Saturday, October 5, 2019

Should She Come Out to Her Preacher Grandfather?

I have often taken serious issue with New York Magazine advice columnist, Ask Polly. It’s the least I could do. Polly is a living, breathing symptom of therapy culture, so how could I not call her out for offering warmed over psychobabble.

In the interest of fairness I will report today that Polly’s column this week came as a shock. First, because she took a position that feels politically incorrect. Second, because her advice was sane, sensible and sound. So, hats off to Polly. Maybe this is a sign that she is coming to her senses. Whatever it all means, it was an excellent column!!

A gay women writes in asking whether she should come out to her grandfather. The rest of her family is fully cognizant of her sexual orientation, though not very accepting. Her grandfather is a preacher and is decidedly not “woke.” He would probably react badly. The rest of her family wants her to keep the news from him. She wants to tell him. What should she do?

So, she writes to Polly:

Recently I tried to discuss the option of coming out to my grandfather with my sisters. They were supportive at first. They called a day later, together, to tell me that after thinking about it and discussing it, they think it is a bad idea. They told me that they think it will go down a worst-case-scenario route. Our grandpa is a preacher in the South. They have heard him speak disparagingly about the LGBTQ community. My mother, they said, would also pitch a fit. She does not want me to come out to anyone in my extended family or hometown.

They also let me know that if I did tell my grandpa, they would have to step away, because of the drama it would cause. One of my sisters is pregnant. I understand that she has a right to be selfish right now. They say they have tried to advocate for me to my parents, and that me rocking the boat again by telling Grandpa is too soon, and will be too much for them to handle. They say I need to be patient and let everyone have time.

I know I need to dig deep to understand why I want to continue coming out to folks who I know won’t be receptive, or who aren’t ready. I know it’s possible that I’m motivated in part by the feeling of acceptance I crave, and I’m probably trying to alleviate the pain I feel in knowing I’m only partially accepted. I want to be able to be myself fully. I can’t endure another Christmas where I can only smile and say small white lies or half-truths about my life. Even before I had come out to, well, myself, I was a fierce advocate. As a teenager, I would yell and fight, but as an adult I learned, mostly, how to advocate more gently, so that folks might actually listen. Now, because it is me who needs the advocating, I don’t know how to have a voice. I want to scream, and stomp, and storm — that they are my family and they promised to love me unconditionally and they broke that promise. I also want to hide, become small, and have them open their arms and tell me that they are sorry and they understand that it’s not my fault. I want to get on my knees and beg forgiveness and say that I know that my coming out hurt them, but it’s not something I can change.

Instead, I listen to them talk about the weather, and ultrasounds, and new cars, or a new task at work, and just play nice. I tell them about the weather or my dog. I try to mention my girlfriend, but the silence the mention is met with is deafening.

My family thinks that I am selfish. And immoral. And that my gayness is a phase or the result of my depression. I’ve always been “too much” for them. A running joke in the family is, “What will she cry about this Christmas?”

Am I an insane person to continue to try to make them hear me? I don’t want to cause “drama,” I just want to be me. I just want to bring my girlfriend down for a visit. I just want to post pictures of me and my girlfriend without blocking half of my tiny hometown to make my mother comfortable.

And this is about so much more than me being gay. I have always craved a different kind of relationship than anyone in my nuclear family has been willing to give. They have a right to that, I guess. They have a right to feel that I’m too much. My mother told me she couldn’t handle the “roller coaster of my life.”

Should I simply give up trying to make them accept me? Should I be more accepting of them and their limitations? I’ll be an aunt soon and I don’t want to be cut out of their lives, but I don’t want to live as a ghost in theirs either.

Now, you will think as I thought that Polly would counsel this woman to come out to her grandfather, the sooner the better. After all, the closet is bad, hiding who you really are is bad. She is duty bound to subvert it.

But, Polly takes a different tack, one that points this woman toward establishing more constructive civil relationships with all members of her family. And that does not begin with coming out to gramps. The notion that she should place group cohesion ahead of individual self-actualization is novel. It runs counter to therapy culture wisdom. It is correct.

Polly responds:

Now if this were JUST about coming out, I would say, “Yes, come out. Wait until your sister has her kid, and then do it.” If all you wanted was to come out, announce yourself, make your identity known, and that’s it, I would encourage that. But what you want is much more complicated than that, isn’t it? You want your family to see you clearly for the first time. You want them to hear your words. You want them to treat you the way you deserve to be treated. You want them to accept you for exactly who you are. You want them to meet your girlfriend, and accept her, too. You want to stand up and deliver a moving speech about who you are and what you want from this world, and then you want your Grandpa to stand up and cheer for you, and you want everyone to give you hugs and cry and celebrate this glorious day together.

And why wouldn’t you want that? Who wouldn’t want that? The problem is, what you want is a fantasy. Your sisters already know that, which is why they’re trying to warn you ahead of time. Your family didn’t accept you even before they knew you were gay. They’ve always seen you as too much. They’ve always lived in fear of your heavy statements and your tears.

They’re just people. A lot of people are like that. A lot of people want to talk about the weather and lunch and ultrasounds and new cars and job stuff. A lot of people never, ever, want to talk about the heavy shit you’re going through — never, ever, ever.

Oh my gosh, politicizing your everyday life is a bad idea. You should keep such fantasies in your mind and not make them into your life script.

Polly also explains correctly that the woman should learn to respect other people, even if that means talking about the weather, talking about the everyday banalities that produce group cohesion. And that produce far more cohesion than do conversations about sexual preferences.

Personally, though, I think the fact that you want to return to the emptiest well of all — your ideologically rigid Grandpa — is a real tell. You’ve tricked yourself into believing that all you want is to live your truth, out loud. But really, you want a response. You don’t just want love. A part of you wants rejection. You want to knock down these rotten walls, so you have a solid excuse for just walking away, thereby releasing yourself from the pain of this rejection forever.

Fair enough, and astutely, living one’s truth is a lure, a bad idea that will only cause trouble. Polly believes that the woman wants to be rejected, perhaps because that will make her a fully fledged member of a grievance group. Good point.

And Polly finally becomes rather Scriptural, advising the woman to do unto others as she would want others to do unto her:

So even though they’re a little pathetic, show them the mercy that they won’t show you. Forgive them for this in ways that they won’t forgive you for being who you are. Your ability to do that is contingent on your ability to forgive yourself.

Polly advises her to dial down the drama and to participate like a member of a family, not as a member of a subgroup:

Do an experiment. For the next year, stop pushing them. Just show up and be present. Ask questions about their jobs. Ask your sister about her pregnancy. When your emotions come up, though, serve yourself by getting some distance. Go for shorter visits, and when you do visit, spend time with yourself and treat yourself with care. Respect your limits. Make sure that even though you can’t get what you need from them, you will give yourself what you need, no matter what. Protect yourself more.

Right now, you’re giving too much to them and you’re furious at them all the time. Give yourself more. Give them less. But let go of your anger as much as you can.

As I said, hats off to Polly. Great job.

1 comment:

n.n said...

Transgender spectrum ("rainbow").