Saturday, November 26, 2011

Holiday Traditions: Awkward Conversations With Family

I don't know if anyone has seen the the video floating around from Maggie Gallagher and the National Organisation for Marriage?  You know...the one in which she gives tips on how to talk to your loved ones about your opposition to marriage equality over a heaping plate of turkey, cranberry, and mashed potatoes. You know, I can just imagine it now...."The Turkeys just delicious this year Margaret! Did you brine it?...oh and while we are on the subject...I think gay marriage is totally wrong and the work of homosexual activists bent on redefining a sacred institution to destroy the family....please pass the yams John.......John?....Why is your face so red?. Yams please dear.".....Holiday family get togethers can often be the site of family dust ups but anyone who goes to the dinner table with conversational ammo about their views over gay marriage? about an agenda. Who knew this was something people needed pointers on?

However...Maggies psa about holiday insensitivity does bring up a topic that has long been a challenge for me personally....talking to my family about anything gay. Contrary to what I do on the internet...I am not that vocal in person and some of the hardest people I have ever had to talk to are my family. So lets go there....pass the gravy Maggie...

I have had some rough conversations about gay topics with my family... but I can say that I have NEVER brought it up on a holiday. The scariest conversation I have had on a gay topic by far was coming out. Even though I had been raised and spent my whole life with those I was coming out to and thought I knew their beliefs intimately, I still didn't know what to expect. That conversation I did have to prepare myself for because I knew I would have to stand my ground and I truly did not know which way things were going to go. After that, came a long time of tacitly agreeing not to talk about it anymore. I didn't rock their boats and they wouldn't rock mine. That is...until Jay and I started to pass some milestones that most families celebrate...marriage and children.

Most couples find that announcing an engagement or a new addition to the family is met with joy. Mothers and grandmothers get involved in wedding plans and/or begin planning baby showers....everybody hugs and there is a general sense that something really good is happening. For most, these are happy occasions. For gay couples it's not always so....For Jay and Myself, telling our families that we were going to adopt brought  no spontaneous woops of joy and definitely no baby showers(darn). It actually took our family some time to get used to the idea and they universally had to express their fears that society might reject or bully our kids because of us. But there again...not the worst or most awkward conversation, but also not what we had hoped for.

The worst came when we could actually marry. That seemed to be one step too far for them. I remember being very excited to tell my family the news and I drove out to see my Father and Grandma at the little antique shop our family runs. No matter how excited I was to tell him before I got there, standing in front of him seemed to sober me up. But I told them and hoped. I hoped for a "congratulations"...a smile...some form of positive response. Instead what I got was silence and an....."Do you expect us to be happy?"......"Um...well yes dad. That's what I was hoping for. That's usually what happens when people announce they are going to get married."

No such luck......He then we on to explain about how for his generation this kinda stuff is just wrong and not to expect any kind of acceptance or happiness over it. Inside, I kicked myself because I felt I should have known. I went home defeated and more disappointed than I wanted to even admit to myself. dad was in my wedding and he voted against prop 8. But he made it clear to me that he was doing it as a favor to me...not because he believed it was right. He was trying to be their for his son in the only way he could and I recognize that.

Then we got involved in the struggle against Prop 8 and we learned that we could not be silent anymore. But....the courage we learned from speaking out in YouTube did not always extend to family. Talking to them about the Prop 8 vote in order to encourage them to vote against it is were my father had some heated verbal altercations. For a kid who learned never to fight with his parents it was tough....I was so scared to put my views out there at all but I had life and marriage were on the line and for them it was just a moral issue. It was infuriating. In order to talk to my family about anything you have to fist work your way past the FOX news talking points...then you get down to the real reasons for why they believe what they do and it's almost always a "Because that's what the Bible says", or a, "That's the way it's always been." answer. Convincing them that their are other points of view is looked on with suspicion. It's almost as if they feel that I am trying to wrest away from them something precious that defines who they are as good people. And what does that make me then?

And there is why I don't talk to them about gay issues in a nutshell...doing so further defines me as different. And I don't want to feel like an outsider in my own family. And everytime I have to hold my tongue I am paying a price...not only to keep the peace...but to not further highlight how I am different from my father who I see so much of myself Grandmother who is my spiritual brother who I want to be my friend...and all my uncles and cousins...and my mom who I still can not talk to. That fear of not being different has kept me from doing many things I should have long the fact that our wedding was the very first time my family had ever seen me hold my husbands hand, share a dance, or a kiss...and while I was doing those things with him, I couldn't stop thinking about that. I had to stop myself from trying to protect their sensibilities and remember that this was our day...and that we may never get to have day like that one again. They were just going to have to live with the shock of seeing their son kiss and dance with another man. How lame I feel that those things are what I was thinking about on my wedding day.

And here we are on the cusp of the release of our documentary movie project The Right To Love: An American Family....a movie in which my family agreed to be interviewed for. And the producers of the movie let me know that my family was very frank in their I knew they would be. The movie is almost ready for release and we have to opportunity to invite friends and relatives to Skywalker Ranch to preview it. And I don't even want to tell them about it. I don't even want them to see it until I have had a chance to see it and to know what was said. Why am I doing this? I protecting them from looking bad? After all, they are grown ups and able to own their opinions. Yet here it will awkward conversations with my family played out on a giant screen for thousands of strangers to see. And here I am just hoping I will even be invited to the next family holiday. They don't read my blog or watch any of our youtube videos so maybe I'm worrying for nothing.

While it has been a very difficult lesson...I can not keep silent anymore. I don't want to hurt them. And worse, I just want to be a who I always was to them before the wall of "gay" came down between us. But the journey of fighting for gay rights has taught me how to speak up and hopefully how to do that with some respect and dignity for others. I know what I need to say, I know how to say it,...and I know when I need to say it. When It comes to gay issues I can no longer work so hard to protect my families sensibilities in order to fit in. Too much is at stake now and sometimes our boats need to be rocked a little.

So Maggie might be the etiquette maven for how to deliver  anti-gay talking points over pumpkin pie but I am not.....and nor do I think many other people are. Talking to our parents about our lives can often be stressful enough that talking about gay issues is just one step beyond possible for many of us, even though we need to have these conversations desperately or we will never learn to see each other eye  Sometimes those conversations are had over mashed potatoes and gravy...and sometimes they can be had just by letting them see you dance at your wedding.

Until next time dear readers...........


  1. Personally, I am horrified by the very idea of someone advising other people on how to argue about important issues. Argument and debate is a (very often healthy and stimulating) battle of the mind and viewpoints and so each individual should develop his/her own ideas and not be fed fighting points from other people or institutions. If you cannot handle having this kind of argument over the dinner table on Thanksgiving or any other day for that matter, then don't get involved. Fight your own fights; express your own views/opinions.

    Bryan, I very much relate to your difficulties when it comes to talking with your family and desiring certain things (reactions, degrees of acceptance, etc.) from them. One thing I have discovered is that, no matter how good they have been at times, the truth is that they are likely to be very limited in their ability to support and understand you. For me, the family who can accept me will only do so for me, and not for the reasons I want them to accept me. They still hold old-school beliefs from a different time and likely see a lot of what we are as 'wrong' in some way. At the end of the day, we have to learn to take what we can from them and accept their limitations, and ultimately find meaning elsewhere, from the loved ones that might not be family, or from our new made families, or our close friends. No one should be worrying over what their parents are thinking during their wedding dance...

  2. Just wanted to say great post. I recently started watching your videos on YouTube, and you are part of an amazing family. Your children seem delightful. A note to add, I want to apologize for anyone who was less then trilled over your marriage. I grew up with a strict Christian background including Christian school, and grew up with a very jaded view of gay people and families, and while I'm not gay, they taught hate not love. Now that I know the truth Just want to say that god loves you and your family. You are a wonderful example of a Great family. I'm from Florida, and voted for gay marriage, unfortunately it didn't , but marriage equality for all .

  3. This woman claims to be a "Christian" She is not..Christ would be appalled..

    This woman and so many others like her actually make money by scaring ignorant uneducated people with money into sending them money.
    Shame on them..they will have to live with themselves. I'd like to be a "fly on the wall" when they enter their "kingdom of heaven."

    Thanks guys for showing the opposite-reality. There is more love in your family than in this woman's little finger..
    As we all know..being gay is not a choice...

  4. wow. I'm very glad that I read your blog and subscribe to your youtube channel (depfox). I always learn something knew with every new post.
    Your family Bryan, not just you and Jay and Daniel and Selena, but your extended family is like a micro-cosm of America. Your debates are debates going on all over America. I don't have any advice to give you as I have no idea what it would be like to be in your situation.
    I cannot imagine how anyone could watch your vlog or read your blog and not have a tremendous sense of respect for you. But I already supported gay-rights before I discovered your online work. I hope your family will watch the movie with you and I hope that others who disagree with gay rights will also have the courage to have their boats rocked as well.
    Keep on Rockin'

  5. Well, I will have you know that I brought up the topic of same-sex marriage at our Thanksgiving dinner table, and even the most conservative member of the family was for it.

  6. Did I got it right: she said, it´s okay treating different things differently. Yes, that sounds right, but I don´t see the difference in loving between two women, two men or a women and a men. Love is Love - there is no difference. The only difference is how the society deals with it.

    And I agree with you, talking about gay issues with parents or siblings isn´t always easy. I came out to my parents 7 years ago. You would think, that´s such a long time and that in between everybody feels comfortable. But to be honest: I hate talking to them about beeing gay. And that´s not ´cause I´m ashamend of it (I´m not!). But everytime they tried to talk about it, I feel as they are crossing a border, I don´t want them to cross. It´s a very personal theme, very personal feelings and I don´t want them to know all about. And my parents - especially my mom - digs and digs and digs harder to get any information out of my mind and heart. And everytime she does, I try to tell her, that when the time is right and when the right one comes along, I will tell about and I will introduce her to them. But I didn´t have had any serious relationship the last 7 years. So there was anyone to take with me on family celebrations or christmas etc. And then the whole discussion starts again about I "shold not have choosen beeing that way" and if I wouldn´t I would have a better life. But as you know, there never was any choice of beeing gay. The only choice I took was beeing honest to myself and don´t hide my feelings any longer. But that doesn´t includ I will share all my private feelings and thoughts with everybody.

    I hope, you all had a great Thanksgiving and start to the christmas session with a lot of cookies.

  7. I just visited the YouTube page for Ms. Gallagher's video... It got 10 likes compared to over 1000 dislikes (so over 90% of people hated it). In contrast, the GetUp video from Australia has over 25000 likes compared to 1100 dislikes (so about 96% of people loved it).

    I wonder if this can be considered a reasonable poll on the idea of Gay Marriage?

  8. This post held great interest for me. I've faced some religious bigotry from my father and that didn't end well, in fact we haven't spoken in over a year now.

    If there's one thing I got from my father it's my stubbornness. I won't back down when I know I'm right about something.

    So in our last tiff, over immigration of all things where I support allowing immigrants to become citizens and reminded my father that his grandmother, my great grandmother as well as his other grandparents emigrated here from southern Italy in the early part of the 20th century.

    And in my possession I have a copy of my great grandmothers naturalization paperwork from 1937. Yes, she's been in the country over 30 years, had several children who were citizens because they were born here.

    My father's response "Well, that's different!" Um, how?

    It devolved into him calling me a "gay basterd", and my calling him a bigoted asshole.

    Now you have to know my father's history. He's alienated my two step sisters, and now he's done the same with me.

    So my parting curse to him was that I hoped he died a lonely old man.

    Like I said, I don't back down.

  9. I only just recently came out to the immediate members of my family. So far they are okay with it. In fact, my family is pretty much made up of very open-minded people. I know for a fact that this conversation will take place soon, perhaps at Christmas, when I'll actually be able to go home for the holidays. I stayed in Iowa for Thanksgiving. I'm anticipating widespread agreement on this topic, myself. And I would just like to point out that it is discrimination to treat different things differently. That's how all of the social injustices came about, including the Holocaust. It's not common sense; common sense would be instead rejoicing in our similarities rather than letting our differences divide us.

    The similarities in this case:
    1) We can fall in love just like straight people.
    2) We can have families, with children, like straight couples.
    3) Our children deserve the same protections and priveleges that kids with straight couples have... and the only way for them to get those is if gay people are allowed to marry.

  10. I can't imagine any one needing talking points to bring up a debate about gay marriage at a holiday gathering with family. Then again I don't really talk about anything to do with gay issues with my family any way, even thought I am out to my immediate family and the extended family already knows even though I have not directly come out to them.

    I can't really imagine striking up a conversation on such things as well I am not particularly comfortable discussing gay issues as it is. Heck I'm not particularly comfortable with being gay for the most part ether so not wanting to discus it should probably not come as a surprise.

    I can't believe that people still think they can escape being seen as bigots by using the quintessential bigot argument of "it's logical to threat different things differently" when talking about human-beings! It's not like they are talking about rules governing the safe way to instal and vent something like an electric cloths dryer and a gas clothes dryer, they are talking about living breathing feeling people. Yet they are blind to the fact that such was the exact same argument used to keep slaves and then used after slavery to create and perpetuate Jim Crow laws, it was the same logic used to bring about the holocaust etc. All they have done is changed the what the "different things" are.

  11. I'd just like to tell you that i envy you guys. I hope I can live as happily as you guys do. A husband . It's really sweet. I'm excited to grow up and find the love of my life.

  12. I just got a chance to read this post. The way your family puts itself out there is very inspiring. My family are all Fox News and "ditto heads" too. This Thanksgiving I was forced to listen to tirades from my family about how liberals are destroying the country. How good and noble socially conservative values are being eroded by "those people." Out of the dozen or so family members at the holiday only one doesn't know I'm gay, my dad. Every comment that was about "those people" would be followed by the occasional side glance at me. I hope one day they will be happy for me when I meet Mr. Right, but sadly don't think that's in the cards. Keep up the great work and posts. Thank you for sharing so much with all of us.

  13. I know it's off topic (great post but I can't even waste a comment on Maggie cuntess), but I wanted to bring a cool YouTube video on marriage discrimination to your attention:

    Besides just being a beautiful video (it doesn't hurt that the guy is hot) it's message obviously ties in to what you guys are all about. It reminded me of you guys. Can't wait to see the film about your family too!

  14. I think if rightwing people’s misconception of sexual orientation being a choice could be convincingly cleared up, much of their discomfort with gays in general and their objections to gay marriage would collapse. This link will take you to a particular video on Youtube’s Out Late But Great channel, a LGTB station originally intended to be a channel for people coming out later in life. What’s important about this video is that it pastes in a roughly 6 minute excerpt from a 2008 National Geographic documentary on the biology and genetics behind homosexuality. Not only do you need to see this, but people’s homophobic relatives need to even more. The likelihood of any one person in the general population turning out to be gay is less than 5% accordingly to this documentary. The odds, however, are dramatically higher in twins. If a fraternal twin is gay, there’s a roughly 25% probability the other twin will be also. Same situation among identical twins: One such twin being gay makes it roughly a 50% likelihood the other twin also will be gay. Very strong evidence on this alone that something biological is going on and not something chosen. Again, watch the video to get the science behind this straight.

    These findings contain implications that rightwing homophobes in our families should find comforting. If gayness isn’t chosen, neither is heterosexuality. So if only 5% of people at large will turn out gay by the force of biology, then 95% of everyone else will biologically turn out to be straight. Those are pretty good odds for their kids and they have an overwhelmingly good chance of turning out straight and, therefore, having a much easier and less complicated life. Because either orientation is biologically determined, it can’t be changed. Our homophobic family members no longer need to fear that the availability of gay marriage will encourage people to turn gay who supposedly wouldn’t be that way otherwise or to choose gay marriage for themselves when their personal inclinations otherwise would be to choose hetero marriage– because, after seeing the video, they’ll understand it just doesn’t work that way. Straights will have no interest in gay marriage for themselves – period. They will be immune from being “recruited” into it, and offering gay marriage isn’t about recruitment anyway. It’s only intended for those who naturally turned out gay.

    Gay marriage can’t be “forced” onto hetero’s at large unless the law requires them to dump their opposite sex spouse and marry a same-gender partner instead. And we all know that simply isn’t going to happen. With the “force” and “recruitment” issues gone, then opposing gay marriage requires militant hetero’s to inject themselves into something that is none of their business and doesn’t cost them any money. Why – except for making religious-inspired cruelty the law of the land – do they care what some gay couple they’ve never met do marriage-wise?

  15. Is it wrong if I reaaaaally wanna hit her in the face ? :D

  16. I am a gay man who has been living with my wonderful new boyfriend for the past 3 months and he said that we had been invited to his sister's home next weekend for a Christmas dinner. She is an evangelical Christian and does not support gay rights. At first I flat out said that I wouldn't go, but the more I thought about it the more I thought I should go just to be there for the man I love. I suppose I will have to meet them some time and I am very nervous, but I told him I would go. Arghhhh, I will just have to bite the bullet and go. It is not easy for me to just keep quiet without speaking my mind if certain topics were to arise. Not only that but there is nearly 20 years difference in our ages.