Here’s an open secret: You do not have to maintain a relationship with a Trump supporter. It’s likely you’ve heard quite the opposite in the aftermath of the 2016 election (including here on Rookie). Whether by meme or feverish op-ed, members of marginalized communities are feeling the pressure from all sides to “come together” and “extend an ear” to Trump voters and supporters.
In truth, if you are a member of a marginalized community, and do not currently feel as if Trump and his supporters value your life or your rights, you are not obligated to remain friends with those who entertain his beliefs. This is true for every human in your life: parents, besties, partners. It’s not up to you to sway their stance, entertain their politics, or defend your beliefs. In this moment, under this new administration, your only job is to survive, resist, and live your life. (If you’re reading this, congratulations, you’re already doing all three!)
The first days of the Trump administration have seen an uproar unfamiliar to most of us. Many of us are marching, protesting, boycotting, or donating for the first time, and in the process of better defining which issues are most important to us. We’re discovering (in rather uncomfortable ways, mind you) that politics can be more than “differing opinions,” and that the stroke of a pen can impact our daily lives, homes, and families. On top of that, we must still find time to make it to classes and/or work, catch up with the latest news, and pretend the sky isn’t falling. For marginalized folks, that can require a certain level of mental and emotional fortitude that may not be available at the moment.
Now, more than ever, it’s important for us to define what’s important to us, and what we’re willing to fight for. Sometimes, this can mean discovering that your loved ones may not be fighting your same fight—they may not even see your battle armor! This can create spaces where you feel your concerns or fears are going unnoticed and unaccounted for, or where you are unable to express them in a way that is safe and healthy. That is a huge drain on your mental and physical resources—you know, those things you need to exist?
It’s tough when you realize friends and family may be in support of policies and an administration that is set to harm you. It’s even tougher when you realize that you may not be able to be in their presence without feeling angry, upset, or afraid. You may be uncomfortable with the idea of speaking up, taking action, or distancing yourself from these environments. You may even feel that those options aren’t available to you. If that’s the case, this guide is for you.
Before I get to the game plan, though, a few things to remember. First, opening a political dialogue is completely your prerogative, and not at all advocated here by me. Though I have included some tips that may open the floor to an extended discussion, I don’t believe that a one-on-one, in-person engagement is the only—or even best!—method of carrying out this kind of boundary-setting. If you feel comfortable enough with your friend/partner/parent to engage them face-to-face, go for it.
For others reading this, you may not be entering a space that is understanding or open. You may receive pushback, or the insistence that what you feel is merely a “difference of opinion,” that you’re overreacting. Erect your first boundary here. Stand firm in your beliefs, and remind yourself often just who and what you’re standing for. What you feel is absolutely real, and you have every right to feel angry, upset, afraid—likely some combination of all these and more. You do have the right to address those feelings in a way that is healthy and safe for you.
This isn’t necessarily a guide about being nice so much as it about being safe. Some of the actions and behaviors this guide advocates for will not necessarily be construed as friendly by others in your circle. That’s OK. Your safety and peace of mind will always, always be more important than assuaging the feelings of others—remember that. The end game here is to create a space around you that is far less stressful and threatening than the world outside. It’s about creating an environment of trust, support, and freedom to express how we feel in this moment. Doing so may not always be nice, but it will always be pretty sweet (trust me).
Here are a few steps I’ve taken when cleaning up my Facebook feeds, phone contacts, and inboxes:
Ghosting. You’ve heard of ghosting, right? Normally reserved for bad first dates, ghosting is also the easiest plan of action when removing others from your URL and IRL. It’s quick, easy, and (mostly) painless. Simply unfriend, block, and delete delete delete. Most people will either get the message or never notice.
Obviously, “ghosting” on your best friend or your mom might be a teensy bit harder than, say, disappearing on your ex-drill team co-captain from seventh grade. It’s best to use this method wisely: consider how likely it is that you’ll see the ghostee IRL or, you know, ever again. For best results, ghost acquaintances, friends of friends, your third grade History teacher, et cetera.
Limit your contact with the person. If you’re not up to or capable of ghosting on a person, filter the Trump talk by redirecting the conversation. Designate a few “safe” topics you feel comfortable engaging this person on—like the latest homework assignment, what you had for breakfast, your favorite Vines—but politely disengage with all polispeak with a simple “I’d rather not speak about this.” It’s not as pertinent to offer a reason why so much as it is to steer the conversation into safer waters. Reserve this method for folks you see semi-regularly or regularly in your daily life, like your professors, boss, coworkers, or study partners.
A more direct strategy is to write a letter or email. Something to remember with direct actions, though, is that they are more likely to result in a political dialogue or communication of some sort. It’s safe to say that writing a letter or an email outlining your intention to end a relationship will prompt a direct response—usually in the form of a question or a request for further explanation. If you’d like to engage from there, that’s up to you, dear reader—but be sure to set some ground rules for yourself. What would a healthy political discussion look like for you? What actions, words, or behaviors would make you feel uncomfortable or as if the conversation was losing its focus? The answers to these questions will help set a nice boundary that allows for you to feel safe in the discussion, if you decide to have one.
In your letter, be honest and clear about your intentions. If you’d rather not be friends, say so; if you want to limit your engagement with the person, mention this, too. The point isn’t to defend your decision, it’s to relate it in a way that leaves little room for misinterpretation. (If you’d like to offer an explanation, of course you’re free to do so!)
If you hope to engage them in a discussion, make your offer and your boundaries clear. When, where, and how would you like to chat? What do you hope to relate and to learn? What are some rules you’d like to abide by for a safer, more open discussion? Mentioning these in your correspondence will show that you are serious about (a) having A Mature Conversation and (b) fostering a low-drama zone fit for honest discussion.
Of course, the level just above this is a one-on-one discussion with your friend/parent/partner, but for obvious reasons, this is your riskiest bet. Needless to say, politics are a particularly touchy subject, and it’s likely that you’ll experience the greatest wave of pushback here. Unlike ghosting or letter-writing, your challenges here will happen in real time, and ensuring a safe space will require much more mental and emotional energy than the other methods.
This doesn’t mean that such a conversation is impossible, just that it will require more preparation and maneuvering on your part to ensure that your views are presented fully. Some may misinterpret the conversation as a chance to trade ideology or argue issues; this is where your boundary-setting skills will be particularly useful. If you’re not interested in that kind of dialogue, make it clear and stick to your guns. Emphasize that you’re not interested in chatting politics or opening a conversation outside of the current discussion. If they continue to press you, redirect or end the conversation in a way that is safe for you—excuse yourself and then leave the room or end the call.
In the case that you do want to have a discussion, do so with safety in mind. Ask to meet in public or in an open space. Offer some ground rules and an idea of what you hope to achieve with the dialogue. Make a note of which actions or behaviors might signal a less than safe environment, and decide, in advance, what actions you may need to take once you notice them. Listen, but ensure that are you are also heard. Dialogue shouldn’t be focused on justifying each other’s views, but relating your concerns or fears in a way that is clear and accurate. Your goal here shouldn’t be to remain friends: it’s nice if it happens and common ground is reached, but the conversation is every bit as successful if you walk away with your convictions attached.
Ending a friendship or relationship is never easy, and right now it might feel twice as hard as usual. Taking some or all of these steps may be daunting in their own way, but trust yourself. Give yourself some time to experiment with different methods, and to move at a pace that feels safe for you. Try to utilize your best self-care methods and recharge after every experience. You needn’t clear out your phonebook tomorrow; take your time, but continue defining the sorts of spaces you thrive best in, and the most effective ways of protecting them.
For now, know this: You deserve to live and engage in a space that accounts for your best health and for your safety. This can mean rearranging or outright removing the presences in your life that don’t best coincide with what you consider edifying or nurturing. As we head into the future of a Trump administration, cultivate the spaces you need to survive and feel safe. Better yet, think of it as creating space—for new friends, relationships, and connections with those willing to take up the fight. ♦