Thanks to Hurricane Sandy, I've been enjoying a longer-than-expected family visit to Kentucky for my Granny Bugg's 100th birthday party. As anyone who follows me on Facebook knows, I've been trumpeting this fact for days, in part because I'm simply happy to see her reach the century mark with her mind intact and in part because I hope the talismanic repetition of her age will cause her longevity to rub off on me.
I've spent a lot more time in my western Kentucky hometown in the past five years than I have in the previous 15 or so, because over time I've felt a growing connection with that side of my family. While I'll always be the one that took off for the city and stayed there, these days I feel less of an outsider and more a part of that community.
Of course, it probably helps that I don't talk politics when I'm at home, with the exception of my cousin who, like me, supports Obama and with whom it's less talking and more commiserating. This is Kentucky, after all, a state so solidly Republican you can't even get an Obama sign for your yard because the campaign wants to spend its money in states where it might actually make a difference.
I learned watching political ads back home that if there's one thing Kentuckians want less of than abortion, it's gay marriage; if there's one thing they want more of than coal, it's guns. The opposition to Obama here feels too much like hatred on the part of too many, deep enough to cause an old lady — not my family — to say such things as, ''I wish I could get my gun and kill him.''
It's not a quagmire I'm willing to delve into with family I know will vote for Romney. I don't consider anyone in my family to be hateful like that old lady, but I do know that they have some deeply held beliefs that I'm not going to change in one conversation over punch and coconut cake in the Lion's Club kitchen.
Regardless, they are well aware of my own beliefs because many of them have connected with me on Facebook — connections that have played a large part in my feeling more welcome in my own family. One of the Christian teachings I grew up with was that you live your life as an example to show others what they can receive through Jesus. While I don't follow that teaching for religion, it has come in handy for showing my family (and others) what it actually means to be gay. Funny enough, Facebook has helped make that more possible, even if my aunt is appalled by my sometimes exuberant profanity.
I've seen the growing movement among my LGBT social networks to de-friend people who have ''liked'' Romney or made arguments to vote against Obama. I understand the feeling — few things cut as deeply as a family member or friend voting for a candidate who supports making us second-class citizens through constitutional amendments and political indifference. But it's a movement I can't and won't take part in.
Ten years ago, I never would have felt comfortable calling Cavin my husband in front of my family; now they always ask how he is and accept us as a couple. Are they on the ramparts for marriage equality? No. Have their attitudes changed? Yes. And the attitude change goes both ways.
That sort of change can't happen without engagement. Re-electing President Obama is a vital thing for us to accomplish next week. Staying connected to our family, friends and neighbors so we can continue to live our lives as an example is the vital thing we must accomplish every week after.