Question: How is coming out to your family like admitting that you’ve never seen The Evil Dead in a room full of nerds/filmmakers/filmmaking nerds?
Answer: Those two things are in no way similar. Which is why I called in reinforcements for this question. Please welcome Julie and Jessica, the filmmaking duo known as King is a Fink. They don’t need secret identities or quasi-military titles because superhero is their day job.
Dear Captain Awkward,
My family is great compared to most–my parents love us, my relationship with my siblings is good now that we’re all adults, we’re financially stable, etc. But I’ve had persistent problems getting them to stop making homophobic, racist, and/or sexist comments. When I tell them to stop, I usually get hit with the “it’s a joke, lighten up” excuse, and because there are more of them than there are of me I’m very quickly overruled.
Two out of the three categories are personally hurtful to me because I’m a gay woman, not that my family knows it (er, the gay part, I mean). Their casual homophobia so pervades all our conversations, especially the ones I have with my siblings, that I’m far too scared to come out to them. Unfortunately, this also makes the tactic of “this is personally upsetting to me, please stop talking like that for my sake” too frightening to use.
Just saying “stop” repeatedly or refusing to continue a conversation until they stop just gets me ridiculed by all of them, which is very upsetting to me, especially since my older brother was verbally and physically abusive to me throughout our childhood. (He’s apologized for it and our relationship is much better now, but I still find myself triple-checking what I want to say before I say it so he won’t blow up at me, which makes confronting his casual prejudiced attitudes even harder.)
I feel like I’m out of options. The sexism and homophobia especially makes me feel unwelcome around them, but I don’t have any effective way to get them to stop, and it’s made talking to them or visiting (they all live in the same city; I go to college elsewhere) really hard.
Do you have any advice for dealing with this?
Frustrated and Upset
First, your letter broke our hearts. We both remember being in your shoes, knowing that we needed to come out to our families, but being scared to rock the boat. You couldn’t have come to a better place for this advice. In fact, we’re going to give you the advice that we wish someone would have given to us way back when. But it’s going to take a little bit to get there. Stick with us, F&U: this ride is worth the wait, and, in all modestly, we’re completely right.
We have some good news for you and some bad news. Because we’re the big gay advice givers in this scenario, we’re going to go with the good news first. So that you like us a little bit longer.
- Good News = Yay! You’re in college! You’re an adult! You can eat Big Macs or cookies for every meal (if you want to), and you get to make your own decisions about where you go and who you spend your time with. This rocks!
- Bad News = Oh, crap. You’re in college, and you’re an adult. You can eat Big Macs or cookies for every meal (we don’t advise it), and you have total control over all of your own decisions, including who you spend your time with. Double crap – this applies to your family.
Growing up and figuring yourself out can be tricky, especially when you find that you’ve grown up and out of ruts your family is in. When we’re kids, what our parents do and think and say is just ‘the way things are.’ As we get older, we start to see that our parents are just people. What we do next can be a little dicey.
When some realize that their opinions/ways of life have diverged from their parents’, they keep their thoughts to themselves. This is the easier path (i.e. your current approach). You don’t ruffle any feathers, and your family members get to stay the same ‘great compared to most’ bigoted, sexist, homophobic people they’ve always been. The downside: you suffer silently, harboring strong negative feelings toward their family members that will eventually make it so that you don’t visit often. We know that you can’t imagine not being with your folks for the holidays right now, but, trust us, if you continue biting your tongue and stewing when your family is making fun of Modern Family and Ellen DeGeneres at the dinner table, you will eventually find a more supportive ‘family’ to spend your free time with. It doesn’t sound like you want to do this, though, so we highly recommend that you do what we’re about to advise: tell them the truth, the whole truth, nothing but the truth.
Step One: Tell your family that you’re gay either individually prior to holiday break – this was Captain Awkward’s suggestion (Use a letter! It gives you the chance to say everything you need to say, and them some reaction time. <3, CA) – or go balls out and do it during a toast right before your dad starts carving the holiday ham. Okay, that last part is a joke (because only, like, 20% of lesbians even eat ham). It’ll probably be easiest to tell one trusted parent or other family member older than yourself first so that you have some support while you make your way through the rest. You don’t have to come out individually to all of your aunts, uncles, grandparents, and cousins: word gets around. We totally understand that it’s scary to come out to your family, even under the best circumstances. But you can do it. We survived.
Step Two: Give your family a chance to digest the news. Remember, you’ve known for a while, and even if they’re the coolest, nicest people ever, they’re going to need a little time to catch up.
Step Three: Do NOT leave this part out —> tell your parents/siblings that you were scared to tell them that you were gay because of all of the homophobic things they’ve said in the past. Tell them that it made you feel unwelcome in their home. Tell them that it greatly upset you. They need to hear this, and they will probably be shocked that you think they’ve said anything that can be construed as homophobic. Let them know that you’re telling them, because you hope they’ll be more sensitive to it now that they know more about you. Tell them that you’re telling them because you WANT to be IN this family instead of on the OUTside of it.
Can we guarantee they’re going to stop saying insensitive things in front of you? Nope. But they might think twice before saying homophobic things in front of you. Chances are that they don’t say racist things in front of people of other races, right? Why? Because that’s rude, and we’re willing to bet that your family prides itself on its manners. Therefore, maybe they won’t say homophobic things in front of you if they know you’re one of these mythological homos they’ve heard so much about. It’s worth a shot.
Of course, assuming that your parents are kind and accepting, there are other benefits to coming out to them, namely that you’ll get to share your life with them, including your joys and your heartbreaks. You sound like you have a relatively close-knit family. Give your parents a chance to be a part of your life. Let them know more about you so that they can best support you.
You can’t control what your family is like, but you can give them a chance to do (and say) the right things. Of course, if you come out to them and tell them their biases bother you and they STILL continue with the sexist/racist/homophobic talk, we suggest making your family visits short and sweet and moving to a big city where you can create your own supportive friend network. Remember, you have control over where to spend your time. and if there’re not going to make a home in which you feel safe and valued, then you’re going to have to make one for yourself. There are a lot of people out there who are going to love you for exactly who you are. Hopefully your family steps up and shows you that they are just a few of these people.
One more thing: Okay, we know we just told you to go for the gold and bare your soul to your whole family, but we need to be very clear about something: if, on any level, there’s a part of you that’s telling you not to come out to your parents because there’s a possibility of violence or other shunning, do not do it without support and protection. Even if there is no threat of violence, understand that there may be some members of your family whose homophobia runs deeper than just homophobic jokes during the soup course. Some people hate gay people. It doesn’t matter how great you are; bigotry runs deep, and, if this happens, it will be extremely painful. Make sure you have someone to talk to through this (a good friend, a therapist, both…if you’re in college take advantage of whatever student services has to offer. Seriously…do it while it’s free.) As far as we’re concerned, shunning you would be their loss. Ultimately, you know your family better than we do. Protect yourself physically and emotionally.
Now…go steal some cereal from the school cafeteria, study hard for your finals, and get ready to don ye now your gay apparel. We’re rooting for you!
Julie Keck and Jessica King make movies and mischief as King is a Fink Productions. Recently they’ve stirred up trouble on the film festival scene, where they recently screened their documentary (w/ 5414 Productions) “A Second Knock at the Door” and their kinky cutie “Wiggle Room.” They currently serve as the Chief Creative and Operations Offices for the lesbian web content site tello films, which is ramping up to release their new web series I HATE TOMMY FINCH. In addition to all of this hoopla, Keck & King write feature scripts for other directors, consult on crowdfunding campaigns, and, apparently, give advice to lil baby gays. You can learn more about them at kingisafink.com, but if you really want to know what they’re up to, follow their twitterfeed immediately: @kingisafink.