I’m an agender/queer individual in my mid-20s. I’m out to my family about being gay, but I’ve only just started tiptoeing out about my gender identity, as it is a fairly recent realization. My mom, despite a rocky start, was always a big supporter after I came out about seven years ago. My dad has always been less vocal about his support, though he’s never been overtly homophobic, and actually two of his brothers are gay. My mom passed away last year, and a few months later my dad started dating again.
His girlfriend, while seemingly pleasant, always has rude comments to make about my hair, my clothes, basically anything to do with my outward expression of my gender identity or sexuality. For example, when my sister was recently married, I wore a dress shirt and tie (which has been my dress clothes staple since before I even realized I was queer). The girlfriend said, “Oh, you didn’t wear a dress. Haven’t you been to a wedding before?” However, she’s never said anything blatantly homophobic to me, so I assumed her commentary was because she’s fairly conservative and my personal style could be considered punk.
Recently, though, my sister (who is a big part of my support system) was borrowing my dad’s laptop and found downloaded articles from the Lutheran church (dad is Catholic, girlfriend is Lutheran) about how gay people are sinners and need to be ministered to, that gays deserve pity for being too weak to resist temptation, etc. My sister did a little digging and found that the articles had been emailed to my father from his girlfriend about a month ago.
My father hasn’t said anything to show that he’s bought into anything the articles said, but they’ve been fighting recently (I don’t know what about) and he seems desperate to keep her in his life. I’m worried that he’s going to decide that agreeing with her about me being a hell-bound sinner will convince her to stay. I don’t trust him right now, and I certainly want nothing to do with her.
I just don’t know how to proceed. Do I confront him, let him know that I saw the articles? Do I wait it out, and see what happens next? I already don’t have my mother anymore; I don’t want to lose my father over this, but I can’t force myself to stop living my truth, or force myself to exist in a situation that makes me feel like I’m wrong for being myself. I fought too hard to conquer my own internalized homophobia, and I’m not going back to that dark place. I’d appreciate any guidance.—Defensive, Scared, and Queer
I would absolutely talk to your father, but I would either bypass entirely or only mention in passing the batshit emails about sinning and pity and what-have-you. What I WOULD talk to him about is a version of what you wrote to me—that you don’t want to lose him, that you fought hard to get over the internalized (and externalized) homophobia you grew up with, and that, while you respect his right to make decisions about his relationship, you are concerned that the girlfriend is not as accepting as he is about your gender and sexuality.
Family is hard. When I was first coming out, a family member suggested (in complete seriousness) that I might have turned queer because of polluted groundwater. Evidently, this theory only affected me, and did not, like, lead to everyone in Tucson, Arizona performing impromptu musical theater or mob-rushing the Home Depot.
There was also a brief time that my parents were regular watchers of The Bill O’Reilly Show and would occasionally repeat whatever nightmare-monster drivel O’Reilly was spouting. This led to a bunch of unnecessary fights and long bouts of silence and tears. This isn’t to say that you and your family aren’t capable of intelligently discussing religious spam emails, but it’s probably not worth bringing up.
Ignore the bait, and speak to the heart instead.
Your dad is important to you, and he should know that. You can’t control the girlfriend’s behavior or distorted beliefs, but you can control your response to it. You can speak your truth to your dad and not let hate or fear silence you.
If you’re concerned the girlfriend is trying to turn your dad against you, bring that up, too. And then, after you’ve aired your worries, be ready and willing to listen to your dad’s concerns as well. What are they fighting about? Why is he “desperate” to keep this woman in his life? How is he coping with the loss of his wife/your mother?
I think we kids sometimes assume our parents have it all together, but life is rarely ever so clean. If it helps, bring your sister along when you have this talk. She can be a helpful ally and backup if the conversation gets tough.
Other than that, keep doing what you’re doing already, which is staying the hell away from toxic people when you can help it and living as true to yourself as possible.
As the amazing lesbian poet Adrienne Rich described relationships worth fighting for:
“An honorable human relationship—that is, one in which two people have the right to use the word ‘love’—is a process, delicate, violent, often terrifying to both persons involved, a process of refining the truths they can tell each other. It is important to do this because it breaks down human self-delusion and isolation. It is important to do this because in doing so we do justice to our own complexity. It is important to do this because we can count on so few people to go that hard way with us.”
Here’s to going the hard way when we need to and emerging, muddy, scathed, on the other side.