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Web and print resources for an anxious gay fiancée-to-be
April 3, 2007 6:53 AM   Subscribe

Please point me toward resources to help me cope with my family and their responses to my impending (gay) engagement. My Google-fu seems to be failing me. There's more details on my specific situation inside.

My girlfriend and I have been together almost three years. In that time, she has met many members of my extended family, and become very friendly with my parents and I with hers. We are both out to our parents; she for about ten years, and me for three or four. I am not out to my extended family.

I get the feeling my parents will be at least somewhat supportive; they like her, and my father is very accepting. My mother still thinks it's a phase or that I will meet "the right man," but I think she is coming around. I don't feel like they will stand up for me if my relatives get nasty about it, though, and most of them are very conservative and somewhat volatile. I don't know how to handle announcing the engagement or the wedding or sending wedding invitations or announcements.

Not telling them is not really an option; this is an important part of my life and every time I see them and have to stay closeted it really hurts me. I want to let them know even if it means they don't speak to me or disinherit me, but I want to minimize the yelling and crying. I am out in every other aspect of my life and I don't want to hide this anymore.

We are buying a ring just now; I don't know when she will formally ask me to marry her, but we both thought I should be involved in picking it out since I will wear it! We plan to get engaged in the next six months and married a year from the engagement.

I have tried Indiebride.com (great site, but the same-sex forum is not very active), a column called Social Grace, and just Googling, and I am not really getting anywhere. I would like to hear from others who have been in this position and how they have handled this. I'm open to advice columns, blogs, books, or wherever people have discussed this.

Thank you for your help. This should be a joyful time to celebrate and share our love, not a situation of compounding anxiety!
posted by fiercecupcake to Human Relations (35 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
I don't have any constructive advice, sorry. But I have to say congratulations!
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 6:57 AM on April 3, 2007


Ditto...congrats!
posted by jeanmari at 7:10 AM on April 3, 2007


Could you maybe get a family member/friend who you are out to to help field questions and run interference? I'd just send stuff out, but have a few close family members (maybe your dad/) ready to do follow-up phone calls to some of the key extended family, talking about how excited he is for you and how he hopes they'll join the celebration. That takes a lot of pressure off of you, and may help your extended family accept it more easily if they see the support from your parents.

And congratulations :)
posted by olinerd at 7:17 AM on April 3, 2007


Congratulations! Don't know of any boards for this though.

I suggest you go ahead and come out to the rest of your family now, without mentioning that you are planning an engagement. You can announce the engagement later, after it happens. Send cards out for this. I see you want to tell them even if they have a real big problem accepting it, so if they call you and start shouting or something just hang up. Official wedding invitations don't actually get sent until 2 months or even less before the wedding in most cases, although one would usually tell people the date so they can plan (there are also 'save the date' cards).

Obviously, if some of your relatives are prone to going to things they oppose and having big shouting scenes, don't invite them. Hopefully, you will be able to pick them out of the crowd if you come out to them now. Coming out now will also give them some time to perhaps become more accepting before the engagement.

You might find some good advice aimed at opposite-sex couples, it is not that uncommon to have shouty (bigoted) relatives who disapprove of a partner for one reason or another. I think the methodology and issues would be similar enough that you might find some helpful ideas.

Some longer term, harder to implement advice:
You need to create a family of friends that accept and love you for who you are. This is possible, and I have been to weddings and celebrations where this has been the main family that have attended. If any of this happens for you before your wedding, invite them -- if not, have a wedding with whoever supports and cares for you. The minimum requirement for a wedding is 2 people, unless you are getting married to yourself.
posted by yohko at 7:25 AM on April 3, 2007 [3 favorites]


If you're looking for a way to come out to them, try writing them a letter. Explain the what's, why's and wherefore's. By writing a letter, you avoid the face-to-face confrontation, and get the chance to say everything you want to, clearly and succinctly.

Oh, and send them to The Straight Person's Guide To Gay Etiquette.

Email if you wanna chat. It's in the profile.
posted by Solomon at 7:28 AM on April 3, 2007


You say "this is an important part of my life." Well, duh, your fiancee is the person you love and want to be with forever. Of course that's important; there's no question about it. But how important to you are these bigoted old relatives? Kick 'em to the curb, I say, and never look back. Best wishes to you and your lady.
posted by Faint of Butt at 7:30 AM on April 3, 2007


Perhaps some advice from pflag?
posted by bitdamaged at 7:36 AM on April 3, 2007


Ah the letter. That failed me miserably.

To me the answer is simple: don't invite them.

If they are the type of people who would get all huffy because you're gay, they are the type of people who would NEVER attend a gay wedding. Or else they would attend out of some sense of obligation to something, and they would make you miserable, your fiance miserable, and her family miserable. And they would be miserable too (though probably secretly enjoying it).

So don't invite them. Have a small wedding (immediate family only?) and spend your special day with people who love you, regardless of who you love.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 7:39 AM on April 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


Are you sure your extended family doesn't know? Families can be gossipy.

Either way, I don't see what the impending engagement/wedding has to do with it. You just want to know how to come out to your extended family, period. You don't need a bridal forum to discuss that in, so try one of the (I assume) many, many resources for doing that.
posted by DU at 7:43 AM on April 3, 2007


Congratulations!

Your profile indicates you are in Austin. Try your local PFLAG.

Also, just wondering, where and how are you getting married? Out of state, or are you doing it here as an unofficial "union" ceremony?
posted by Robert Angelo at 7:59 AM on April 3, 2007


Another "can't relate so can't comment" but Congrats!!! Hope it all goes well.

As far as relatives go... never had much time for the extended family myself but I understand you may. Most important people to you are your fiancée and immediate family. As long as your parents are supportive (which they seem to be) you have nothing to fear or lose.
posted by twistedonion at 8:10 AM on April 3, 2007


I want to let them know even if it means they don't speak to me or disinherit me, but I want to minimize the yelling and crying.

Well, you can't. Their response is their response. However, you don't have to sit there and listen to it. If you do ever want to maintain a relationship, the politest possible response would be:"I understand you're upset; I'm going to go talk to Aunt Martha now. Let me know when you've calmed down." Then they have the choice of shutting up or yelling at you across the room, making themselves look like an ass.

Remember: YOU DO NOT HAVE TO TAKE ANY VERBAL ABUSE, even from blood relatives. You can always walk away/hang up the phone/not read email. Tell them well before the wedding, and anyone with an adverse reaction doesn't get an invite. You also aren't responsible for educating or coddling anyone. It's 2007. They can get their asses to PFLAG or a bookstore all on their own. You can't make them understand or like it. All you can do is protect your own sanity, and that of your fiancee-to-be. (Congrats, btw.)
posted by desjardins at 8:25 AM on April 3, 2007


There are a lot of great books on the subject that can most likely be found in the weddings/wedding culture section of your library. Just go down and check out absolutely everything that seems related to your situation and I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised how useful they can be. I did this not that long ago, both for my own personal curiosity and with a friend in a very similar situation to yours, and we found the books very helpful. I can’t remember the titles of the books she checked out (mine we’re about interfaith issues, hers more the lesbian-ness) but there were plenty to choose from if I recall.

Congratulations and Mazl Tov
posted by French Fry at 8:37 AM on April 3, 2007


Sorry, no resources but here's my personal experience. I just let my parents and family members in the know pass on the news through the family gossip tree. We had a teeny-tiny civil wedding with just us and two friends as witnesses. This was taking the easy way out.

In retrospect we probably could have done it bigger. Both of our families were a bit offended not to have been invited to a big shin-dig. But I'm not really a wedding fan. We mostly did it because we were planning to buy a house and have children and it simplified things on the legal front.

I've been pleasantly surprised at the reaction of more distant relatives. I act like the whole thing isn't a big deal (which it isn't) and so do they. Even my card-carrying conservative relatives have been great, staying in touch and sending our son small amounts of money for his college fund at holidays. I would just be up-front and matter-of-fact about the whole thing. I hope things will go as smoothly for you as they have for me.

Congratulations!
posted by Cuke at 8:42 AM on April 3, 2007


I suggest you go ahead and come out to the rest of your family now, without mentioning that you are planning an engagement. You can announce the engagement later, after it happens.

I second this - I think it's a great idea. It sounds to me like you could use that to weed out the unaccepting family members and figure out who is truly happy for you and then go from there when figuring out the guest list.

I'm planning a wedding right now (of the hetero kind) and it is kind of emotional and draining for me even though I have all of my family's support. Do your best to not let any of your relatives' negative responses get you down. Let them huff and puff in a corner while you ignore them and enjoy your engagement and wedding.

And also, congrats!
posted by sutel at 8:46 AM on April 3, 2007


How come you get the ring?

(congrats)
posted by Deathalicious at 8:50 AM on April 3, 2007


Oh, and does your partner have a nice gender-neutral name like Chris or Sam? If so, just send out the wedding invitations and watch the chins drop. They can't very well yell and shout during a religious ceremony, can they? And afterwards the booze, food, and dance music will calm them down.

Just for the record, I think actually doing this would be a terrible, terrible idea. But also pretty awesome.
posted by Deathalicious at 8:55 AM on April 3, 2007


Thank you so much, y'all. There has been a lot of good advice here, some of which I'd like to respond to.

olinerd, I really like your idea to have a few family members follow up for me. The people in my family who I am out to are: my parents, a cousin my age on my dad's side, and my aunt on my mom's side. If they would be willing that would be a great thing to have in my corner.

DU: I'm sure they don't know. We do NOT TALK in our family. I was an adult before I found out that my grandmother was adopted, and before I found out that her sister died of ovarian cancer. No one talks about anything!

The reason I felt this was distinguished from a "coming out to extended family" thread is that I wanted to see if just sending announcements was enough of a coming out, and how I could integrate my coming out with the announcement idea.

yohko: Thank you for your sweet thoughts. I do have that chosen family here and they will be attending. They are a great source of support and comfort (and fun!).

---

So here are my two plans so far:

Plan 1. Come out to my extended family now, like yohko and sutel suggest, then announce the engagement/wedding as they happen.

Plan 2 (which I am leaning toward). Tell parents about engagement (she's going to talk to my father first, anyway). Let them decide if they want to tell their parents. Otherwise, organize the forces (dad, cousin, aunt) and send out announcements of the invitation. Grow backbone and do not take any more verbal abuse (thanks, desjardins!).

And one more comment before I stop posting in my own thread: Deathalicious, my girlfriend was just joking about that last night. (Un?)fortunately, Jennifer is pretty gender specific. ;]
posted by fiercecupcake at 9:21 AM on April 3, 2007


First, you are not obliged to invite your relatives. Being related to you does not mean they automatically get to come to the wedding.

Second, it sounds like you should have a talk (or series) with your parents before you think about sending out "I'm Gay!" cards to the more distant regions of the family. You say you "get the feeling" that your parents will be supportive, but that your mom still thinks it's a phase. Work this out with them before you get panicky about the uncles and second cousins. It's unfortunate that you feel they might not stand up to nasty relatives - you're their kid! Your should come first! - but you *might* (fingers crossed) be wrong. Parents can surprise you. Also, why do you "have to stay closeted" to these relatives? I don't think I've ever heard of Grandma actually dropping dead upon hearing that Granddaughter is gay, though I suppose it's possible. Have your parents outright asked you to not come out to the relatives, because they don't want to deal with the (potential) fallout, or what? Or have you just assumed that you "shouldn't" come out to them? Either way, it deserves a discussion.

[On preview: you "don't talk" in your family - yeah, I get that! Sometimes, though, the bullet must be bitten. This is one of those times.]

When my partner and I got married, we invited a bunch of her cousins and uncles/aunts from a side of the family that's not hugely popular (for good reason) with my partner. It was a family obligation kind of thing. And you know what? Everyone was lovely. They were genuinely gracious and happy for us, gave good presents, and seemed to have a great time at the reception with our eclectic assortment of friends and chosen family.

Third, congratulations!
posted by rtha at 9:25 AM on April 3, 2007


Congratulations on the engagement!

Some web resources that I've found in researching gay families:

The HRC Coming Out Resources Page (they also have a section on marriage resources, but it's mostly political info)

COLAGE (Children of Lesbians and Gays Everywhere) has some nice info on their site, and though it's not exactly geared to your situation, you may find it useful. Their Coming Out to Your Kids might actually be helpful info -- especially since it sounds like your relatives are acting like children. :)

The Alternatives to Marriage Project has a Gay, Lesbian, Bi & Trans Section that lists resources and further info. They don't have specific messageboards for gay couples, it looks like, but they often are a good place for essays, perspectives, and info on non-traditional couple-hood in general.

The Threeway Action Bulletin Boards might also have a topic or two that applies.

Good luck with your family, and congratulations again.
posted by occhiblu at 9:28 AM on April 3, 2007


Congrats!

"My mother still thinks it's a phase or that I will meet "the right man," but I think she is coming around."

Yeah, well, that "right man" is a chick. Sorry, ma.

Get the immediate family on your side, tell 'em that you're gonna be gettin' hitched, and have 'em willing to feel people out and back you up. Coming out to everyone is a good idea first, as it'll give the rest of the family a couple of months to adjust before they get hit with the news that you're formalizing it.

And try to frame it in the "Isn't this great?" way, rather than the "I am dutifully coming out" way. At the very least, it makes them be the bastards who can't be happy for you.
posted by klangklangston at 9:55 AM on April 3, 2007


"Have your parents outright asked you to not come out to the relatives, because they don't want to deal with the (potential) fallout, or what? Or have you just assumed that you "shouldn't" come out to them? Either way, it deserves a discussion.

rtha, yeah, unfortunately. My mother has on numerous occasions told me that she doesn't know why I would say anything to her parents about Jen; when I respond that it's because I love her and we have a life together, she says, "They don't need to know about your sex life." She doesn't get it. At all. I think she is still very afraid of her parents, or at least dependent on their approval. That is what really frightens me about all of this.

I have been reading and rereading this thread. I am so grateful for all the reasoned advice and good wishes. I am feeling a little better about this now. :]
posted by fiercecupcake at 10:42 AM on April 3, 2007


deathalicious... they can indeed yell and shout during a religious ceremony. do not invite anyone with the potential to ruin it.
posted by mr_book at 10:52 AM on April 3, 2007


"My mother has on numerous occasions told me that she doesn't know why I would say anything to her parents about Jen; when I respond that it's because I love her and we have a life together, she says, "They don't need to know about your sex life." She doesn't get it. At all. I think she is still very afraid of her parents, or at least dependent on their approval. That is what really frightens me about all of this."

That's because homosexual relationships are seen as much more intimate and sexual than heterosexual ones.
Sorry, just had to do a communications class presentation on self-disclosure that tied in heavily to the "Don't ask, don't tell" policy. This paper may be handy, if orthagonal, when discussing coming out, as it uses the instance of military policy to talk broadly about coming out.
posted by klangklangston at 10:58 AM on April 3, 2007


Oy. Families.

Sounds like your mom needs a good dose of PFLAG lit, and maybe even a meeting or two, if you can get her to go with you. If you're feeling especially confrontational, you can ask her why she thinks that you talking about your partner and your life together ("Jen and I had a great meal at Restaurant X - I think you would really like it.") is the same as talking about your sex life. I mean, we both know why - she's freaked out by it. But you might try to get her to articulate (so that she can actually hear herself) how "we went to see a movie" is the same as "we bought a great new sex toy, and here's how we used it." Because, of course, it ain't.

Any chance you can start a s l o w coming out to the grandparents? Like, just talking a lot about your partner: Jen and I blah blah; we went blah blah; Jen Jen Jen Jen Jen. You know the drill. If you've been together three years, I bet they already kinda know.

And maybe show her Hitched, which is a book of essays and personal stories about (gay) people who got hitched in San Francisco in the Winter of Love. It was a pretty amazing time, and a remarkably moving experience.
posted by rtha at 12:06 PM on April 3, 2007


Fiercecupcake, you might be surprised at how many of your relatives are NOT surprised. I have a gay relative that is NOT out, no one talks about it, but we all know.

And your mom? She truly may be afraid of having to catch quite a bit of crap herself from her folks. My daughter married out of her race,(Not the same thing, but perhaps comparable) and truly the most difficult part of it was having to deal with my parents. Dealing with them on this was probably the hardest thing I have ever done in my life, period and that is saying something.

So I guess what I am saying is-how important, really, is it that they know? And if you decide it truly is important, are there things you can do to make it easier for your mom?
posted by konolia at 12:10 PM on April 3, 2007


I want to let them know even if it means they don't speak to me or disinherit me, but I want to minimize the yelling and crying.

Tough call here, because you haven't outed yourself to them yet -- doing so at the same time that you announce your marriage to another lesbian is going to make it a higher-stakes double-whammy.

I'd recommend you accept -- as you already seem to have -- that people are going to be upset and intolerant, and so focus your communication on THEM instead of you.

Here's an example: consider a letter to these relatives that announces your sexual orientation and your intention to get married, but is not a wedding invitation. Address 'em to one individual in each family (which makes them the "bearer of bad news" to the rest of their immediate family) and include a personal anecdote that will make them more likely to find themselves willing to defend you to their immediate family.

Like so:
Dearest Martha,

We haven't spoken in a long time, and I regret that, because we used to be so close. When I was little, you were one of my favorite people to be around, and I still remember when everyone got together to throw frisbees around your backyard.

I've been thinking about you a lot lately, because your approval is very important to me, and there are some things about me that I haven't shared with most of the family, because I was afraid some might not approve.

Now I have to put my fears aside and write you this letter, and trust you to tell Arthur and Myrna and the twins, because I'm about to do something that's very important to me, and I can't let my own fear prevent you all from being a part of it. I've met the person I want to spend the rest of my life with, and we're talking about getting married -- but she's a lesbian, as am I, and I know your religious views may conflict with our relationship.

I was wrong to keep this from you for so long, and I'm sorry for having done so. I can't tell you how to feel, and I can't tell you what to do, but I can say this: I love you, and I would never forgive myself if I didn't ask you share in this incredibly important part of my life.

No matter how you feel about all this, I hope you'll call me so we can talk, because I miss you.

-X
It's going to be a lot of work, and it guarantees nothing, but it does put the burden on them to accept you (or not) and do something about it (or not).

Good luck, and remember: no matter what your extended relatives think, it's your happiness that matters.
posted by davejay at 1:27 PM on April 3, 2007 [2 favorites]


If you want to steel yourself further, Pandagon recently posted a (fascinating in a trainwrecky kind of way) link to the Free Republic's forums where a "I can't decide if I want to be accepting or a jerk" guy posted about handling the invitation to his cousin's same-sex marriage.

Even on that usually-rabidly-offensive about anything even remotely non fundie/heteronormative website, I was surprised to read a number of "family is family" responses. The link to the Pandagon post is here. Here's hoping your family will respond well, or at least acceptably -- best of luck to you and Jennifer!
posted by bitter-girl.com at 2:14 PM on April 3, 2007


fiercecupcake, I am also a dyke from Texas that had to deal with this. Make no apologies for who you are! I have relatives back home who don't believe in my "lifestyle." I'm cool with that, I don't believe in their consumerist, capitalist lifestyle, either. That doesn't mean that I can't love them anyway. If they can't love me anyway, they can piss off!
posted by kamikazegopher at 4:43 PM on April 3, 2007


btw, e-mail is in profile if you need someone to commiserate.
posted by kamikazegopher at 4:48 PM on April 3, 2007


I don't have any advice for you, but there's a really great book titled, "The Commitment," by San Savage. He writes a syndicated sex advice column and is a contributor to This American Life on NPR. The book is about how he, his partner, his son, and his mother all dealt with the issue of gay marriage. It's funny, warm, and well-written.

Best of luck to you and screw your family if they can't accept you. You have enough shit to worry about in life, don't fret over fair-weather family.
posted by HotPatatta at 6:50 PM on April 3, 2007


All I can say is coming out fully to your family, as others have noted, is the first best step you can take in figuring out who you want to invite to the wedding. Don't mix the two - it's piling on a lot, very fast. Come out, hash things out with your parents, have appropriate relatives back you up, and then let the engagement notices come when they may.
posted by canine epigram at 8:51 AM on April 5, 2007


I was poked via MeMail to update, and update I will.

Since this question was written, I have:

- come out to my relatives, via posted letter
- gotten engaged (June 20, 2006) - yay!
- started making plans for the wedding this October

My relatives on my mom's side have been pretty awful about it; some have ignored it, one has had a blowup with my mom about it, and one finally came around to wishing me AND my partner a merry Christmas and asking me about our dog. This is a pretty big deal. My mom was pretty upset with me for mailing those letters -- we had a huge falling out before I mailed them, which is now somewhat patched -- but I think she realizes that this is my deal, as much as she doesn't think it's relevant or that she should have to deal with the fallout. My mom's family doesn't know about the engagement.

My dad's family has been much more accepting. I'm not the first one to come out in that family, but my out relative isn't very out, so. My grandma has been WONDERFUL and accepting, and sat the two of us down when she saw us after I sent the letter, and told us that she just wanted us to be happy, even if she was kind of sad about the grandbabies and all that. I reminded her she wasn't getting any grandbabies from me anyway, and that my out relative had a baby, so it's not like that was the issue. (Actually, she said, "All that really matters is that you are both happy. Other people say that, but I MEAN it." Then she looked us both in the eye and asked us if we were happy.) One aunt and uncle have likewise been very accepting and vocal about it; the others have been nice in person but haven't said anything about it one way or the other. Most of my dad's family now knows we are engaged, and my aunt is THRILLED and is ready to get in on the planning.

We don't know what date the wedding will be on till the end of March (there is a lottery for our intended venue), so invitations will probably go out at the end of April. I'm sure there will be another shitstorm then on my mom's side, but whatever. I am just glad I have at least half my family behind us. I feel much more confident now; this is my life and I can live it as I please.

The advice in this thread was AWESOME and was a definite help when I was writing that letter and getting the courage to send it out. I really appreciate everyone taking the time to answer.
posted by fiercecupcake at 9:55 AM on January 15, 2008 [2 favorites]


*sniff* I love happy endings.

I'm going to assume that time travel hasn't been invented yet and you got engaged June 2007 :)
Congratulations again.
posted by Deathalicious at 12:05 PM on January 15, 2008


Oops. Yeah, that would me getting all warm and fuzzy and mixing up dates. 2007 indeed.

Thanks. :]
posted by fiercecupcake at 5:54 AM on January 16, 2008


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