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Home for the Holidays: Coming Out Over Cranberry Sauce

Home for the Holidays: Coming Out Over Cranberry Sauce

Lights are on trees, long lines are in stores, and past L Word seasons are wrapped and ready to distribute among your friends. That’s right, the holidays are here. And so is your family. The most traditionally family-oriented holiday of them all, Thanksgiving, is just days away.

Ready or not, here they come. Lights are on trees, long lines are in stores, and past L Word seasons are wrapped and ready to distribute among your friends. And…

“Honey, what did you do to your hair?”

“How’s my favorite niece? How’s California treating you -- you got yourself a boyfriend out there yet?”

“Where exactly did you work over the summer, dear? Advocate something-or-other? Is that a law journal?”

That’s right, the holidays are here. And so is your family. The most traditionally family-oriented holiday of them all, Thanksgiving, is just days away. And, if your family is anything like mine, you will have the immense pleasure of fielding completely inane questions during this holiday season from certain aunts and uncles and grandparents, all of them demanding to know why “a pretty girl like you never has a boyfriend.”

Well, as much as I have enjoyed being made to feel like a 21-year-old spinster at past holiday dinners for my apparent life-long celibacy, I have to admit to being incredibly relieved that this Thanksgiving will go relatively unrecognized for me, seeing as I am still in Paris until mid-December.

You see, we have reached what I would call an “awkward stage” in my process of coming out to my family. After several years of being out, the majority of my extended family, and all of my immediate family, know that I am a lesbian. However, there still remain those few “too religious” or “too elderly” family members who are in the dark about the whole (cough, cough) situation. And seeing as I only encounter those family members once a year, there doesn’t seem to be much purpose in announcing my sexuality at the Thanksgiving dinner table. Wouldn’t want anyone to choke on their turkey stuffing, would we?

However, you can imagine the sort of circuitous conversations that take place, and the looks I get from around the table. You have probably encountered them during your own family gatherings. The ones who “know” are uncomfortable listening to the unenlightened interrogate me; my parents squirm in their chairs, never quite sure when I might get fed up and spill the beans to the whole group. And my brother, sister, and cousins chuckle into their napkins observing the whole affair unfold. Aunt Patty isn’t sure what to make of my short hair. Uncle Michael wants to lecture me on how to land the right man. And Grandmom is just so proud that I have chosen to “focus on my studies” rather than run around with some young hooligans. Meanwhile, my aunt and her, ahem, “friend” sit wordlessly at the end of the table eating their mashed potatoes.

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In truth, it is the stuff of reality television shows. And as endlessly amusing as it may sound on paper, as many of you know, in real life it is not actually all that funny. Going home for the holidays may be stressful for anyone, but I do believe that the added element of concealing essential parts of our lives, our jobs and our relationships increases the anxiety for many LGBT people who make the trek “home” for Thanksgiving. It is frustrating to talk around, rather than about, the most important aspects of our lives.

Once, when I was in college at the University of Richmond in Virginia, I helped conduct a training session for faculty, administrators, and students on how to be sensitive and helpful to the LGBT students on campus. One of our first activities was to have everyone write down on a piece of paper the three most important things to them in their lives. One can imagine that many of them listed their spouse, their career, and maybe a favorite hobby or two on the list. They were then instructed to introduce themselves to the person next to them and have a five-minute “getting to know you” conversation. The only stipulation was that at no point could anyone mention the things or people they had written on their lists. With those instructions, I asked them to start the exercise.

Within less than two minutes a room of forty people had gone silent.

And this is what our holidays are like, is it not? You make your list, in your mind, on your way to the family dinner. Your girlfriend, your favorite places to go out, your volunteer work with the local gay and lesbian center -- and you shelve them until a later time, a later date. You figure out how to cleverly disguise details of your life with half-truths. You have conversations full of lies of omission. And four, five, maybe six hours later, you emerge from the family dinner and you start breathing again. You pick up your phone and chat with your best friend about the next Proposition 8 protest. You go home and turn on But I’m Cheerleader to remind you that it could, in fact, be worse.

Given everything that has happened this month, everything we are up against as a community, I think that perhaps we should make a pledge this holiday season. We should pledge to be honest about ourselves, for ourselves.

I am nearly certain that three years ago, my parents would have voted “Yes on 8” if they lived in California. But I am their daughter, and they know the truth about me, and this year, my two conservative suburban parents donated to Equality California. Knowing someone who is gay, loving someone who is gay, can make all the difference. And, at this point, being “too religious” or “too elderly” or “too conservative” are no longer good enough excuses to remain unaware of the real and diverse kinds of humanity that exist in the world. Because I am a part of that humanity. And so are you. And as much as marching in the streets and donating our money can help, so too can a simple conversation.

Between us, we have family and friends all over the United States. Some of them don’t even know that they love or care about someone who is gay. So, consider not making a “list” this year. I won’t. I will correct Uncle Michael when he assumes that I should have a boyfriend. I will assure Aunt Patty that short hair is quite Vogue for lesbians. And maybe I’ll even ask my aunt if her girlfriend can pass the mashed potatoes.

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Shannon Connolly