A family chat, two years after coming out
Warning: this post is far more personal than most on this blog. In fact, it’s a bit closer to a diary post than anything I’ve ever published. However, I’m sharing this with you because many folks out there have it much, much worse than me. When they come out, they may lose their homes, their loved ones, their income, their marriage or their kids. My story is puny in comparison, but as LustyGuy says, “Everyone’s shovel is always full.” I still believe it’s worth sharing, this real story of how I coped when a family member out-and-out rejected my orientation. So here goes.
As many of you know, a little under two years ago I came out to my family. It seemed almost a non-issue at first, with my sister-in-law quickly saying, “As long as you’re happy, that’s OK.” My mom wrote me a disapproving letter a month later, but things seemed to stop there.
Then, last spring, heeding Dan Savage’s coming out advice for adult children to their parents, I spent a weekend with my mom and gave her the ultimatum: now that you’ve had a year to process and judge, your seeing me is contingent upon seeing my partner as well. I told her that I will only travel to Texas for visits in the company of my sweetie LustyGuy, and if she wasn’t comfortable with our staying at her house, we could get a hotel. Alternatively, I would pay for her to fly to visit me in Seattle and treat her to a fun weekend, and I would even give her my own bed instead of having her sleep in the guest bedroom (she complains the bed is too low).
I told her she didn’t have to make a decision right then. Since I only visit once a year for her birthday, anyway, she had a whole year to decide what she wanted to do. It was totally up to her; I would respect whatever decision she made.
Now, two years after coming out, her birthday is coming up again. And it’s her 80th, so I was planning to do something special: fly to Texas, sponsor a barbecue after the Sunday church service, get my brothers to come in that same weekend and take her out as well.
I’d left her a message about some birthday plans, and she called me last night. She told me that I was welcome to come, but LustyGuy and L were not, period. When I reminded her that if she wanted to see me, she’d have to see LustyGuy as well, she refused because what we were doing was “illegal.” When I asked for clarification as to what law we were breaking, she said that you can’t marry two people. Of course I clarified again that we weren’t legally married and were therefore breaking no laws, but she continued with her “illegal” objection (which is not unusual for her–once she decides she has an objection, she carries it to the grave, despite all facts and evidence to the contrary). She said, “I’m old, and I’m not going to change my mind.”
Being the bigger person
Now, I may seem all cool and calm now, but keep in mind that I HATE confrontation, even over the phone. My heart was beating out of my chest; my mouth was so dry that when I tried to swallow, there was nothing to swallow. And I was shaking to boot! I listened carefully, put myself in her position first rather than reacting with my own emotions, and I took a breath.
Here is where all that sex-positive and communication training kicked in, and I got the opportunity to be the bigger person, even though I was shaking:
This is 100% your decision, and if that’s what you want, I will respect it. I wish you would respect my choice like I’m respecting yours, but I understand this is hard for you and will miss you. I still love you, and I still respect you. I will still call you, and you are still welcome to visit me on my dime.
She did not reflect any of that language back on me, but that’s not unusual. (My parents have never told me they loved me or were proud of me, and I long ago gave up trying to get their approval.)
Some helpful self-talk
Frankly, I should have expected this reaction from the start, but I suppose I optimistically believed that pragmatism would win out over narrow-minded moral judgments. LustyGuy, who is far more cynical than I am, was not surprised in the least. Silly me!
But for those playing the home version of this game, here is some of the positive self-talk that I found helpful:
- I am loved I am surrounded by my family of choice who loves me just exactly as I am, which is far more valuable to me than my family of blood. They chose to love me.
- I chose my path and live my values I am smart, successful, compassionate and tolerant, which is something that any parent not my own would be proud of. More importantly, they are traits that I am proud of. I chose my path and live a life of integrity.
- I’m no longer a rebellious teen (well, maybe a little bit) While I gave up being a rebellious teenager many years ago in favor of showing my mom compassion and patience, it’s curious that she can still bring that out in me! I had a devious little thought that LustyGuy, L and I could form our own legal corporation that would give us similar rights to those of marriage and then gleefully call my mom and tell her that I took her advice and made my relationship legal. (But then I remind myself that I’m in my 40s and far too mature to do things exclusively to piss off my parents!)
- Mom’s disapproval = the right thing for me My mom has never approved of my choices, and her disapproval is typically a sign that I’m doing something right and good with my life. She thought I should go to college in order to meet a man and get married; she thought my French degree was useless, even when it landed me my first two jobs; she thought I was being seduced by “glamorous” big-city life when I moved to Chicago for a job opportunity; she even thought that I should abandon my pets when I moved cross-country because you could always get another dog or cat. So her ardent disapproval is usually a sign that I’m doing the right thing for my values.
Another thought I’ve been musing over is that perhaps my mom doesn’t enjoy my yearly visits as much as I thought she did. Perhaps she is faking it, too, and doesn’t enjoy spending time with me any more that I do spending time with her. I began making the trips as an alternative to visiting for the holidays, so I could spend Christmas with friends and family of choice. And I always go to lengths to make sure her birthday weekend is about her: the places she wants to go, the food she wants to eat, the topics of conversation she prefers, the activities she doesn’t get to do otherwise. It might very well be that she is doing both of us a favor by putting a stop to these visits, in the end!
Where I am now
All that being said, it will be very odd never to see my mom again. It’s quite likely that the next time I see her will be at her funeral. For those who may think I’m being a bit dramatic, here’s a story: my mom carried her judgment of her sister (over a small financial dispute in the 90s) literally to her sister’s grave. My mother refused not only to speak at her sister’s funeral but even to say a kind word about her at all ever again. She did attend her sister’s funeral, but she stubbornly refused to say one positive word about her. So believe me when I say that the next time I see her will be in the urn holding her ashes in Texas. And if an urn could look disapproving, I’m sure she could manage it.
That being said, all the above self-talk is still true, and I encourage you to use it if you’re having similar judgments placed on you. I’m so fortunate to be in every way independent of my narrow-minded family: financially, spiritually, emotionally, intellectually and geographically. I have my wonderful life, my wonderful friends, my awesome kitty and the best listenership a podcaster could ever hope for. In the end, this judgment is unfortunate, but it will not change me nor my path.
If you are going through a tough time, here’s hoping that these words and this situation will help you to know you are not alone.