Bil Browning

The 2nd Thanksgiving: A Personal Story On Conflict Resolution

Filed By Bil Browning | November 26, 2009 11:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Living, Marriage Equality
Tags: personal story, Thanksgiving

Since it's Thanksgiving, I thought I'd share a personal story and invite our readers to do the same in the comments section. Take a moment and tell us your standout Turkey Day memory - whether funny, sad, or heartwarming.

Mine is after the jump.


The First Year

Jerame and I started dating in early October. He hadn't been out of the closet long and his dad didn't take the news well at all; he banned Jerame from his parents' house. Since we were dating, he celebrated the holiday with me and my roommates.

One of my roommates was my ex-partner. While the relationship had been over for a couple of years, we were sharing a three-bedroom condo with another guy. The ex is a great cook and he put on a feast to help me impress Jerame.

Jerame met my mother and stepfather when they came to visit for Christmas the next month. Although they'd only planned on staying overnight, they were snowed in and couldn't leave. Jerame still had his own apartment at the time, but he couldn't get out either. All of us were stuck in the condo together for days until the roads were cleared and we could dig everyone out.

After they'd left, Jerame and I talked about my mom. He thought she was very syrupy sweet and kind, but what surprised him the most was hearing us talk privately about family members and people from my hometown. While my mom is very religious, she cusses like a sailor and loves to gossip. Usually the gossip is not nice gossip; it's the juicy, hurtful, salacious gossip that women and gay men have shared since time began. It was a completely different aspect of my mom that didn't match her goody-two-shoes demeanor.

Conflict Resolution Skills

By the time the next Thanksgiving rolled around, we'd been together for more than a year. We knew each other by now - our weaknesses, our strengths, and, important to all couples, how we each handled conflict.

Jerame's family is very loud. They'll yell and scream when they're angry. They express themselves and their feelings and they don't care who's watching, listening, or judging. Jerame also subscribes to this line of conflict resolution - much to my chagrin and mortification.

"That's not how I was raised," I'd try to explain to Jerame. While I'll argue with the best of them, you know I've become very angry when I go silent. I'll seethe and simmer with inner hostility, but my outside demeanor will be curt, dismissive, and very polite. When someone becomes agitated and starts to get loud, that shut-down mechanism of mine will almost automatically kick in. "If you have to yell or scream, you're a barbarian with no civilized conflict resolution skills," goes the thinking.

I'd point to my mom's visit the year before and how polite she was the entire time even though she was obviously stressed out over being snowed in. I'd point out that she'd be all smiles to my stepfather's face when he did or said something stupid, but she'd skewer him with words when he wasn't around. When she felt she was in safe company, she'd let her anger out in a very controlled environment. I do the same thing.

This obviously led to some very hostile moments in our new household. Our styles didn't mesh when we were at our most stressed and vulnerable.

Enter the Family

The next Thanksgiving, my mom invited us to her house in northern Indiana. She shared a huge farmhouse with my stepfather, my sister, her husband, and their two girls. We accepted the invite and drove the three hours to get there.

What no one had told us though was that the relationships in that farmhouse had almost reached the breaking point. My mom was considering divorcing my stepfather. My sister wanted a divorce from her husband. And the girls kept reacting to their environment of anger and hostility by acting out.

Before we sat down to eat, my mom took the opportunity to lead us into the living room and point out everyone's flaws and problems. This was my mother in her natural habitat.

While my sister and she finished the cooking, they sniped and poked at each other and both of them would scold and belittle the two husbands. They were peas in a pod, albeit peas that each wanted the other out of their pod! As we sat down to dinner, everyone was on edge and nerves were frayed.

But dinner made it worse. By the time we picked up a fork, everyone was simmering with resentment and anger. Jerame, of course, was extremely uncomfortable, but I was amused. Why? No one raised their voice, no one yelled, and everything was kept, for the most part, polite while still being cutting and entirely devastating.

I think the most conversation that was held at the table consisted of "Pass the potatoes" and "Hand me the butter." All attempts at banter failed miserably as the two sets of spouses glared at each other and made the occasional snide comment about some slight or another. It was rather quiet, curt and oh so polite.

Once we'd hit the road on our way back home, I laughed and asked Jerame what he thought of the experience.

"I understand why you are the way you are," he said. "And I guess I'm thankful for that. But for Christ's sake, lets learn some better conflict resolution skills."

We never have - except now I'll yell at him occasionally and he'll give me the silent treatment. Our relationship, however, has lasted longer than either my sister's or my mom's marriages did.

And for that, I'm thankful.

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Our first thanksgiving in our first house. 26 years ago. We had my family over and everyone got along. After dinner my father came in the kitchen and said to me out of the blue "I want to be buried in a military cemetery". I said something like "What are you talking like that for? You've got maybe thirty maybe forty years to go before you need to think about that." But he didn't. Three days later he died on his way to the track.

This Thanksgiving is shaping up to memorable. Three couples: the BaadLamb and I, his two brothers and their wives. All in Hilton Head in adjoining suites on the beach for the week. At dinner each night, one couple tells the story of how they met. Many revelations and the reactions of the spouse to the words spoken is fascinating. All the while, there is a circling around a shared family past with occasional revelations and then quick retreats from painful things back into the good company of today. Enough time can make rust and then it can turn rust into gold. You new couples. Give yourselves enough time to find

When I was little, in the 1960s, Ben and Etta (my father and mother) always had Thanksgiving with Gladys and Fred. Gladys was my father's bookkeeper when he first opened his own office as an accountant in the early 1950s. She had moved off to New England with Fred, but remained close with my father. She was a very outspoken woman, similar to my own mother, more to be feared than loved, but loved nonetheless. Fred, like my own father, was a very quiet, patient man, except for the fact that my dad's deadpan humor was occasionally on display, and always bend-over-and-hold-your-belly funny. Fred was from England, and I believe he had met Gladys during the War. He was a comforting Churchill-esque figure who smoked a pipe and said very little, except for infrequent quickly-delivered asides in a barely understandable accent, to assist Gladys with her running commentary. I think he was retired on a war disability pension. I got the impression that he was a war hero of some kind, though I never found out what. My brother and sister were older, and so were both off to college by the time I was 10.

I was completely intrigued by Fred and Gladys, particularly Fred's strange accent, and enjoyed sitting at the table with these four adults and listening to their banter. My mother was a wonderful cook, and we ate until we couldn't move, except to roll into the den where a roaring fire soon broke the chill of that big, glass-enclosed room. My parents both died when I was in my early 20s, and I rarely think of those times now, but it brings a glow to my heart.

At my parent's house, Thanksgiving was always one of the most wonderful days of the year. My mother and and her friends (then later my sisters,) would put together a spread we all couldn't wait to dig into.

In later years, BM (Before Monica,) we would be there with our spouses and children, enjoying the company and the food. Being that my mother is first generation Italian American, she grew up in a household where the table conversation would be loud and boisterous. I remember one Thanksgiving my father commented on how the four of his adult children had apparently carried on that same tradition. I always thought that was funny.

However, one of the most memorable Thanksgivings had to be the one in 2005. My father had died in December of 2004, and on that particular Thanksgiving, I was allowed to participate for the first time since 1996. My father had to die before my mother welcomed me back. I don't feel it was a good trade-off.

The first Thanksgiving after I came out and moved to Seattle was lonely and weird. I didn't really feel welcome at home or relatives, but I made the best of it and went to movies almost all day long.
The second, however was markedly different. I sat around a table in my apartment in Seattle with 11 other people, all of whom I count as close friends today. The food was fantastic, the company incredible and the feeling of having a family indescribable.

Thanksgiving… Coming Out!

Hi… Just doing what I always do when I’m upset or happy or both simultaneously! Can’t help it, I write.

This past Monday, 11-23-09 I had the pleasure, privilege of meeting two wonderful ladies. We were standing outside a New Jersey State Senate hearing room where the Judiciary Committee was to consider the fate of same sex marriage in our great “Garden State!” I asked these 2 unassuming, accepting women questions about work, “Garden State Equality,” the group that needed their presence and mine that day as well as life in general. Fortunately for me a mutual friend had told them about me ahead of time so I didn’t need to explain myself to them. They’d been told that I’m a pre-op trans-lesbian woman as well as what I’d done in our “statehouse” years ago so I was so relieved… No explaining to do on my part!

I kept thinking “these 2 women are obviously in love” because they instantly completed each other’s sentences! They stood in the hall with me slightly apart from each other whilst watching the comings and goings from the hearing room but I caught each of them looking at the other without the other noticing. Neither of them smiled or gave any outward indication that they were “a couple” but I just knew they were supportive of each other. I discerned they’d been together for at least 10 years, maybe more from our conversation… I’ve lived through 2 hetero marriages and witnessed many others… These 2 women related stories of hardship and achievement to me that only 2 people who love each other could impart!

I was struck that mostly men, who had no knowledge of these 2 unassuming women, might ultimately decide whether or not their previous verbal commitment to each other might or might not have the force of state law!

The clarity of their love and commitment to each other made me think of a niece and her partner who’d celebrated a commitment ceremony 2 years ago… My niece and her partner, these 2 older women I’d just met… Their constitutional birthright being unconstitutionally revised by politicians… These same politicians likely more interested in the immediate press coverage and/or the latest polling instead of what really matters… The love of 2 people for each other that requires legal status so they can adequately provide for each other during and after life!

Okay, “Thanksgiving!”

I “came out” to family and friends this year! I’m resolute and proud!

I first told my soon to be former second wife last June. She took it way harder at first than I thought she would be she got help, finding a wonderful therapist locally who has tons of experience helping TG/TS people and their families. I then came out to my 3 daughters in early August. The oldest and middle daughters are as understanding as I could have hoped for though there is some tension. My youngest daughter hasn’t returned phone calls, text messages or emails since our last conversation about a week after coming out. I’ve backed off and hopefully time will bring us closer together.

I came out to my younger sister and brother (who is gay, came out to us Christmas of ’04) last Friday. I just couldn’t take another holiday season of pretending to be male! I was politely uninvited to any of the usual family celebrations for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years.

I’m not at all sad or lonely right now! I’m actually relieved and feeling very serene! My cat “Rusty” and my middle daughter’s cat “Luna” are keeping me company… Both leaving behind plenty of fur on my black stockings… They’re both adorable! I love sports so the football games are on, bloody Mary poured… My giants play later. This girl loves hockey and used to play but for my 54 year old knees. I’m still an avid golfer and so looking forward to my first round next spring from the ladies tees were I’ve always belonged. My new friend Babs Siperstein and I are planning that day of golf together… I’ll cook myself one of my favorite meals, corned beef hash and eggs, believe or not, and all is calm.

I’m thinking of all the new and very supportive friends I’ve made both locally and all over the U. S. Hopefully next year I’ll spend time with some of them and maybe some family members will accept me more by then.

I’m a political person and student of history by nature so my thoughts today wander naturally toward the bigger picture. Why should any of us ever have to go through “coming out?” I’m fortunate to be involved with activists who allow me to be part of the solution.

I’m thankful I live in a country where at least we the people have the right to redress injustice... I’m invigorated because our government process often fails but eventually succeeds! After centuries of horror inflicted on African Americans we finally ended that injustice! I’m patient because I trust Americans will get it right someday, even if I’m not alive to witness it!

I’m thankful because I know eventually all Americans will rise above the rhetoric and realize we’re all born the way we are and therefore entitled to all the rights, protections and privileges enumerated in our constitution and bill of rights!

To all my LGBT sisters and brothers, I love you. Ours is a cause that cuts to the chase of human existence as well as the “moral” code our founders and the framers of our constitution intended. Ours is the cause of acceptance, not tolerance… Endearment instead of ambivalence!

Ours is the cause of all humanity… “We the People” evolved the way we are and are therefore endowed with certain “unalienable rights” to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness!”

I hope all reading this enjoy a peaceful and resolute Thanksgiving.

Pam Daniels

I grew up in New York City (the Bronx). After I got engaged to Allan, his parents began inviting me, my sister, and parents to their Thanksgiving dinners. Every year it was the same. Same food, same people, same after-dinner-arguing. You see, Allan's grandmothers were both invited. They were both born in Europe. However, one of them came when she was a little girl, so she had a New York accent, not a European one. The other grandmother was born in Poland and came to the U.S. as a teenager. She still had her heavy Yiddish/Polish accent. So after dinner, while my in-laws washed the dishes, the men would wander off. So my mother, sister and I were left at the table with the two grandmothers. They would then start their yearly argument: "You have an accent and I don't." So the arguing would begin. They never resolved anything - there was nothing to resolve! My mother, sister and I would look at each other and shake our heads.

Now the two grandmothers are gone, and so is my mother. I actually miss those dinners and even their arguing. I would give anything to be able to celebrate Thanksgiving with them again.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | November 27, 2009 4:55 AM

As a child Thanksgiving was about large extended family and we alternated between the Lutheran and Catholic side each year. Play with cousins and "the small table" and all. The Lutherans never swore and the Catholics seldom stopped. :)

Later, it so happened, the wedding anniversaries of my father and stepmother and my partner's mother and stepfather were on Thanksgiving. We being the "young ones" annually hosted our two sets of parents, friends and assorted relatives of all ages at whichever home we had in Chicago over 26 years until all the elders had left us. Much love, many people I miss, laughter and golden joy...until the cleanup which was my job as my partner had been cooking in his delish yet sloppy way.

I think it is cruel that so many of the best things we look back upon have to be crowded into too few days. But now, seven years after that last "big" Thanksgiving I would give anything for another.

While I remember the pick-up sex in the back of the bus returning to NYC from T-giving with my central PA family, this year my strongest memory is about another family gathering for the holiday. We were at my grandmothers with the extended clan. I had just moved to NY, and was home for the long weekend. While I hadn't officially come out, it is rather easy to assign a preference to me. One of my aunts, who always seemed condescending and snippy about the rest of the family, suddenly followed me into the kitchen and shared a funny, bitchy comment about something that had just happened that ended with an eye roll, a wink and a cigarette-harsh laugh. For maybe the first time I saw and connected with her as a person with a somewhat twisted sense of humor and a sharp wit. The memory is strongest this year -- she died the day before Thanksgiving. The confluence of the holiday and her passing brought the memory to the fore and, like the torte we took for the holiday gathering the next day, was bittersweet.

My father was from a large family of eight children in rural mountain area of Virginia. Thanksgiving in the 1950's and 1960's a time when all my Aunts, Uncles, numerous cousins, relatives of my relatives, and my immediate family traveled to my paternal Grandparents.

There was atleast one turkey and one smoke-house
cured ham (very salty). All of the side dishes were from items my Grandparents had grown in their garden and my Grandmother had canned. Being a Southern family, they were real big on casseroles. It was like one large potluck dinner so to speak. Due to the number of people we ate in shifts; the children first, then the men and then the women.

It was such a simply time and a have very warm
memories of the times we spent together on Thanksgiving.

My Partner and I always invite friends (and
people who may be alone) to spend Thanksgiving with us. Each year is different as to the number of people we have in our home. One year when we were living in Tucson, Arizona we learn that a social group we belonged to was not having their annual Thanksgiving potluck. We opened our home and have over thirty people in attendance.

This year we had a good female friend, a husband and wife couple and the two of us. ur female friend shared with us her story of being a six year child who had to flee Poland due to the advance of the Russian army.

My Partner loves to cook and he out did himself again. One dish he served was turnips; in honor of his Mother,Rita. John is from the Bronx and she always had turnips for Thanksgiving.

It was Thanksgiving, 1997. My now partner, Mary, and I had been invited to dinner with her childhood best friend. We lived in Pennsylvania (me) and Virginia (her) at the time, so we had to travel to Kansas to accept the invitation. Our hosts put us up.

Our hosts, Jane and Jim (fictitious names) are devout Methodists. None of us were entirely certain how I, a transgender, would be accepted.

On our first evening there we passed the time with small talk, the usual "getting acquainted" stuff. Finally I announced, I think I'll change and get ready for bed."

Jim, with a twinkle in his eye, said, "Who said you could change? Who gave you permission to change??

I was leaving the room, but I turned around, looked at him, and said, "Well, my shrink thought it would be a good idea!" Then I turned around and left.

There was a split second of silence while they absorbed what had just happened. Then the laughter exploded. We've all been best friends ever since.

My ranching family in Montana never missed an excuse for having a great big meal together, complete with storytelling. Thanksgiving was one of those.

When I was a little kid, we usually drove the 50 miles to Helena to eat "the noble bird" (as my dad called it) at the home of either my grandmother or greatgrandmother. Ethnic traditions came together at the table, with German apple stuffing inside the bird and West Virginia-style hot beaten biscuits on a plate nearby, together with pioneer-style homemade jams and jellies.

The storytelling in those days focused on family history -- how all the different ethnic groups got there, and how old-time ranching was done. The well-told stories certainly had an influence on my decision to become a writer.

I was thinking about this yesterday as our eight guests sat down to dinner on our California patio to a menu that maybe differed in detail, but not in spirit, from the past. The storytelling was as good as ever, and the straight diners got to hear some well-told coming-out stories from the gay diners.

Continuity is important at Thanksgiving too. Among the diners was a childhood buddy and his daughter. Dennis and I first met in 3rd grade in Montana. Dennis was valedictorian and I was salutatorian in our high school class. I lost contact with him for many years, but we picked up the threads again when I learned that he was retired from engineering and living in the San Fernando Valley, not far from my L.A. home, with his daughter.