Q: Two years ago I came out as bisexual to my husband’s three siblings. My husband had always known I dated women before him, and I felt it was time I wanted to share a piece of who I was with his siblings as they all voiced support of LGBTQ people. One of them took it well and showed support, one was completely ambivalent, and one brother went off on me. He called my mother-in-law, whom I did not plan to be out to anytime soon, and the whole family spent the night on the phone having secret conversations about me. My mother-in-law encouraged my husband to divorce me and try for full custody as I was “not right in the head.” After a few weeks, we came to an understanding. My mother-in-law felt sorry, but she also never wanted to speak of the episode or my bisexuality again. Our relationship continues to be awkward. My brother-in-law is not sorry to this day. He says if I didn’t want everyone to know, I should never have told him; he also blamed me, saying bisexuality was confusing and if I didn’t want him to out me and encourage my husband to leave, I should have better explained it. His other two siblings completely understood. My husband told him that what he did was wrong, but he would not accept it. He continues to bring up my coming out with my husband telling him I ruined their brotherly relationship.
My brother-in-law’s wedding is coming up in a few months. He is inviting me to the wedding out of obligation as my husband and daughter are both in the wedding, but I’d rather he didn’t. Is there any case where it would be okay not to attend? I know it may cause more family problems which I don’t want, but I also don’t know how to face him.
A: Wow, well this guy is a real asshole, huh? I want nothing more than to key his car, drink all the beer in his fridge, and start a group chat with all his exes to plot revenge.
The short answer to your question is, while I am definitely not an etiquette expert, I don’t think you have to go to this dude’s wedding. You said yourself that he only invited you out of obligation; do your really want to travel however far and make conversation with boring people while wearing uncomfortable shoes for some jerk who doesn’t even want you there? Think about how many straight people have skipped their queer friends’ and family’s beautiful weddings and family milestones out of bigotry — think about how self-righteous they feel about doing that! People are out here totally comfortable skipping weddings out of abstract homophobia, and here you are having experienced actual concrete harm from these people; I think it’s more than reasonable to not go.
It’s possible it may ’cause more family problems;’ I get that that’s a real concern. But all the ‘family problems’ so far have been out of your control and against your will — it’s neither fair nor realistic for you to feel like you can or should control how his family is feeling. It also, I would argue, isn’t your job! “Facing him” shouldn’t be on you! Here is where we segue into the longer advice that you may not actually be asking for.
You mentioned that your husband talked to his brother and let him know that what he did was wildly inappropriate, which is great! And it seems like based on the context when you mentioned him knowing you’re bi, he’s been supportive with that too (I hope). These things are solid starts, but to be honest, in terms of how a partner could be supporting you in the midst of a family situation that’s been seriously harmful to you, I think it’s more than fair for him to be doing a lot more. In general, if one person in a partnership has an identity or experience that’s marginalized within the other partner’s family, I think it’s the person’s job whose family it is to work on that and make it safe for their partner to be there — or, if that isn’t possible, to do the work of telling that family why you won’t be spending time with them. This is the work people do both as partners and as allies in general, you know?
It’s great that your husband talked to his brother about what already happened, but at the end of the day, it’s already happened — even if his brother DID accept it, that doesn’t fix things going forward. Can your husband also talk to his brother, his mom, and any other family members who participated in this clusterfuck to set explicit expectations about how they should be treating you from now on, and explaining why and educating them when necessary? Can he sit his brother down and explain not only how he fucked up, but what the consequences are going to be, why he can expect not to see you at the wedding, and what he would need to do to make amends if he wants that to change? To the extent that any of that does cause backlash, can he take on the task of dealing with it and protect and support you through it as much as possible?
I realize it’s possible that the idea of talking about this so directly, or even having your husband do it, is maybe uncomfortable or not what you want. Maybe you just want this all to go away, or to feel like it did at least as much as possible for right now. If that’s where you’re at, that’s where you’re at! But even if what you decide you want to go with is telling your brother-in-law that you have food poisoning and that’s why you’re not there, I still think that ball is squarely in your husband’s court. If that’s not something you feel comfortable with asking of him, that might be something to think about! I feel strongly that bi people dating not-bi people have the right to ask more of our partners than just “being okay with” us, you know? We deserve proactive, concrete support! What would enthusiastic, unconditional support of you look like in this situation? Just something to think about!
In the meantime, I’ll be thinking of you and hoping that your brother-in-law gets salmonella from the fish at his wedding for exactly the length of his honeymoon but that everyone else is totally fine!