Monday, April 18, 2005

They're scared of us, we're scared of them

It was a big weekend for my extended family. We had a party for my grandma's 83rd birthday (I thought it was 85th but I was wrong) and almost all her 18 grandchildren came. Even my two gay brothers, and one of them brought his partner.

Different people were scared of this situation in different degrees. Over the almost-13 years since my first gay brother told the family about his sexual orientation (awkward closet doorknob: painkiller overdose) my immediate family has made peace with the situation. Some of us have remained in the Church and some--the two gay ones and one sympathetic straight one--have not. There's some heartbreak on both sides. But we each let everyone else make his or her own choices without preaching or punishment. Okay, I have a hard time understanding the sympathetic straight one. But we get along, we enjoy each other's company, we hang on through the disagreements and the hard times. We love each other.

We have not been sure that the extended family, especially on my mom's side, would approach things the same way. After all, some Mormons we've run into insist they would never have a gay couple in their house for dinner, even if one member of that couple were their brother. (This was in the comments on Times and Seasons, probably in one of the ever-popular same-sex marriage threads, but I can't find it now.) And my mom's side of the family has some pretty close ties with some pretty conservative groups. (Yeah ... that link is way beyond conservative, I know!) We hadn't ever tested how our conservative family would really accept, not just my brothers, but their homosexuality. Our worst fears were that there would be some kind of blowup or sermon or horrible thing at the party.

Well, the fears were groundless. Everyone was polite. Not gushy, but very polite. We honored our wonderful grandmother. Everyone smiled, hugged, ate, talked, and met the new spouses and babies and girlfriends and ... gay partner. A couple of people told us how much they liked my brother's partner. And that was right of them. He is a great guy. My mom and sisters and I were relieved and happy and grateful.

After the party, I learned another thing that my mom had been afraid of. She was afraid of how my brothers, and the one brother's partner, would treat her conservative Mormon family. And in fairness, those fears were not groundless. At a family party on the other side of the family two Christmases ago, two of those brothers along with some exmo cousins were absolutely ruthless about the Church and the insinuated stupidity of those who stay in it, all in the home of our still-active grandparents. They thought they were just talking amongst themselves, but it was not a private conversation. It was inexcusable behavior, arrogant and inconsiderate. (Really ... do they think those of us who stay in the church have never considered the things they are talking about? It's so important for all of us to realize that two people can look at the same data set and draw completely different conclusions.)

But that kind of behavior didn't happen at this party, either. There was some gentle smiling afterward at one uncle (a bishop in his rural Utah ward) who always likes to have a "program," and who inexplicably believes that as the eldest son he is the leader of the family since Grandpa's passing in 1999, somehow clueless about the strength of the women in the clan. But there was nothing cruel or unjustified or even inappropriate. At least not while I was there.

I hope that was the case even when the former Mormons of the family were away from the active members. I hope the conservative wing of the family stayed kind, too, once we all parted ways. It's hard for all of us to trust each other. We keep trying. Over time, things get better.


danithew said...

Here's a link that will help to get you there (scroll up and down a little to get into the discussion of having-gays-over-for-dinner):

danithew said...

If that link creates a problem, just go to the T&S post titled "Sunstone Boilerplate" and scroll down to about comment #156 or #169 ... the whole discussion of whether to have gays over to dinner begins somewhere around there (maybe a little earlier).

Ana said...

Thanks, danithew. I had forgotten the main topic of the thread where those comments were posted, and that's why I couldn't find them. I appreciate your help!

Anonymous said...

Good grief! I read your excellent post, and then hopped over to T&S to check out the Great Guess Who's Coming to Dinner Debate.

Here's my definition of homophobia: a bunch of guys spending hours detailing exactly in what dining circumstances and up to what point of flamboyance they'd associate with a same-sex attracted person.

Ana said...

Anonymous, that particular discussion on T & S left me with a heavy heart, a lump in my throat and a sick stomach. And it's not the first time I've heard those sentiments from Mormon friends and acquaintances. I can't say for sure, though, that I would have a much better attitude, if I didn't have the family I have. In my situation, I've had to look at the people involved, rather than their sins, or what might be their sins, because they are literally my brothers. That's not an easy thing, but it's a good thing. For people who haven't had that situation come up in their lives, I can understand being afraid. I hope that someday their notion of family will expand to include my brothers as well as their own.

Thanks for reading and commenting.