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Hi,

I’m a 30 year old man with a family of four, and I’m a member of a church community of about 140 people, 80 active members. I’ve been mostly inactive for over 10 years, but go to things occasionally. My parents have been active my whole life, up until five years ago my mother got very ill. My father has kept going to church and doing activities, up until the last year. His reason was that he was sick of people asking how my mother was doing and never asking him how he was doing, and has stopped attending.

Initially, I didn’t think much of this and felt my father’s reasoning sounded a bit selfish. My wife has pointed out that it was our community’s way of indirectly asking how he is doing and showing they care. I had experienced some of the same, but didn’t think much of it, until I started getting active again in the last couple months, and honestly, I’m starting to see what my dad means.

Week to week, my mother’s health does not change. Every couple months she has an episode of some kind and recovers afterwards. But that is the question, every time single time I attend an event, multiple times per event. It is surprisingly grating over time. I feel like it would rude/passive to aggressive to add, “I’m doing fine by the way” or “She’s not getting better, stop asking.” I do think it’s coming from a good place, but I’m seriously thinking about attending a church that doesn’t know my mother.

Thanks,

Random Dude

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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.

 

Dear Captain Awkward,

All my adult life, I’ve been an adventurous eater. My partner and I love to cook and try new dishes. We invite people over for dinner parties a lot, and our friends and family love to reciprocate. We also really enjoy trying new restaurants with them.

Unfortunately, I recently underwent allergy testing to find the source of a mysterious rash, and it turns out that I have a delayed-action sensitivity to some of my favorite foods and some common food preservatives. This is probably the cause of the rash. My doctors told me to eliminate these foods and preservatives from my diet. (This gets even more complicated because they told me I can slowly, eventually start to re-introduce them one at a time to see if some of them cause worse problems than others, or if they are OK in small quantities but not large ones.)

I hope this wouldn’t be true of the folks who love me, but I know some people are really, really weird about strong food preferences and allergies. They often take it personally when someone can’t eat food they have prepared. I have even heard of situations where a host secretly feeds a person whatever they have claimed to be allergic to, so that they can feel superior if that person does not have a bad reaction. Of course I won’t have a bad reaction right away — I’ll just get a horrible rash the next morning! On top of this, eating food prepared outside of my own kitchen will now require me to ask really specific questions of the person who prepared it (did you prepare this with bleached or unbleached flour? did you use a mix?) that I am worried will come off as judgmental. Plus, what will people think when I’ve made a big deal to them about not being able to eat a certain food, and two months later they see me happily chowing down on it for lunch the break room, as I re-introduce it to my diet? (This is especially concerning in cases where the person is a casual acquaintance or co-worker — good friends will get updates about all this stuff from me as it happens.)

What should I do? Send out a mass email? Inform people on a case-by-case basis? And how do I make myself feel better about suddenly having to be so careful about my diet?

Thanks,

Reluctantly Picky

(P.S. “She/her” pronouns are fine.)

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Hi Captain Awkward,

I have a good female friend, V. Friend V has a wife, O. Every weekend, all of our friends group and SO’s will get together Saturday night to hang out, have a drink and play games. This is great. What is not so great is that O has privately reached out to every masculine person in the group that she has not dated and let them know that they make her uncomfortable and would they please not talk to her or interact with her in any way. She has also publicly said that she thinks each one is an asshole and will ask people who date those men what they see in them anyway.

When I thought that she only felt this way towards me, I was hurt, but tried to do the right thing to make her more comfortable. At this point, as more of the situation is coming out, I’m struggling for a solution. Her discomfort is beginning to feel secondary to the discomfort of the half of our group she’s slagging and asking to tiptoe around her, but I don’t know how to deal with this.

Please, help!

Sincerely,

Frustrated

(He/Him pronouns are fine)

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Dear Captain Awkward:

I’ve been reading your blog and I really like your answers. Hopefully you can help me with a problem I’m having. I have no perspective.

I recently remarried (about 5 years ago), and my (second) husband’s parents treat me, and most especially my kids, as though we aren’t family. They don’t even really treat us as guests. It’s more that we’re accompaniments to my husband. He has two brothers, one remarried (but both wives provided ‘actual’ grandchildren), and one married for like 25 years; they, and all of their kids, are obviously all ‘family.’

But my kids and I aren’t. My husband’s mom, when my husband brought this up with her (that I was sad visiting because we weren’t talked to, and because I hoped we’d be part of the family), consisted of: “I’m not going to lose any sleep over (my sadness / my children’s isolation at their house)” and “blood is thicker than water.”

For the first few years, my kids would come with us when we visited, and were basically ignored (they might be asked a question, but then their answers were ignored). Their cousins were talked with, asked about school, etc, conversations ensued. My kids, on the other hand, weren’t treated overtly meanly, they were just ignored. My husband said to me, when I’d say it made me upset: “they don’t care about your kids, they just met them” and “it will take time” (yeah, forever, since nobody talks to us).

So, eventually, I told my kids they didn’t have to go when we go up (they are now 15 and 18, and my mom lives with us, so they can stay here). But honestly, I don’t want to visit either, since I also get ignored; I don’t want to leave my kids behind to be with people who don’t want anything to do with us. (I think this is because my husband is very close to my kids, they see my kids as a threat to the place of his daughter, since she’s ‘really’ family.) Pennsylvania is very different from Virginia in the concept of hospitality and family welcomes, I’m finding.

My husband will say “why do you NEED to belong?” like it’s selfish to want to be a part of the conversation. He says I want it to be “all about me”, but that’s not true, I only want it to be as much about me as it is about everyone. (Normally, he’s wonderful and supportive, but when we get around his family, suddenly he sees the sense in everything they do, and I’m crazy, and I should just be there to support him, and not care if anyone talks to me. He once told me to get out a “puzzle or something interesting” and hope somebody asked me about it as I sat and worked on it alone. He says me bringing up my kids is “pushing them onto people who don’t care.”).

Every Thanksgiving we’ve pretty much always gone to his parents, because my kids are with their dad, and I want my husband to be happy. But it’s harder and harder, after being married almost 5 years, to just sit and be ignored, and then have people be mad at me for not just sitting there contentedly. They’re happy to talk with me as long as I ask questions about them, but they won’t talk about me or my kids with me at all. Not true – they will ask one question about my kids, and when I answer, they change the subject. Like their duty was done, time to move on. So I don’t want to go.

To make matters worse, my husband’s 20 year old daughter, who essentially stopped seeing him once she became 18 (though happily kept taking his money) is going, and I’ll get to watch everyone be so happy to see her, even though she treats her dad so terribly, but then watch nobody ask about my kids, who treat my husband like a dad. I keep going hoping each time will be different, but it never will. I don’t miss my ex, but I sure miss feeling like a part of the family I married into.

So my options are:
a) stay home alone and let my husband and his daughter go be with ‘their’ family (this is the one I’m leaning towards) … sucks because I’d like a nice Thanksgiving with my family too, to begin to create our own traditions;
b) go, and feel isolated (we’ve tried the talking about it, it doesn’t work, this isn’t a family that talks about issues, or I’d want to just talk about it; my first in-laws, I’d talk about problems with them, we’d resolve them) – this is a “put up with it or don’t, but nobody’s changing”; or,
c) ask him not to go (but not really an option; they’re in their 80s, and I’m not going to keep my husband from seeing his parents when they don’t have too much time left).

Can you please help? Just give me a point of view other than mine or theirs? Thank you!

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Dear Capt. and Company,

This is a post-party wedding question, at least on the surface. The outline: asked friend M to be a bridesmaid in late 2013, wedding was this June. Friend M withdrew as bridesmaid January 2015, as funds were tight and she is 16 hours away. I offered to cover her dress and half the estimated ticket, but she declined. I was really, really sad, but didnt say anything. She texted me 4 weeks ago, wanting to know how the wedding went. That was the only thing I heard from her since ~March. She didnt respond to bachelorette invite or formal wedding invite, and didnt text, call, send a card, a Facebook message—radio silence until “hey love you miss you can’t wait to hear about the wedding” text. 2 months after the wedding. And I am just speechless. My sister (also v good friends with M) says M would never intend to hurt me, and weddings are “not the only thing people have to think about.” Which leads to the submerged bits of my question…

I really wanted to be a laid back, no stress bride, & probably failed to indicate how important some of the wedding stuff was to me. I’m fat, and not pretty, and non-traditional, and thought I had accepted myself as I am, Achievement Unlocked. But bride stuff fucked with my head–I really wanted to feel pretty and special and celebrated, and lots of stuff combined to make the whole planning process painful. No one offered to throw a shower. I didnt want one! But I am crying now, writing this, because no one wanted to. My mom didn’t have any opinions, didn’t want to go dress shopping with me….didn’t really care about much. I know this is a problem lots of people would like to have. But without writing a novel, wedding planning felt really lonely for me, and Friend M going AWOL still twists my guts in knots.

The actual wedding was very nice, and I did feel like I had semblance of community show up to celebrate. And yes, I did get to marry the partner I love, which everyone says is the definition of a successful wedding. But I am sad and hurting.

If you have insights, advice, etc., I really could use some ideas.

From reading the Offbeat Empire off and on, I can tell you that the post-wedding blues and unexpected post-wedding feels, including loneliness, are A Thing. Forgive me for the John Updikeness of this, it’s an apt description of that “meh” feeling after you do something that was much anticipated:

“Back from vacation”, the barber announces,
or the postman, or the girl at the drugstore, now tan.
They are amazed to find the workaday world
still in place, their absence having slipped no cogs,
their customers having hardly missed them, and
there being so sparse an audience to tell of the wonders,
the pyramids they have seen, the silken warm seas,
the nighttimes of marimbas, the purchases achieved
in foreign languages, the beggars, the flies,
the hotel luxury, the grandeur of marble cities.
But at Customs the humdrum pressed its claims.
Gray days clicked shut around them; the yoke still fit,
warm as if never shucked. The world is still so small,
the evidence says, though their hearts cry, “Not so!”

-John Updike

Your sister has forgotten that “intentions are not magic.” M. would never intentionally hurt you, but hurt you she did. My read on M’s behavior is that she felt guilty about dropping out as bridesmaid and subsequently detached, whether due to guilt or being overwhelmed with life stuff. I think it was crappy of her not to RSVP to anything, or at least call or text you and say “Can you stop sending me pretty invitations for right now, I already told you I can’t afford to come and it bums me out to get them when I know I can’t be there and I hate disappointing you.” It must have been very hurtful and anxiety-making for you to keep sending overtures and hear nothing from her. If you love her, clear the air with her, and say what’s on your mind, “I’m so happy to be back in touch with you. Not being able to talk to you these last few months was really sad and lonely for me. Can you tell me ‘why the radio silence’? Are you ok?” 

My read on the general post-wedding slump is that you can’t go back and re-do it, and people (like your mom) won’t really get it if you bring awkward things up now. It’s unfair, because there is so much pressure for this one event to be healing and performative and perfect and meaningful, and then so many mixed messages, like, “Which is it, Zeitgeist? Is my wedding day the most important and special day of my life where I must be a perfect pretty pretty princess or am I a complete self-absorbed trivial asshole for caring so much about something so petty (and girly)?” Having looked at a Pinterest board or seventeen, I am fascinated with the current aesthetic in a certain kind of wedding right now, which mixes “EVERY DETAIL IS HANDCRAFTED THOUGHTFUL PERFECTION AND ORIGINAL” and “Oh, this old thing? You don’t think we put actual effort into that, do you? We just wanted to throw a good party and focus on what’s really important, like love. It just happens that our kind of love means handcrafting the paper for our special favors out of recycled driftwood over a period of three years using an antique stamp from my spouse’s ancestral crest and (shrug) and ink made from things we found in dumpsters.”? You were caught in the Cool Girl (also known as Chill Girl) paradox, where you are supposed to both be perfect while doing something stressful and act like you are not trying at all. Who wouldn’t be drained after walking that tightrope of decision fatigue and cultural pressure?

Your project now is to:

a) Forgive yourself for caring a lot about certain parts of your wedding and forgive yourself for having uncomfortable feelings even though the result was happy. Some feelings demand to be talked over and some are just vague uncomfortable longings that can’t necessarily be solved. If you have to ritually expiate those feelings by dressing in blue glitter and singing Let It Go three times in a row at karaoke one night, I will not judge.

b) Figure out what kind of relationships and people you want in your life now and going forward, and how to build and nurture them. How can you keep old friends like M. in your life, but hold them a little more loosely during an off-cycle? How can you meet new people, and invite the warm, funny, caring ones in? What weekly or monthly rituals can you put in place to find that community you crave? What do you have in common with your mom that might form the backbone of an adult relationship? In my opinion almost everybody needs a social space and friendships that don’t center a romantic partner, so make sure you cultivate and hold onto yours.

c) You planned the giant party and survived. You did it! What other projects do you want to do that aren’t giant parties but maybe involve a lot of anticipation and cooperation? Do you need to go on a trip every year with your best friends and maybe your sister? Do you need to learn something new? Do you need to make a movie or a giant collaborative art project? What dreams and projects of yours sat dormant while you planned your wedding? Pull them out. It’s time.

d) How’s work/school? How is your sleep? How are you eating? When was the last time you got a physical/got your eyes checked/went to the dentist? Have you told your doctor about feeling run down or blue? When was the last time you got a few hours alone in your house to just do as you please? Institute self-care protocols, please.

Much love and congratulations to you upon the occasion of your marriage. These particular blues will pass. You’re not weird for having them.

Organizer Kate has sent the news:

February London meetup as follows:

Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre, SE1 8XX near Waterloo station, 21st February, 11am onwards.

Time for another colouring in meetup. Please bring stuff to colour in, or colouring pens and pencils, if you can. Or come anyway, we’re not fussy!

This venue is working out really well.

They sell food in a cafe (standard sandwiches etc.), but they also don’t mind people bringing food in from outside. There are several other local places where you can buy stuff as well. The excellent food market outside has loads of different food options, which can fit most food requirements, or you can also bring a packed lunch.
Meet on the fourth floor, outside the Blue Bar (go up in the JCB lift, lift 7, which is bright yellow and quite musical).

Here is the internal map of the Royal Festival Hall: http://www.southbankcentre.co.uk/sites/default/files/documents/RFH_map.pdf

I will have my Cthulhu with me, which looks like this: http://forbiddenplanet.com/3950-cthulhu-baby-plush/ One time I forgot it but I will do my best this time, however if I forget again I will put up a sign. I have long brown hair and glasses.

The venue is accessible via a lift, and has accessible toilets.

The London Awkward group has a Facebook page, which is here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/549571375087294/. There is also a thread in the new forums for saying hello.

My email is Kate DOT Towner AT Gmail DOT com

(March meetup will be on the 21st.)

Cheers,
Kate

Have fun, London! If you are interested in planning a meeting of Awkward Army folks where you are, there’s guidance here.