I am a lesbian in her mid-twenties who grew up in a very religious (and homophobic) environment. In my last year of college, I began dating one of my best friends who lived in another state, and slowly began to come out to my social circle, which at that time was largely composed of friends I met at my religious college. I’ve been extraordinarily lucky and nearly all of the people I’ve told have responded well, but I still have not been able to tell any of my biological family. Her parents are both supportive of us, and paid for us to elope and have a short honeymoon in New York back in December. (Elopement has been on the table for a long time, but we wanted to make it official after the election.) They are also temporarily offering her financial support while she looks for a job here (she moved to be with me and we got an apartment last month). As far as my parents know, the trip to New York was an early Christmas present from her parents that she invited me on because we’re really close, and we’re just roommates.
Neither of my parents have any idea about either my sexuality or my relationship – I lived at home the whole time I was dating my wife, and I was very careful. My mom is the kind of person who would ask me directly if she thought I was gay (she cornered me after marriage equality passed for an hour-long “chat” about it) and my dad and I have never discussed my romantic life even when I thought I was straight. I love my parents and I’m pretty close with them, but they’re both openly homophobic, so I honestly don’t know how they’ll react when they find out about me. Part of me hopes that maybe now that I don’t live with them, it will get easier and I can be more open about my relationship, but I also know they’ll probably be at least upset that I lied to them for years. Do you have any advice about how to broach this topic with them? I’m considering breaking the news that my wife and I are in a relationship to them via email soon, but I worry that somehow they’ll find out that we’re actually married and it will upset them even further. I want to be as kind and respectful to them as I can be, but I love my wife and I won’t apologize for that, or for making choices that make me happy. Thanks, Captain.
-Almost Out of the Closet
Dear Almost Out,
My good friend Julie from King Is A Fink had great advice on coming out to family way back when. My first advice is that you listen to her, because she is a woman married to a woman (Hi Jessica!) and they know what you are going through in a way I do not.
My second advice is to just skip ahead to telling them about being married to your wife. (They’ll infer the “lesbian” part on their own from that). Doling out the truth in little chunks won’t make it easier for anyone.
You could find a site that makes nice wedding announcements, get some printed out, and send them to your entire biological family at the same time. I did a quick search for “We eloped wedding announcement” and came up with eleventy jillion results, so, hey, you’re not alone in this.
What to maybe put on the announcement:
- We eloped!
- Our anniversary is [Date].
- A nice photo of you together.
- Both your names (helpful if they don’t know your wife’s name, also helpful if somebody changed their name).
- An address where people could mail you stuff.
Advantages to this method:
- It’s the truth!
- You can let everybody know in one fell swoop.
- You get to treat it like the exciting, happy announcement that it is and daring your family to do the right thing.
- You get to use a traditional etiquette tool to get the job done, which, again, if your family sees itself as “traditional” is an advantage. Use the shield of “respectfulness” and respectability that good stationery gives! It’s also a tradition to not be a jerk to a bride about her wedding!
- Doing it in writing gives your family the opportunity to have their initial reaction privately, without you having to see it or deal with it, and gives them more room to do the right thing.
Send those out. For the record the right thing to do when receiving a wedding announcement from someone is to say “Wow, congratulations!” and maybe send them a card in return. But you may get other reactions, like:
“But what will Grandma think when we tell her?”
Did she not get her announcement? We sent it to the whole family.
“But you didn’t invite us!”
That’s what elopement means. We wanted it to be just us, no hassle, etc. (Lots of people elope and end up just as married as people who don’t elope and have to explain it to families who are mad they weren’t invited.)
Keep reminding yourself and your family that this is happy news. This is not news you feel like apologizing for. This is news you want to shout from the rooftops: “I married my favorite person and I am in love and happy and I deserve the same congratulations and support as anybody else in this family when they get married.” “I am telling you happy news!” “I am telling you a good thing that makes me happy!”
“But you liiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiied to us about being gay!”
Well, you made it pretty clear that gay was a thing you did not want me to be, which hurt my feelings a lot and made me afraid to tell you while I still lived under your roof. I hated lying, and I very much want you to know the truth and be a part of my life, but I never felt safe to tell you before now. But since I’m so very happy and in love, I wanted my family to share in that happy news and celebrate with me.
Any parent is gonna have a lot of feelings about being told “Hey, you made me feel unsafe about this so I had to keep it a giant secret.” Those feelings are not yours to manage or absolve, and they also aren’t the only feelings or the most important feelings in this situation.
Lemme use the big font when I say this:
Homophobic parents are asking to be lied to about this stuff.
If you hate and fear people because of their identity, and your kid has that identity and feels that they have to hide it in order to live safely in their home with you, you have zero moral high ground about “being lied to.” I’m sure it sucks to be a parent and hear this big life-changing news about your kid and realize you were on the outside of it all. You know what else sucks? Being forced to lie about who you are to the people who are supposed to love you and support you. Feeling like you can’t tell your parents about your marriage because they might disown you. Doing all of this in a country where your rights are considered debatable and disposable, and hearing constant confirmation of the second-class/bound-for-eternal-hellfire status of people like you from the people who raised you and who are supposed to love you.
If your parents were on the outside of knowing about your romantic life before now, it’s because they made choices that put them there. They have choices about how they treat you now and in the future. If they want to be part of your happy adult life, they’ll make the right ones.
P.S. Your mom knows already, or at least suspects, which is why she did all the quizzing about marriage equality. Tell her/them!
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