Thursday, December 15, 2011

Holidays and Traditions

With Christmas coming up and family visits almost inevitable, I thought I’d write a little about the often stressful world of family holidays that most LGBT individuals live in. There’s this whole “out-ness” and “acceptance” factor that can really make things awkward and unpleasant depending on what your family situation is.

I spent my first Thanksgiving away from my family this year. Being Buddhists, Thanksgiving was never really that big of a deal for my family anyway, but there were a few traditions I missed out on that made me a little homesick for California and my family. Being mostly pacific rim/Asian mutts, my family doesn’t have the same concept of Pilgrims and Indians, and my mom doesn't like turkey. Our Thanksgivings usually involved an atulai fish stew and “watching” football—my dad is a Rams fan and he mostly just complains about the Rams never getting to play on Thanksgiving, so we mostly sit around him and prompt him to go on Adam Carolla style rants about football.

When I moved to Florida with Nikki, because there was no way I was giving up my girlfriend, it didn’t even occur to me at the time that we would have to think of something else to do for Thanksgiving. Part of why we moved to Florida was she had extended family in the state (about an hour from where we are). And these were the people we were going to be spending Thanksgiving with, which pretty much terrified me.

Fair or not, this is what I expected
Let me break down exactly how I saw this going and why. Florida has some incredibly homophobic opinions, especially in the northern parts, which was the direction we’d be going. My girlfriend’s immediate family doesn’t like me and they’re only begrudgingly supportive of her being a lesbian in what I’m assuming is the hope that it’s all just a phase. They’re very traditional Orange County Christians and success mongers, so their fantastic overachieving daughter dating some strange little bohemian scene girl who turned their daughter into a Buddhist lesbian…yeah, they really don’t like me. Then let’s talk about my own extended family—there are the ultra conservative Koreans, the ultra conservative Chamorro, or the ultra conservative Iowans (Ron Paul and Michele Bachmann Iowans to be specific). So hearing that we would be spending our time with her family, but more specifically her extended family in northern Florida…well I started to wonder if we’d actually live through it.

I also have a little Social Anxiety Disorder and some PTSD from some pretty damaging bullying in High School (it's why I'm such an internet nerd and Emily Dickinson style shut in), so when we pulled up to the most beautiful…palatial estate I guess is the word for what this place was and saw that there were about fifty or sixty people (I later found out the exact number was 56 including us) I had a little panic attack. Nikki and I had discussed beforehand that her immediate family had outed us to her extended family in a not too polite sort of way, so I kind of expected us to end up back in the car pretty quickly.

Given a chance, people can surprise you.

Nikki’s favorite uncle, who had made the trip to Florida from New York just for us, showed us around, introduced us to everyone, and acted as something of our tour guide/liaison to the Florida sect of the family. We played croquet, which I actually turned out to be pretty good at, and horseshoes, which I sucked horribly at, and it was all really pleasant. There was no football on, because watching TV would take away from the family time. This was obviously a departure from my usual duties of being my dad’s football watching partner (he had to make do with my sister’s husband this year and he kept texting me that my brother-in-law didn’t understand the game). But there was a puppet show for the kids, during which I was apparently clinging to Nikki pretty tenaciously (I get like that when I’m nervous…or drunk…or within a few feet of her), and one of Nikki’s, I want to say aunt but I’m not really sure, leaned over and asked if we were a couple. We said we were, and she said, “You’re so adorable together.”

Seriously, people can surprise you.

Then there was a campfire and a sing along. All the kids produced instruments, and not just traditional instruments either, weird things like ukuleles, a box drum thing, and other stuff I’d never seen before. I’m hopelessly untalented when it comes to music, so they let me play the tambourine and kind of just mumble-sing. Still, it was nothing like I expected.

As we were saying our goodbyes about to leave, the same woman who asked if we were a couple came up to us and gave us a huge hug (not really an aunt—Nikki’s father’s cousin’s wife…what is that?), and said maybe we’d be married and/or expecting when we came next year.

Thanksgiving was strange, but strangely wonderful.

This makes just as much, if not more, sense than the story about a virgin birth.
We’re back in Southern California now for Christmas where Nikki is staying with my family most of the time and I don’t really spend much time at her place since I’m made to feel very unwelcome there (and her brothers scare/creep the hell out of me). So we’re definitely back into familiar familial waters for this holiday.

Since you’ve probably been waiting for the relationship moral in all this beyond sometimes people will surprise you with their kindness, it’s this:  you’re not dating the person’s family or friends—you’re only dating them. So what if Nikki’s dad refers to me as 'the head-case from Nikki’s old school'…seriously, he does pretty much every time, in one breath, “Are you driving over with that head-case from your old school or do you need a ride?” or “Go ahead and turn on Fox News even though it bugs that head-case from Nikki’s old school.” I feel like he should shorten it to an acronym like THCFNOS…never mind, that’s pretty long too. Anyway, it doesn’t matter, because I’m not dating her family; I’m dating her. The person you’re dating doesn’t have to love your family and you don’t have to love their family. You might even like their family more than your own family sometimes and that’s fine too. The fact remains:  you are NOT dating their family. The antiquated notion of families merging when couples get married, and you’re not losing a daughter, you’re gaining another daughter, and yadda yadda yadda it’s all old-timey bullshit that people only have to participate in now if they damn well feel like it. As members of the LGBT community, you are not required to go out of your way to make your family feel comfortable even as they’re making you and your partner feel uncomfortable—this goes for straight couples as well. If your family or your partner's family aren't being pleasant and going out of their way to make you feel welcome, they aren't worth being around and no sense of familial duty should force you.

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