Merry Christmas, sorry I'm gay!
November 20, 2010 7:59 PM   Subscribe

How can I come out to my extended family without it being a holiday "surprise" or confessional atmosphere?

I'm 25 and have been dating another woman for 10 months. We live together and are planning long term. I've known since high school that I was more-gay-than-straight, but never came out to my immediate family until I had a serious girlfriend.

I generally only go home during Christmas and a bit in the summer. Last year, I told my mom and brother, and my GF came up to visit for a few days. This went pretty smoothly. My mom isn't exactly Super Pride Mom, but she seems ok with it and was friendly with my GF.

I still haven't told my small extended family - my grandfather, aunt, uncle, and cousin. They will probably be quite surprised since in high school/college they met some boyfriends of mine, and my mom hasn't said anything. My family is conservative, but not driven by religious ideology. I am pretty sure they won't disown me or think I'm going to hell, but they will probably think it's 'abnormal', I'm going through a phase, or I was brainwashed by liberal arts college.

I want to tell them soon, since I don't want to be a Secret Lesbian forever. So I need to figure out how/when to tell them, but I really want to avoid:

a) springing it on them at Christmastime and dealing with the awkwardness on top of holiday stress

b) I don't want to style it at all as a "confessional" - as in "I know this might shock/upset you, and I'm sorry, but...". I don't want to apologize for being who I am and I don't want to begin with them by framing it as something that's Weird and Shameful to admit to. I want them to know that I'm with someone, and I'm happy, and that person happens to be a woman.

The best idea I've come up with is writing a short note, perhaps with a general Life-Update letter, and mailing it before Christmas so they have time to process it. I've thought about calling them, but I don't talk to any of them on the phone normally, so a "Hey I'm Gay" call out of nowhere would be almost as awkward as the Christmas surprise.

Are there any options I'm not considering? How have others come out to family that they are close with, and don't want to upset, but are not willing to treat it as something that SHOULD be upsetting? If I write a letter, what else might you include beyond a short explanation?
posted by nakedmolerats to Human Relations (22 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
In situations I've known of, people came out to their close family and then the news spread. Is your mom adverse to telling her dad and sibling that you have a girlfriend?
posted by moxiedoll at 8:13 PM on November 20, 2010 [4 favorites]

A girl I grew up with (our parents are close friends; I consider her sort of like family) just started bringing her female "roommate" to every family get-together. Eventually everyone just sort of figured it all out and nothing needed to be said. (I went to their wedding last year.) Obviously if you want your relationship to be really clear to everyone right off the bat, this won't work for you.
posted by amro at 8:15 PM on November 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you don't think anyone will freak out seriously, why not treat it how you would if you were straight and had a boyfriend you were serious about? That is, someone might ask if you're dating anyone. You mention that you have a woman you're pretty thrilled about ... because that's what you'd say if you were dating a man. It seems likely it would come up casually in some manner with some family member and then it would spread easily enough. Anything "special" (like the confessional you abhor, or a note) calls it out like it *is* different and abnormal. Treat it as normal!
posted by R343L at 8:19 PM on November 20, 2010 [9 favorites]

You could tell them without telling them. Send a joint Christmas card or something, mail it the day after Thanksgiving so they have lots of time to process it, call your mother with questions, etc.

If one of my cousins was coming out, that would absolutely be the lowest-drama way of pulling it off. Second to that would a life update letter that doesn't actually say "I'm gay" but does say "since I'm writing, I also wanted to introduce you all to my girlfriend, so-and-so."

But the lowest drama thing would absolutely be a simple joint card. "Merry Christmas, Love nakedmolerats and [girlfriend]." This would be a great time to order some of those address stickers with both your names on them. Include a photo of the two of you.
posted by SMPA at 8:21 PM on November 20, 2010 [3 favorites]

Are you bringing her with you to Christmastime? If not, why not just bring her up in casual conversation? As in, "My girlfriend and I just got a dog/redecorated our living room/had dinner at that restaurant." This is only if you don't think it'll REALLY shock anyone, obviously. This way, people can ask questions if they want, and either way, the conversation can hopefully remain minimally awkward.
posted by two lights above the sea at 8:23 PM on November 20, 2010

Best answer: I'd vote for the general life update - whatever you had been up to for the past 12 months with a paragraph saying something like "last winter I met a great woman named "Eve" and we have been dating since March. Eve is [interesting details about her interests, hobbies, work etc.] Mom and Dad got to meet Eve when she came up for a visit [to our house] and everyone enjoyed [something you did together]

This helps them see your partner as a real person, with a focus on the relationship and not the (to them) unexpected gender. It also lets them know that your family knows and is OK with this without spelling it out.
posted by metahawk at 8:26 PM on November 20, 2010 [12 favorites]

By the way, when grandma was told that her granddaughter was going to the prom with her girlfriend, she assumed they were girls and friends and didn't get that her granddaughter was trying to come out to her.
posted by metahawk at 8:29 PM on November 20, 2010 [5 favorites]

I had my mother handle the extended out-coming when it became obvious I'd be bringing the new gf to a big family function. I never got wind of any static arising from it.
posted by restless_nomad at 8:51 PM on November 20, 2010

Would your mom be willing to fill them in ahead of time, in a casual way? That worked best for me. I'm not sure what she said exactly, but I think she probably just honestly answered relatives' questions about whether I was dating anyone. On one occasion, I asked her specifically to tell a relative for me because I knew that person was pretty conservative and might have an issue with it and I just didn't want to deal with that. I appreciate that my mom's been happy to run interference for me in this way. But I can imagine that if your mom's not so comfortable with your sexuality yet, she might not be able to. In that case, I think casually mentioning your girlfriend whenever you next talk to your relatives is your best bet. If they ask even a general question like "how are things going with you?," you can answer, "fantastic. I'm dating this amazing girl."

Good luck with it. This coming out over and over thing does get tiring, but at least once your family knows you won't have to worry about coming out to them again.
posted by zahava at 8:51 PM on November 20, 2010

Maybe because it's Saturday night, but I wonder why you need to be so delicate? Maybe you should roar in on a Harley in leathers, with your GF licking your ear, and then, pull off your helmets and tear into each other like lust-crazed banshees. At least the home-folks would have something to talk about.

This is who you are, she's your squeeze/life partner and them that don't like it, can kiss your ass. Okay, maybe you don't need to get all grab-hands at the table, but you're who you are, you're in love and I think that if you're okay with it--nay, proud of it--your passion and happiness will shine through, and family who love you might be a little freaked at first, but they'll get over the shock, and then be glad.
posted by Ideefixe at 8:59 PM on November 20, 2010

I'm going to repeat someone else's answer, and ad that "coming out" is a silly, stressful process that only perpetuates the idea that people are "straight until proven gay". If someone asks how your love life is going just say "Oh, I've been seeing JoAnne for about ten months now, She's really great. I think you'd like her." Just like you would if you were dating a man. I'd be sure to try and ad pronouns in there a couple times, instead of just saying "I'm seeing someone named Sue, for about ten months now." And then they think you're dating the boy named sue.

Now, if you feel better just getting it all out there, then I like the idea of writing an update-on-life letter, so that way people have time to process on their own without you watching, and it's not added in the stress of family gatherings.
posted by shesaysgo at 9:08 PM on November 20, 2010

If you don't want a confessional and you don't want to do it at Christmas time, just be out. If someone asks you at Christmas about your love life, answer honestly. Be matter-of-fact. If they have anything they need clarified, clarify it, but I suspect if you don't make a big deal of it, they won't either.
posted by inturnaround at 9:22 PM on November 20, 2010

If you opt to handle it yourself rather than delegating to mom I'd make sure however you do it it is unambiguous. By no means does this have to be "HEY, I'M A LESBIAN!!!!", but avoid just sending a photo card of you and your partner and assuming that answers everyone's questions, don't "drop hints", be clear, be unafraid.

If there is anyone in the extended family you are particularly close to, let them know personally, otherwise yeah delegate making sure mom knows not to equivocate, or send a "this is what happened in my life last year, and here is who I'm seeing currently".
posted by edgeways at 9:44 PM on November 20, 2010

you could just work her into the conversation..."oh, we saw that movie. eve hated it, but i liked it," or "how did you like myrtle beach? eve and i are trying to find a nice place to go on vacation next summer," etc etc. then when grandma asks, "who's eve, dear?" just say, "oh, she's my girlfriend. we've been dating for most of the year. i'll bring her next time--i think you'd like her a lot." if you can get your mom to chime in here with a, "oh, yes, she's a treat. she and nakedmolerats are such a nice couple together." the more low-key and casual you two are about it, the less likely it will escalate into anything unpleasant. your family will be surprised, but that's okay.
posted by thinkingwoman at 10:27 PM on November 20, 2010

I just wanted to reiterate metahawk's point about how some people are going to hear the word "girlfriend" as "girl who is my friend" and totally miss your point, especially if you don't think they would otherwise guess that you're gay.
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 11:18 PM on November 20, 2010

Yeah, "girlfriend" can be sticky with the older generations. And while it's easy for us all to say 'just insert it into conversation', it took me years to feel comfortable doing that.

That said, if you can pull it off, the casual mention is *fun*. You get to see the flicker across people's faces as the reality registers and they try to react.

But maybe I just take some perverse pleasure in it. Heh.
posted by aclevername at 1:22 AM on November 21, 2010 [2 favorites]

Ask your mom to tell them for you, at least a week or so in advance. Then if there's any shock or whatever they'll be over the worst of it before they see you.
posted by Jacqueline at 3:37 AM on November 21, 2010

Just to echo that words like "girlfriend" will not always penetrate, and if you go the casual, in-conversation route be prepared to do some explaining. I'm straight, but when I mention gay friends of mine to one particular relative (who is actually very accepting, but not likely to be thinking on that wavelength), she can get a bit confused.

Me: blah blah and I had dinner with Jane and Sue who are a couple who just moved to the neighborhood
Relative: So...the two of them are sharing an apartment together?
Me: Yes, they're a couple.
Relative: A couple of friends sharing an apartment, that's nice.
Me: No, I mean they are a romantic couple.
Relative: Oh, okay. So, what do they do, blah blah
posted by heyforfour at 5:45 AM on November 21, 2010

Yes, have your mom tell the rest of the family, before Christmas. That way no one's surprised. Then talk about it casually at the family gathering, as is natural when takling about your lives. Good for you, btw, you'll feel a lot better with everyone knowing: makes your life simpler.
posted by Nelson at 8:16 AM on November 21, 2010

I agree with the idea of sending a letter or email or something after thanksgiving. give 'em time to think it through, give them a return address so if they need to talk to you one on one about it they can, but then your obligations are done. if anyone has such a problem with it, they just don't have to come to Christmas. but for everyone else -- they'll have had the time to process, when you all get together in December this can just be another one of those facts that exists in everybody's mind and there should be no reason to talk about it publicly. and if anyone wants to have it out in front of the whole family classic-drama-style, you can just tell them "you had time and opportunity to discuss this with me, you did not. you can hold your tongue and talk to me about it later".frankly, when it comes to family members, i don't really want to spend any time thinking about the genitalia of the people they are being intimate with, so maybe don't be so explicit, and telling people in person might put them on the spot. just do it well in advance of Christmas, and then even if your girlfriend is there you shouldn't have to put up with any "oh, so you're dating women now!" chitchat.

or just get your mom to do it.
posted by custard heart at 4:11 PM on November 21, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for the replies, everyone! I definitely agree with all of you who said "people will be totally oblivious about the term girlfriend. Oh how cute! you live with your best girl friend!"... so yeah, that's one of the reasons I thought I'd need to spell it out in a letter.

I don't think mom would want to do it, or rather, when I came out to my mom I told her I didn't mind if she talked to the family about it, but she didn't, so I think that points to her preferring to have me do it in my own time.

To those of you who said "just don't make it a big deal", I totally understand, and wish that I could. I guess as much as I don't want it to be a confessional, I still know that they will be weirded out and thus would rather give them some processing time. And, I admit, I'm kind of a coward and don't want to put up with the immediate "but you used to date boys! what went wrong?" knee jerk they will have if I just say it. As I said, they are conservative and I think their concept of "gayness" in general is, well, something that doesn't happen to Normal People from Normal Families. They won't disown me, but it will still be a biggish deal to them, at least for awhile.
posted by nakedmolerats at 10:33 PM on November 21, 2010

Have you considered sending a note out after the holidays, such as at New Year's? For me the only "stick" part of this is the timing. People are more relaxed and receptive after Christmas, and the note would be a low key way of explaining what at least some relatives likely already suspect.
posted by medea42 at 5:00 PM on November 22, 2010

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