Lesbianing With AE! How to Survive Your First Family Reunion as an Out Lesbian

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Hey Afterellen,

I am in my first relationship and could use some advice. I just finished my freshman year in college, where I finally was able to be open about being gay and started a relationship with Kristen. We are a match made in heaven and I love to spend every minute together with her. I come from a conservative family, but Kristen has a very liberal family and they have been very accepting and supportive of her. While Kristen is a few years older than me, we are very much in love with each other and I can’t imagine a better partner.

Here’s the issue: I am still in the closet with my family and pretty much everyone back home. I am fine with this, as I am still getting used to being open about my orientation. Kristen is totally cool and understanding with this, but we have also taken some baby steps and I met her parents. It was weird being introduced as her girlfriend, but overall I survived. But Kristen would really like me to attend her larger family reunion in late August and I am a bit terrified about being out to so many people. Everyone in her family is cool with this kind of stuff, so I am not worried about being judged or treated poorly., But just the thought of receiving so much attention as a gay couple is pretty terrifying to me. This reunion is important to Kristen and she really wants me to attend – and so do I – but how can I get over my fears?

-Shy in Colorado

Dear Shy in Colorado,

CONGRATULATIONS on finding someone who makes you super swoony and who is also totally understanding about your slow coming out process and conservative family baggage. Sounds like you won the lotto with this one.

Here’s the thing on meeting the family. It’s super weird. It’s gonna be weird for some time to come, unless you and Kristen are together forever and then you have already gone through it, lucky duck.

With this upcoming family reunion, I’m not sure why you anticipate receiving a lot of attention as a gay couple, unless Kristen has said something specifically about how Auntie Jojo is going to eat you up with a spoon cause she’s a big old radical dyke.

If people are overly excited to meet you, it will be because they adore Kristen too and they want to see the new person who makes her so happy, and that person is you. So you might be in for a lot of, “oh I’ve heard so much about you, how was your summer camping trip in the Rockies?” type of questions. You know, normal conversation with people who want to meet someone who someone they love cares about. Really, that’s nothing to be terrified of. Mildly uncomfortable sure. 

If people are overly excited to meet you, it will be because they adore Kristen too and they want to see the new person who makes her so happy, and that person is you.

You got this. You can be present with the discomfort and smile and shake hands with all her cousins. The terror you feel thinking about it is your shame and internalized homophobia burning off.

If you’re nervous about being OUTED TO A WHOLE ROOM OF FOLKS AS A GAY LADY, well, take Dana Fairbanks as your spirit animal and get yourself a game plan to lower your anxieties before the big event.

You’re comfortable being out on campus and going on dates with Kristen. Level up by taking your lesbian selves out somewhere in public. Go to a gay club and slow dance together in front of all the gay guys, because they sure as shit won’t care you two are together. Try a long weekend in Boulder or Denver where, most likely, you won’t be heckled by homophobes. Practice being out in environments that feel a bit less known than your safe campus, until you feel less panic and more complacency.

You’re comfortable being out on campus and going on dates with Kristen. Level up by taking your lesbian selves out somewhere in public. Go to a gay club and slow dance together in front of all the gay guys, because they sure as shit won’t care you two are together.

Practice saying “I have a girlfriend.” “My girlfriend.” If you feel up for it, tell some trusted friends who won’t throw the Bible at you.

Coming out is a lifetime of practice for most of us, so these are just the first steps in your baby dyke life of coming out. It will get easier. You will feel less trapped.

You will, one day, feel prepared to tell your family and your friends and be totally authentic in your presentation to the world. I know you will, and I will be cheering for you when that day comes. In the meantime, take those baby steps you need to take to feel less like a deer in the headlights.

Kristen can help you develop survival strategies for the reunion. Maybe you can create a young cousin’s table where everyone you are sitting with is in your age bracket and thus super unlikely to care about your couple status. Maybe there are other young couples and y’all can hang outside playing lawn games for half the party. Maybe you come up with a safe word that means “meet me in the bathroom in 5 minutes, I really need a hug.”

You’re gonna be FINE. TRUST me and believe in yourself.