AI: Coming Out, and Partner’s Families
A partner of mine just spent the weekend with her aunt, who is not one of the most accepting people in the world. This aunt has met me, but is not aware that I’m transgender, and has said some less than flattering things about transpeople. My partner is out to her more immediate family (mother and brother) but not her extended family (aunt, grandmother, cousin) and I’m pretty comfortable with this.
Do you believe we have a different responsibility about coming out to immediate vs. extended family members? Who do you think needs to know, and who doesn’t in your family?
Image from positivediscipline.com.
Surely what matters is the type of relationship you have with them, not how you’re related to them. That said, I don’t think there’s a responsibility to come out to anyone.
I certainly think there are different levels of who needs to know what. I never intended to come out to my grandmother for example, as she has used any excuse to not speak to our family in the past and I simply didn’t want to cause drama. My mom outed me to her against my wishes. Other than that, I’ve pretty much taken the path of whoever figures it out through facebook statuses and being at family functions where my girlfriend and I are in attendance is welcome to know.
On the other hand, nobody in my family knows about the poly aspect of our relationship. Although my parents have met our other partner, it’s just as “our friend”. He however, has introduced both of us to his parents and it went quite well. Layers of complexity!
I definitely think that it’s different for everyone, but I know I didn’t bother coming out to my extended family. I told my parents and my sister, but I just let the rest filter through. I don’t really have much contact with extended family, so telling them isn’t really likely to happen anyway. One half of my extended family is largely filled with prats anyway, if they did happen to find out that I’m not straight it would be a pretty good “fuck you” as far as I’m concerned.
Haven’t told my grandmother, but she’s old and mostly blind and rather deaf and we expect she’ll shuffle off this mortal coil reasonably soon so I feel it would just create more troubles. I’m happy enough for my girlfriend to just be a roommate, it’s not like she can see the bedroom to say otherwise.
I’m a straight family member, so take this how you will. Two of my cousins and my uncle are gay. I was “sheltered” from this information well into my teens.
I was angry with my parents about my uncle; I should not have been lied to about who he was. Now that he’s passed, I’m sad that I did not get the chance to know him I otherwise might have had. And I feel like I’ve had an uncle taken from me since I never had the chance to get to know his partner.
I was particularly upset about one cousin though. She’s ten years older than me, and has known about her orientation for some time. We’re not “close,” but close in the way that a family shares a very deep mutual love and respect, and I look up to her quite a bit (and you can tell we’re genetically similar like woah). But the older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve been hurt by the fact that her orientation was hidden from me, and only introduced in hushed, embarrassed tones to make sure I didn’t say anything inappropriate when I saw her. Someone in my family, preferably her (she?), should have respected me, and her, enough to tell me when she came out to everyone else. And a feel like I missed an opportunity to get really close with her because of it. How can you really get to know someone when part of them is being hidden from you?
I’m not saying, of course, that anyone has the “responsibility” to come out about anything. That’s your choice. And orientation of any sort shouldn’t have to be about “coming out” any more than being straight is.
But from the other side of the line, I’ll ask you to consider the love and respect that the family member has for you, and whether they deserve honesty from you. There are varying degrees of closeness within family, and sometimes coming out to a cousin but not an aunt or uncle can be the right thing to do. Or, if you choose to let it filter, consider who might be hurt that you didn’t say something to them face to face.
I hope this made sense. The real point is: don’t hide who you are from people who love you, no matter what degree of blood we are. And don’t let one person’s negativity prevent you from having the love and support of the rest of your family. If we really love you, we’re happy that you’re happy, and want to share in that, or sad that you’re sad, and want to be around to help.
As you said coming out is purely the responsibility of the person that is coming out. To that end you can’t dictate how someone can come out either. Coming out is a far greater risk for the person coming out than it is for the person being told and this means they get to set their own risk tolerance. Given that you have indicated that your family has, in the past, hidden the fact that other members of your family are gay it doesn’t sound like this was the most friendly environment for your cousin to be coming out in. In fact, if you were hearing it in hushed whispers there is a chance you weren’t supposed to know at all. If that’s the case that’s not the failing of your cousin, it’s the failing of the other family members. Perhaps your cousin would have come out to you to your face in time or perhaps she was having issues dealing with the fact that she wasn’t straight. Oddly, discovering that you’re not straight isn’t really a simple process, it’s often filled with doubt, fear and anxiety. I can assure you that advising people how they should come out to others does not help, it only adds to it. How you found out may not have been the way that you, personally, wanted to find out but I can assure it’s far more upsetting to be outed before you want to do so and far more stressful if you are being pressured as to how you should do so.
I’m not prescribing how anyone should come out, and would never presume to do so. I was hoping a I made more sense that it seems I did…. Let me try again?
I shared my experience to illustrate that it’s not always appropriate to type your family as a whole. The idea of homosexuality was new to my family at the time, for sure, and some had trouble adapting, although they were never anything but loving and accepting to the person (or at least they tried hard). And I wasn’t faulting my cousin, just my parents, but I wish she had been able to talk to me apart from them. There’s no blame in that, just wishing I could have been more a part of her life, and been able to support her as she came out to the rest of the family.
I wanted to suggest that there could be value in evaluating each family member individually. Maybe sharing with one person could make coming out to everyone else easier, but you won’t know that if you lump that one person in with the rest of the family. Or, even if you don’t want to come out to everyone, coming out to one person has the potential to strengthen your relationship with that person, make family gatherings easier, and give you an ally if you should somehow be accidentally outed to the rest of the family.
Point: please don’t type your family as a whole. It’s made of individuals who care about you.
Cynik, I know I’m not gay, and that makes my advice different. I’ve been with friends as they struggled with their identity, and believe it or not, I’ve struggled with my own. Straight was something I came to as a process (and perhaps not a wholly appropriate label, but figuring that out is what brings me here in the first place), not landed in naturally. In fact, my first crush was on a girl, and I clearly remember the fear of hiding that from my parents and the confusion of figuring out what I was feeling. But, being on the family side now, I want to ask that people not discount relationships that have the potential to be strong, empowering ones just because the label “family” is attached to them. Please don’t take this as prescribing or pressuring, just a perspective on behalf of all of the family members who would love and support you regardless of your sexual/gender identity.
Do you have any idea how exhausting it is coming out to people? I avoided coming out to my parents for years because the prospect was terrifying and I didn’t even have any particular reason to be afraid to do it. You said that your cousin wasn’t close to you but you’re upset that she didn’t come out to you personally. Relationships go two ways, once you found out you could have said something to her. You could have told her that you were an ally and that you were on her side, the relationship could have been built from there. You can’t expect that the person who is trying to come to terms with the fact that society doesn’t view them as “normal” is going to be thinking about everyone else around them. If they are thinking about people around them it’s likely that it’s because they’re paranoid of what people are saying or thinking. It’s a far greater risk for her to come out to you personally as queer than it is for you to come out to her as an ally. Perhaps think a little less about how her sexuality is affecting you and more about how it’s affecting her.
Cynik, I never meant to offend. I apologize for how I came across, and for any offense I caused.
Can I request that my post be deleted? I don’t want to offend anyone else who happens across this. Thank you.
seriously. coming out is risky and emotionally exhausting even under the best circumstances, and people respond in unpredictably bad ways as often as they respond unpredictably well. i can further understand your cousin’s hesitance to come out to family due to the simple fact that news often travels among relations. the hushed whispers you heard being a case in point. a person coming out is often weighing a lot of potential consequences and engaging in some careful risk management. i’d stick to your observation that it’s up to the person coming out that needs to determine their methods and timeline for themselves.
I have to agree with Cynik, especially: “Perhaps think a little less about how her sexuality is affecting you and more about how it’s affecting her.”
It’s a little annoying when people complain that it hurt their feelings that queer people didn’t come out to them, as if we are obligated to come out to people.
I can type my family however I want, by the way. I know them better than you do. =P
I am not going to be deleting any comments here, because I think conversations like this are important. It sounds to me like an important lesson has been learned, and therefore I see no reason to delete messages that lead to that kind of lesson. I believe that people visiting and reading this thread in the future can learn from it to.
I am, however, going to ask that people not pile on. What was needed to be said to Carla has been, and she clearly is here to learn.
As long as you think my comments will be helpful to others, not harmful, I don’t mind if you leave them up. I really do apologize if I offended anyone. I would like to ask if you can get my last name off the first post. I always post with my first name, and stupidly missed that the WordPress default is first and last name…. I know it’s my own dumb mistake, but can you help me?