Thursday, December 31, 2009

Confronting Familial Bigotry

Over at Daily Kos, author Clarknt67 has posted a diary titled "Homophobia Is Wrecking My Holidays".  He describes the issue he faces every time his partner, Paul, goes to his parents' house for a special occasion.  Clark notes that while Paul is out at work and socially at his medical school,
... when it comes to his family, there is no such pass.

Paul's parents have never accepted his homosexuality with any comfort. They are both Chinese and Catholic, two demographics that individually struggle with the subject. Together I'm sure the shame they feel is formidable.
Paul made real efforts to help them when he came out over a decade ago. He's suggested PFLAG, they won't go. He's introduced them to his friends, they are polite, but suggest he needs to find "better friends." He's tried to involve them with his own GLBT activism, they aren't interested in hearing about it. They continue to suggest he find the right woman, and, after ten years, continue to make attempts to set him up.
Unfortunately, this experience is all too common for LGBT individuals.  Most couples expect to have arguments over "your parents or mine" at holiday time, but straight couples don't have to worry about one partner not being allowed in the house (most of the time.  There are always exceptions to the rule.)  While reading about this situation is upsetting, it is also comforting in a "misery loves company" way because I have been experiencing a similar situation myself. 

When I came out to my evangelical Christian parents (approx 10 years ago--1998-ish),  it was not an easy time.  In addition to them asking me to step down from lay-leadership duties I performed in their church, I also heard remarks like:

  • "Robert and Henry don't feel the same way about marriage as your Dad and I do."
  • "I have three daughters and one son. I don't need him acting like another girl."
  • "If you try flaming around me, I'll "GLAD"ly set you on fire."
  • "I believe same-sex desires are natural in some people, just as left-handedness, brown eyes, diabetes, or alcoholism are. What one chooses to do about the situation is just that: a choice. Does one marry a "beard," tie the "wrong" hand behind one's back, wear colored contacts, use insulin, or abstain from alcohol? Think about it: ALL of those choices are painful to one degree orr another, and some are more effective than others."
  • various Biblical references that are familiar to most LGBT people with Christian backgrounds, namely Leviticus 18:20 and Leviticus 20:12, among others.   

 As time went on, we kind of settled into a "Don't ask, Don't Tell" situation; we would talk about everything but the 'Pink Elephant'.  Fast Forward ten years.  By this point, I have been living in another state for most, if not all, of that 10 years.  I called them periodically, but we never really talked about my relationships, past or current.  There would be a passing mention of my partner from time to time, but mostly my experience is very similar to Paul's above. 

Due to reactions like those above, I am currently not speaking to anyone in my family except for one of my sisters who is supportive.  The question is, how do we make people see that these aren't "politically incorrect jokes made between people who are comfortable with each other's differences"? 

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