Michele O'Mara

10 Tips for GLBT folks in Dealing with Family and Friends

Filed By Michele O'Mara | June 20, 2008 2:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Marriage Equality
Tags: coming out of the closet, lesbians dealing with family and friends

With all of the wonderful attention resurfacing around same-sex marriages, I thought I'd pull together a list of tips for dealing with friends and family around the issue of sexual orientation. What issue? Nothing like a big ole gay wedding to stir up a little family drama - (and issues for your relationship for that matter!).

When making lists I find that ten is a handy number. Surprise, surprise, I have come up with 10 key things to consider when dealing with family and friends when it comes to your sexual orientation.

I'll focus on the first one for this week - here's #1 after the jump.

Give your family, friends and coworkers the opportunity to accept your sexual orientation.

It may seem easier to avoid, deny, or side-step the issue of your sexual orientation with your friends, and/or family, though I'd encourage you to re-think that. Have you adopted the ever-popular belief that it's not good to "advertise" your sexuality because, after all, your brother's and sister's don't come home and say, "Mom, Dad, I'm heterosexual"? I won't hop on that soap box today - but if you want to hear what I've said from the soap box already, read this.

The amount of energy that goes into concealing your truth can become exhausting. Have you found creative ways to edit pronouns so as never to reveal the gender of your friends and partners? Do you have clever communication tactics that have you playing conversational dodge ball, avoiding all personal inquiries like the plague? Do you pick up those questions and inquiries only to lob them quickly back at the nearest person to insure that focus is never on you?

You know the kind of questions I'm talking about: "So, are you dating anyone?," or, even something as simple as "What did you do this weekend?" Are you the person that "never talks"? Or are you the person "that is so sweet - always asking about everyone else, that everyone can open up to... and yet nobody knows anything about you"?

Do you maintain an entirely separate cover house or apartment (in which no one, or at least you don't, actually really live) to protect yourself from any suspicion that you do indeed live with another man or another woman? Or perhaps you've scaled that back to a cover room ("and this is my bedroom") in the home you share? The thing that amazes me about the cover rooms is that I so often hear about how when family or friends do come to visit - she gives "her bedroom" away for the guest to sleep in and she'll "just sleep with her friend."

Choosing to withhold the truth about your sexual orientation or gender from friends and family robs them of the opportunity to accept you. It's like saying, "I know you better than you know yourself, and therefore I am going to censor and manage this information about me to protect you from the truth about who I really am." The real problem with this perspective is that you inadvertently agree that you - your mere existence - is harmful to those you love.

Can you see how that might be a real assault to your self-esteem?

If I were to put words to this dance that I see so often it would sound like this: "Who I am is dangerous to your emotional well-being so I'm going to pretend that I am not who or what I am, and you can continue to pretend that I am what you want me to be."

To give your loved ones the opportunity to accept you, is to step into a more authentic and meaningful connection with those you love, and greater self-acceptance and self-respect. It is also an opportunity for your loved ones to grow. (And they don't call them growing pains for nothin'.)

Avoidance doesn't equal acceptance. A parent who doesn't know his child is gay does not "accept" his child, a parent who doesn't know his child is gay doesn't "know" his child. You can not source feelings of self-esteem and a sense of pride from a facade. It may take time (sometimes a long time) to adjust to having a gay child, and for some parents it may never happen. How long did it take you to get comfortable with your sexual orientation? We all go through our own process to come to terms with our sexual orientation, and our parents and friends are no exception.

Give them the opportunity to accept you. You might just be surprised.

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Thank you for the eloquent reminder that you can't have a dialogue or educate people about something you pretend doesn't exist.

Wow, Michele! I'm going to forward this to mi familia. We've come leaps and bounds together. But this is just a reminder of how far my family has come.

This is absolutely true. To confront these issues, we have to force it. Because covering it up is just laziness and procrastination for a lot of people motivated by fear of rejection. But laziness and fear don't change people's opinions for the better.

Superb advice, Michele. You have to be honest about yourself before you start expecting others to respect you.

That's great advice and I can tell you it worked for me when I finally came out to one and all back in 1994 -- but where are the other 9 tips???

Heartsleeve -

Thanks for your interest in the remaining tips... look for more on the following several Fridays...