Ned Martel thinks everyone should be coming out on Thanksgiving. He thinks doing something so important to a large group of your relatives on the anniversary of our country’s colonization is a sign of the times, a signifier that gay people have nothing to be afraid of anymore:
This no longer needs to be such a big deal, even if this month’s election somehow emboldens waves of guess-what conversations Thursday night. Awkwardness is predictable, but expect the unexpected. A few years ago, a friend of a friend told his sister that he was going to tell their parents his news at the Thanksgiving dinner table. Seated and fretful, he listened as she spoke up first. Before he even got his throat cleared, she came out ahead of him. Nobody said this was going to be easy.
America is decades past the Very Special Episode phase […]
“When am I old enough to call my friends my family?”
I asked Libby via Facebook IM because I thought maybe she would know but she didn’t. She’s one year older than me, but she was just as lonely.
This Thanksgiving, I struggled with going home and making the decision to do so: having a dog and a job gave me solid excuses to skip, and I had alternate plans with friends in the DC area. Martel himself understands this dilemma, illustrating a choice between Thanksgiving with his family, his gay friends, and his straight friends. But what he fails to recognize is that all of his options involve a degree of honesty across the board I’ve never been able to experience. This year, I chose between Thanksgiving with my friends and my family – Thanksgiving as a homo or Thanksgiving as a mute face. I went back, booking a ticket three days in advance for twice what I’d typically pay, and prepping for an 8-hour bus ride back to New Jersey. Family holidays are like drinking, a habit I’ve sworn off more times than I can count but always come back to.
And so I was drinking bourbon cider in the basement when Libby IM’ed me and told me I could start calling her my family now, if I wanted. Thanksgiving was coming to an end, my cousin Brittany and I sitting on couches post-dinner and post-appetizers and post-small talk. This is our own tradition: exile from the adults where we drink and watch movies and talk shit. At that moment I was asking her over and over again to retell what I had told her at our family reunion in August, where I basically downed half a fifth of vodka and then texted Intern Grace that I’d come out to my extended family. Brittany wouldn’t tell me anything.
“It wasn’t anything we couldn’t have guessed,” my brother interjected. I took a deep breath. “It was all about how you live your life and none of us were surprised.” I breathed in and looked back and forth for a sign of exactly what that meant. Deep down, I think I was waiting for rejection – waiting for Brittany to announce, “Yes, you told me you were gay and my family is really disturbed by that.” And waiting for my brother to back her up instead of me, knowing well that he has his own home to go back to and a family that will be proud of him for the rest of time, no matter what.
Instead of asking again, I took another sip and waited for them to call us for dessert.
As a younger man at his Thanksgiving dinner table, Martel felt at times like we have all felt – like someone known to not fit into the script, like someone slowly waking up to an entirely different program:
Outsiders tend to see what’s what and who’s who. My sister-in-law wore a knowing expression, back when I would get into some cooking flurry around the holidays. Everything I made was en croute. I was distracting myself and others from the fact that I wasn’t doing what my Irish Catholic family has long done: going forth and multiplying. […]
I was noticeably different.
This year, like every year, I had sat next to Brittany and across from Nicole and her mom, right next to the head of the table – where her dad was sitting. My mom is usually next to her, but this year she brought home a friend so my mom sat next to both of them instead. Rocky sits next to Brittany and kept grabbing my booze and I would pout and hide it on the floor under my chair every time he was done pouring it. My mom kept rolling her eyes. A big golden retriever was roaming around and the extended family members all sat at the farther end of the table pushing into the living room, two little boys and four adults crammed around a second table. This is our typical crowd, our annual floorplan of my family, my cousins, and their extended family: every relative able to come sitting in their previously-assigned chairs. The same place, the same time, every year.
It is at this moment that we appear to be a cohesive, normal, peaceful and well-arranged family unit. I realize we are all smiling, all waiting, and all in rhythm for the holiday. We all sort of know our roles, and so I figure that that moment is why people do this, or at least part of why they do. Martel insists that in “gay America” there should be a place at the table for the queers, even if it does feel a little like the Puritans and the Natives sitting across from each other in suspense. But my place at the table is an accident, something given to someone I am pretending to still be. The entire table, just like the one at that first Thanksgiving, is built around a lie. A figment of everyone’s imagination.
The night before, my mom tousled my hair and said something about how attractive boys must think I am now that I look so pretty and clean. I walked away from her.
I used to talk a lot at the dinner table; I would act obnoxious and piss off my conservative relatives and then engage them in arguments I knew I could win. Once, with eyes wide and jaw on the floor, my cousins’ in-law said to my mother under his breath, “your daughter is very articulate.” He was shaking his head, sort of horrified but also sort of in awe of my conviction, I think. But this year I was relatively quiet, just taking cheap shots at Rocky and pouring booze into my cup. It’s been like that for two years now – me at the dinner table sort of afraid to speak. Sort of afraid of what I’ll say.
Two years ago, I had planned a very public, grandiose coming out: I would stand up in front of my neo-con cousins and just say, very plainly, “I’m very thankful for other women and the opportunities I will have to sleep with many of them in the near future.” I wanted to say it in the middle of everything, while people were still passing the turkey. But instead I just fidgeted silently and texted Danny from under the table. We drove home and then we went shopping on Black Friday. My mom bought me plaid shirts, men’s sweaters, new leggings, and thick socks.
I told my mother in the car the next day that I liked someone at school, that she was a girl, that I was confused and I wanted to talk to someone I loved, like my mom, about it. My mom cried until I got out of the car. We never talked about it again.
In fact, we don’t talk about it at all, except when we do, mostly by resorting to small words and gestures to piece together an elaborate and much-needed dialogue. When we shop my mother urges me to “please stop shopping in the men’s section,” and now she sorts what she likes and doesn’t like by “how feminine it is.” Once she got angry at me because I said she couldn’t possibly love me if she didn’t accept me for who I was, and she told me I was wrong.
Martel experienced all of this, packaged instead as an offer to enter the priesthood for a large sum of money, a last-minute saving grace for someone who was clearly never coming around to his heterosexual prime. But in Martel’s story, it ends. In Martel’s story, the truth heals all. And I think about whether that’s how it would go in my family.
This Thanksgiving my brother made fun of me for being broke and said something under his breath about how I’ll never have a family. Earlier during appetizers my cousin looked over at my side of the table and declared, “I am definitely the most womanly person in the dining room.” I took a sip of cider and poured a new glass, leaning low to pour it under the table by my chair.
But despite all that, this year I didn’t think about 2010. Not for a long while. And that’s different.
In 2010, when I got back to DC after Thanksgiving, I sent my mom an e-mail stating that I wanted to come for 48 hours instead of 14 days for Christmas. I was willing to miss my best friend’s birthday and any extra gifting or relatives or shopping. I made plans to go home with other people, should she tell me my entire stay was rescinded. But instead she insisted I come back, so I did and the whole mess hung in the air like when skunk smell gets stuck in the car A/C. Last year, it haunted me as well; I came home practicing self-medication and never looked up from my phone. It was the incident that ended my long visits and short vacations and weekly phone call regimen. It was something that had altered the very fabric of my family.
I started to feel a seismic shift in my life where my friends became the only people who knew who I was, and my family remained attached to the past and to someone I couldn’t be anymore and didn’t understand. My friends wanted to save me, and my family reminded me that I was a girl who needed to be saved.
I used to be best friends with mom and my cousins, and I used to tell them everything. Now I was wondering what my cousins knew or had inferred or had seen on the Internet and was biting my nails wondering if I came out to them at the summer reunion. I felt like a liar and I realized that once again I had nothing to say at the table.
That was when the questions began. Why am I doing this? Why am I, a person typically unwilling to bend to fit into anyone’s life, doing my best to keep my mouth shut and fit back into the past? Why am I so obsessed with the idea of being honest with people who have made it clear that honesty is not the best policy anymore? When Ned Martel came out he began to view himself as the person at Thanksgiving who shakes things up, who keeps things different and exciting. His family appreciates what he brings to the table and who he is, and how his differences bring variety to their own experiences. But I just want to know when I sit at my seat at that dinner table that everyone knows who I am. I just want to stop feeling like a stranger.
This Thanksgiving I managed not to mention that I write, that I’ve travelled, or that I’m a dyke. In fact, I hardly got a word in edgewise.
I want to come out to my family because I want to come out to everyone, to the whole planet. I want animals in the rainforest and train conductors and bus drivers to know I’m gay. I want the cute lesbians who work at Starbucks locations across the Earth to know I’m gay. I want my professors, my employers, and my coworkers to know I’m gay (which might be why I wrote it in all of my cover letters). But I want to come out to my family especially because I love them. And when you love someone, you tell them the truth.
My grandma shoved 30 dollars in my hand once and told me, “Always tell the truth about who you are and know we’ll love you anyway.” It sounded familiar to me, like something my mom had said before that car ride in 2010. I wondered how my mom would feel if I blurted out the truth she hasn’t been able yet to repeat, if I had taken the 30 bucks and crumpled it in my pocket and just fallen onto my grandma’s bed and told her that I’m gay, that I told mom and it wasn’t at all what I expected, that I’m sorry I don’t call but I never know what I can tell anyone in this family anymore without being unsafe about keeping the rest a secret. That I feel like that car ride was a litmus test and I failed, and that my mom’s reaction and continual silence on the matter sound overwhelmingly to me like an instruction to never talk about it again, to anyone. That in more ways than one I’m still chipping away at pieces of 2010, and it’s mostly the wreckage that’s still left.
Martel’s family saw him receding and brought him back – asked him for the truth and then healed the damage from not asking sooner.
I have six nephews and nieces of my own, and a family who pulled me home when my relatives sensed me running away. I wasn’t, really; it just looked like that to them. The Martels know my sexuality hasn’t torn at the family fabric, and my coming out, somehow, makes us whole. So, sure, I’ll have dinner with the family that raised me.
My family has never managed to stutter out the question.
I am afraid to attempt a larger, familial-based coming out situation without my mom’s support. I am terrified to tell my conservative cousins the truth without knowing, for a fact, that she has my back at that dinner table. So this year on Thanksgiving I took the same seat I always take and when I finally remembered 2010 I made sure to remind myself that I was lucky to be there at all. I thought about how relatively okay my situation was, how silence is better than making a noise that leads to abandonment or physical danger or fucked-up therapy. I vowed to forgive, in advance, every single offense I took at the table, and remember that my family has flaws and it isn’t their fault that I’m living on the fault line.
Despite how we move and progress as a culture, each family remains a thing to be studied and considered and appreciated, and then conquered. Discussions about sexuality remain difficult and, for many of us, seemingly impossible or impractical. Coming out was, is, and will be – at least for a little bitty while – hard, scary, and sometimes even dangerous. And I think it’s okay to be afraid. It’s great that for Martel, Thanksgiving was the right place and time to come out. But he’s wrong that “Thanksgiving is the proper holiday to tell your family that you’re a homosexual.” For some of us, it’s never going to be the proper time. And for some of us, there’s already too much potential for heartbreak sitting on the dinner table for us to push ourselves any farther. At least right now.
I still want my big coming out at the dinner table, right from my own chair where I’ve sat since I was promoted from The Kid’s Table. I want to be sitting next to Brittany and I imagine that when it happens I’ll be fearless, looming above the turkey and grinning like a dipshit. I imagine, too, that it will be a turning point and we will finally be able to talk to one another again over gravy and biscuits.
I don’t know when I’ll be ready for that to happen. But I know I will love everyone at the table more in that moment than I ever have before.
Special Note: Autostraddle’s “First Person” personal essays do not necessarily reflect the ideals of Autostraddle or its editors, nor do any First Person writers intend to speak on behalf of anyone other than themselves. First Person writers are simply speaking honestly from their own hearts.
thank you for sharing your story. thank you for your beautiful prose. thanks for your honesty and vulnerability. I have learned people have to do what is good for them, when it is good for them!
Wow! This is so good. It made me feel less lonely in this sitation, but I am sorry you’re having the same issues with coming out that I am. It’s not fun.
Carmen, this was fantastically well-written, thank you!
Oddly enough, I am in a very similar position, although I am totally out as bi and poly as of 2009. My (Catholic) parents never mention it; it’s as though I never spoke. A couple of my sisters occasionally uncomfortably send their regards to my (female) partner, but that is all. I’ve told my mother how miserable it makes me when she explicitly sends her love to my kids and to my (male) partner while ignoring the existence of my female partner, but it has made no difference. It’s like a vacuum. An airless vacuum.
How can this happen to a middle-aged woman? I get that the fact it is a poly relationship probably makes a difference, but still, it’s ridiculous. 3 years and no improvement. Like you, my previously weekly calls to my parents have slackened off into something much less frequent. At some point I am going to have to phone them specifically to tell them that I can’t keep in contact with them if they keep it up, for the sake of my own mental health, and especially because I need to be together enough to be the best parent I can be to my autistic kids. But when your mum is elderly and bipolar, there never seems to be a good time to say these things. And if *she* doesn’t guilt-trip me about upsetting her, I have three out of four sisters standing ready to do it on her behalf.
I can’t tell you how much I wish I had figured myself out – and so come out – when I was younger! And yet that would have carried its own risks and difficulties, too. Still, there’s nothing quite like having your stuck-up butt-wipe of a nephew look down on and patronize you, and having to respond patiently so as not to upset your (actually very kind, if over-religious) sister.
Wow…that was an amazing and heartbreaking story, I don’t know how you survive in these situations, I’ve been incredibly blessed to have a very liberal, open minded and accepting family and I wouldn’t have made it without them. This is my first Thanksgiving out to my extended family as trans* and it went amazingly well, they got the pronouns mostly right (they corrected themselves when they screwed up and they’ve stop calling me “Elijah” and my brother and I “The boys…” so all and all they’re making good progress.
carmen, I like your words
I want you to know that last christmas I spent mostly outside, smoking& a bottle next to me, talking to my dog. deepest conversation I had that day. and that was ok.
on the plus side, I did finally tell my family that I’m a smoker.
ah fuck, now i have feelings about my dog who passed away
sorry about your dog =(
Thank you for sharing your story, helping me to feel less alone in the lie it feels like I’m living whenever a family member asks if I’ve met a nice man yet.. Truth is, I have a lot further to go in my journey, I’m only out to one friend and kinda to my mum so far – something that I really hoped she would be more accepting of but has actually made some pretty upsetting remarks about, but I’m getting there. I’m working on getting myself to a better place where I can be honest about myself and eventually to crossing that threshold of vulnerability with the people I care about most in the world, most of whom I’m pretty sure don’t even know a single gay person.
I’m from Ireland, so I guess I’m lucky to not have thanksgiving as another holiday to deal with..! but, knowing I’m not ready to deal with Christmas is hard. Staying quiet is awful, but it’s the only thing I know.
Hi Finola. I’m Aimée and I hosted the Dublin meetup(we’ll be having a reunion soon that you should come to) If you would ever like to talk to an Ireland based queer, please pm me. You don’t have to stay quiet if you don’t want to hun x
Love this Carmen :) and you obvs. I skipped my family tradition, initially for a better offer from a girl and then for medical reasons. Thanksgiving is sort of a farce at my house where we all share a meal and smile at each other and forget that we can’t really spend time with each other because we don’t know each other. It is a whole day of passive aggression and probably the closest we’ve come to affection annually. It is a lot of work preparing conversation starters for people you are afraid of and related to. It is really stressful switching pronouns, defending my interests, and biting my tongue so I skipped it and I missed them all day. Props to you for going :)
this this this this this.
thank you, thank you, thank you! i feel a huge sigh of relief knowing that someone gets me even if i’ve never met you. sometimes i feel like i’m one of the few 20-somethings that’s still not open about my sexual orientation to my family, but with immigrant parents and my siblings that are quite conservative and religious the core it’s hard to shake things up. it can feel like catch 22 because despite all the fucked up history, they are some of the first people that i’d want to come out too. and yet, i don’t know how i’d ever share this information with them. i think, my family and i know the static versions of each other, the minuscule details of our present lives, and the personalities that have transformed over time. but, we don’t know the core identities and values of each other. perhaps, this is because we fear delving into the unknown and emotionally risky climate. so we stay inside eating warm thanksgiving meals laughing, sometimes bickering, and eventually spreading off into our own areas of my childhood home because we need time apart before we get back together again for round two–dessert.
Before I came out to my parents (and more out to my siblings and their families who kinda sorta knew) I felt so guilty because here I was, late 20s, and not out and yet there were so many brave people before me who had come out in much worse circumstances facing worse consequences and I felt so weak and cowardly. But when I did come out to my parents, it was the right timing for all of us. Our relationship had grown and matured so much in the previous year and it felt like they and me were equipped to be able to relate to each other through the difficulty. It felt like by waiting it went a whole lot better than it would have had I come out years before when I was so wanting to. I come from a very religious, conservative family so it wasn’t and isn’t easy, but not as bad as it could be. I feel a lot more free and open and happy, and more accepting of myself and my own desires.
I am not out to most of my extended family (except one cousin who I knew would be accepting…. that was “hey, I’m dating a woman” and “cool, what’s her name?”) With my extended family, especially certain members, there will be no right time. Just a right time for me maybe, when the keeping silent, and the attendant sense that I’m passively lying, gets to be too much.
Your “sometimes i feel like i’m one of the few 20-somethings that’s still not open about my sexual orientation to my family” struck a chord with me. That’s something I’ve felt so much in the last decade, and upbraided myself with, especially knowing some people who were kicked out of their homes and sent to “rehab” type situations for their young outings. Your post, and Carmen’s sharing-thank you Carmen!- so resonate with me. You are not alone… we’ve all got our own story, our own timing and arc.
Carmen, thank you for writing this. This thanksgiving has left me feeling like a big ball of raw emotion…it’s comforting just to read this and know that all of the things I’m feeling and experiencing are not entirely unique to me or my family. I’m pretty much out to my entire family at this point…but they’re very conservative and pretty convinced that they know better than I do, and I’m clearly wrong/confused about my own sexuality. I suddenly feel very out of place in my own family…it’s very strange and unsettling and isolating.
Ps. When you do come out at your thanksgiving table sometime in the future, I think your ‘what I’m thankful for’ speech is the most perfect.
thank you for those beautiful words anon.. you have a gift.. please keep writing..
Thank you so much for writing this. I’m in a similar situation with my family–always pretending to be someone I’m not around them. To my extended family, I will always be this silent, well-behaved straight girl who smiles and nods and doesn’t cause problems. Hopefully this isn’t creepy, but I’ve always felt more connected to anything you write since we grew up in the same town (you were in the grade ahead of me in school). I’m always amazed that despite living in a fairly liberal state so close to NYC, it’s still so hard to be honest about who I am around my family. I just hope I have the courage to finally come out to them sometime soon, hopefully before I have to endure too many more silent holidays.
I told my parents I was a lesbian once. They told me they didn’t think that lifestyle was right for me and urged me to stay with my boyfriend. Which I have so far. No one has mentioned it since.
but what do you think?
I tried to please everyone. I tried to be ‘normal’ and eventually I found myself stuck in a marriage to a decent man I had no naughty warm feelings for. 8 years wasted with him and it didn’t benefit anyone. At the end of your life do you want to look back on tepid relationships of convenience or passionate love you know you gave your whole heart to?
You shouldn’t do it if you’re not ready, for sure.
My experience is that I was in that awful space that you are in, and ittttt was probably the worst experience of my life. I went through…two solid Christmases I think when I knew I was queer? And then I got outed and stopped talking to my parents. Thankfully I have great siblings who are totally behind me.
For me it’s so much easier NOT going home for the holidays. I have great plans this year, but it really doesn’t matter so much where I end up because it’s not as miserable as the closet was.
I was in this situation for a long time. I came out to my mother, and was told that since she’d had cancer the doctors had told her to avoid stress, so if she had a relapse it would be my fault. Also the news would have killed my father (he was dead by the time I told her). She called me a lot of names, and said “We must never speak of this again”. Her main fear was what her friends would think. Oddly enough, part of the reason I’d told her was my fear that she’d get ill again – how would I manage regular phonecalls to a girlfriend in another country if I came home to take care of her? (this was back in the days before mobiles).
I was a very dutiful daughter, and didn’t speak of it again until it almost choked me and I could barely talk to her about anything – everything involved lies. What did you do at the weekend, where are you going on holiday, who do you share a flat with? A longish way into a stable relationship, ten years later, my girlfriend insisted that I tell her about our relationship. It was like coming out all over again. I told her she’d said some very hurtful things – she didn’t remember any of them, she said. The reception was pretty glacial, but things slowly thawed. Telling her that my girlfriend was pregnant, and that we were planning to get civilly partnered, were equally terrifying. But she came to the civil partnership ceremony (I’m in the UK), with some friends for moral support (she looked like thunder all day, nearly ruined it for me, but it was still better that she came). These days she is a remote but affectionate grandmother to our two children. It’s not perfect, but it’s much better than I could have hoped.
My deepest sympathies to everybody in this situation, and my fondest hopes that your family situations will change, however intractable they seem at present. I’m thinking particularly of Finola – I’m from rural Northern Ireland, and I know just how deeply ingrained the conservatism can be. However, I also know that things can shift, and have shifted hugely during my lifetime, so there is hope.
this gave me goosebumps. (or maybe that’s just my dad being too cheap to turn up the heat).
regardless, though. this was breathtaking <3
‘Why am I so obsessed with the idea of being honest with people who have made it clear that honesty is not the best policy anymore?’
ouch ouch. is this the crux or what. i am also struggling with this situation. i propose that a massive group hug is in order
This is my life right now. Right before Thanksgiving, my dad told us that my cousin in moving in with her boyfriend, and we’re not allowed to talk about it in front of Oma and Opa (my grandparents). We’re not allowed to talk about anything that might upset Oma and Opa at all…like not going to church, like my brother having sex with his girlfriend and not being married, like me being a lesbian (which only my mom and my brother are aware of). My dad and I got in a big fight because I was angry that he said we have to respect their opinions when they don’t respect ours. He said I was being selfish. Maybe I was. Either way, it ended with me yelling that “Maybe I just won’t talk to anyone about anything ever again, because all I do is get myself in trouble!” My dad yelled that he wasn’t telling me not to have opinions, just that I couldn’t share them in front of his parents. It was stupid. I cried a lot. Then suddenly the whole family was at my house and I shut down and couldn’t say anything at all. Near the end of the night my uncle said “Alyssa, you sure are quiet tonight.” Everyone stopped and looked at me, realizing that, yes, their non-stop talker was indeed quiet tonight. I just smiled and told them I was really tired. And the conversation went on without me. It was a little better when Oma and Opa left and my aunts and uncles all talked about lying to their parents when they went to the movies because they weren’t allowed to see anything R rated, even when they were 18. It was funny, but it was also really depressing. I really value honesty. I haven’t felt honest for about five years now. There is so much I feel like I can’t say, and we’re not supposed to live like that. I used to tell my family everything. Now I have nothing to say to them. What’s going to happen when I have a serious girlfriend and we want to get married and have kids? I’m going to have to tell the truth eventually and it will hurt everybody even though it shouldn’t. Sorry that was long. I just haven’t had anyone to talk to about this.
I don’t really have any advice but I feel for you. Your situation sounds similar to what mine will be when I come out to my parents. Hope yours improves.
Alyssa Jane- Your Oma and Opa are CRC (or other Reformed church) aren’t they? I was a CRC minister before I came out as transgender. It wasn’t fun. So feel for you.
Thank you for this. I needed someone to tell me I’m not a failure because I didn’t come out to anyone over Thanksgiving. I too have conservative cousins and family members who I don’t know if I can ever come out to. I loved your line about “I want animals in the rainforest and train conductors and bus drivers to know I’m gay” – I do too, I want everyone to know, except my grandparents who don’t know any openly gay or lesbian people and have no frame for understanding this, except my cousin who asked me if I had a boyfriend and made racist comments about my city.
I’m glad that we can create our own families that know and love us for who we really are.
Yes! I want every one in the world to know I’m gay! I loved that line so much. I have this thing when I’m walking down the street and I see a straight couple and I want them to know that I am not part of their heterosexual world. That sounds a little rude and exclusive when I write it down. But I mean, I want to be honest. I don’t want people to mistake me for what I am not.
This was fantastic. Thanks for writing and posting it. It seems like we most often hear about the two extreme ends of coming out, the accepting family or the horrible rejections. While both of those are important to hear about, I think an awful lot of us live for years in this situation of the awkward family silence. My mother avoids any mention of anything, never acknowledges, never insults. But, there was always an implied rule that I shouldn’t bring anyone home. In some ways the silent avoidance is almost as painful as rejection.
I’m not out to my mom yet, but I know it’s going to end badly. I’ve never talked to her about guys, and she never asks me about guys, so I think she knows, but she avoids talking about anything at all related to dating. Our relationship has always been rocky, we are so different from each other and share completely different values. Lately I have been making an effort to get along with her, but I feel like by doing so i’m only hurting myself in the long run. The closer I am to her, the more I have to lose when she completely disowns me. She told me that if any of her kids were gay, she would never speak to them again. She told me this when I was 12, and even though I didn’t realize I was gay at the time, I still cried a lot for some reason. 6 years later, I still remember her saying them to me.I thought my dad was going to be completely accepting of me, but one time I tried to venture off into the topic and he basically said that he doesn’t need to know everything about my life, and ended the conversation. I don’t know what to do. I’ve never been close to my parents, but the thought of them not being there for me is terrifying, and I would rather not be honest with them if it means losing them. I just wouldn’t be willing to risk putting myself through that.
For those of us with complicate, not-so-liberal families, I think we come out when we come to a point where we are okay with standing alone. When it becomes so important to live life openly and honestly that its okay if we lose family members. When we stop looking for approval from our immediate and distant family members. At least, this was my truth.
I finally got to a point where I just decided to be me. No huge fan fare, but I mentioned it in letters, phone calls, and conversations (this was done before email, really) – as if I were talking to friends. I have lost some family members and my mom didn’t speak to me for three years. And then she finally realized that she had to change, not me, if she wanted to a relationship.
And those first few years back for holidays were nearly unbearable. It was hard to sit tall and proud.
And some people never get to that point – where they are willing to lose family. And that’s okay. And it certainly doesn’t have to be done over Thanksgiving or Christmas.
Be strong. Be good to yourself, Peace.
I’m in the process of building my big gay family. So that is cool. To do this,I’ve been hanging out with these super nice gay men at the resource centre, It’s become my Thursday night routine to go to the resource centre and get movies or books and chat. It’s so nice to feel like I belong somewhere(for once in my whole life) and get a friendly welcome from these gentlemen.
Sometimes I think oh I am just here hanging out with these gay gentlemen expanding my worldview, but what I am actually doing is not only that, but becoming an out and loveable lesbian heart. When I’m there building contacts, talking to new friends, I get to be really me.
Sometimes I think of myself as Other in the space (like I’m not really gay, I’m just hanging out here dudes- or I am so newly gay I can’t quite claim it yet, not like you stalwarts). I am still sorta new to this idea of “Yes I can be my own queer, lovely, self!”
I’m starting to have feels that are really new to me or maybe feels like how I felt when I was real young before all the heaps of crap were thrown on my pretty heart and mind. Like oh I don’t have to censor myself here to blend. This is nice. This is new.
It’s been good for me to keep my Thursday night appointments at the resource centre.
I like to think of it as my baby gay training. Sets and reps. Getting stronger. Cue Rocky theme. Soon I will fight the russian.
I am so proud/jealous of my girlfriend because she came out to her family this past week. I unfortunately am stuck in limbo trying to figure out if/when/how I should come out.
I absolutely love this website and thank all of you for your time and effort into creating this safe haven for us to come to and talk with others who are or were in our situation.
When I came out, my mother requested that I “not tell anyone, let’s just keep this to ourselves”. Not possible. Now my parents call once a year and I haven’t been invited to a family event for years. I’ve never met my sister’s children before.
I envy everyone who has a family table to eat at, even if the celebrations aren’t perfect. Even if I could’ve hidden my gayness, I wouldn’t have tried.
But I still miss the friendly debates at the dinner table, the food and the family news. That’s what makes holidays come to life.
Jack! where for art thou? How can I hug you and invite you to my cousin Gloria’s house? food. games. debates. all the things, jack.
fuck man, me and my brother are both gay. we’re super close. i can’t even imagine if he had a kid/family/husband etc and not being in his life.
Gabrielle, I envy you! And I would love to have a gay sibling. I would fill the toe of their Xmas stocking with glitter( because glitter is hypnotic and wonderful.) Or sequins if they wanted to contain the possible mess.
I’m in Canada, where it’s supposed to be easy-to-be-queer, but sometimes isn’t. Thank you for your invitation – I will imagine the hugs and the food and all the things.
And then I will go make some hot chocolate and butter cookies, because if my family can’t be sweet, at least I can.
Jack, where in Canada? East Coast? We always have room for one more gay at the table.
Carmen, thank you so much for this, and all its honesty. The timing was perfect… holidays and any sudden extended time with extended family are stressful. I was just with my extended family a short time. There’s a lot of love, both ways, but also some times when I just feel so so silent. I was fretful going into it, especially knowing that I wanted to come out, yet probably wouldn’t. Thursday night I just felt like a foreigner, like I don’t even share their language, nor they mine. It was upsetting, I felt so stuck and isolated.
Coming out in a proclamation to a group of people doesn’t sit with my personality, communication style or how I like to relate to people. I value talking face to face with people around important topics as a sign of respect and the ideal way of brave communication. But I hate rocking boats and drawing attention to myself and making the holiday about me and my life rather than just a sharing relaxing family time. But I’m not sharing my full self.
I just today decided that I am going to come out via individual letters to my extended family. Soonish probably. I’m worried that if I wait until after Christmas and then it’s a long time until they see me there’s more of a danger that it’ll be something that is ignored and not talked about than if I do it before a time when I’m more likely to see them face to face (although I’m not sure who the Christmas family crowd will be.) I’m afraid not just about how those family members will take it, but afraid that my close family who does know will be mad at me viewing it as not necessary and maybe mean. And afraid that maybe my parents will experience some backlash from certain people. I’m so grateful for how far my parents have come in understanding, accepting (to some degree) and especially listening to me. I know it won’t be like that with all of them but I worry about “what if someday I want to settle down with a woman?” and I value honesty and hate feeling so silent, so hidden. I’m bi, which I think makes it more confusing for my family I’ve already told. My parents seem to have basically decided I’m actually lesbian, which is interesting to me that that is somehow easier for them to swallow (I’d think they’d want to comfort themselves thinking I might someday end up with a man.)
I’m most stressed about my grandma! She’s getting up there and slowing down and there’s a little voice in me that says that it’s not worth it, I should wait until after she’s gone to be more open and honest. But she really shaped me in some lovely ways as a child and I’ve long been sad at the distance between us (due in large part to my different views on religion and, well, everything). I hate feeling like if I do wait and don’t tell her I’m just taking the easy way and missing an opportunity to be honest with someone I care about, and really share myself.
I echo stay strong and be good to yourself.
Re: the question of whether or not to tell your grandma. Also, death cw.
Last Christmas was the first year I’d come home talking about having a girlfriend instead of a boyfriend, and I was incredibly nervous about how my bossy, judgmental, opinionated Baba would take it. She’d never hesitated to tell anyone what she thought was best for them, including disapproving of my decisions to dye my hair or get my eyebrow pierced or whatever. Turns out, my aunt mentioned it to her before I ever got a chance to, because I was blasting my excitement at being able to properly live my queerness (I’d just gotten out of a 3.5-year monogamous relationship with a dude that started around when I figured out I wasn’t straight) all over facebook.
Soon after that, my mom visited my Baba, who told her that she just wanted to make sure I knew that she loved me no matter what. That nobody chose to be gay (which is what she thought I was, and which is a justification for tolerance I wouldn’t say is necessary or always accurate but w/e), that it was no one else’s business, and that it didn’t matter to her one way or the other. Then, we got a chance to talk about it over Christmas, and she reaffirmed to me that she loved me no matter what (and also revealed later that she knew about and respected trans people??? Which was fucking exciting tbh xD).
She ended up dying almost exactly month after that conversation. I cannot express how thankful I am that I got the chance to talk to her about my sexuality, and that she and the rest of my extended family knew at least that part of my authentic self.
I know it’s not worth it for everyone to risk coming out to someone who might not be around for much longer; I recognize that I am increeeeedibly lucky to have the family I have. But people can still surprise you. You never really know.
I wish everyone here safety and love for the holidays, no matter with or from whom: chosen or bio family.
One family member who I was always close to growing up is “ex-gay” and once, guessing at my sexuality and in an effort to “win me back” to God shared her story (I’m perhaps the only person in the family who knows her only romantic relationship was with a woman). I clammed way up and there’s always been some fraught tension between us since. She doesn’t know that she guessed right and I dread the reaction if I try to tell her. It’s weird holding her secret as well.
Carmen, thank you. There is no stranger feeling than feeling like a stranger to your family. The past few years, a certain shift has occurred in my family. The comfort and familiarity continue to vanish. The once exciting dinner table has become an incubator for forced conversation. Perhaps it is me, I consistently find myself in a perpetual “holiday stupor”. I can never again be the person of my past, the person my family secretly longs for. I dream of coming out to my family, but I know I will lose them. So as not to lose their love and break their hearts, I am willing to remain a stranger for a little longer.
Reading an article this good helps me remember why I love this place.
Thank you so much Carmen! Yesterday my dad said something about how everyone in our immediate family is more green in theory in him, and yet he is the most green in practice (he was essentially just complaining that people were too lazy to put things in the compost bin). I don’t super know why, but that made me want to cry. I told myself I couldn’t because my dad wouldn’t even begin to understand why I was crying. I waited for my sister to get out of bed and then went into the room we used to share (I am visiting home for Thanksgiving) and cried quietly in my old bed. I just feel like, besides me being a lesbian, there are too many things that I cannot tell my family, and I feel like I am pretending to be someone I used to be, or that I used to feel more comfortable pretending to be, and I hate it. I want to come out to them, because I want them to know who I am, but I would not just be coming out about my sexuality–there are so many other things. Can I, or should I tell them that I am pro-choice? that I plan on having sex before I am married? that I don’t believe half of what the bible says? that I think evangelism is bullshit? I told them in October that I was voting for Obama, but they think I supported him just because I am invested in Obamacare, immigrant rights and education. I just feel like I cannot be me, which is hard because my parents raised me to think that I shouldn’t let anyone tell me how to be. I am not afraid that they will cut off communication with me if I come out about all of the things (my mom told me when I was 12 that she would still love me if I was gay), but I am afraid of their disapproval, of the awful comments they will direct at me and of the hundreds of lectures and prayer sessions my parents will deem necessary.
This is lovely.
As for me, I had been incredibly worried about visiting home for Thanksgiving this year because it was the first time I would be seeing my adoptive mom and dad, brother, and uncle since coming out (I came out to mom and dad via a FB message, and my brother and uncle found out either via FB or through the grapevine). My brother is also gay, and when he came out, our mom and dad didn’t take it very well at first. They thought they had done something wrong. My uncle refused to even speak to him. After a while, everything became okay, great even, but I was still really worried about everyone’s reaction. I was moderately confident that mom and dad would be alright, as their response to my FB message was very reassuring, but my uncle and I have never gotten along, and he generally never could say a single phrase without mentioning something racist, sexist, xenophobic, or homophobic. However, the strangest thing happened! Not only was this Thanksgiving alright, it was actually hands-down the best Thanksgiving I have ever had. Mom and dad were great – though we didn’t talk about my partner much, but I didn’t fully feel comfortable talking about her with them just yet anyway, so that wasn’t upsetting. My brother told me how proud he was of me and he asked about my girlfriend a good deal, and I felt pretty comfortable and happy with that. Amazingly, my uncle didn’t say a single discriminatory thing whatsoever! I couldn’t believe it. He was hilarious and nice and told me I looked really nice (I’m not exactly femme, so this was a pleasant surprise). Everything was pretty much wonderful. I must say the very best part was when my brother and his partner were telling me about how he doesn’t get time off for Winter Solstice and my 16 year old half-sister piped in with, “Well, that’s gay!” before she realized what she had just said to 3 gay people. She got this hilarious look on her face and almost dropped her fork. We just laughed our asses off and my brother said, “Well, did you really expect anything different from ME, honey?”
“…and my family remained attached to the past and to someone I couldn’t be anymore and didn’t understand.” THIS.
> I think we come out when we come to a point where we are okay with standing alone. When it becomes so important to live life openly and honestly that its okay if we lose family members. When we stop looking for approval from our immediate and distant family members.
Yes, I recognise this. I’m a sucker for believing I’m a bad person, and for raking over my past bad behaviour, but reading this reminded me very clearly that when I came out to my mother and was told, in many ways, that I was a bad person, I simply didn’t believe her. I just didn’t. It was one of the very few times in my life that I felt, very strongly, that I had done absolutely nothing wrong – I hadn’t acted out of malice or stupidity, and I’d told her mainly because if she got ill again, telling her elaborate lies would make the situation worse. Thanks for reminding me of that.
What a beautiful article.
I’m in the same situation of being out to everyone but my family. I am actually tentatively planning to come out over Christmas, unsure of how my family will react. I understand how tiresome the lies can get, not lies like ‘I’m straight’ or ‘I really fancy this boy’ – that kind of stuff never comes up. But lies like ‘some bar in Covent Garden’ instead of ‘the lesbian bar in Soho’ or ‘I’m going shopping’ instead of ‘I’m meeting 30 lesbians united by their love of Autosraddle’.
At the same time, though, it makes me feel kinda powerful when I’m at home. At random points I can think to myself ‘I’m gay’. When my Mum’s milling around the kitchen or silence falls at the dinner table, I can have those two words on the tip of my tongue and know that they will instantly change the lives of the people around me if I let them trickle out. To them, I am Clark Kent. Elsewhere, I am Superman.
Wow. This. I too, often think about that- what would happen if I said it outloud, for real, right now? I know I won’t, but it’s interesting to think about.
When I came out to my family I refused to do it formally. Mostly because I reject the notion that people have to ‘out’ themselves as different, because otherwise people will assume you’re the ‘normal’ thing (straight). My brothers found out because I was going on a date and one asked what ‘his’ name was and I said quite simply “Her name is Kate” – and they’re both great about it. My little brother even stands up for LGBTQ rights to his megaturbochristian friends on my behalf. My parents found out by reading an online article I’d written. So I’ve never had to do the whole, sit people down and explain myself to them thing with family.
But weirdly, I kind of did that with friends. Maybe because I feel like friends know you better, actually who you are now not who you were as a little girl, and when you learn a little bit more about who you are then it’s more important to keep them informed so they can continue to know you? My response to “I think I’m bisexual” was “Yeah, you didn’t know?!” – I loved them for that. (And really, how did I not know when I’d spent years kissing a loooooot of girls, and falling in weird SUPERBESTFRIENDLOVE with lots of girls and then crying because WHYDONTTHEYWANNABESUPERBEST(sexy)FRIENDSINTEHSAMEWAYIDO?)
“I started to feel a seismic shift in my life where my friends became the only people who knew who I was, and my family remained attached to the past and to someone I couldn’t be anymore and didn’t understand.”
On a slightly different note- this feels really relevant to me at the moment. I’m having a hard time with my mum (who has BPD) and our relationship is so fucked up on so many levels. I realised recently that she just doesn’t know me at all. She has all these ideas about who I am (and opinions on how I should be living my life) and she refuses to actually let go of any of them and ask me who I am today. It’s hurtful, and know it’s part of the BPD doesn’t make it any easier. She can’t see me, all she can see is projections of herself, and they’re usually bad. I have to try and become like a bar of soap, so slippery that all of her grasping of me and unkind words just has me sliding out of her hands and into the bathtub of life.
As Florence says… shake it off.
oh gosh this made me cry. and feel better about my lack of coming out to extended family this holiday. especially after my straight best friend gave me crap about it and told me that coming out to my cousin and asking her to keep it a secret from her parents was rude and unfair and that she would be pissed if one of her cousins made her do that.
holidays with my extended family are awesome and i always have a blast, and i don’t want to lose that. it’s getting harder and harder to just stay silent, but still not harder than actually telling them and changing everything.
I feel for Carmen. I came out to my family as transgender via email because I knew I wouldn’t be able to get a word in edgewise if I blurted it in person. And I nixed letters because they wouldn’t arrive at the same time and my younger sisters and my parents are too enmeshed to keep their letters to themselves. After they knew, I started a facebook page as myself and that pretty much covered the extended family knowing. Except for my non-tech savy grandpa, he kept asking others about me and they weren’t giving him straight answers, and I hadn’t sent him a communication. Finding out others weren’t being forthtelling to my grandpa reminded me I needed to send him a letter something I’ve now done. Coming out is superhard if your family is loaded with Republicans and fundamentalists, but I’m glad I finally jumped. Their reactions weren’t great for the most part, but I am free, I am no longer holding in a secret that was killing me.
There is nothing I could say that would adequately express how much I love this / you. Thank you so much for sharing.
“I want the cute lesbians who work at Starbucks locations across the Earth to know I’m gay.”
Think we ALL have wanted that at some point! Right on the nose.
Thursday was weird. In recent years (like the past 8) it’s been my immediate family, who I love and trust and feel safe with. My sister invited a lot of extended family this time and around them I don’t feel any of those things. They don’t accept me. I invited an AS buddy over thinking it was going to be just us. Nothing happened, just the silence that you’re talking about, the weirdness like being underwater. I felt bad for exposing her to that. I was talking to my mother after and she said “Who cares what they think,” which segued into a weird talk about why I’ve never brought anyone home (mom knows I’m gay and is fine with it). Anyway. The holidays are here and I’m glad I have Xanax.
oh carmen, come visit me. let’s drink bourbon in small sips, no guzzles. discuss family, life, our hair and make pasteles. we can have a one-on-one house butch workshop. you can write on my chalkboard wall 8 more tumblr posts on love.
everyone needs a home-like place where they can just exist, quiet or not.
thank you for this piece and the Peanuts.
i am totally taking you up on that because it sounds amazing and wonderful. i love you deeply / madly / etc
i really appreciated this article, esp the parts about surreal conversation with family and whether they happened/didn’t happen. and how weird it is to see someone you had a “conversation that didn’t happen” with.
i really appreciated this article and your honesty and bravery in writing it. i’m an out queer with lots of queer friends and it still surprises me how many of us deal with these Ambiguous Family Situations. it’s doesn’t get better, we just develop more and more complicated techniques for survival.
what doesn’t kill you may make you stronger but it makes you a fuck of a lot of other things too.
“Ambiguous Family Situations” is rightly capitalized and should be incorporated into the English vernacular.
This is amazing. I feel so much less alone now. I just moved back into my house after being in active duty military for 2 years. I came out to the immediate family and I damn near got kicked out of the house for it. I think we’ve come to an awkward arrangement where I never speak of it again and my family takes every opportunity to passively disapprove. I miss my friends, the family I made while I was away. I don’t like being silent about who I am. Especially around the people I love the most. Hell, It’s BECAUSE I love them so much I told them the truth, and in the same love I keep silent.
Autostraddle is on a roll this week! (Really, when aren’t you guys?) But THIS in conjunction with Butch Please, helped me a lot this weekend. So, thanks and stuff. You rock.
My heart was aching more and more with each heavy heartbeat as I read this whole thing. I agree with you wholly.
My favorite part is envisioning you ‘grinning like a dipshit’ over gravy and biscuits. I wish I could be there to see that, and grin like a frickin idiot right next to you. And when you’re done with your line, I’d yell YEAHH! and slap you on the back and give everyone high fives, even if it’s my hand to their face.
Much Love to You&Yours and to Me&Mine and to all our Beautiful Huggable pobrecitas and cute Starbucks baristas across the world.
you shouldn’t write off your cousins and other conservative relatives. I’m the girliest in my family, wouldn’t miss black Friday shopping for anything (most of my female cousins would prefer to skip it). I wear a dis-proportionally high number of dresses and skirts. I love that stuff. Also babies I love watching babies. I can think of a better way to spend a couple hours than rocking a baby to sleep in my arms. I’m also the only one in my generation who is still a practicing catholic, and I’m not just talking about the holidays. I bring home boys when I’m dating one then sometimes according to my family I’m single for years. My family has met a couple of the girls I have dated but always as close friends, and because I’m religious and girly no one looks twice. So you might let those cousins surprise you.
This was a really brave article to write, let alone have it published on the internet. Really good stuff and really beautifully written.
I’m sorry your Mum cried when you told her. I really hope she finds a way to deal with it.
you on the other hand… are clearly a very strong woman
I would like to give this post’s author and each of you commenters a hug. You are all brave and wonderful. I have spent time in this awkwardtown situation and it’s so good to see this discussion.
I think that coming out is a gift. A really special homemade gift, one that says “I love you and I trust you to take care of this.” Neither Ned Martel nor anyone else has a right to tell you whether or when to give that gift. The socio-political effects of coming out are important, a way your gift can improve the rest of the world in addition to your close relationships, but never, please, never ever feel guilty about waiting if you’re not ready.
May all of your moms join PFlag.
“Last year, it haunted me as well; I came home practicing self-medication and never looked up from my phone.”
This was incredible.
I’m really glad to read this. I came back from Thanksgiving feeling like a coward. My cousin’s kids (who I rarely see because they are in foster care) were there, and the oldest just came out as gay and/or trans (I’m not sure the details -my family is definitely confused on gender/sexuality details…) So the oldest just moved to Texas and wasn’t around, and their younger teenage brother was there, along with another distant cousin (super military conservative, pure-bred homophobe like much of my family) and there were some really infuriating comments made by him- I had assumed that the brother was uncomfortable with his sibling’s story, and assumed he was also pretty homophobic, since he looks up to this other cousin, and so I felt outnumbered and ashamed. I just wish I had had the courage to stand up to him- for the brother (who turns out may be bi if his mostly silly tumblr is to be believed) and myself… and the oldest sibling, who I wish I could get in contact with to say hey, you’re not alone in the family… I think the gay probability in this side of the family is pretty high- there’s my sister and dad’s cousin too at the very least, and some other suspects- but I think because it’s so secret and underlying, there’s so much self-hate and outward hate towards gayness in general… but what I’m trying to say in the end is that I feel an ounce braver after reading this. even just for the solidarity with all of the stories above. and maybe I can come up with better comebacks to what was said in time for next year…
This story is so meaningful to me, thank you. I tried to come out to my mom last Thanksgiving. She rejected me. After 10 months of torment, I sent her ‘the’ email, we discussed a bit electronically, and were able to talk about it more in person a few days before Thanksgiving. I was so ecstatic about this new honesty that I wanted to come out to my dad (and step-mother) this year, on Thanksgiving… but it didn’t feel right. Sometimes those who were able to come out successfully to their families forget how torturous this process can be.
“and just say, very plainly, “I’m very thankful for other women and the opportunities I will have to sleep with many of them in the near future.””
Bahaha, I DIED at this. Someone NEEDS to use this as their coming out line, it’s too good not to.
“I vowed to forgive, in advance, every single offense I took at the table, and remember that my family has flaws and it isn’t their fault that I’m living on the fault line.”
Amazing advice. I’m going through a similar issue with my family right now. Most of them know, but no one is really okay with it, especially my dad. I had to uninvite my girlfriend of two years from Thanksgiving this year because he’s too much of a coward to be in the same room with her. He refuses to ever meet her. If I even inch towards the subject of communicating about my sexuality, he talks over me and extinguishes any sort of progress where he may begin to understand. Ah, so be it. The way I look at it? We have maybe 5-6 days a year where we’re required to spend time with our families. We can be ourselves for the rest of it… thank god!
Also, I think your grandma knows. ;)
I feel so privileged to have read your story, Carmen, and it is so meaningful to me that you offer so much yourself here, when you can’t with your family. At least not yet. I feel very connected to your experience in a big way. I think your writing is beautiful, too, and I aspire to be able to create an impactful story like this one day, being a writer myself. Thank you so much for this!
<3 Kala x
Thank you for reposting this on FB, I’m only out to my mum, sister and my gay aunt (who was super awesome) mum and sister see it as a blip now that I’ve settled down with a nice man. My mum asked me to never tell anyone else in the family, my stepdad has always said he would never recover if any of his kids were gay. Yay for passing thanks to being bi. Hugs to all who need support in this tricky time.
I needed this. I felt so guilty not coming out to my family today as bisexual polyamorous Jamie instead of very quietly mostly-straight monogamous Erin. Thank you for sharing your story.