Vancouver
3 min

But you’re not allowed

Educating family over the holidays

Credit: a West files

The rotting holly has been undecked and the gay apparel stowed for another day. The highly flammable real Douglas firs have been snuck down the back stairs of West End apartments and other dwellings where such foliage is banned, and we’re finally sane enough to tell the “homo for the holidays” stories.



“It’s a lot easier than it used to be. I came out at Christmas in 1982,” says an aging queen. “I picked the holidays because everyone would be home. I tried several times, but chickened out. Finally, I stood in front of the television and said, ‘I want to tell everyone I’m gay. No one said a word, so I sat down.”



A dyke about town told us about being uninvited to her now ex-partner’s family Christmas celebration because her partner’s sister pulled a homophobic hissyfit. “Being in the right made me just as miserable in that situation as my ex-partner and her family was in trying to pretend that nothing wrong had happened.”



Why is it that the holidays spur so many into coming out? One local therapist had this to suggest: “Most people are more worried about coming out to their parents than to their siblings. Coming out during the holidays means brothers and sisters will be there to help. But I think most people figure that everyone is so stressed out that coming out to families (who usually know anyway) is just one more hassle.”



But a gay activist disagreed: “Despite what many of us say about the nuclear family, we secretly want mom and dad to embrace our homosexuality. That’s why parents-of-gays groups always draw such a cheer at gay pride marches. What better time to recreate our fantasy of a happy family than Christmas?”



But often this is exactly what doesn’t happen. A cynic said, “Its our way of wrecking their good time. Not that it’s all that gratifying once its done.”



Many queers reported positive experiences of family acceptance over the holidays. One couple cautioned us though that “if anything good is going to happen you have to let go of the illusion that you have much, if any, control over the process.”



The most amazing part of coming out during the holidays is that often nieces and nephews do the outing for us. Out or not, the queers are usually the best cooks so hapless family members end up at the house you share with your “friend”. Adults with “issues” about the queers in their families are very good at “not talking about” the presence of only one bed in the house. Not so with niece Sally and nephew Billy, age seven; they want to know who lives here and where they sleep. Some even have a vague idea of what “gay” means and won’t hesitate to call it as they see it.



Take Ann, whose Christmas dinner involved girlfriend, girlfriend’s mother and boyfriend, girlfriend’s brother and wife and children, straight male housemate and kids, and Bubba and girlfriend. At some point during the weekend, in the midst of revealing the wonders of the culinary arts to their pre-pubescent paws, one of the nephews, sensing that Ann was not just any old friend of their beloved Auntie, called her a homo.



She responded by saying “I actually am a homo. You’re right!” Shocked, the kids tried to set her straight. “You’re not gay!” She stood her ground. “Yes I am” “But Auntie isn’t gay,” they insisted. “Yes I am,” she bravely asserted. “No you aren’t. You don’t live here,” the eight-year-old stated matter of factly. “No, but she probably will eventually,” replied Ann, feeling it inappropriate to get into a discussion of how she is bucking her lesbian genes by not moving her girlfriend in after the second date, although the sound of the U-haul approaching is not far off.



The eight-year-old actually seemed pretty excited about the gay thing once he wrapped his mind around it and spent the rest of the holidays telling all the relatives “the news.” That it was neither news nor problematic seemed a little disappointing to him.



The six-year-old brought the subject up again by asking: “Auntie, are you really gay?” “Yes,” she said, “I am.” His face scrunched up, he was quiet for a moment, and then in a pained voice explained to us “but you’re not allowed!”



The dissonance between what he was hearing in the schoolyard and what he was hearing from his beloved Auntie and her partner overwhelmed him. The happy couple were reeling with his and the rest of the family’s acceptance by the end of the holidays and yet daunted by the world the boys inhabited the rest of the time where, as everyone, knows “you’re not allowed to be gay.”



As the holidays approach next year we’ll be asking Santa and his queer little elves to deliver more question marks about homophobic “truths” to kids everywhere. It’s a small request but … what the fuck!