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FV 19 | Being Who You Are

 

In This Episode:

  • How Sabrina’s upbringing affected her views about politics and government.
  • When she started to see a shift in her beliefs.
  • The importance of owning who you are no matter what.

Listen to the podcast here:

The Power Of Being Who You Are With Sabrina Torres

I’m back today with another interview with someone else who has shifted their views from conservative to liberal. Sabrina Torres is a social media marketing and sales expert.

We’re going to talk about her journey from conservative values to liberal ideologies, and the power of being who you are. Ready? Let’s get started.

I’m so excited to have you here to talk about this! This is one of my favorite topics, especially now that I’m “coming out” more to my family and friends, who didn’t know me before I became this progressive person that I am now.

Before we jump into all of that, tell us who you are and what you do on the internet.

My name is Sabrina Torres and I own Be Truly Social, which is a social media marketing and sales company. That’s how we met, right?

Yes! I always like to start with—tell me a little bit about your background as a conservative or as a Republican, if you actually identified as a Republican.

I was definitely a conservative. I actually never voted when I was conservative, which was interesting, but I grew up basically in “fundamental evangelical land,” and for me, politics and religion were closely intertwined. I really couldn’t separate them. To be one was to be the other. The entirety of the world I grew up in was very much conservative in all ways.

There was never really a question of like, “Should I be conservative or shouldn’t I?” There were almost no other options presented to you, right?

No—it was like, “you’re conservative or you’re going to hell” because it’s closely tied to your morals, values, and belief system.

Did you find really that it was a single issue particularly that led people to vote Republican or to lean more conservatively if they were like you and just didn’t vote at all?

Abortion was always big.

It is a common theme! Yeah! Because it’s like, “We have to vote for the one candidate who’s pro-life. There’s only one of them. That’s the one we have to go for.”

When I was a kid, it was definitely abortion. As I got older, it was abortion and gay rights. Don’t vote for anybody that liked the gays—which is rather uncomfortable being as I am gay!

Right! I have a friend who grew up in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, which is very sparsely populated, very conservative, and very rural. She’s bisexual, and she was like, “It was difficult growing up because first of all, you’re confused by the feelings because you like both.”

You’re like, “Am I gay? Am I not gay? Am I weird?” There’s not a lot of bi representation and so she was just like—there’s a huge idea prevailing, “Do not support the gays. That’s very bad.”

I’m sure it gets worse now in the climate considering how in the last years or so it becomes more mainstream and normalized—not that we’ve figured that shit out by any means.

My family was one that while we leaned conservative, there was a general distrust of government—period. We didn’t talk much about politics, I thought growing up, because to me, we were always talking about abortion and those kinds of things. We talked about issues but we never talked about politics.

In terms of Democrat versus Republican?

Right. My family was plain distrustful of all of them.

Politicians in general—equal bad.

Yeah. There was less talk about any particular party. It was like, “Well, we’re conservatives so we’re going to vote this way, but we don’t trust them.”

That’s so interesting!

Even then it was more about like, “Let’s get the right people in place and then try to convince them to do the things we want them to do,” but we didn’t see them as good people or people to be trusted because they were politicians.

That’s fascinating! I’m trying to think back to when I grew up because I didn’t grow up evangelical—I grew up Lutheran. Now that I’m thinking about this, family dinners and stuff, I think it was more issue-based than anything else for me too.

Funnily enough, my uncle was in the Navy for a very long time—thirty-plus years—but he also had a large distrust of government, which seems weird to me considering he was literally working for the government whilst also distrusting them.

But now that I’m thinking about it, I’d say it was more issue-based, although any single politician that they really didn’t like by name was usually a woman. I don’t know if it was, they disliked her because she was a woman, or because she was a Democrat. It could go either way.

It’s a combo.

Yeah! So would you say that there was a particular shift—a single thing, or an accumulation of things that eventually changed your mind?

For me, it was definitely over time, but it seemed to everyone else, like bam, all of a sudden, I’m this different person.

I actually had married a conservative pastor, and I struggled then at that point because I knew how I was supposed to vote in theory, which was Republican. However, my family was very poor and we were on food stamps and there was this disconnect for me. We were on food stamps, my kids were on TennCare, and we were getting all this government help. So I couldn’t bring myself to vote against my own interests!

That’s so fascinating, because I use that phrase all the time: It boggles my mind how so many Republicans vote against their own interests. It’s interesting to finally meet someone who didn’t do that!

I decided instead to just not vote, not be into politics at all. I was going to ignore it all, because if I looked too closely at it, it would disrupt my world too much.

Yeah, “don’t think about it too much”. It was easier to not engage in it at all than to try to reason it out.

I talked a lot again about specific issues. I was very conservative. I spoke out—I was the kind of conservative that I didn’t take birth control because I was that anti-abortion because it could possibly lead to, “if these sperm and egg meet, the quote-unquote baby would not survive.”

I was that conservative. I was going to be like the Duggars. Just have as many kids as the Good Lord gave me, which to anybody who has seen a picture of me—it is difficult (to imagine) if you knew me now.

When you talk about this, what came before people knew you now they’re like, “Wait what?” But I have so much shit that pops up in my Facebook memories and I cringe. I’m like, “I can’t believe I ever posted that on the internet. Terrible!”

Oh yeah! I posted a lot of stuff. It was mainly issues and that was the first thing that disrupted my thought process like, “Am I a Republican? I don’t know.”

And then, my kids then were diagnosed with autism. Once I was looking into working in advocacy for my children, I found out, “Guess who doesn’t want to help my kids?”

Oh, really! Very specifically. Yeah, a lot of the policies definitely don’t support those learning disabilities or special needs or anything like that.

It’s much more subtle than a lot of people realize, because what happens is—a lot is left to states. A lot of things in healthcare are left for each individual state to decide. When we think of politics, we tend to think of “national”. We think of our nation, our president and Congress, but a lot of how we live day to day happens on the state level.

Lack of action is still an action that has a result. Click To Tweet

So many people don’t even vote at the state level.

Right! What happens is—I live in the very conservative state of Tennessee. Here, they have refused to pass anything with a mandate for healthcare. It’s overly complicated, but basically what it meant was we were the very last state in all of the 50 states to get autism insurance reform, so thatbehavior therapy was covered for children with autism.

The very last one! Because our conservative legislators would never want to say that they voted against special needs kids. They said they voted against anything that would cost the state money.

Which is a great way to spin it. I’ve said many times before that the Republican Party is fucking great at marketing. They’re great at pulling out the exact right soundbites that appeal to their voter base for sure.

And they stay on message—everybody knows what the message is and they all say the same thing. With laws like that, what they do is every year, we would go to the state legislators, and some state legislators would carry our bill to get autism insurance reform. They would never let it get to a vote so nobody had to vote against it. They would just let the bill die.

Which is what they’re doing in the Senate and have been doing for two years now since Democrats took control of the House. “If we never bring it to a vote, we let it die on the Senate floor, then we never have to have anything permanently published in our public voting record that says we voted against special needs, or education funds, or whatever it is,” which is sneaky and underhanded.

A lack of action is still an action that has a result. Once that all happened, I started to rethink some of my conservative values because it seemed like nobody wanted to care about the lives of my children who were here and present and needed care.

So much of the focus is on the unborn child and not the ones who are already living and need the support.

Exactly. And that started to chip away at the foundation that I had grown up with, which was “conservative is good.”

Are you still married at this point?

Yes, but I was never a good pastor’s wife, let’s face it! I was a terrible pastor’s wife. I’m horrible with names. Did you know that’s the number one important thing about being a pastor’s wife, remembering everybody’s names? I don’t play the piano.

But at that point, I was still married and I’m very deeply in the closet. So to the world, basically, I spent about two years internally processing a lot of things. I then came out as gay and atheist and liberal—all at once.

It seems to our family and friends that it’s a big shift. Typically, you’re processing a lot of it internally, because you have to make sure you’re committed before you “go public” as it were because you’re looking at losing your entire foundational support system.

Right. I did talk to my husband at the time initially about some of my more liberal views. I even started telling him, “I’m not too sure that I want to go to church anymore.” Of course, he was like, “You can’t just do that to me. I’m in the middle of getting ordained. That would look very bad.”

For me, to come out in any of those ways would be to lose my entire life as I knew it. So I had to know for sure like, “If I was in, I was going to be all in.”

Ultimately, what caused you to decide to jump into the deep end of the pool? Coming out as gay, and atheist, and liberal—truly though, in the evangelical conservative world, that is the trifecta of the scary things you shouldn’t be.

They assume that all three of those things happen anyway. I’m almost the poster child of the terrible things that happen to families when women are allowed to think. For me, the thing that really pushed me over the edge was falling in love—as corny as that is.

Aww! That is so sweet. You guys just bought a house together, right?

We did. We’ve been together for seven years, we’re about to get married. I guess it’s pretty serious!

I guess you’re in it for the long haul at this point!

At first, everybody was like, “You’re going to come running back. It’s just a phase and you’re going to hit the real world and realize it.”

The real world! Where have you been living? In some fantasy land? What does that say about where you live and grew up that would be considered “entering the real world?” Have you not been living there already?

In some ways, I hadn’t been because I was young, and there is a sort of protection to having a husband and your family taking care of you as a family. Then to decide to go against everybody is to decide to leave all that behind—and take care of yourself.

That’s true. You really are dissolving that. If they are not willing to step up and love you because you’re their child, no matter what, then you really are dissolving, for your family—your parents at the very least, your support system. So would you say that you still have a lot of contact with your family?

We’re at an interesting point for years—because I have kids. It is important for me for them to have a relationship with my parents. But it was recently when I got engaged that led to us not really speaking.

So it wasn’t the whole coming out—I’m sure that strained things because, now you’re serious about the gay thing so they’re like, “We can still always change your mind.”

Yeah! I think they were holding out some hope, but it was me putting my foot down and saying, “I’m marrying her—respect that.” They’ve never met her, so they’ve pretended that just doesn’t exist. I’ve just realized that they’re becoming Trumpers.

Recently? Or since 2016?

In 2016, they were not a fan of him. They’re New Yorkers, Hispanic New Yorkers. They should not be a fan of his. I’m seeing some recent Facebook posts and I am like, “Oh my God, oh no!”

We have our greatest opportunity to change minds when we meet somebody new, not when we're talking to people we already know. Click To Tweet

Well that’s disheartening to say the least.

Yes, it is. Other relatives of mine though—outside of my parents—have been supportive. The majority of my family is still conservative, but I have that one aunt and uncle who are super liberal and they’re cheering me on, high-fiving me from their state. When I went to visit them, we went to a pride (parade). They are all in.

They sound great! It’s interesting because I was speaking with someone else about this similar topic of shifting your views from conservative to more liberal views. We were talking about how we need to endeavor to have more of a polite discourse on these things.

I thought that was an interesting conversation because, in some ways, I absolutely agree that if you’re trying to approach your friends and family—especially not necessarily strangers on the internet—at the very least try to understand both sides. You want to approach that in a way that’s civil and not like “my way or the highway” kind of a thing. Do you find that you’re able to have any conversations at all with your family? Are you okay if you stick to certain topics, or is there no good way to communicate?

Basically, for years, we’ve stuck to these safe topics. We’re talking about the kids and my business. As long as we stay on the safe topic path, we’re fine. But what I’ve realized in part during this time where I got engaged was, I’m angry because I was offering politeness and trying to get us somewhere with understanding, and giving them time and all of that—but they haven’t changed at all.

There is a certain level of, “I believe…” It also comes down to, “Are you a part of a group of people who are being actively harmed by their views?” This is where I get into the whole like, “Yes—should we be polite?” I’m at that point, as a Hispanic lesbian, kids—house full of autism—I am out of being nice and patient because this harms me. Really harms me! I’m tired of feeling like if I’m nice enough, people will change their minds and not create laws against me—like what?

That’s where my opinion differs from the other person that I spoke with. Her interview is episode number 17. She was very much about—and I don’t think “common ground” was the word that she used, but it was definitely about a focus on the power of having a conversation.

There were some things which I’m like, “Do I have to have a conversation in which I convince you that some people get to exist? There are certain things about the conservative agenda—and we can leave political parties out of it—about conservative beliefs, especially now, that have really come to the surface over the last many years, building since Reagan, that morally, we have differences of opinion. These are not political ideologies.

These are moral differences that Black people get to have equal rights, gay and lesbian people should be allowed to get married, that gender is not a binary, etc. These are scientific, moral differences. I don’t know how to bridge the gap between you don’t think that Black people deserve the same rights because you’re white and you’ve never experienced racism so you don’t think that it exists. How do you bridge that gap with a civil conversation to understand?

There’s been such extremism that it starts to feel like, “Would we expect to have a reasonable conversation with flat Earthers?”

We don’t expect a need to have patience and understanding for flat earthers because we’re like, “That’s stupid. Why should I even have to explain this to you?” That’s what it’s starting to feel like. I think we’re talking about basic human rights. How are we having a different conversation?

Yeah! We have devolved—we’ve come to a point where these are the main issues with conservatives. These are all main human rights issues. You’re telling women that they don’t have as much autonomy over their body as a dead person? A literal dead corpse has more rights over the autonomy of their body than a pregnant woman—which is ridiculous. You’re telling Black people that racism doesn’t exist inside of a system that was built to be racist from the beginning of time.

Truly, I don’t know how you reason your way through people who have such staunch beliefs because even when I was changing my beliefs—because I did change my beliefs through a series of conversations, which is why I think that it’s a powerful tool—but, I wasn’t passionately racist! I wasn’t willing to die on the hill of “white privilege doesn’t exist” and “there’s no such thing as racism.”

I was open enough to be like, “That’s shitty. I should stop saying things like that,” or, “I see how this system is built to hold other people back. I see how this system is broken.” There has to be a willingness to approach the conversation with an open mind, and I have not experienced a lot of that, especially recently.

It feels like when I was younger, there was this idea of the “fiscal conservative.”

Yeah! That’s what I would have called myself.

That doesn’t exist anymore because to be “fiscally conservative,” you’re aligning yourself with so many other things that are morally repugnant.

And ironically, conservative policies are very expensive.

They are!

Very expensive, especially to normal America—middle America ends up paying the most for conservative policies because conservative policies are like, “Thank you, Reagan.” It’s like, give money to rich people and they’ll use that money to create jobs that don’t pay you enough that keep you in poverty.

Yeah that’s never worked, thanks.

It hasn’t. I have a very rich ex-boyfriend who thinks that it has worked, but it hasn’t.

I think for conversations—people who, I don’t want to say are “less marginalized,” but I think there is more responsibility for people who are less personally affected to have those conversations.

I think back to my super early days where I was just being exposed to non-conservatives for the first time in my life. I lived in such a Christian bubble and therefore a conservative bubble, that I literally did not think that anybody who was liberal could be a good person.

It is because they believed in killing babies so they were evil. It wasn’t until I met people through a playgroup for my kids—which is how I met my soon to be wife; she ran the playgroup. It was in meeting her and one other person that I was exposed to people who were happier than I was, who were nicer than I was. They were more giving. They were more cheerful. They were all the things that I thought I was supposed to be as this Christian conservative.

They were that and they were neither Christian nor conservative. It blew my mind! It was through conversations with them that I really did change and started to think about things differently, but it wasn’t as though we had been longtime friends and they were trying to convince me of anything.

It was like you’re different from what I’ve experienced thus far and also, surprisingly, not a monster—let’s explore this some more.

Yeah. I think often, it’s not the people that we know best that help us change our minds, because we fall into our own comfortable patterns with people. It’s when you’re introduced to new people. We have our greatest opportunity to change minds when we meet somebody new, not when we’re talking to people we’ve known.

There’s nothing at stake. I guess there was a lot at stake for me from the person I was learning from. I basically moved from Virginia to Michigan to live with a stranger, this woman that I had known on the internet. I had never met her in person.

We were Facebook friends for about six months—I don’t recommend it. It could become a True Crime story. So we didn’t know each other super well. I guess though, I did have something to lose—she could have kicked me out.

There was no long-term relationship there so that if she did kick me out, that would have sucked, but there was no long-term friendship that I was losing in the process. That makes a lot of sense in terms of, it is easier to have a conversation with people who you’re not as emotionally invested in.

That’s why it’s important to call out crazy uncles instead of thinking that you’re going to change their minds.

I’ve seen so much conflicting advice on that, especially in this new spin-up of what I call “Civil Rights 2.0” that we’re experiencing in 2020, where some people are like, “You need to call out your crazy uncle for the racist things he said in Thanksgiving,” and some people are like, “You’re not going to change his mind so what’s the point?”

I personally can see it both ways, but it’s become increasingly more difficult for me to hear that shit and not say it. Especially surrounded by your family where everyone is conservative, it’s uncomfortable for you to be the only person in the room with a different opinion.

But are you? That’s the real thing. This is my thought—you don’t necessarily have the conversation for the person you’re talking to. Sometimes the conversation is for the other people in the room.

I’ve said that before too. If I’m going to call it a racist in a group of people, or a homophobe, if I’m going to call somebody out for something shitty that they said or whatever, it’s typically not to change that person’s mind. It’s just, you don’t know who’s watching, who is absorbing the message, whether it’s a child or another adult.

For me, if somebody had called anybody in my family out in big family gatherings about homophobic stuff that was said, that could have been a game-changer for me.

Nobody would have suspected that I was gay. Let’s put it this way. Everybody was shocked. I’m very feminine. The stereotypes that people have in their heads about gay women, I did not fit them—I’m not sporty. I always call myself an indoor lesbian. I don’t like cats.

If those are the things that we’re measuring by, then I might be a lesbian, but I know that I’m not. I always think that stereotypes of groups that you don’t spend a lot of time around are usually ridiculous.

Speak your mind. Being authentic to yourself gives you a feeling of relief. Click To Tweet

Yes, but also a lot of lesbians did play softball. I’m just saying!

And they like cats, I guess?

There’s something there. I was not stereotypically lesbian from across the room. They would have had no idea that they were standing up for me—and that’s important.

If you could give one piece of advice may be to someone who is in your shoes when you were a pastor’s wife and a closeted lesbian who is surrounded by a conservative family and thinking about saying something but doesn’t want to rock the boat—do you have any advice for somebody like that?

My main piece of advice would be to speak your mind, and that it’s worth it. Living in any kind of closet is not a good place to be. It was harder to, in some ways, to come out as not conservative and not Christian, versus gay.

If there was anything I could tell somebody that was in my position, it would be it’s worth it. Just bite the bullet and change your life—accept that it is changing your life and do it. Because being authentic and feeling good about who you are and the things that you say is such a feeling of relief.

I’ve never experienced that on that scale. Especially in a conservative family, I feel like those are big reveals like, “Guess what? I’m gay and also an atheist.” Those are big deals, but it is possible to find no matter what it is you’re going to “come clean” to your family and friend group about.

Especially now with the internet, it is possible to find a support system for who you are and what you’re going through so that you don’t need that family unit or old friend unit to continue to be that support system. You can go and find it elsewhere.

I’ve yet to meet a person who spoke up about what they really believed and really regretted it.

That’s true too. I don’t regret it. It makes Christmas weird sometimes when I go home but I definitely don’t regret it.

Yeah, I don’t go home for Christmas anymore!

I appreciate you being here. I love having these conversations. They almost never go the way that I think they’re going to go. This one was really great. Thank you so much for coming on today.

Thank you for having me.

Have a good one. Bye!

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About Sabrina Torres

Sabrina Torres stands out in a crowd. With her unique point of view about the power of organic growth, engaging content, bold colors, and coffee (lots and lots of coffee), she started Be Truly Social, a social media marketing and sales company that helps business owners around the globe by making their social media pop in a busy online world. From her home in Nashville, Tennessee where she lives with her soon-to-be wife Jen and four children with autism, she puts her caffeinated energy to good use for her clients who range from solo startups to multi-million dollar organizations.

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