lgbtq

Letting labels define us

So, people say this about people who are stigmatized in some way or another:

  • “She has a disability, but she doesn’t let her label define her!”
  • “He happens to be gay, but he doesn’t let that label define him!”

And… it tends to be in the context of an article or video that’s literally about how their difference and the way it’s labelled has a profound impact on their life.

It rings false, because if labels didn’t matter, the article or video wouldn’t be about them. It matters that some people are disabled or gay or whatever other thing people are afraid to name in a straightforward way.

It’s important to send the message that we’re all more than one thing, and that no label or category completely defines who we are. It’s also important to acknowledge that differences don’t stop mattering when they are stigmatized. We need to be able to refer to important aspects of who we are without evasion or euphemism.

“I don’t care what you do in bed” is not actually a kind response to being come out to

When someone comes out as other-than-heterosexual to a religious fundamentalist (or someone who for whatever reason has an anti-gay ideology as part of their identity), the conversation often goes this way:

  • Sue: I know you’re really religious and… I think you should know… I’m gay.
  • Fred: No big deal. I don’t care what you do in bed. Hey, it’s not like I tell you what I get up to with my wife, right?

In this scenario, Fred probably thinks that what he’s saying is liberal, kind, generous, and accepting. It isn’t. This is actually a nasty thing to say, even if you mean well.


If someone comes out to you, they are telling you something important about themself; something that was probably hard to say. They are telling you that they have the capacity to love, and that their capacity for love is stigmatized. If they know that you have an anti-gay ideology, they are telling you it is important for you to know about their capacity for love, even though they expect you to disapprove.


Saying something along the lines of “I don’t need to know what you do in bed” in response to that is unkind. It’s implying that you think they just told you something smutty or inappropriate. They didn’t. They told you something appropriate and important.


The capacity of straight men to love women is socially celebrated. The capacity of straight women to love men is also socially celebrated. It’s not treated as something dirty or smutty that needs to be hidden. Even the assumed sexuality of opposite-sex relationships is socially celebrated.


There’s nothing obscene about knowing someone’s sexual orientation or marital status. It’s an important fact about who someone is and how they are in the world.


If someone knows that a man and a woman are married (or often even if they are dating), they will assume that they have sex together. Parts of marriage ceremonies celebrate sexuality (eg: “you may now kiss the bride”). People talk about marriages being consummated, and assume that newly married couples will have a particular kind of sex on their wedding night.


And despite all of this implicit sexuality: If a straight man told someone he was married, and the response was: “I don’t need to know what you do in bed”, he would probably be very offended. He would expect you to respect his relationship and capacity for love more than that, and not to reduce them to something lewd.


It’s important to offer people who aren’t straight the same respect. Even if you disapprove of their relationships, acknowledge them as relationships. Even if you disapprove of their love, acknowledge it as love. Don’t pretend that you’re tolerating something unseemly and unimportant. 


Coming out at Christmas?

hobbiten:

realsocialskills:

I’m planning to come out at christmas before dinner. How do I do it without it becoming awkward or making the holiday all about me? Also I’m very bad with spoken communication when I’m put on the spot or nervous so I don’t know how to deal with the string of Straight People Questions I might get.

realsocialskills said:

I’m not sure what kind of situation you’re in. I’m assuming that you’re gay or lesbian, that you’re probably not out to any family members, that you don’t currently live with family, and that you’re talking about a big family gathering. Some of this might not apply if I’m getting some of that wrong.

Coming out will probably be at least somewhat awkward, no matter how well it goes and no matter how you do it. Coming out to people who aren’t expecting it is inherently awkward. If you’re not sure whether or not they will react positively, it’s especially awkward. Akwardness isn’t something you are likely to be able to completely avoid. That’s not your fault. It’s a problem with our culture. 

That said, making an annoucement at a family gathering is one of the most awkward and risky ways to come out. If you make an annoucement, then you become the center of attention in a group of people whose reactions it might be hard to gauge. Also, at big family gatherings, it’s fairly likely that people will be drinking, and alchohol can greatly magnify bad reactions. For most people, coming out by making an annoucement on a holiday is a very bad idea.

There are other options that might go better:

Coming out casually in conversations with relatives who you think are likely to react well. This allows you to talk like you’re already out, rather than making an annoucement:

  • If you’ve been closested from family for a long time, you’ve probably been using linguistic tricks (like avoiding pronouns) to avoid outing yourself
  • One way to casually come out is to stop doing this, and see what happens
  • Some people will react badly, others will ask questions, others will treat it as no big deal
  • When this works, it’s the least awkward way to come out

eg:

  • Aunt Jane: Sarah, are you seeing anyone these days?
  • Sarah: No, I don’t have a girlfriend right now.

or:

  • Aunt Jane: Bill, are you still seeing Susan?
  • Bill: No, we broke up. I’m with Jason these days.

This doesn’t always work, but it can work really well.

Another option: Coming out via email ahead of time:

  • If you want to let everyone know that you’re gay without having to have a lot of awkward conversations, email has several advantages
  • If you send an email, you don’t have to be the center of everyone’s attention all at once
  • People see it when they see it, and react individually if they want to react
  • Relatives who might have a knee jerk negative reaction will have time to process. Some of them might be less inclined to be mean and more inclined to put family relationships ahead of homophobia if they have time to processes.
  • Once the actual Christmas gathering arrives, your coming out will be somewhat old news
  • If anyone has a really horrendous reaction, you will know ahead of time and will be able to take that into account when making your Christmas plans.

Consider coming out to a family member who you trust first:

  • It will be a lot easier and more comfortable if you know that someone is on your side
  • The most reliable way to be sure of this is to come out to someone you trust ahead of time
  • In particular, if you have a gay relative, it’s worth telling them that you’re gay too and asking for perspective on how to handle things.
  • But even if you don’t. If you’re relatively sure that one of your relatives will treat you well when you come out, it’s worth coming out to them first so that you won’t be alone at the gathering.

If you think you need to come out in person by making an annoucement rather than some other way, consider doing it closer to the end of the gathering.

  • If you make an annoucement early in the gathering and it goes badly, then you still have the rest of the gathering to get through
  • If you come out later in the event, the stakes are lower
  • (Eg: after dinner is likely better than before dinner)

If you can, have somewhere to go: 

  • If you’re staying with family at a big family gathering, that can get really overwhelming really quickly
  • Especially if they’re homophobic
  • Especially if things get awkward after you come out
  • If you have friends who live nearby, it could be a really good idea to make plans to spend time with them. (Or, to have that as a backup plan for if things go badly).
  • If you don’t, spending time with friends online is likely to be important. So, if you can, make sure you have reliable access to an internet-connected device while you’re at the gathering.

tl;dr Coming out is likely to be awkward no matter how you do it. This is not your fault. Coming out by making an annoucement at a family holiday gathering is probably a bad idea. Coming out more casually or emailing ahead of time might be a better idea. It helps if you identify supportive people ahead of time.

Anyone else want to weigh in? What ways of coming out to family members have worked well for you? Which ways have worked poorly?

hobbiten said:

I came out to (most of) my family via a letter a couple of years ago.

I had been out to my parents, brother and a couple of others (2 cousins and one uncle) before, but wanted to come out to the rest of them as well.

So I wrote letters to everyone / every “small family”. (I.e. one to my grandparents, one to my other grandma, one to the one aunt and her family, one to the other aunt and her family…)

The letters all had a lot of stuff in common, and then some personal things to the people addressed at the end, so they knew that it was also about them and my relationship with them.

I didn’t jump right in with the coming out, but prefaced with some general “so the holidays are coming up and this is what I’ve been up to” stuff, then the coming out, then the personal stuff to the addressees and a bit more about my plans for the next weeks, just general things that I would have told them over the phone as well if we had had a casual conversation.

It went really well. I was so nervous about sending them, but I only got neutral and positive reactions. Some of them called, some emailed me, others didn’t react directly, but came up to me during the holiday celebrations, gave me a big hug and a “we love you”.

I think, as realsocialskills pointed out, coming out via a letter or email ahead of time can give everyone some time to process. I think most people can then react more calmly. Some people might feel put on the spot if you announce it in a big way during the holidays and react badly because they feel put under pressure. I think if I had come out during the celebrations, a lot of them would not have known what to say and there would have been at least a long awkward silence, as well as having the rest of the evening be slightly awkward.

It also helped me to talk about this with my friends before I did it. That way they knew what was up and would check in with me. If things had gone badly, I would have been able to call any of my friends who knew and tell them. Having someone know things might go bad and you might need some support over the telephone or email or chat is a good thing, because then they can make sure to be reachable on the occasion.