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When Queers Come to Dinner Navigating the "friend" zone at family gatherings

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When I came out to my mother she had a HARD time processing that new reality. It wasn’t that she didn’t already [sort of] know I was a lesbian— she is my mother after all. She just really hoped I would either grow out of my gayness or ignore it and conform to straight society for the sake of ease and you know…Jesus.

 

The rest of my family knows I’m gay and most of them don’t have an issue with it. Some accept “me” but not my gayness which means that I have to be careful when navigating family gatherings especially if I ever want to bring a partner home. Recently I went to visit my girlfriend’s family and she introduced me as her girlfriend to most of her family. To a few people however, I was that familiar “friend” some queer partners turn into around their partner’s homophobic family members. For some partners this is problematic, and serves as a painful reminder of just how unequal we are in a heteronormative society that refuses to make room for us. For others, it is an understandable and necessary means of managing complicated familial interactions. We love our complicated families even when they don’t accept us as our authentic selves.  

 

The struggle to rise above our family’s rejection of such a crucial part of us, and still love them, often causes mental, physical, and emotional strain. The love we give is not always returned and that reality is stark and sobering.

 

Coming from a homophobic or partially homophobic family is stressful when you are queer. These are the people who have nurtured and supported us throughout our lives right up until we fundamentally challenge their view of us.  Queer people from homophobic families are often filled with endless compassion and perpetual sadness stemming from the fact that they can’t share their full lives with their families. We want to share our heartbreaks and successes, and all the nuanced beautiful things that go into our peculiar queer culture.  

 

If you do have to put distance between your family and your queer life there will be a distinct and palpable hole in your life that nothing can replace.

 

Sure, we make new friends and we make up new communities with found families, but it will never be the same. And to be honest, that’s ok.

 

It’s ok to leave a space there for that loss, it’s ok to feel every single molecule and moment of that heartbreak, mourn that loss, stand in that bereavement, and honor the pain in whatever way you see fit. Society encourages us to fill our free time and empty space with some noise and filler. We have streaming services and hook up sites and endless shows on tv telling us that there is no room for stillness or quiet.  But when melancholy really and truly wraps itself around your soul and you have to deal with choosing between loving yourself or the people who have cared for you your entire life…stillness is often where you’ll find the answers to impossible questions. It is good to grapple with these questions, go to therapy, talk to your friends, journal, sit with them awhile. There are no easy answers, but asking the questions and being certain in your decision will ease your mind and spirit.

 

Dating someone who is dealing with homophobic family members is also difficult. We often get upset when we see how their family members dismiss and degrade them. There’s a visceral reaction to protect our partner from their own family’s ignorance. When we love someone, and we see they are hurting there is also a natural desire to heal that hurt. Unfortunately, there is no quick fix for heartbreak. You can’t skip steps in the mourning process.

 

When we cut people off for the sake of our mental health we have to cross that bridge and burn it right to the ground. If it looks like there might be reconciliation it has to be done with caution and sympathy.  You have to trust that your partner is navigating their situation in the best way they know how. Seeing them stumble, struggle, cry, and anguish will be difficult, but part of loving them means supporting them through that process. That’s the love that your partner was meant for and sought in you, it is the same love they could not get from their blood relatives.

 

That’s what makes found love so beautiful. It is malleable and humble. It leaves room for growth and mistakes. It accepts us as we arrive and allows us to become who we are meant to be in the way we are meant to do it.

When Queers Come to Dinner Navigating the "friend" zone at family gatherings">

Chris Coakley

Chris Coakley is a walking talking super nova. She’s a poet, a womanist, an activist, and quite possibly the biggest lesbian you’ll ever meet in your entire life. She’s allergic to toxic masculinity and cats. She’s an anxious dreamer in love with big sweet words and the power they wield. An attorney and writer from Chicago, Illinois she is passionate about advocating for the less fortunate and is committed to improving her community one case at a time. Chris believes that the best way to change the world is to change the people around you, so she educates her community on the dangers of unchecked patriarchy and offers sustainable feminist solutions for how we can create a more equal society. In her free time, she helps organizations that address the needs of the LGBTQ and underprivileged communities with legal issues. Chris can be found on Twitter @ChrisHCoakley and Instagram @alphaqueer.

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