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Dear Captain,

I am transgender (he/him pronouns), and came out to my immediate family last year. I have not come out to my extended family because – well, I don’t consider it their business! In my mind it would be like telling loosely connected acquaintances.

The issue is this: my younger brother is getting married at the end of this year. I’m very proud and want this to go perfectly. But, it’s likely that a fair number of the family will be present. I’m not part of the wedding party but by being family I am going to be alongside the main feature. I wouldn’t pretend to be [birth gender], but my physical appearance is changing and it’s unlikely that I could, anyway. (And I’m really glad that I’ll be able to look more like me in photos that will be around for years to come.)

I haven’t spoken to most of the extended family for several years. Aside from their aggressive take on their religious beliefs, they are rude about physical appearance, unkind about hobbies, and subscribe to very gross politics. There’s practically no pleasant conversation, and if I interact with them I usually find myself wanting to argue, so I Christmas with friends, avoid other family events, and no one has ever rang me up to say they missed me.

My immediate family are supportive – to an extent. I don’t want to ask my younger brother to help handle the family, because he’s got a wedding to care about. My older brother will probably be happy to defend me but I don’t want to the potential for volatile conversation (we both have a fight-first kind of attitude). My parents barely support me to my face, but have acknowledged that I’m an adult and will do my own thing. Primarily they are concerned about appearances, and worried about being judged for their parenting, and concerned about how comfortable the extended family will be.

Because it is my brother’s wedding, beyond family the people will belong to his close-knit social circle, and it’s unlikely that I’ll have a friend I can latch on to. The engagement party had a lot of people in a small space and I managed to avoid the family there. When it comes to the actual wedding, I’m not sure I’ll be able to manage the same.

I’d love some tips on coming out to people you don’t care about and don’t interact with, and coming out to people who are very set in their ways, and ideas on how to quietly inform people who are wondering where [deadnamed me] is, or shutting down unpleasant conversations in a wedding environment. I don’t want my gender to overshadow or interfere with my brother’s wedding.

Thanks

Hello and thanks for your question. I think this answer will cover:

  1. Ways to spread the word ahead of time.
  2. Ways to make the event itself maximally safe and comfortable for you.

In your younger brother’s shoes, I would 100% want to be “bothered” by this if it was causing you anxiety, and there would be no way that your transition or your gender could possibly “overshadow” my wedding. If your extended family’s bigotry ruins the wedding, that’s not your fault for being who you are, and I would never, ever think that or make you responsible for it, and I would want to help if I possibly could. Also, good news, there’s something specific and concrete he could do to help you:

After the invitations go out, he and your other brother and your brother’s intended spouse could call or email or text the people they are closest to and the people who are the most likely spreaders of family news in the extended family and say, informally:

Hello, you may not have heard this yet but [Deadname Sister] is now [Your Name/Brother]. I know it’s been a while since we’ve all been together, and I’m not quite sure how far he’s spread the word in the last year since he told us, but it’s really important to me that people don’t call him the wrong name or ask awkward questions at the wedding. This is a really happy thing for our family, and I’m trying to call up the relatives I can trust to be cool and supportive about this ahead of time so we can all relax and celebrate at the party, can you help me spread the word?

Principles:

A. Treating people like you trust them to be cool and supportive and telling them how they can show you that they’ll be cool and supportive is a good way to sort of back them into the corner of being cool and supportive.

B. As the groom, your brother use his clout as the person at the center of the event to everyone’s advantage: You in a snappy suit and your cool new name is not ruining the wedding, but someone making you uncomfortable would be ruining the wedding. “Behave yourself as a personal favor to me” may compel good behavior where, like, common human decency might not.

C. Getting the word out beforehand removes the drama of people being surprised in the moment. They’ll have a little time to react before you have to see that reaction.

D. Let your brothers absorb any “gross” “political” “religious” objections for you!

Script for asking him/them:

[Brother], I’m really happy for you getting married and excited to be at the wedding. I don’t want to put more work on your shoulders while you’re in the middle of planning this thing, but I also don’t want that event to be some kind of ‘big reveal’ of my transition – would you be willing to spread the word to our relatives and ease the way? I don’t interact with them all that much and I haven’t yet found the right way to get the word out.

Then, if he’s open to it, give him a rough script of what you’d like him to say and let him handle it. If both or either of your brothers are willing to do this for you, let them do this for you. 

You know your brothers best, and if they aren’t up for this or you don’t think it’s a good idea, then it’s probably up to you to call your most chatty and talkative relative or relatives and/or your coolest, most liberal cousins and spread the word to the people who can spread the word.

Hello [King/Queen Of All Family Secrets Far & Wide], how are you? I know we haven’t talked in a while, but I could really use your help with something. Don’t know if Mom/Dad told you, but last year I came out to them as transgender. I go by [Name] now, and use male gender pronouns and male presentation. I’m really excited for [Brother]’s wedding and for the chance to catch up with family I haven’t seen in a while, but I’m also a little nervous about it and I really don’t want this to be a big deal on someone else’s big day. Would you be comfortable spreading the word in the family for me, so it won’t be a surprise? I know you’re so great at staying connected with everyone, it would really help me out.”

Then you can give that person a little bit of Transness 101 as it applies to you, for example, “Please just call me [newname], I’d really rather not answer questions about medical stuff or “how did I first know” especially at a wedding, yes, coming out is hard because there’s so discrimination against trans people, but I’m happy to feel more like myself.

You may have to answer some of their awkward & gross questions and hear some religious platitudes, and I’m sorry about that. I’ve found “I’ve prayed about it a lot and I trust that God loves me” to be a good catch-all when the moralizing comes out, and bookmarking a good 101 resources so you can say “I don’t feel comfortable talking through all that just yet/I don’t quite know how to answer that question/This is all so new to me that I don’t feel like an expert yet, but if you want to read more about it I’m happy to send you some links.” The person’s initial reaction might not be their only/forever reaction, and if you can get them on your side and make a genuine connection, they will be a) honored to be “chosen” to be in on the “secret” and b) chuffed to be recognized for the work they do keeping everyone connected to what’s going on.

If you can, connect what you want them to do to helping your parents out, too “I’ve got great friends and coworkers around me, my brothers have been great, mom and dad are doing their best to adjust and be supportive, but I think that they are nervous about what the rest of the family will think, so you’d be helping them out a lot by spreading the word, too.

All this word-spreading is only a good idea if you think it would make you more comfortable. If you’d rather go completely low-profile the way you did at the engagement party, then fly low! If you were close to your family, they would know the important things about you, but you’re not and they are not, so, they don’t get to be mad that you didn’t call them up personally and audition your identity for them. One possible answer to “Wait, where’s [deadname]?” is “Not here!” or “Hey, I go by ____ now. Nice to see you, cousin!” or letting them wonder, forever.

I hate all this for you, my dear Letter Writer, I really do. You deserve love and a place in your family. You deserve to not have to take on all this emotional labor and risk so you can go to a party. My message to your family and all transphobic and homophobic people is basically:

twin-peaks-season-3-the-best-gifs-to-use-in-your-completely-normal-everyday-life-cr-1434873 (1)

Image description: David Lynch as Twin Peaks’s Gordon Cole, in a dark suit with an FBI badge and hearing aids in place, with the text “Fix your hearts or die.” He said this to the FBI colleagues of Denise when she transitioned from male to female. I want it on a t-shirt.

Now, let’s talk about the wedding itself.

Can you bring a plus one? If so, and if you don’t have a romantic partner who wants to go, I suggest bringing a good friend who is gregarious and able in social situations (that person who gets described as “Oh, ____ can have a conversation with anyone about anything!“) to be your buffer. If no “plus one” has been invited, I think it’s worth breaking wedding etiquette and asking your brother if you can bring somebody. If it’s out of the question, he’ll say ‘no.’ You’re not a jerk for asking in this situation.

If your brother doesn’t want to inform the family for you, who does he suggest you hang out with at the wedding? Can they seat you with the young & fun & liberal friend table? Was there anyone cool from the engagement party? “Brother, can you seat me with the cool kids, thanks” is a reasonable request. You’re attending to support him, but he’s the host of an event, and your safety & comfort are important.

Can you make sure to have your own transportation to and from? Sometimes just knowing that you can bail if things get upsetting can help you endure.

Can you be Chief Errand Runner and Behind The Scenes Helper? Can’t stop to talk about the state of your eternal soul or what you keep in your pants if you’re going to grab more ice!

If you can’t bring a buffer person, can you have a support system available by text? Sometimes being able to Tweet The Madness is the only thing that gets me through an awkward family moment.

Is there a safe, quiet spot (your car, the rest room, the coat room, outside) at or near the venue you can retreat to if you need a moment to yourself? Scout it out when you get there. If you need to bail at any point during the reception, bail. Your safety and peace of mind matter, too, and the groom is going to be way too busy with all the hoopla to worry if one guest left at 9:30 instead of midnight.

Gross politics are extra thick on the ground right now, and it sounds like you will be deep behind enemy lines. Decide if you’re more of a “Well, that’s a horrifying thing to say, Aunt Bea” person or a “Hrmmm these mashed potatoes are delicious and aren’t the flowers beautiful?” person, and lean into being that person. You don’t have to fight every fight right now when you’re just trying to survive. Adopt “I am here to support my brother, these people are not really important to me” as your inner mantra.

I was at a wedding deep in Tr*mp country earlier this spring and while everyone was on good, non-politics-talking behavior, seeing the super liberal Aunt-in-Law (who came out in her 40s)(and rolled up  wearing these magical Doc Martens) was a deep balm to the soul. Your family is not a monolith, and while I 100% believe you about why you stay away from them, I hope someone at that party is gonna be glad to see you exactly as you are.

I know a lot of our readers have been through similar situations, so, tell us what helped you.

This is also one of those times that I’m going to ask straight, cis- commenters to hang back and read more than you post. Transgender people get harassed, discriminated against, and sometimes murdered for their identity every day in this country and I’m not sure any of our “This is exactly like the time I had to deal with an awkward situation at a wedding” stories are the most relevant here.

We’re all sending you love.

 

Oh Captain! My Captain!

Hi there, and thanks for running such an awesome blog. I have a question about schedule management and how to (politely) avoid overcommitting myself.

I’m a pretty busy person – I work 4 days a week, but seem to fill my time around this without much effort! I always have a project on the go, I seem to generate quite a bit of life admin (finances, doctors appointments, keeping my house nice, etc.) and I try to stay healthy and alive (lots of sleep, cooking at home, exercise, etc.). I live in a big, buzzing city where there’s always something fun to do and good people to do it with, and I’m non-monogamous, so I have 2 partners I see weekly, plus some ‘comets’ who zoom in and out of my life at various intervals.

Right now, my schedule is mostly dashing from one thing to the next, always worrying about how I’m going to fit everything in, be a good partner/friend/family member/employee and take care of myself as well. I don’t like this – it’s fine on occasion, those days happen – but I mostly want to feel like I’m not letting people down or making people feel like I’m squeezing them in around the rest of my life.

I try not to overcommit, but find it hard to know how to say no to social invites/suggestions for hanging out when 1) the people inviting me are lovely and good company and 2) I don’t have a reason to say no. I’m not busy that day, I just don’t want to say yes to a party or hanging out 3 weeks in advance because I get to that week and find that my calendar is full, getting enough sleep will be a struggle, I won’t see partners/close friends and none of my mundane (but fairly important) self care will get done.

Is there a script for saying no without sounding like a dick? Especially when someone lovely contacts me saying ‘We should hang out more, how about a drink sometime?’ I’d love to say yes, I know we’ll have a good time hanging out, but I’d rather leave that time open for closer friends, partners, personal projects and even a little spontaneity! I don’t want to come across like an asshole who thinks they’re too busy and important to make new friends (and apologies if that’s how I’ve come across in this e-mail!) – I just want to save most of my energy for the people already in my life, who are very important to me. And a little for myself 🙂

Thanks,

Not A Dick, Just Busy
(She/her pronouns)

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Hi Captain!

My problem is one that I imagine is very, very common, but I’ll start with a little background on my specific situation.

I recently started going to therapy for some pretty serious self esteem issues that had led to me isolating myself for a long time. Up until this year I hadn’t been to a non-family social event – including just one-on-one hangs – in over five years (and even before that it was pretty rare).I’ve made a lot of progress over the last few months; I have a few good friends that I can go out with and all in all, I have learned how to get better about relentlessly judging myself during and after every social interaction.

But even after all this (successful!) work, there’s one aspect that I just can’t seem to crack, even with my wonderful therapist, which is the possibility of a romantic relationship. It has been ten years since my last relationship (I’m in my early30s) and I haven’t been on so much as a date since then. While I was in my hermit state I vacillated between “I don’t really want a partner anyway” (a big fat lie) and “You’re not worth a relationship.” Basically the idea of being involved with someone in a romantic way seemed to be something that just wasn’t in the cards for me, ever. I always pictured myself alone.

Now, though, that I’ve started being around people socially, it’s starting to seem…not so insane. Like maybe it’s not out of the realm of possibility anymore, at least not when I think about it in an abstract way. But when it comes to a practical way – joining a dating site, talking to guys at social events, whatever – I can’t seem to break that bubble of “Why even bother? Who would want to be with you?” Even just writing this part of the letter made me feel embarrassed and silly.

There’s one important thing at play here that I haven’t mentioned yet: I’m fat. [details of weight redacted by Captain Awkward, per the site policies] I just can’t stop thinking of my weight (and looks in general, to a lesser extent) as my #1 defining characteristic.

It’s pretty easy to draw a straight line directly from media portrayals to my issues in this area. A fat girl talking about sex is almost always a punch line, a character for everyone else to make “ew, gross” faces about. Despite intellectually knowing better, I’ve internalized this message. For instance, occasionally I’ll use Tinder when I’m bored or feeling optimistic about the future (but mostly bored), and one time I ran across a co-worker. What should have been a “haha isn’t this awkward” moment sent me into a complete meltdown. I was *mortified* that this co-worker might think that…I don’t know, that I thought someone would be attracted to me? It was ages (like, literally a year and a half) before I could be around this extremely nice co-worker without wanting to crawl under the table and die. I couldn’t even talk to him.

So that’s basically where I am. This feeling that, no matter how funny or kind or interesting I am inside, it doesn’t even matter because my outside is so unappealing. I get so sad thinking about how no one will ever look at me and think, “Oh, she’s pretty, I’d like to get to know her”.

How can I start to escape the “overweight=unfuckable, unfuckable=unlovable” cycle?

-Want To Make The Rockin’ World Go ‘Round (She)

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Dear Captain Awkward,

I’m not sure whether I’m being ungenerous or this really is rude; hopefully you can help!

I’ve been with my firm for a long time; longer than most of the staff. I have a ton of institutional knowledge, and am the in-office expert on several specialized processes. Between that and my love of teaching, I find myself giving a lot of little tutorials and helping to troubleshoot issues, and it’s generally really great!

However.

I get interrupted. A lot. I know my explanations can get fairly detailed (out of necessity!), but I don’t think it’s right to interrupt someone whose day you’ve disrupted, and more often than not it’s to ask a question that I was actively addressing. It should be noted that these are people stopping by my desk, not emailing or calling with their questions.

The worst is when people interrupt me to “correct” me on something I know extremely well. I’ll explain the format something needs to be in, and they’ll interrupt with “Well actually, it needs to be an excel document” when I just said it needs to be a *.csv. Because it needs to be a *.csv. I had one guy do this on his first day, as I was explaining something to a neighboring employee!

I don’t know how to make this stop. There’s a huge expectation that I be friendly and polite, but I want nothing more than to tell them “You’re clearly not interested in learning. Please leave so I can work,” and forward them a link to a search engine (and possibly a muzzle). I try not to let these interactions spoil my day, but they sometimes get me so bent out of shape I cancel my evening plans so I can decompress angrily at home.

Possibly related: despite my experience level, I’m relatively young, and even younger-looking. I’m also a woman. My older coworkers seldom pull this nonsense, and neither do women my age. Men my age are not just the worst offenders; they’re they only offenders. At this point I kind of dread every new male hire under 40. I don’t want it to make this a sexism thing, but it really does seem like one.

What do I do to stop the interrupters?

Sincerely,

Wishing they would fall in a Well, Actually

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Hi Captain!

Many years ago, I was in love with a woman friend of mine, let’s call her P, and when I used my words, she told me that she didn’t feel the same way and was already in love with someone else (a mutual friend of ours, A). I was heart-broken and after about a year of being sad I resolved to move on and rebuild my life. I moved to a different country, went back to school to get an advanced degree and started a new job a year ago in my field. Although I wish I could have found someone else, I was mostly busy with my career and having been hurt + some personal issues about being a short guy (I was never bothered too much about my height before, but having been heart-broken seemed to have brought out my insecurities), I did not really pursue any relationships.

Now, as arranged marriages are customary in my culture, my parents want me to get married soon. At my age this is already considered very late in my culture and my parents tell me my prospects are thin and I should quickly settle for someone. While I like to think I don’t *have* to get married soon, or at all, I also feel very strongly that that’s not really an option for me. There’s enormous pressure in my society to settle down, I feel obligated to my parents and sometimes feel an arranged marriage is my best chance since dating is scary. Surely, my parents got married this way, as do lots of people in my culture, even some of my best friends, and are, by all appearances, on average, pretty happy.

Given this, how do I make the best of my situation, how do I learn to love someone who I barely know and who I may not be attracted to? When I talk to my friends, they always seem to have been into their prospective partners and vice-versa from the get go, they appear to not have had any major misgivings or spent any time thinking in terms like mine and in fact appear to have been excited and thrilled about starting a new life which is again, apparently, how their prospective partners also felt. When I listen to them, I think I want to feel that way too, feel genuinely thrilled and excited to find someone and get on with life and they advise me that “things just work out”. But I always end up concluding that either my outlook on life is different from theirs or that their personal situation isn’t like mine and so what worked for them may not work for me.

I also recently discovered that A and P had broken up and that A is now married to someone else(an arranged marriage no less!). I fantasize about getting back in touch with P and trying my luck again despite zero contact and no signs that P is even interested. I know that is just a fantasy but with the difficult choice of an arranged marriage, I keep thinking why not give it a shot.

I would greatly appreciate any advice on whether it’s even advisable to think about talking to P and if not, if you have any advice on how to go about being okay with an arranged marriage and learning to appreciate and love this other person who also may or may not be into me, given that putting off / not getting married isn’t an option.

Thanks,
Feeling Desperate

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Hi Captain,

My husband, at the ripe age of 35, is losing his hair. He has had luxuriant long locks since he was a young teenager, long before I knew him. He fought multiple administrative battles with his conservative Catholic high school’s dress code in order to keep it. He considers it an inextricable part of the identity he constructed that turned him from a sad, isolated kid into an adult with a social community. In his own words, he can no longer picture himself without long hair. Nevertheless, it’s visibly thinning on top–and he knows it.

His anxiety over this is really ramping up: he bought a second mirror so he can examine the top/back of his head, he’s exploring combover-like hair arrangements to hide the thin area, and the angst performance over every stray hair in the shower drain trap is… heartbreaking. Also more than a little annoying.

I’m a fat woman, Captain. I have never in my life looked the way I wanted to, much less the way society told me I ought to. After thirty years, I’m largely over it in most circumstances… but when my husband starts up this new routine about his hair, part of me wants nothing more than to roll my eyes and notify the whaaaambulance. As a bonus, my husband is quite thin, and has done the dance of fat-shaming in the guise of “concern for your health” at me in the past, so that resentment lingers a bit. (Even though I did break him of that habit and it hasn’t come up in years, I can’t avoid the basic truth that he’s thin and I’m fat and I have feelings about that.)

I want to be supportive, but at the same time I dread the day he actually asks my opinion of the effectiveness of his combover techniques (spoilers: they are super not effective). Right now all my buried bitterness about my own body wells up in my throat when he gets started about how many hairs fell out during his latest post-shower brushing, so I just kind of shrug and nod sympathetically to avoid choking on it. Do you have any scripts for soothing sounds I can make in response to his escalating sads-spirals?

Signed,
Some of Us Have Never Been Beautiful, Howl

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Dear Captain Awkward,

I’m afraid I might be walking into an Alice situation (a la letter #247). My boyfriend’s family is very conservative and even though he is an adult, he not only lives with them (which is fine) but lives by their rules, curfews, and puts up with their interrogations over who he is spending time with, who his friends are, etc. They don’t know I exist, but he’ll be telling them within a month. He hasn’t so far because due to conservative culture reasons he can’t tell them he has a girlfriend, but rather that there is this girl (me) he wants to marry. And I’m terrified because they’re going to hate me (his mother especially) and I need scripts on how to deal with that when I meet them.

From everything he’s told me (and I take his word for it) I will be considered all wrong because I’m older than him, have been married before, am bisexual (here’s hoping his family needn’t find out, at least initially), am from a different culture (and don’t speak the language he speaks with his family, and his mother doesn’t speak English fluently), I’m not conservative and certainly don’t fit the mould of what a stereotypical wife would be like (I have no intention to just pop out babies, cook and clean, etc., which Boyfriend is fine with but his family won’t be), I’ve already vetoed the idea of us living with his family when we get married, and I’m expecting there to be body shaming.

Boyfriend has said that he expects his family’s displeasure about all of this to be voiced to him, and not to me and I know I can’t force them to like me. Boyfriend is also scared himself about their reaction to his upcoming conversation with them about wanting to marry me. I have tried to direct him to this site so he can read up some great advice about setting boundaries and making it clear what shit he will put up with and what he won’t, but he says that sort of thing is not done in his culture and apparently I just don’t understand (it’s true, I don’t), and while he sees that I’m trying to be helpful, it’s not helping because boundaries is just not the done thing.

How can I support him with this difficult conversation coming up for him (which will be more of an extended series of fights/arguments) while respecting his decision to not have me encourage him to set boundaries, while also being able to set boundaries myself? What am I meant to say to his family when I meet them (and yes, I’m trying to learn the language so I can at least exchange pleasantries with his mother)? (And yes, social anxiety and severe depression is making me overthink all of this, and yes, I am in therapy, but any scripts would help a lot!!).

Any help would be much appreciated,

Scared of future in-laws

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