I found Bookworm's story touching (HT: neo-neocon) and it brought back some uncomfortable memories. Telling friends was not near so difficult as having extended family and coworkers discover I had gone over to the enemy. My mother’s side of the family included many Esperanto-learning One-Worlders, and liberalism was the creed for intelligent people, while conservatism was for people who, er, don’t see things the way that we do, dear. Some of them are very nice people but…. A fair number of their intellectual descendents in the family landed in Northern California. My father and father-in-law are (were) Roosevelt Democrats, certain that the Republicans were always out to screw the little guy.
My coming out was gradual, partly because my conversion was as well. I voted for Al Gore in the 1988 NH Primary, because he was at the time, a conservative Democrat (And people think I’ve changed?). But my families did not know me as a conservative until well into the mid-90’s. In families, political changes raise questions as to whether you are changing internal alliances as well. If you become a Republican, does that mean you no longer think conservative Aunt Edna was emotionally abusive? Her ultra-liberal children want to know.
Ah, but you didn’t come here to read that, did you? I was just establishing my street cred, like a speaker at an AA meeting.
Standard caveats: Everyone has their own style, I make no guarantees, yes, it is different for men and women, yadda yadda ya.
With humor, blame it on the children. This has a basis in reality, as parents do become more conservative as their children grow. “I used to be a liberal until Trevor turned 13. Now I think Genghis Kahn had some valid points.” “When I go clothes shopping with Maddy, I discover how conservative I’ve become.” A variation is to rant about the schools. “I want my children to learn real history instead of this touchy-feely nonsense.” This doesn’t so much stake out territory for yourself but it gives permission and an opening for any conservative ideas that someone else in the group has. You may find unexpected, if only partial allies saying “Yeah, I’m sick of hearing that the Pilgrims gave thanks to the Indians, or having my kids celebrating Solstice,” or “what bothers me is they’re not holding Heather accountable. She passed in a terrible book report and got a B because no one is supposed to feel bad.” Creating an opening for someone else is useful.
Liberal diehards will immediately counter by warning against conservative extremes, perfectly willing to fall out one side of the boat to avoid being on the other. Calming humor also gives permission in the group to dissent, however slightly. “True, but I don’t go to bed at night worrying that Jerry Falwell is going to be speaking at North Bunthorpe Middle School’s graduation next June. I’m more worried they’ll bring in Patricia Ireland and I’ll have to spend the summer explaining to my nine-year-old that Daddy isn’t really a rapist.
That strategy of exaggeration can also be used when some people know, and some don’t about your conservatism. When someone challenges you with anger or sneer, you go up over the top. “Oh, it’s even worse than you think! Since 9-11 I’ve been a right-wing nutcase about the WOT!” This also focuses the discussion on a single topic, rather than the generic, part-of-the-code, socially acceptable antipathy against Bush or Republicans. You can list your liberal credibility that way as well. “I’m still pro-choice, pro affirmative action, pro-whatever, but when it comes to the long-term danger the terrorists represent, I think the Democrats just don’t get it!” The single issue is usually easier for folks to swallow than the whole Dark Side.
You can pick out an eccentric middle ground. As an ex-liberal, this is probably fairly true anyway. This is especially effective if you have some trump card to play. For me, it was taking my vacations working in Romanian orphanages and villages, and having new Eastern European friends. It allowed me to make declarations like “Communism was worse than we ever dreamed. Everywhere. My Hungarian friends can’t believe there are still Americans who think socialism will work.” I have also heard people use their experience working for probation offices or with the homeless as eye-opening. “It’s not like you read in the papers. I was a bleeding heart when I went in, but after a couple of years of that you start understanding that it’s not the minimum wage that’s keeping some of these folks poor.”
If a surprising thread of non-liberal thought emerges in a discussion, and you fear backlash, the exaggerating humor is again calming. “Well, I don’t think any of us will be working on Pat Buchanan’s next presidential campaign, but I’m glad we had this little talk.”