Does Respecting Your Family Mean Hiding Who You Are?

by: Joshua Isaacson

During a recent visit back home to my mom’s house, I found out some unsettling news. I found out that relatives of mine do not have as open minds as I thought they did.

Of course, it’s about homosexuality.  One of my relatives thinks that it is a choice that I have made, and he doesn’t agree with it. Another thinks in the religious arena and says that it is a sin and not right.  Yet another thinks he couldn’t love a person if he found out they were gay. Two of these family members know that I am gay. One does not. Out of respect (or so it shall be considered for all intents and purposes), I/we have not told him.

The thing that bothers me is that obviously the two that know that I am gay still hold these beliefs. They do not know exactly when I decided to come out, and as far as I know, they haven’t been able to tell a difference in me as a person over the past years. These two happen to be my uncles. One of them was my godfather while I was growing up (I don’t think 24-year olds have godfathers anymore right?). I used to babysit my cousin in that family for the summer during school. My other uncle I would consider myself less close to because he lives about 45 minutes away from where I grew up so we only really saw each other at family gatherings. However, my grandfather is different; I would consider myself being close to him. He has helped me out a lot in the past years, from co-signing on my student loans, to helping me buy a car and helping me out financially occasionally when I couldn’t make ends meet.  Finding out that all three of them have a very old-fashioned view of what homosexuality means really rocked my world. I come from a small town, and so I know that not everyone’s mind will be open to it, but I did not really think that my family was going to be one of the guilty parties when it comes to homophobic ignorance.

How did all of this wonderful news come to light, you might ask? I suppose you could say I instigated the conversation. I have a tattoo of a rainbow on my arm and I typically cover it up when I am around my family (because of that “respect” thing again). This time, however, I did not pack any long sleeve shirts, for it is May in Minnesota and it can be hot as hell here. So, I talked to my mom about this maybe being the time that I just let my grandpa see my tattoo and get the ball rolling on coming out to the whole family formally. She suggested that that was a bad idea, and of course, I pried and was left with the resulting irritation of finding out their real thoughts on the matter.

After getting to the bottom of the situation, I wish I was in a position to bring up homosexuality with these members of my family — so that we can open up a dialogue about how their beliefs affect me and members of my community. Hearing their upsetting opinions about my “lifestyle” made me kind of re-evaluate my relationships with these people.  I don’t want to change their opinions, but I do want to have an open arena to discuss this topic.

Up until this point, I have never really felt comfortable to talk about anything associated with my life — because it eventually gets linked in to my sexual orientation. All of my other family members can talk about how their boyfriend or girlfriend is doing because they are straight. I, on the other hand, cannot talk about anything personal. Going to the opera with my boyfriend? Nope. Volunteering for the Trevor Project? Nope. Going to school so I can study LGBT development? Probably not. I feel very isolated when I’m with my family, which seems odd because I’m typically around about 15 people at any gathering with them. So, bringing up my sexual orientation would seem very out of the blue considering I don’t say more than about 10 words whenever I’m around them.

Ultimately, it comes down to my “respect” for others’ opinions or my pride as a gay man. My urge to figure out homophobia and the mentality behind it makes me want to pursue this dialogue even more, but considerations about respect, and what respect means, gets in the way. I don’t feel like ruining relationships with family members over a difference in opinion, but it is not easy to look them in the face knowing what I know now about how they think.

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3 responses to “Does Respecting Your Family Mean Hiding Who You Are?

  1. Its not worth it in my eyes. Since you’ve seen my family first hand and its a little different of a situation, it boils down to the same thing emotionally: respect from the people we love and care about is an emotional need that all human beings want and need for social survival. If you have to hide 95% of who you are, what kind of relationship are you having with said person? They don’t even know the real you.

    And also, no relationship, whether it be friends, family or lovers, should sacrifice your self worth. When you’re in this group it sounds like you don’t even talk, and do you have that kind of awkward relationship with people you can choose? People say blood is thicker, but blood only goes so far.

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