Hi everyone, I hope the Holidays aren’t twisting you up too much!
Its that time of year again, where our friends in and out of the closet struggle with being themselves while being with their family. Do I bring my partner (or if you’re lucky, spouse!)?
Should I tell my little sister?
I don’t want Grandma to disown me, maybe I should just wait till next year. My family is ultra-conservative, there’s no point in coming out, maybe I won’t go.
I believe that you know your family better than anybody, which is probably fucking you up. I remember stressing about these things before I came out. I come from a big, and I mean BIG, Oirish Cat’lick family. My whole life I grew up hearing “fags this”, and “dykes that”. For years I tortured myself with sex, drugs, and alcohol trying to deny that I could ever be one of “those people”. I’m the oldest of seven kids, and I was ashamed to set that kind of example for them too. I still remember my little sister’s earnest sendoff the first time I went to college: “Don’t let them turn you into a Lesbian, Jen!”.
In fact, I had been warned not to become a lesbian my whole life. I remember being yelled at for holding my best friend’s hand in kindergarten. She and I just thought it was awesome we had the same birthday, for Christ’s sake. Looking back, there was always someone at every phase of my development warning me not to “become” gay. And you know what I’ve figured out? This wasn’t just because they were homophobic shitheads. This was because I have always been, really, really, really obviously gay. Something I’m quite proud of now.
So I agonized over telling my family once I had accepted the truth. And that became really old, really quick. I’m lucky to have a family that loves me tremendously, and does let me feel important to the overall clan. I started looking at things from that perspective. I’m the oldest of my sisters and brothers, so I can just noogie them into submission. My Mom and Dad and I used to be so at odds with each other, and since I’ve grown up we’ve managed to build a really great, open, healthy relationship. They wouldn’t want to throw that away, why bring back the headaches they know I can cause? My extended family is also important to me, and with the support of my nuclear family, they wouldn’t dare mistreat or disrespect me. I’m also the first grandchild of my generation, and I know my Grandparents, especially my Grandma, have and will always be there for me.
Looking at it from that angle did help, but it still didn’t make it any easier to come out. Why? It seems so irrational and silly now to be afraid of these people. They’re my family. Our saying has always been “blood is thicker than anything”. We’ve always had a protective pride ingrained in us. I resolved to finally do it a few Christmases ago. I agonized, kept pushing the time I was going to do it back. Finally, after a night of drinking and agonizing (a bad mix, I don’t have to tell you) I marched into my parents home around 3Am to find my Dad just getting home from work.
He was standing in front of the TV watching something. He laughed when I came in, winking with the customary “Hey kid”. I stood there watching whatever it was with him. We were talking about something, I forget what, but about five lines in I couldn’t take it anymore. I leveled my 6’4 Dad with a mistrusting eye, and interrupted what he was saying with: “You know I’m gay right?”
He smiled, and nudged me with his elbow. “No Shit, Sherlock!”
God I hate it when my parents out-wise-ass me. But it was great. It was the perfect answer and we both howled laughter so loud my Mom woke up and came downstairs to yell at us. I was like “Mom there’s something I have to tell you!” And she was like “Shut up and go to bed, I know!”
Ah, memories. *wipes a tear* Of course they knew. Later, when my favorite Uncle Jawn was down from Vancouver with his husband Max, he told me just how long they’ve probably known. Turns out my Mom (his sister), had been asking him for years if he thought I was gay. He recalled the story that kind of says it all:
You were about five Jen, and your parents and I were in the living room watching the Pee Wee’s Playhouse Christmas Special. Now you would expect some wacky things on this program, but your parents were REALLY surprised when K.D. Lang came on and started singing. In order on the couch: your Dad said “This is weird.”, your Mom quipped “This is REALLY weird”, and you stood up and yelled at them:
“THAT’S NOT WEIRD! THAT’S ENTERTAINMENT!”
I beam with pride at my really awesomely gay child self! The point of the story is: you can’t hide it. You really can’t. Give your family the chance, and let them know who you really are. And try not to be too let down if there isn’t an emotional landslide after it happens. It could go really well, like it did for me. I’m lucky to have a really open minded family, sure. But I’m more lucky to have a family that loves me, and just wants me to be happy. Try to go into it remembering that they love you, and make that part of your coming out to them. Tell them you love them, and tell them the truth. It’ll cut all that nervous tension for the holidays. You know you’re gay but you can’t say anything, they think you might be gay but can’t say anything, you know what I mean. One less bit of stress for the rest of your life because you’re not worrying about all the “what ifs”? Now that is what I call a gift that keeps on bloody giving!
Find the whole Pee Wee’s Christmas Special on our youtube channel’!
Jenime is an artist living in the SF bay area. You can watch her musings and ravings any time by visiting her channel on YouTube.