WHEN COMING OUT TO YOUR FRIENDS and loved ones as a conservative — worse, a Republican-voting conservative — it is best to use the approach recommended in an old joke:
A woman leaves her cat and her aged mother with her sister for a few days. Upon her return, she asks after the cat. “Oh, the cat died,” her sister says. “Died?” the woman cries out. “That’s terrible! Did you have to break it to me so suddenly? You could have called me and told me in stages. Something like ‘The cat’s on the roof, and we can’t get her down,’ then a little more, until I could handle the truth.” “OK,” her sister replies.
“Anyhow, how’s mom?”
“Mom’s on the roof, and we can’t get her down.”
Breaking it gently doesn’t help with the news itself, but can minimize the damage. I once confessed to a dear friend my intent to vote for George W. Bush in 2004 (after having voted Democrat in every election going back to 1976). We’re still friends, though a pall occasionally steals over his face, the way in period melodramas a shellshocked veteran stares into the distance when someone mentions “The War.” I was being honest, but honesty — like a two-by-four to the side of the head — is not always the best policy. I should have started with “You know, Dick Cheney said something interesting the other day . . . ” or “Say what you will about Don Rumsfeld, he makes me laugh.” But it doesn’t matter. I wouldn’t have been allowed to finish the sentence before the invective started flying.
Silence is no better. My liberal friends and acquaintances (still most of my social circle) who don’t know of my transformation say such hateful things about Republicans, they’d be mortified to know they were speaking to one (or so I’d like to think). As I choose to enjoy their company, however, I’ve never challenged their unhinged assertions. I don’t know their evidence for Paul Ryan’s taste in boiled kittens or Sarah Palin’s patent leather bodysuit and cat-o’-nine-tails. I’d like to see the pictures, though.
At least they are speaking from their hearts. They feel comfortable enough with me to stereotype and slander conservatives in a way that would have them brought up on hate crimes charges if they were speaking of any other minority — which is the status of conservatives in Massachusetts. Shouldn’t I return the compliment and aver that free market capitalism, with minimum government interference, is the greatest liberator of humanity in history; that American exceptionalism is real, enshrined in our founding documents; that perhaps (just perhaps) the right to choose is at least matched by the right to life?
I’ve dropped clues over the years: coy letters to the Globe when a story or column overwhelmed my reserve (“Interesting letter . . .” an acquaintance might remark warily); vague comments in discussions of current events (“Fascinating how the mandate survived only as a tax!”).
What do you call someone who passes for a softheaded liberal but on the inside is a hardhearted conservative: a wing-nutter butter cookie? It’s time to leave the masks to the Occupy movement and show my true face, however contorted in hate and intolerance others may find it. But they have me wrong. As my new BFF, Rush Limbaugh, once said: “Let me tell you who we conservatives are. We love people.”
I’m beginning to feel empowered! To quote the bumper stickers: “Dissent is the highest form of patriotism.” And “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.” I am now, and I am now.
Josh Passell is a writer who doesn’t live in Cambridge. Send comments to email@example.com.TELL YOUR STORY. E-mail your 650-word essay on a relationship to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please note: We do not respond to submissions we won’t pursue.