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Culture & Conversation LGBTQ

Ask a Queer Chick: How Do I ‘Get Over’ My In-Laws’ Homophobia in Time for the Holidays?

Lindsay King-Miller

Plus, when's the right time to come out to your parents?

Happy holidays, femmes and gaybors! Are you as excited as I am that this ridiculous year is almost over, soon to be remembered as a single page in history books that simply says “NOPE”?

The winter holidays, centering as they do on families of origin and being stuck indoors, are often especially difficult for LGBTQ people. If you’re spending time with people who undermine and dismiss you, please make some extra effort to treat yourself well (or maybe hide in your room with a copy of my book). And remember, your worth and humanity are not determined by how eloquently you can debate those things with your douchiest drunk uncle. You are inherently magnificent for being exactly who you are.

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When my now-wife (I’ll call her Jane) and I first started dating, she was really apprehensive about bringing me to any family stuff, because she felt like her mom’s family was homophobic and wouldn’t be okay with me coming around.  At first I thought that it was mostly coming from Jane and her own anxiety about being out, but when I finally did talk her into letting me come to her grandfather’s funeral to support her, I got an extremely cold reaction from most of the family and realized that Jane was probably right.  After that, I stopped trying to come to her family’s holidays—not that I was invited anyway. She would usually go over to their place for a little while and then come meet me at my mom’s house, which was full of people who were totally loving and accepting of both of us. The situation caused both me and Jane a lot of pain, and caused her a lot of anxiety. This was all compounded when we invited her grandmother, the matriarch of the family, to our wedding, and rather than just saying “no,” which we expected, the grandmother sent us a letter about how she did not approve of or “believe in” our wedding.

After the wedding, things sort of changed. Jane’s grandmother died, and her family started making a concerted effort to make me feel welcome. Her aunts started getting me gifts for Christmas and other holidays, and it’s clear that they want me to come around more. The other day, after we told them we were doing Thanksgiving with my family, her aunt sent me a letter about how much they love me.

Here’s my problem. I’m still so angry about the way they treated me and Jane at the beginning of our relationship, and I’m so angry on Jane’s behalf in particular that they made her feel so rejected when they’re supposed to be her family.  Now that I’m invited to things, Jane wants to start splitting holidays more evenly. I totally understand why she wants to spend time with her family, but I can’t seem to stop feeling mad. No one ever talked about it or apologized or anything; we’re just expected to move on. I feel ungrateful, like I should be more appreciative that they’re making an effort, but it feels like too little too late. I also sort of feel like they’re only doing this because they finally realize it’s the only way they’ll get to see Jane as much as they want to. I’m going to just suck it up and go to their family functions, for Jane’s sake, but it’s really hard for me to feel comfortable with them at this point.

So I guess I’m wondering whether you have any advice for how to get over it?

You don’t have to get over it! You are allowed to be angry that your wife’s entire family (apparently) prioritized her bigoted grandmother’s homophobia over making you feel welcome. You are allowed to feel like you’re owed an apology, which you definitely are. Your wife’s family spent years damaging and devaluing their relationships with you; healing that will take time and energy and attention. Just because they stopped doing it doesn’t fix the pain they’ve already caused, and you are not required to pretend it does.

You are also allowed to be angry at your wife, which you didn’t mention. Maybe that’s because you’re really not, but if you are, that’s valid. Instead of confronting her relatives about the intolerance, Jane went along with it—to the tune of pretending you didn’t exist. There are two separate harmful actions in your story: Jane’s family’s refusal to acknowledge her relationship with you, and her decision to spend time with them anyway. I suspect that Jane being willing to leave you alone on holidays to see the people who were freezing you out contributed materially to your sense of feeling ostracized. I’m a big-time fight avoider myself, so I really sympathize with her reluctance to call out their bullshit, but splitting up for the holidays so she could get quality time with people unwilling to deal with your simple physical presence is beyond the pale. You can be angry at her family on her behalf and also angry with her on your own, because in this situation she was both wronged and wrong. If part of you is feeling hurt that Jane never stood up for you, facing and naming that pain might be a necessary step toward moving on.

Whether or not you choose to confront your wife about her complicity in her family’s bullshit, you should definitely be having a conversation—probably a lot of conversations—about how you feel going into the holidays and what you want to do about it. Does she share your lingering feelings of resentment, or is she pushing you to shake it off?

Because you have options beyond just “getting over it.” You can absolutely tell your wife’s relatives directly that you’re hurt they never stood up for your marriage to her grandmother, and that pretending everything has always been fine is not sufficient amends. It might also make sense for Jane to be the one to deliver this message, if she’s amenable. For a less direct approach, you can tell your wife’s family that, during the years you weren’t invited to their celebrations, you became accustomed to spending the holidays with your own family, and you don’t want to change your traditions this year.

You are not obligated to be grateful for the crumbs they’re offering you. I’m of the opinion that it’s seldom too late to make amends, but their efforts definitely qualify as too little. Whether you choose to tell Jane’s family how you’re feeling or simply spend your time elsewhere, I hope that you won’t force yourself to grit your teeth through an awkward celebration with people who haven’t done anything to earn your esteem. Give yourself the gift of not going places you have no desire to be.

I’m a 16-year-old boy from South Dakota. My family isn’t too religious, but they are deeply homophobic. For instance, they wouldn’t let my younger sister watch the new Beauty and the Beast because of the two guys dancing at the end.

I’ve been dating this super sweet guy for three months. He is literally my Prince Charming. He means the world to me. However, my parents don’t even know he exists! My boyfriend has been asking me to tell them for a while now. While he’s super understanding about everything, I don’t want him to be my naughty little secret.

My boyfriend deserves so much more than hidden kisses after school and me downgrading him to a “friend” in front of my parents, but I could never tell them. They don’t understand. They would kick me out, hate on me, and most definitely get rid of the man I love! Please help!

Your boyfriend does not have the right to demand you come out to your parents at the expense of your own safety. No matter how much you love him, no matter how awful you feel about causing him pain, it is okay to prioritize basic needs like food and housing over his feelings. At 16, you should be worrying about getting through high school and planning for your future, not wondering where you’re going to sleep. If you think there’s a real chance that your parents would kick you out of their house for being into dudes, please keep that information from them for as long as you want, with my blessing. The idea of giving up everything to be with the guy you love might sound romantic, but to be honest, a three-month relationship is not likely to survive the stress of homelessness.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t come out to your parents if you decide it’s a risk worth taking, but I am saying that you should do it for yourself, not for your boyfriend. Is hiding your sexuality causing you stress or decreasing your quality of life? Do you think it’s possible that finding out you’re queer will throw your parents for a loop, but ultimately lead to more honesty and a stronger relationship? Are there other people in your family you trust enough to talk to them about your orientation and seek their support? If you do come out and your parents take it badly, do you have somewhere safe to go? At the very least, you should have an exit plan in place: a friend, or maybe your boyfriend, who knows when you’re going to talk to your family and will be waiting by the phone for your “SOS, come get me” text.

The calculus of when to come out is dramatically different when you’re a financially independent adult than when you’re a minor living under a homophobic roof. Right now, it may be that dating you means accepting that you have to pass for straight to your family. Only your boyfriend can decide if he’s okay with that trade-off.

And maybe he isn’t. Dating someone in the closet is painful—see the first letter for a glimpse of how much it can hurt to have your love gloss over your existence. Your boyfriend may find that he can’t reconcile himself to spending two more years as your “friend” until you can set out on your own. If that’s what ends up happening, please know that it’s neither his fault or yours; you simply have needs that are not, at this moment, compatible with each other. I don’t wish to dismiss the depth of your feelings, which are very real and valid, but no matter the circumstances, your first love is unlikely to be your last. Please don’t despair if what you’ve found with this boy doesn’t turn into forever. You will have so many opportunities for love, for authenticity, for independence, for joy. Your life is going to be gorgeous. I’m rooting for you.

Need help getting your 2018 started right? Send me your questions: [email protected]. Questions may be edited for length and clarity.

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LGBTQ, LGBTQ Rights

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