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Wednesday, April 7, 2010

So How's the Family ?

It's easy for a lot of us to think that now we've got all those legal battles behind us, you know, we're legal now, can't be discriminated against for being a homo, can get a Civil Union if you want, to think that it's just fine and dandy for everyone else who's gay in the country, but as I've been reminded a few times lately, it's not the case.

It's pretty hard for most of us to avoid family and the impact they have on us. And if you're queer, it can be really hard if the people you've grown up with and known since you were born freak out when they find out that you're not going to follow the straight and narrow path they just assumed you would naturally take.

Family matters. Their opinions of us are important, even when they're negative. And I don't know why but I've heard quite a lot of stories recently from people who have had really shitty experiences with their families.

Outright rejection is the most obvious and hurtful. I am actually stunned to hear that people's parents have refused to speak to them since they came out - this still happens today. And it can go on for decades, or till death in some cases. My parents were pretty shocked back in the 70s when I told them, and it took my Dad a long time to come round, but he did. Even then I was never excluded from the family, he and I just wouldn't talk when we met at Xmas or birthdays. I was lucky, my brothers were great, and my Mum was able to adjust and after the shock of the news, there was no problem.

But I've been hearing such hideous nasty stories from so many people lately - it makes me realise how lucky I am. I just can't imagine what it would be like to be totally cut off from family, but a number of people go through that, and it must be shit.

Then there's the other form of family cruelty, where they never really accept you, but still see you, but refuse to acknowledge your partner, or demand you never talk about the important things in your life as a queer - what you do, where you go, who your friends are, why you have a broken heart. They only want to accept a limited, sanitised version of you, one that won't embarass them in front of the neighbours or at work or in Church. And of course, it's always your fault for the pain and embarrassment, not theirs. They've done nothing wrong, but they sit there stewing in guilt and silent condemnation. Man I'm lucky I didn't have to put up with that. I thought we'd all got past that now, but I was wrong. It still seems surprisingly, and unhappily, common.

Another form I've been hearing about from people is when you think your brother or sister is fine with you being queer, their partner, wife or husband is cool with it, you go to their place for dinner, baby-sit the brats, then one of their kids turns out to be one of us - and bang! You're a demon. And you mustn't talk about it ! Even if your niece or nephew has come and talked to you about it. "Back off! This is something we'll deal with ! Keep your nose out! And don't you dare tell Mum and Dad!"

That response, to me, shows that in fact they were never really cool with you being a homo in the first place. They were able to put on a good front, they probably even really convinced themselves that they had no issue with queers - until their own offspring suddenly force themselves to confront the mess of bigotry that sits there like a leaking sewer under a nice tidy garden. In fact the brother or sister you thought loved and accepted you never really did; or why react this way?

And yet we listen to people constantly telling us that "The Family" or "Whanau" is the building block of society, the best safest place to be for kids, a warm sheltering place of love that will take you in no matter what. Yeah, right.

As I said, I have been lucky - a few nasty moments when I was a lot younger with my Dad, but we moved beyond that. And it's easy for someone like me to think that things are so much better than they were.

But for a lot of people that's not the case. They are rejected and emotionally abused by the people they should be able to trust the most. No one can exert the same power over us that family can. They know all the buttons to push in ways that others don't. And when they turn on us, withdraw their support and love, leave us because suddenly we are sick scum in their eyes, the result is devastating for many, and the consequences can be terrible.

It's good to remember that with all the legal and social gains we've made, it can still be a nasty cold unwelcoming and unloving world for a lot of us who don't fit the straight model.

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