I’ve been out as gay and atheist for quite a while now. I have a steady relationship with someone, and almost my entire family, which is entirely Catholic, has taken it in stride very well. However, my oldest sister and her husband and my grandfather are the complete opposite. They refuse to acknowledge my boyfriend as my boyfriend (calling him instead that friend I’m always hanging out with), and have both deleted me off facebook. At holidays when I meet my family they always preempt it with a warning to not “talk so much” to avoid political and religious arguments. My grandfather has a personal mission to save my soul and bombards me with Christian and racist conservative emails each week, despite me asking him politely to stop.
I feel like it this is starting to reach harassment levels, with the things my sister says to my face hurting me extremely (once compared my love for my boyfriend as love for a broom). I’m terrified to bring him around any of my family for fear of what they’ll do to him, but my younger sister has invited both of us to her high school graduation. Do I bring him? How can I get them to “respect my beliefs” (they’re not really beliefs…) and stop harassing me!?
I think you and your boyfriend should definitely go to your younger sister’s graduation. You should honor both her accomplishment and her excellent character for inviting both of you.
And I think it’s time for you to stand up and assert your rights.
You have three incorrigible bigots in what sounds like an otherwise open-minded and loving family, and they will continue to inject their venom into the whole family as long as all of you let them. You’re not going to get them to “respect your beliefs,” but you can certainly demand that they treat you and your boyfriend respectfully.
You should not put up with any more insults and harassment, and you should not have to fight these three stone-throwing sinners all by yourself. If the rest of your family has been accepting of you and your boyfriend, then they should stick up for you against these hateful three, and you should not feel shy about enlisting their support.
I usually suggest things that might reconcile family conflicts, but I think this situation is beyond that. This calls for a correction. Such confrontations are never comfortable, but often the consequence of avoiding confronting bullies is much worse suffering for many more people. The toxic effects of unchallenged hatred and abuse get worse and spread.
Get as many of the rest of your family as you can to stand with you and your boyfriend. Tell your allies what you intend to say, so that they won’t balk half way through it. Emphasize that the healthy attitude of the rest of the family is at stake here. Be sure to confer with your boyfriend about all this beforehand, making sure that he is also on board with you. I’m sure that this isn’t the first nor will it be the last time that the two of you will have to assert yourselves against bigots who are behaving like playground bullies. But bullies are cowards. They crumble when confronted with superior numbers and resolute opposition.
When you talk to the three, if you can keep your cool and maintain a steady, calm, business-like voice, your effect will be much more powerful than if you descend into shouting and insulting. I can’t overemphasize the sense of command you’ll experience by remaining the adult while your opponent degenerates into an immature tantrum. If they shout, dismiss it with “It’s childish of you to shout.” If they become vulgar, dismiss it with “It’s childish of you to be vulgar.” If they insult you, dismiss it with “That’s a childish insult. I’m not going to fall for that.” Give their tactics no more acknowledgment than that, and stick to these talking points:
1. Tell them that your younger sister has shown that she has more love in her heart than all three of them combined, and that you and your boyfriend will be there to celebrate her graduation and to show gratitude for her accepting and gracious nature. Tell them that if they want to spoil her special day by objecting to you and your boyfriend, then it will be on their shoulders. If they’re uncomfortable, they can stay home, but you and your boyfriend will not be intimidated to stay away.
2. Tell your oldest sister and her husband that avoiding discussing religion and politics is probably a good idea for this family, but that does not mean that they can say whatever they want to you while you must remain silent. Tell them that you will confront them in front of everyone else every single time they even hint at an insult or a dismissal of you or your boyfriend. You will demand loudly “What exactly do you mean by that?” every single time. They will not be able to slip away after delivering one of their insults. Everyone else will have to hear it. If they don’t want that kind of scene at family gatherings, then they are the ones who will have to keep their mouths shut, not you.
3. Tell them that you and your boyfriend are a legitimate part of the family, and neither of you will bow and scrape to their ignorance and self-importance. Say, “This is (your boyfriend’s name). He’s my boyfriend. I love him. Grow up and deal with it. Get over your childish, ignorant homophobia, and stop pretending that you’re superior to anyone else. You’re not. No one here thinks that you are. You haven’t fooled anyone but yourselves.”
4. Either at this discussion or separately, tell your grandfather that you have politely asked him to stop emailing you the objectionable material, but he has persisted. So you have already blocked him from your email. It won’t reach you. Anything similar that he sends by regular mail will be returned unopened. Tell him that as a grandfather, he’s in a position to be a good role model for the rest of the family, but his racism, intolerance, and self-righteousness will keep most younger people from looking up to him.
Friend, these three will probably not change their inner attitude toward you, but your goal will be to stop their outward mistreatment of you. This will be an uncomfortable process, but accepting such mistreatment will only invite worse, and it will teach the younger ones that it’s acceptable to mistreat others. Don’t knuckle under and let these pious prigs cheat you, your boyfriend, your younger sister and the rest of the good people in your family out of the love and acceptance that should flow freely between all of you.