December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas! Have some judgment.

Yayayayay it’s Christmas! Almost. It’s a time of homecoming: families and friends are reunited and we show our love for each other with gifts. It’s also a religious holiday, which is a mixed bag for me. I put on a nice face and sing at church and wonder what people would think if they knew.

Ugh. You’d think I'd be past that by now. But no.

It's not entirely surprising. I’m out to all of my immediate family, and slowly to some of the less immediate ones, but it’s always hard to know what you can and can’t say (or wear—I brought all of my Love=Love shirts home, if only to annoy my sister. I wore it a few times last year while tutoring at an elementary school and was somewhat uncomfortable, but the school didn’t have a problem with it, so neither did I). My mother told me that she had recently told her sister(-in-law) and that her reaction had been something along the line of, “Oh, I’m sorry to hear he’s made that choice.” Which I’m not even for a moment going to pretend isn’t hugely offensive. It isn’t as though this particular woman doesn’t know me. I’ve stayed at her house probably a dozen times now and our family often spent Thanksgiving with hers.

I don’t know exactly what happened after that; hopefully my parents stood up for me, as they apparently did in another similar incident in which the folks said “love the sinner, hate the sin.” To which I simply respond with incredulity: I mean, you’ve already implicated yourselves in prejudice. You’re on a roll. Why not keep going?

At first I thought it had something to do with how exactly my parents were telling them. Tone of voice says a lot, as do the exact circumstances in which you tell them. If you treat it as a big deal, so will they. If you don’t, well, they’ll probably be so surprised by your cavalierism (It's a word. Promise.) they won’t get to show you their lack of acceptance.

So that's something I’ve been working on lately: casually introducing jokes or sexuality–relevant bits of discussion into conversation so that my family doesn’t treat it as such a big deal. We’ll see if it works (get back to you soon on that!).

It can be difficult with the family though—or, in general, with people who aren’t used to talking about it as much as I am. Last weekend I went to Portland to visit the only other guy from my high school class who’s come out. When I told my mom this, she made it sound like a disease: “Oh, so he's also…gay?” Yes, mother.

Additionally, it’s just kind of hard to talk about with my sister and brother–in–law, both of whom are fairly conservative Catholic (we’re all Catholic, but most of us aren’t quite as strictly traditional as those two). I’ve easily had eight hours of discussions of LGBT–related issues with the two of them, and after all that, my brother-in-law said, “Well, I guess I’m still just not sure that it isn’t a choice.” Which is, I hope, understandably frustrating to hear. But what do I say to that? It seems so obvious to me that no one would wish this upon themselves that I just don’t know what to say next—not that having it be undesirable means it’s not a choice, but there’s also a preponderance of evidence suggesting that it’s a natural thing.

There’s just such a huge range of how comfortable different people can be with it or talking about it that it can make communication difficult. For now, I do what I can for my family, sending them links to blog entries or news stories which have meant a lot to me and hoping they’ll get around to reading them. In a day or two they’ll all be around; I’m hoping to get them to that next level of comfort, and if they’re not ready for it, it’ll just be their responsibility to talk with me privately about it.

There’s no instruction manual to all this “being gay” business (though a friend tells me I can learn almost anything from the Golden Girls, so might have to give them a try). I hate that and I love it. But it’s part of my life. It’s not an opt-in thing; it will always be there, whether I like it or not. I think I like it.

But that’s just personal stuff. Forget about it. It is Christmas, after all. Let’s be friends and family and enjoy each other’s company. I hope all of you, dear readers and fellow contributors, have a wonderful holiday season, whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Festivus, or anything else. Happy birthday, Jesus.

11 comments:

  1. It's really courageous what you're doing Matt, I wish you the best with your family and friends. I hope that your strategy of slowly introducing lgbt related links, comments and jokes pays off, at the very least I'm sure it'll broaden their horizons. Good luck with it, and a very Merry Christmas to you!

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  2. Thanks for posting, honey! I'm really nervous about talking to my extended family since they too are conservative and religious. Maybe we can talk about tips together in the Spring. :)

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  3. My family's conservative and religious too. . . and both of my parents grew up in teeny tiny towns, so no exposure to other cultures or, well, much of anything there. As for the religious part, um - we went to church 3 times on Christmas Eve. I normally don't like our church very much, simply because there seems to be little support for or awareness of LGBT rights. But for some reason, this year one of the readings during the Lessons and Carols service caught my attention - John 1:1-5. It is read every year, but this year I actually listened to it. I'm no theologian, but in my view, those verses seem to refute all those who would condemn members of the LGBT community. Anyway, it made me feel better, and hopefully it will help you guys too.

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  4. I always feel guilty for feeling this way after reading posts from people who have religious or just generally conservative hurdles to navigate, but personally I'm even reluctant to talk about being gay with family members who would probably be totally fine with it. Hell, most of them even know! And this makes me a coward, I know. There are people who would KILL to have it as easy as me. Ugh. To be honest I really wish they would bring it up to me. It'd be so much easier, really. I think that so often families assume that just because we aren't bringing it up means that we don't want to talk about it. And intuitively so! Who could blame them? I'm not exactly sending any messages to suggest otherwise. And I know many gays avoid the topic on purpose and would be mortified if confronted, don't get me wrong. I just know that several friends and I are just dying to be asked. Like, I'm sure that official family psychologist advice would be to let the person come out on their own terms, but in fact for a lot of us the complete opposite would actually be such a relief. The question for family members becomes then, I guess, for this person would the opening of pandora's closet mean devastation or euphoria? Which is not an easy question at all.

    At least they stopped asking if I had a girlfriend 7000 fabulous outfits ago.

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  5. What you said Chris is pretty much how I feel too (I'm stealing and using the line about the fabulous outfits btw). All my friends and family know and are totally fine with it (except for my cats, who I'm pretty sure are homophobic white supremacists). Except it's never brought up - just as you describe. I've taken to wearing my love=love and legalize gay t-shirts with questionably low cut v-necks to try to elicit responses. Even when I do get questions, it's always about the lgbt groups I'm involved in. Which is fine, but it's not the same as being asked about girlfriends/boyfriends like everyone else.

    I know a few years ago I would've died if anyone had actually confronted me, ironically it's now the opposite. You're right, it's totally not an easy question.

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  6. It is a really good question you raise--would I really feel comfortable talking about these things with my family? or, do I really want to know what they think (as informed by their likely somewhat dubious understandings of LGBTQQIAA issues)?

    I've heard of families where an aunt knew for sure that her nephew was gay and she very tentatively just made sure to mention that she's in support of gay rights in his presence at one point and made herself available to talk to whenever he wanted. Many younger people are terrified to talk or think about it though.

    And what would family members say or talk about? My family is pretty uncomfortable with things. Two years ago we were playing Apples to Apples and when I drew "Desirable" or "Sexy" or something, someone put it Dennis Rodman, saying, "Well I don't know!" I was kind of flattered they were at least cognizant of it but it made me realize, you know, I've got a long way to go to help them understand me. We're celebrating Christmas later today, when everyone arrives, so we'll see :). My sister and I are certainly getting along better, helped somewhat by my position as uncle, playing with and helping out with my nephew. It gives me hope for the other siblings. Maybe I can even get them read the blog (Maybe not!)!

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  7. or maybe it was last year. They're beginning to run together in my old age.

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  8. The cats who are white supremacists and the 7000 fabulous outfits had me dying. I don't think I've laughed that hard all break. Oh man. Just had to share...


    My uncle is a fan of the, "Ugh, he's so gay" / "That's so gay." I have yet to say something about it. I always look at him and muster up the evilest eye I can...and that's about it.

    Lesbians came up in our conversation last night, and my dad gave a really nervous laugh. It was pretty funny. Usually my family deals with stuff by laughing it off, but I have a feeling that my sexual identity isn't very funny.

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  9. I sometimes quote Rent when something somewhat reasonably relevant comes up. "I say, c'est la vie. So let her be a lesbian! There are other fishies in the sea." Haha... that was last night. Even if I weren't already crazy, there's little doubt my family would all the same think I were.

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  10. You bring the shirts home to get a rise out of your sister? Thats not the best way to garner respect

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  11. I was in Jarvis with you, Matt. We weren't close, but I remember you being a genuinely nice guy as we ran into each other over the years. I know it's been a while since you wrote this, but I guess I just wanted to let you know that someone you probably don't even remember supports you. Even if our paths never cross again, I wish you the best.

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