I traveled to the West Coast over the holidays this past year. I met my father's side of the family for a sort of family reunion over Xmas. I'm not as close with them as my mother's side, but I figured why not? Aunts, uncles, grandparents, siblings, all in Southern California for a week. Stuck together, visiting. I, the only gay one. Some could say I'm a masochists; others just an adventure-hungry Scorpio. So I traveled.
I had already come out to them, so there was no need for me to hide. It had been years since I dropped the news. I'd never gauged their reaction to my announcement, although I knew they weren't the most gay-friendly branches on the family tree. But, we were all adults. How bad could it be? Besides, the other side of my family was quite welcoming to my past boyfriends and my current partner. Maybe this side would welcome me with open arms as well.
There we were on vacation together. As the week progressed, I discovered that me being out didn't exactly mean they were. While the group was together there was careful sidestepping of my personal life. No questions. No interest. Just a pass over. I walked amongst the family as a quasi-stranger until a few relatives pulled me aside.
"How's your roommate?" one aunt whispered.
"Huh? You mean my boyfriend?
"Can I see a picture of him?"
"Why are we whispering?" I asked, shrugging my shoulders.
The side convos filtered all throughout the week. A different undercover relative pulling me aside a day. Little splashes of interest and approval solo, but never in the group setting. Was I amongst a social experiment? Had a witnessed first hand the dynamics of family pack mentality?
As a whole, the topic of gay was forbidden. Channels were changed when the word came through the surround sound. Topics were abruptly shifted when the hint of queer circled through the air. But in private, each one of them gave their praise of my "renegade" homosexual life in New York City. Was each of my family members a closeted homo fan or were they just my fan? And why couldn't they come out and show their support in public?
I survived the week unscathed, but disappointed with my family's performance. I had the courage to come out and be open about who I was. I, perhaps naively, expected the same from those I respected and looked up to.
If you find yourself the only out one at a family fandango, here's what to do to keep your sanity:
Don't Drink The Kool-Aid
In 1978, one crazed Jim Jones, the leader of a group called People's Temple, convinced 913 members of his cult to move to Jonestown, Guyana. Fearing loosing control, he ordered them to drink grape-flavored Kool-Aid laced with potassium cyanide. The term "Don't Drink The Kool-Aid" has since been used to warn of the dangers of group mentality.
More than likely your family isn't trying to lace your Pepsi, but they may band together if the general family vibe is anti-gay or at least gay uncomfortable. Don't join the masses. Just because they are doing it doesn't mean you have to run back in the closet.
Curb The Craziness
Okay, your family isn't nuts, but they will stay in their comfort zones if others are willing to ride the status quo along with them. Even though they may be uncomfortable with your sexuality, stand up against any anti-gay jokes or hate speech. Let them know that loving you is loving all of you and that it's hurtful when they say anti-gay things. If you let the comments pass, you are giving them license to continue with the anti-gay madness.
Walk The Walk
You say you're out, then be out! It's not necessary to practice your best Beyoncé walk on top of the dinning room table to stake your claim as the most fabulous one in the family. Do, however, share details about your life and those in it–including your boyfriend. Your cousin such-and-such is allowed to talk about her bridezilla dreams; you should be able to plan the details of yours. Don't take a back seat in the family discussions, even if they prefer you stay in the trunk.
Travel With Backup
Even if you refuse to drink their Kool-Aid, be aware that they still might not want to drink yours. Be who you are. For support, cling to those that do accept you. Your comfort trumps all, so if you need to bring a backup support system with you, do so. Consider taking a friend along. Taking your best Judy home with you is a good idea just in case she's the only one you feel comfortable talking too. Plus, if it comes to it, you guys can split a cab.
Out 'Em, Recruit 'Em
When my aunts came up to me one-by-one, I asked them why they felt the need to whisper on the side. I encouraged them to talk about my life, my gay and my man in front of the group. I shared how it made me feel when they denied my existence in the group, but supported me on the low. I had been open and honest about who I was. My expectation was for them to be as well. Not all of them followed through. Some showed their support in other ways, others did manage to utter the word 'gay,' and the remainder stayed in the ally closet. All-in-all, I knew it would take work on both our parts, but I made it clear that I wasn't going to do it alone.
Satisfy Your Safety
Remember the most famous phrase from the 1960s classic Lost In Space: "Danger Will Robinson"? Alright, well, Netflix an episode and you'll see what I'm talking about. Anyway, the family which was lost in space (thus the title) had a robot that protected the young boy, Will Robinson. The robot's alarm went off every time the kid was about to either do something stupid or be eaten by an alien or something. "Danger Will Robinson! Danger!" the bot would repeat over and over again. Whether the boy listened or not was another story.
We all have our own inner alarm system that goes off when the "ut oh" is about to hit the fan. Are you listening? Only you know how cool your family is when it comes to being challenged. Or you may not know how keen they are with you being the queen in the room. Assess your safety and listen to your inner voice. Space forbid something bad happens to you, so always side with caution. You may not be able to change their minds, but you can take steps to protect yourself.