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Ahoy Captain!

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

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Hey, Captain. I’ve got a bit of a social conundrum and would appreciate any tips/scripts to help me deal with people I don’t want to talk to at all.

Short back story: My husband is a youth minister at a church. We have been living in the church parsonage rent-free for the past 8 or 9 years in exchange for monitoring the property, and him not getting a pay check. Over Christmas, the church burned down. A week later, the pastor and a deacon came to us an explained (very poorly) that due to state building codes, the church cannot be rebuilt in the original location, and the only other property the church owns for building is where the parsonage sits. They told us they would like to start removing the parsonage by March; but please don’t tell anyone about this because they hadn’t decided how to tell the church body, or even when to tell them-they seemed to think that two months is sufficient time for a single income (me) household with two children and a person who is a wheelchair user (my husband) to find a new place to live (it isn’t, we’re still looking).

Current problem: While my day job sometimes schedules me for Sundays, there are still weekends I have off, and due to not being right next to the church, if my husband is to perform his duties, I have to take them to church. Our girls also like going to church. I do not. I am feeling a lot of anger and bitterness, as well as depression, because this couldn’t have come at a worse time. Now, when I am at church, I find myself needing to act like I enjoy being around various groups of people who are a) willing to give a family a bare two months to move, and b) are exhibiting more ideological differences with each passing day (I’m sure given the current political climate, most everyone can guess why) that I find more and more difficult to deal with. I have already left off social media outside my online bookstore owner persona, but I can’t leave my husband and kids to always go to church alone-then my husband has to deal with people commenting on my having to work (it’s so dreadful) or asking where I am and if I’m okay (I’m not, but they don’t want to hear that anyway).

Any ideas/scripts how I can politely tell them to leave me alone and give me space because we are not on the same page, when I’d really love to have an epic breakdown and tell them exactly where they can all go?

Thanks bunches

Too Stressed For This
(she is fine as pronoun)

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Dear Captain–

My husband was diagnosed with lung cancer last spring. At the time, it was considered not the worst possible type of cancer and he had a 70% chance of going into remission. He chose not to tell either of his parents (who have been divorced for 45 years) or anyone else on his side of the family.

Most of the reason he made this decision is because when my husband was a plump 15 year old who wanted to lose weight, his father told him that he’d lose weight if he started smoking. And even bought his son 2 cartons of cigarettes a week until he left home at 18. My husband tried many times to quit until he finally managed to quit for good in 2006 (thank you, Chantix). When he was diagnosed with congestive heart failure and that it was probably caused by his heavy smoking habit, his father had a dramatic “OMG, OMG what have I done, what have I done” fit and it took months (not joking) of reassurance and absolution from my husband to reassure him.

My husband just doesn’t want to go through that again. He doesn’t want to tell anyone in his family because if he told anyone, word would spread to his father fairly quickly (he has two brothers who still have relationships with both parents).

What makes it more awful is that my father-in-law was physically and verbally abusive to my husband when he was a child and has never said a word about it since. Apparently, it is supposed to be as if none of the beatings, verbal putdowns, etc, ever happened. My husband says he’s given up on getting any admission from his father about just how awful he was as a father to his three young sons. Same with his mother–she witnessed all the abuse but didn’t leave his father until my husband was nearly 18.

Earlier this month, we discovered that my husband didn’t make it into remission. He now has Stage IV cancer with a distant metastasis. The median time for survival is 12 months (half the people with his diagnosis die before 12 months, half die after 12 months). The worst case scenario is 6 months and the best case scenario is 18 months.

My husband has chosen to deal with this by doing all the medical stuff (chemotherapy, labs, follow up scans, etc) and deliberately not thinking about it otherwise. I’ve invited him to talk about it and made it clear that I am willing to respect and support whatever decisions he makes. I know this sounds like denial and heck, for all I know, it may be. All I really know is that it works for him. I am respecting his choice in the matter.

My concern is for my in-laws. We are not at all close (they live over 2200 miles aways) and we’ve seen them once since my husband moved away to live with me 22 years ago. My husband is adamant: no telling. His reasoning is that there is nothing they can do, so learning about it sooner will just add that many more months they will be in pain.

I have read far too many anecdotes from people that go roughly “my beloved person hid their diagnosis of cancer until just before their death/until death and not having a chance to say good bye has increased my pain.” My husband’s retort is that if he gets run over by a bus tomorrow, they wouldn’t have time to say good bye either.

I think that he doesn’t want to endure months of “OMG, what have I done” from his father and demands to be absolved.

Part of me is horrified at the pain my husband’s family will go through without warning, etc, when he dies. Especially since it does not appear that there will be any ‘sooner or later’ because it will be ‘soon or sooner’.

Right now, I’m respecting his boundaries around telling his family. I keep wavering, though, on whether I should continue to do so. My reasoning is that my first loyalty is to my husband rather than a group of people I’ve only met twice in 22 years but some part of me keeps saying that I am being complicit in potentially increasing their pain. I feel like I am playing the part of the torturer’s assistant.

Soon to be Widow

pronouns: she/her Read More

Hello, Cap and friends! I have a couple of questions about boundary-setting with people who don’t believe in boundaries.

The Awkward team’s advice and scripts on setting boundaries have been so wonderfully helpful in my life, but what (if anything) can you say to people who believe that setting boundaries in a family is controlling?

For an example, there are wonderful scripts you linked from the SPLC center, on how to set boundaries with family members being bigoted:

>”Your ‘jokes’ are putting unnecessary distance between us; I worry they’ll end up doing irreparable harm. I want to make sure those ‘jokes’ don’t damage our relationship.” “You know that respect and tolerance are important values in my life, and, while I understand that you have a right to say what you want, I’m asking you to show a little more respect for me by not telling these ‘jokes’ when I’m around.” “I don’t want this rift to get worse, and I want us to have a good relationship. What should we do?””

In my family (parents + siblings, I’m 30), the responses are simply, “There wouldn’t be a problem if you just laughed” and “You’re trying to control what I do by saying that. It’s manipulative to say that I’m disrespecting you if I keep saying [awful insults about minority groups, or about me personally].” I mean, in a way they are kind of right? I am literally attempting to control discourse to a degree, but somehow that feels like they are missing the forest for the trees in a way I can’t articulate. Especially since they get offended if you don’t laugh at their ‘jokes!’

Is there any way to rationally respond to people that think that attempting to set boundaries (or tears at being insulted) is “childish and manipulative”? They see that as a truly deeply harmful thing, and it would be really wonderful if it was possible to get them to understand the idea of **mutual** respect.

Thank you so very much for ANY ideas.

– A Weary Woman

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Dear Captain,

I’m hooked on your advice as well as comments from the Awkward Army. Now, I need your help.

Let me set the scene. I’ve lived in Dubai, New York, Hong Kong and a lot of other cool places. I love anime (inner geek), talking shit with my friends (very cool, very diverse), and can’t cook if my life depended on it. Pretty average girl (or I like to think of myself as rocking cool!).

But that’s not how everyone sees me. You see, I’m also Muslim. I love my faith, and totally respect everyone else’s beliefs. The thing is, over the years, I’ve been feeling an increasingly hostile attitude. I understand why. Really bad things have been happening. And the media has increasingly painted all Muslims as extremists, that as if we somehow all share this messed up perversion of our ideology. The media doesn’t mention that the victims of most of these terrorist attacks are Muslims, and we hate these $@&#* more than anyone.

I feel like I’m in a position to represent that we’re not all like that – just by being me. When I make friends, they get to know me. That the majority of Muslims are like me. There’s over a billion Muslims.. You never hear about them because there’s nothing to say. So I’m in no way the exception.

I thought that was the cool way to do things. Just be yourself, and at least the circle of people I’m with will see that we’re not like the media reports. If people have questions about what I believe or about the religion, I answer and clarify the wildly inaccurate picture media reports.

In my life, there’s always been questions. But lately, the talk is getting… scarier. Some of the comments from people I know (not directed at me), are crazy racist, and just plain crazy. I’m no shrinking violet, but I feel like confronting people head on won’t change their minds because I come out as defensive (which is often equated to guilty). At the same time, sitting by passively while people say things I thought ended with WWII… not so good either. Sitting on the sidelines back then was sooo not the way to go. Plus in a twisted way, I feel like I have a responsibility to be some sort of spokesperson, since no one ever hears the Muslim perspective (extremists don’t represent our beliefs, terrorism is a crime against humanity, and we’re just normal people – doctors, teachers, geeks, if you cut me do I not bleed normal..)

Down to the question. The other day I was surprised to overhear a colleague of mine, let’s call him John, say all Muslims are terrorists and should be monitored (by overhear I mean sitting two desks down as he had a loud discussion with neighbouring desks.. WTF). John is not alone in his thoughts. John is a cool guy, who has also known me for a while. So I was really surprised that’s what he thinks of me (since I am ONE OF THEM).

What should I do the next time I hear a friend of mine say something along the lines of what Donald Trump has been spouting? My usual response, asking them if they think of me that way (the only Muslim they know), they say OMG OFCOURSE NOT! YOU’RE MY FRIEND! BUT YOU’RE NOT LIKE THEM, YOU’RE NICE!! Is there a script you can suggest?

Thanks Captain.

A cross between Mulan, Princess Jasmine, and Dragonball Z

Dear PrincessMuJasDragonZ,

I’ve been sitting on your letter for an embarrassingly long time because what “script” could I give you to “politely” win over people who want to police and erase your existence and who feel secure enough in those beliefs that they’ll talk about it casually at work in front of you? Sadly, our presidential candidate whose name rhymes with “dump” didn’t set all this hate in motion. My grampa was sending me missives about how we have to “round up all the Muslims and watch them” from the Rancid Old Man Internet 10+ years ago, and my impassioned rebuttals did nothing to stop it or change it. I am angry for you and sad for you and I don’t know what to tell you. The two strategies that come to my mind are 1) what you’re doing:

Wow, John, you know I am Muslim, right? Is that what you think about me?

And they say ofcoursenotyouremyfriendyourenotlikethemyourenice…

… and you say, “Well, of course I am nice, and my family are nice, and the 1 billion of us on the planet are also pretty nice, so, could you cool it with the anti-Muslim talk?”

ThatsnotwhatImeantareyoucallingmeracist…

There are terrible people with vested interests in making us hate each other. Can we try not to do their work for them? I value your friendship, but I can’t hang if you are going to advocate taking away my human rights and the rights of people like me.

And then you have to watch, in that moment and in all the ones to follow, to see if your friendship means anything to the person. Anything at all. Even if this person still thinks terrible, xenophobic things do they care enough about you to keep a lid on all of it around you, for form’s sake, if nothing else? Or will you now be subject to a torrent of ranting about “political correctness” and increased retaliation from them? Or, worse, find out they were speaking aloud on purpose in order to terrorize you?

Option 2) seems to be “document the crap out of these comments and see if your workplace rules and the laws about ‘hostile workplaces’ will offer you any protection.” That immediately makes John your lifetime enemy and possibly you lose your job or have to leave it and get branded “difficult” and have a hard time finding a new one. Sounds fun.

You can combine the two strategies, like, start with the personal appeal and see if it works, and then if it doesn’t work appeal to authority so that you can have safety where you work, but what if the people in authority are not on your side?

Hateful, violent people test the waters by making cruel “jokes” and other comments to see how others react. They think that everyone secretly thinks just like they do. Your coworkers and your supervisor should be helping you when “John” gets going. “John, really? This is what we’re talking about?” “Wow, that’s offensive, please stop.” “Shocked silence” on their part (if shock is what’s fueling their silence) isn’t the same as resistance. Maybe one thing you could do is to ask people who you know don’t share John’s views to do some of the speaking up and take the pressure off you.

Just know, if you fail, it wasn’t because you used the wrong script or because you aren’t cool and wonderful or human enough.

-and now a brief interlude about historical/current events-

In 1998 I went to Ukraine on a work trip and one of my colleagues took me to an underground gay club there. Private sexual behavior between adults was technically legal in Ukraine after 1991, but any public expression could be classified as “pornographic” and LGBTQ-people in Ukraine were (and are) subject to extreme monitoring and violence by law enforcement and by hate-groups. Queer folks also face(d) employment discrimination, threats of blackmail, the fear of being outed & disowned by family, and as a result many choose to hide their orientation in public. That’s where the clubs came in – no fixed address, renting out halls here and there, this week’s or month’s location spread by word-of-mouth. The one I went to was in an old Soviet “Peoples’ Palace” covered in Socialist Realist murals of burly farm and factory workers sexily riding tractors (perfection, tbh). Each man came to the club with a woman as a date. Once inside, the women grabbed drinks and sat together out of the way at a cluster of tables – playing cards, talking among themselves, sometimes even knitting or doing embroidery while the men danced. If the police or local brownshirt assholes (or both) showed up, a certain folk song would play as a signal, at which time we women were to grab either our dates or the nearest man and immediately start dancing (“Look officer, it’s just our boring folkdance club!”) like lives depended on it. Because maybe they did.

In the meantime, the men danced, packing weeks or months of living into a few moments on the dance floor, dancing like their lives depended on having this space to be free and beautiful and sexual and human. (Because maybe they did).

Letter Writer, your story and the memory of beautiful humans dancing with each other under the shadow of violence are part of the same story. Homophobic slaughter of Latinx club patrons this weekend in Orlando and knee-jerk Islamophobia about the perpetrator are two awful tastes that are bringing all the worst people together. The question for me today isn’t how you can speak up better for your own humanity because you’re already doing that the best you can and you already deserve safety and freedom from hate. The question for me is: How do we who are not the immediate targets of hate because of our identity [create a shield of defensive folk dancers][summon Dumbledore’s Army][push back this tide of normalized bigotry, homophobia, xenophobia]?

Some of it (but not all of it) is about voting and writing and calling elected representatives and pulling the levers of government however we can. Some of it is about protesting – brave people literally putting their bodies and lives on the line for themselves and others in the name of justice and safety. A LOT of it is about organizing. Maybe it’s about running for office ourselves (though don’t read the comments if you follow that link and you like cogent discussion).

Some of it is about speaking up to the people we know when we see something wrong. “Wow, John, really? You think that’s an appropriate work conversation? I’m surprised at you.” “Dad, that opinion is really scary – you can’t be serious.” Take away the fig leaf that “everybody” agrees with these ideas.

Some of it about making art. (And love is love is love is love is love is love is LOVE). And knowing history. And correcting facts – “Refugees are FLEEING terrorism, not causing it.” “Transgender people using bathrooms are not a threat to others, seriously, stop, that is not the point of these bills.” “LET PEOPLE PEE AND POOP IN PEACE, OMG.”

What else is it? How do we protect each other from hate? How do we make it so that everyone is free to dance?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

HI!

So I know church is maybe not your milieu, but I hope this question has some broader applications and maybe deserves a broader answer.

I’m a lady in my early 30s who has been dating my wonderful boyfriend (late 20s) for a few years. We’ve been attending our church for 3 years, which we chose together. I was raised small town Protestant and my bf did the recovering Catholic/atheist thing for a number of years. We chose our church because, although it’s very formal (incense, fancy vestments, the whole bit) it’s a denomination that’s known for being really open-minded and liberal. We also liked the individual church we chose because it’s really beautiful and historic, and located downtown–so really, right in the thick of things. I wouldn’t call it a bad neighborhood per se (mostly because the idea of a neighborhood being “bad” is pretty racist) but during the crack epidemic of the ’80s and ’90s, there were a few scary incidents and membership took a nosedive.

Fast forward to today. Our church’s membership is growing, and about 2 years ago my boyfriend decided he was interested in pursing a career in the church. To that end, he created a ministry that focuses on homelessness and food insecurity, which is an issue that’s very close to his heart, as both of his parents were homeless at different points. The bulk of the work is that, once a week, he hosts a lunch for anyone who wants to attend, free of charge. The demand is great, and seeing 100 people come through in 90 min is not unusual. Most of the people who come through are either homeless or food insecure, and many of them are people of color.

This is a ministry that a lot of people are really excited about–our priest has been a total treasure throughout the whole process, and Boyfriend is quickly gaining a reputation throughout the diocese. But there are others in the congregation who are…less enthused.

Having grown up in a really small town, I’m used to the petty politics of church life. Boyfriend is really, really not. I think the thing that’s been most surprising to me is how many people we consider close friends, despite the age and income gaps (lots of older, upper middle class white people), have said some really nasty shit just out of earshot. Just this last week, I found out that at our summer kickoff street festival (which was attended by a number of Boyfriend’s lunch regulars) a woman who I considered a friend apparently said, “This isn’t the [local homeless shelter]. This is disgusting.” I ended up making the decision to not tell Boyfriend about this, as it happened several months ago, and there didn’t seem to be any point in tainting his image of this particular woman. But suffice to say, this was not a one-off comment; there are A LOT of people who overtly or covertly agree, one or two of whom have been openly hostile.

I’m just flabbergasted. I think Boyfriend’s work is really important, and I’m super-proud of him. I’m just really disgusted because I feel like he’s really trying to walk the walk, as far as the Christian message goes, and he’s supported by the administration, but markedly less so by other people (some of whom I thought were our friends and/or are very influential in the community.) I mean, Jesus KINDA TALKS A LOT about the poor and the destitute…

How should I handle this sort of malarkey when it comes up? Chalk it up to an age/income/culture divide and let it lie? Quickly slap it down and put them in their place? I worry that not saying anything at all enforces the status quo, but equally I worry that going on the warpath against a bunch of old ladies isn’t a good look, either.

Thanks,

WWCAD?

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