As the holidays approach and presents are wrapped, there’s still one thing many people tend to dread – family. No, not your own – though many of us would prefer to put a limit on spending time with that group of monkeys – but your significant other’s family. This is awkward enough for heterosexual couples, but gay couples face even bigger challenges.
This most recent Thanksgiving was my first with my boyfriend’s family. I generally hate Thanksgiving (don’t stone me). My mother is usually stressed from trying to get all the food ready, my father is constantly disappearing when he’s needed, my grandfather has to ask you to repeat everything, my younger siblings are usually obnoxious, and my brazen grandmother will always tell everyone how it is. Naturally, there are always arguments. The opportunity to escape all that for one year was appealing. But as they say, the grass isn’t always greener.
It had never occurred to me that while my family may be moody, they were at least being real. When my boyfriend led me into his grandparent’s house I immediately noticed his artificial attitude and peculiar demeanor. I already knew his parents, but I was introduced to his grandparents (both sides, which in my family would result in my grandmothers throwing down in a knife fight) and a number of aunts, uncles, and cousins whose names I immediately forgot. I put a smile on my face and forced pleasantries, because that’s what you do in that situation, gay or straight. I never gave much thought to where I should draw the line, but I soon stumbled upon it.
My boyfriend and I had been fighting earlier that day. It was one of those fights about nothing that gets really blown up and outrageous. What can I say? I’m a product of my family. By the time we got to Thanksgiving dinner, we were over our argument. After dinner I made a move to hug my boyfriend, an action meant to express that I was sorry and I loved him. My boyfriend, however, stopped me right away, telling me, “Not here.”
I had to back up. It was like I’d literally been slapped in the face. I wasn’t sure which was worse – my boyfriend’s family not being ok with us hugging, or that my boyfriend would tolerate that attitude from his family. He could obviously see it on my face because he asked, “Are you seriously going to get mad about this?”
I didn’t really speak to him for the rest of the time we were there. Not because I was being petty, but because, like my grandmother, I would end up telling all these people I was supposed to be trying to impress how archaic and rude they were in their beliefs. As soon as we had some privacy in the car, I brought it up with him.
He explained that his parents had no problem with his sexuality or our relationship and that his grandparents just didn’t quite understand, that they were products of a different time. His grandparents seemed like a nice enough older couple. They were very friendly to me. His grandmother even offered to knit me a scarf. I had a hard time rationalizing that people could be so friendly and inviting, but still not fully accepting of us. He also cited his homophobic uncle, who was giving off a major gay vibe, as cause for concern. You know the type: scrawny white guy who acts tough but talks about décor and has an obese wife. Guess my boyfriend was too busy being ridiculed for his sexuality to notice his bully was a fag.
In turn, I explained to him that I was raised to be blunt and not tolerate bullshit. My grandparents come from the same generation as his, but somehow mine think it’s fabulous that I’m gay while his think it’s a phase. I didn’t even realize how much I meant the words until they were coming out of my mouth, but I told him I wasn’t going to censor who I was for him, his family, or anyone.
I’ve been trying to see things from his perspective. Is it really a lot to ask of me? It’s just a few hours with his family. Besides, I think excessive PDA is rude, regardless if the couple is gay or straight. But there is definitely a difference between giving your partner a hug and making out on the couch. I know what is tastefully acceptable and what is not. I wish my boyfriend would trust me on that, but he knows his family better than I do.
Sometimes you have to pick your battles, and you can’t pick a battle with your partner’s family, not if you want to keep the peace at home. I’ve been having second thoughts about going to have Christmas with his family, but there’s not really a polite way to say, “I don’t want to spend the holidays with your disapproving family.” In the end I’ll have to suck it up and be as fake to them as they are to me. The difference is I can’t comment on how gross it is when his aunt and uncle kiss, even though I’m sure it’s more offensive than our hugging.
I stopped to see my grandparents on the way home from Thanksgiving dinner. My boyfriend wanted to come up to tell them, “Happy Thanksgiving,” but I told him to stay in the car, that I’d be quick. I ran up and gave them each a hug and thanked them for being so much cooler than other grandparents. And if she didn’t already have my heart, my grandmother would have stolen it when, after hearing about dinner, she said, “What are they, assholes?”
Has anyone else had to de-gay themselves for relatives? How did you and your partner handle it? We’d love to hear from you in the comments!