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Bringing Your Partner Home for the Holidays

20 Dec Posted by in • Dr. Glenda Corwin | Comments Off on Bringing Your Partner Home for the Holidays
Bringing Your Partner Home for the Holidays

Family visits over the holidays can be warm and wonderful–or a painful reminder of how badly we connect with our own relatives. Unlucky same-sex couples face some unique challenges, like flat out rejection, unspoken disapproval, awkward silences…For many, the subtle or blatant homophobia from family turns a happy occasion into an obligation to be endured. Here are three common complaints lesbians have about family holidays. First, “I can’t be myself.” Second, for partnered women, “They act like we’re not really a couple.” Third, “She/I/We regress around parents/siblings/extended family.” Sometimes the best way to change a situation is to figure out how you can make it worse. Yes, worse. After you identify how you can make things worse, you can decide if you really want to do that. For example, “I can’t be myself.” Many of us feel a constant undercurrent of tension around family gatherings, wondering when we’re going to be blindsided by questions or comments like “Met any nice guys lately?” from a relative who doesn’t know you’re gay, or “How about that poor Colorado baker who’s being forced to make gay wedding cakes?” How are you supposed to “be yourself” in that environment? There are so many ways to make this worse.

Internally, you can berate yourself for not having the courage to confront heterocentric and/or homophobic relatives. Please remember that “discretion is the better part of valor.” The truth is, in most of these situations you c annot be yourself…which is unfortunate, and sad. You may need to grieve the loss of family acceptance, and decide what you want to do going forward…but confrontations with relatives rarely turn out well. It’s not like they’ll respect you more. And for the person who asks who you’re dating, give them a break. That’s a common question that some relatives ask all single people, and most single people don’t like it either. Try to figure out what you can say that feels right enough to you and doesn’t willfully embarass others (unless they’re drunk and acting out, in which do whatever). As for not being treated as a couple–you can make that worse by colluding. In the spirit of not upsetting the family, some women bring their partners home but introduce them as “friends.” That’s understandable, but it’s not really fair to expect others to treat you as a couple if you’re acting in an un-coupled way.

The worst example of this I’ve heard is the woman who wanted to take her partner home for Christmas, and also invite her ex-partner. Her rationale was that her family knows the ex- and liked her, and after all “lesbians stay friends with their exes so what’s the big deal?” It is a big deal! Just ask yourself if you were a divorced heterosexual woman seeing a new man, would you bring him and your ex-husband to a family dinner? And how would your family react to that? It’s very much acting like you’re not a couple, and it’s disrespectful to your partner. As for regressing around family members…that’s just something most people do, unless they’re incredibly mature and so are their families. Little sisters can get talked down to by older siblings, mothers can tell you what to eat, fathers can act like they know more about everything than you do. Better to take a scientific approach to the situation, like an anthropologist studying an interesting tribe to study patterns of dominance and affiliation. Then you can reflect on how this has influenced you, and how you feel about that. And especially, how has this impacted your relationships? Reflect on this for yourself, but do not–I repeat, d o not use this situation to analyze your partner’s issues. You’re not her and you didn’t grow up in her family. And after all that reflecting on how you can make things worse, I hope it helps you make them better, and have the happiest holidays possible-under the circumstances.

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