable is never a good thing. It means you’ve become complacent. And when you become complacent, that’s when you stop noticing what’s really going on around you.
In no way am I suggesting that my former roommate allowing her sister to sleep in my bed is comparable to talking with your racist grandfather about immigration, but it was silly of me not to say anything solely because I was afraid of coming across as confrontational. For me, that incident was just another reminder that what may seem so stupidly obvious to us — building a wall is bad! Planned Parenthood is good! — can be so contestable to someone else. It makes me ask myself, If I can’t talk to my roommate about my private space, how am I going to defend my values and stick up for the marginalized groups of people who need my voice most? We can’t allow ourselves to be deterred from initiating dialogue, as squirm-worthy as it might feel at the time.
You may not be able to change someone’s mind on Thanksgiving, but at the very least, you can attempt to help shape the conversation. And that’s a start.
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