"We're getting married! Kristin -- you've shared in passing several times that you and Jenny invited people to your wedding that may be uncomfortable coming, saying no hard feelings if they opted not to come. Could you elaborate? Got any tips or things you would have done differently? How, in the world, does one actually have that conversation, especially with people you talk to infrequently?"
- Question submitted by anonymous
Oh my gosh first of all congratulaaaaaaations! You’re getting married! Woo!
You are correct, I sent an email out to all of my relatives (on my mom’s side) after Jenny and I got engaged. I come from a pretty Catholic extended family, and my feeling on the matter was that I did not want anyone at our wedding who would either feel uncomfortable or who didn’t want to be there! Our wedding day was a celebration of our LOVE, you know?
I am going to share the whole dang letter with you, because I think that it might help a bit with what you are pondering. Here is what I sent:
Hello to my wonderful family.
Did you know that there are 63 of us now?! I saw Grandma a few days ago and she was ready as always with her family facts and data.
I am writing this to all 62 of you (even the babies!), because I love you and I know how much love we all have for each other.
It is safe to assume that our family telephone chain has alerted you all to the fact that I am engaged to get married to my girlfriend of almost three years. Many of you have met Jenny somewhere along the journey, and during that time she has come to occupy a space that fills my entire heart. It’s a pretty big heart, too – so filling it up is an impressive feat.
I have a few things to say to all of you lovely people about this future wedding of mine before I get busy (read: get my mom busy) with save-the-dates and other such activities. Here are those things:
#1: I am so very happy. I know how differently we all walk through this life, and I know that we all have varying beliefs when it comes to love and marriage. I also know, however, that my happiness is something that you all value on some level – just as I value yours. So hooray, at the very least, for being happy!!
#2: I know that for some of you, attending my wedding is reflexive, definite, and without hesitation. I know that for others, it is a point of deep thought and reflection as you weigh your faith alongside your value of family. I also know that for some of you, it is completely impossible for you to be present at the ceremony or reception because of your beliefs.
I need all of you to know that – no matter where your heart falls in that spectrum – I love you, and I respect those beliefs.
One of the strongest grounding principals of my own faith is that, if I expect to be respected and valued as a person, I must always extend that respect to those around me. Our family’s deep commitment to faith and family is something that has shaped me, and I hold that so dear. Please know this!
#3 There are a bunch of things about my life that might be confusing, unclear, or unknown to you. That may be something you are completely at peace with – or it might be something that you wish to talk about further. If you have any questions, any thoughts, or any confusion – please, please talk with me! I understand that we all walk this path very differently, and I value the ability we have as human beings to talk about those differences.
So! There we have it – and here is what I would love from all of you:
Send me an email, give me a call, write me a Facebook message, send a text – whatever is easiest and best for you – and let me know how you are feeling about this wedding of mine.
Some responses might look like:
“As long as you force Patrick to lipsync to Grease Lightning, I am so there.”
“Honey, I love you, but I know this isn’t something that I can attend.”
“Can we talk a little more as I figure out how I feel?”
“WILL THERE BE OPEN BAR??”
No matter your response, I won’t ever think that you don’t love me (unless your response is ‘I don’t love you’), and I will always respect and value your beliefs and your place in my life.
Normal save-the-date and invitation activity will commence once I figure out a date and a place, and once I hear from all of you. You can, of course, talk to me on behalf of your families – but I would love to hear from you individually if possible, since we are all so very different.
I love you!
Thanks for reading!
Now, all of us have very varied and complex relationships with our families, so some of this might really resonate with you, and some of it might not be quite how you want to handle the conversation! I was really, really happy with how this letter was received, and I did have many meaningful, and sometimes super difficult, conversations with my family after I sent this out. Many of them responded with incredible support. Many responded with questions. Some of them let me know that they loved me but they couldn’t be there because of their beliefs.
I felt, at the end of the day, that I had opened the doors to many of them who might otherwise have simply sat in silence or been torn up by conflicting feelings and guilt. I was happier having opened those doors. That was my path, and it certainly does not need to be yours.
Do what feels right to you, and at the center of your focus, put your partnership with this beautiful, amazing person you are soon to marry. Your wedding is about the two of you, and the love and happiness you bring each other.
“Do you have any super gay tips for surviving the holidays when you’re not out to your family? Love you guys!”
-Question submitted by Anonymous
Your friends, your friends, snapchat, your friends, tumblr, your cat, your cat, your friends, and the 24-hour marathon of A Christmas Story.
So very many humans, around this time of year, wind up in a house with a gabillion relatives who don’t know their identity and who insist upon asking questions that can’t be answered (while remaining ‘not out’), or who talk loudly over spiked eggnog about politics in a way that makes steam come off of much more than the holiday-cookie tray. It can be super difficult, especially when you aren’t able to speak your truth in response, and that is why self-care is so, so important at this time of year.
The reason that my list includes ‘your friends’ a hundred times is because I think that the best way to remain centered is to remind yourself that there is an entire world that exists outside of your house. I am hoping, Anonymous, that you have a few friends who do know who you are, and who support and love you. Be in touch with them. Text them when your grandma asks you for the hundredth time about ‘bringing a boy home’ or when your aunt asks you why you support marriage equality. Maybe your relatives are super chill and it isn’t even about them asking questions that make you feel uneasy, but you just aren’t ready to come out – you should still talk to those friends. Tell them how you are feeling, send stupid jokes back and forth, snap them pictures of your snoring uncle, and let them tether you to a place where you know you can be you.
If your friends are all going to a remote island for the holidays and won’t have service, or if you aren’t out to them yet, then… use us. By us I mean the internet. We are all here, all the time, sharing stories of our own holidays at home, giving advice, making memes, and just existing so that you know that you aren’t alone. That’s really the key: hang out with your family as much as you can, but give yourself time with things that make you feel good, happy, and whole.
Now, to the rest of my list: If family members do ask you questions you can’t answer, just shrug and say, “Do you know when the marathon of A Christmas Story starts? My goal this year is to watch it for the entire 24 hours.” If someone says something about politics that makes you feel super angry, grab the family cat, squeeze him tight, take him to your room or a quiet place, and tell him every single thing that made you furious in that moment. Cats are really good at keeping secrets.
Take it one moment at a time, remember to stay connected to support (and laughter), snuggle up in a blanket as often as possible, and know that there are a million billion of us snuggled up in our own blankets who understand exactly how you are feeling. Oh, and know that it’s totally 100% awesome and cool for you to not be out for as long as you want to be.
“How do I keep myself from becoming my mom? She’s great and I love her, but there are a lot of things about her that I don’t want to emulate but have noticed are traits we share (like our temper).”
-Question submitted by Anonymous
Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy do I have a lot of feelings on this one, Anonymous.
First and foremost: you cannot become your mom because you are you. That is an indisputable fact of existence. You have lived your own life, and that life came with a mom, sure, but it also came with some friends and maybe a cousin or two and probably a favorite pair of sneakers and a memory of that one time your neighbor fell off their bike and broke their arm (making you suddenly a bit more hesitant about riding your own bike) and a pet snake and a weird trundle-bed and so, so many other things that make you your very own person. So, by the rule of physics and science-stuff alone I hereby declare: you cannot become your mom.
DISCLAIMER: If you are in the movie Freaky Friday the above does not apply and becomes much more complicated.
That all said, I understand what you are asking, and I understand what is making you feel all of that please-don’t-let-me-be-my-mom panic. I have a mom, too. My mom also has a temper. As a matter of fact, when I was much younger my mom’s temper was so bad that it scared the ever-living-shit out of me. Sometimes with no warning at all my mom would see that I had left a dish out or messed up the couch-pillows, and she would snap. Her face would get all red and she would scream and scream. Sometimes she would even throw things (hair brushes were a favorite). It was a really hard time in my life, in her life, and in our family’s life.
In later years, my mom went to therapy to work on the things that were making her so angry, and she was able to be a much calmer, more patient, and more balanced person and parent. Which was great… except for the fact that I had been around that temper in my most formative years, and it had an ever-lasting effect on me (both in the form of my own temper, and in my persistent fear that I would turn into my mother.) I’ve had moments, even within the last year alone, where something makes me angry and I act out. Last year I threw a whole bowl of oatmeal on the floor because I was so mad about some thing that I can’t even remember now. My first thought after marveling at the weird slurpy-crunch noise that the oatmeal-bowl made upon crashing was, “What am I doing. I am her. I am my mom.”
So, let me tell you how I handle my feelings, my fears, and the oatmeal.
First: I recognize that awareness of my feelings, and the support and understanding of those around me, is key. The biggest thing that my mom didn’t have (and maybe your mom still doesn’t) was an awareness of how her feelings were affecting her actions. No one had ever told her how to decipher those angry, upset feelings and connect them to her actions. No one – until much later in her life – had told her that she could seek help, and speak to other people about those feelings. Without awareness and without the ability to seek help, her temper got the best of her. You, Anonymous, are already far ahead, because you recognize the behavior patterns in your mom, and you can see how those same behavior patterns may be present within yourself. That awareness alone can help enormously.
Second: The temper itself isn’t the problem, it’s what you do with it. For the longest time, I thought that going to therapy (which I did for years, and still do!) would mean that suddenly I wouldn’t have any of the feelings I didn’t want to have. I thought I would become super zen and just glide through life once I could figure out and fix all that ailed me. Turns out, that isn’t how it works!!! What happens instead is that I still have lots and lots of my feelings, but now I know what they are. If my wife snaps at me about something and I feel that fire rising in my middle, I know to connect the dots. I better understand the many-layered process that is happening to make me angry (and that it isn’t just about my wife), and I know that if I take a moment to myself before responding, I will be able to calm down. It doesn’t work every time, but it does work most times. If I understand the feelings, they become much easier to manage.
Third: In addition to her temper, my mom also gave me strength. My mom is strong-headed; she fights hard for what she wants, and for what she believes to be right in this world. Oftentimes in the past, what she believed to be right directly conflicted with what I believed to be right… and you can only imagine that clash of strong-willed Russos. Recently, though, as I’ve learned more and more about feminism and gender, I came to realize how so much of my mom’s fight was rooted in a world that had told her, consistently, that her feelings were dramatic, invalid, and just plain silly. I realized that my mom was a badass feminist even if she had never tried the word on for size. I realized that so many of the fighting qualities that make it possible for me to fight back against so many people who tell me that I am less-than, that I don’t matter, that my feelings are trivial… they also came from her. In the moments when I feel most fearful about “becoming my mom,” I remember that I have small pieces of who she is woven within the fabric of who I am. That comes with some that are harder to hold, and some that I would never, ever let go.
“Hey! Could you throw some LGBT suicide stats to show my rude parents? Thanks!”
- Question submitted by Anonymous
Okay listen up. Since I am pretty sure you knew how to google “LGBT Suicide Stats,” I HAVE A FEELING THAT MAYBE JUST MAYBE… you were (are) really angry about the way your parents are treating you and you are on a quest to slap in the face via Tumblr posts, statistics, and anything else you can get your hands on. So, let’s break this down into three parts, shall we?
PART ONE: Your Parents Shouldn’t Disrespect You
I am so fucking sorry that your parents are making you feel shitty. The world at large can be a place that looks us in the eyeballs and says “you aren’t worth it, you don’t make sense, you don’t belong, fuck off”… and for even a shred of that message to be coming from the people who are supposed to love you most, is totally, one hundred billion percent FUCKED. I need to tell you that those messages of disrespect are complete and total bullshit, and are fabricated on some weird-ass structure that was built by a bunch of white dudes who assumed they were better than black dudes and brown dudes and all women and anything else that didn’t walk, talk, and act like they did across history. Apologies to the super awesome, really nice white dudes who are attempting to help fix that shit, but it’s true. All that to say: YOU ARE FUCKING WORTH IT. YOU MAKE SO MUCH FUCKING SENSE. YOU BELONG SO HARD. *huge hug*
PART TWO: Suicide Is Real & Affects LGBT People
You asked for stats, I shall give you a few stats: Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among young people ages 10 to 24; LGB youth are 4 times more likely, and questioning youth are 3 times more likely, to attempt suicide as their straight peers; Nearly half of young transgender people have seriously thought about taking their lives, and one quarter report having made a suicide attempt; Each episode of LGBT victimization, such as physical or verbal harassment or abuse, increases the likelihood of self-harming behavior by 2.5 times on average. I pulled these stats from The Trevor Project’s website, and you can see the sources here. If you are struggling and need someone to talk to, please, please call or chat with someone who can help:
PART THREE: Scaring Your Parents Isn’t The Only Way To Talk To Them Listen. Parts 1&2 are important, but I need to ask you to stop for a moment and think about your parents, what they know and what they don’t, and why they might be saying shit that hurts your heart. Maybe they are people who will only respond to fear… but I think that in most cases, people respond to compassion, empathy, and help more than being told terrifying facts at the outset and left with zero resources.
There is a good chance that your parents need your help. You can absolutely talk to them about the above statistics, but you should do it in a larger context where you are giving them tools to learn how to support you. If you are feeling suicidal, you should talk to them about those feelings, and you should tell them that you need their help. If you are feeling incredibly hurt, you should talk to them about those feelings, and tell them that you need their help.
Show them The Parents Project, see if there is a PFLAG Chapter near you, urge them to buy a copy of This is a Book for Parents of Gay Kids. Dannielle and I created (and continue to create) these resources because we have seen parents do an about face when they suddenly have an outlet for all that they are going through. Your coming out process is also your parents coming out process.
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"My mom thinks that Caitlyn Jenner is just pulling a publicity stunt and 'isn’t really trans.' What do I say to that?"
- Question submitted by Anonymous
There are two kinds of moms/people in the world, so it really depends on what kind of mom-person you are dealing with. I am hoping that you have the kind of mom-person who says, “I THINK THIS THING BC OF BLAHBLAH,” but who will then respond to calmly-delivered exchanges of information intended to help educate her more on the issue that she’s blabberin’ on about right now without much knowledge. Moms being people, too, though, you may have the kind of mom-person who doesn’t want to listen, and who doesn’t want to learn. There are many people out there who, sadly, for reasons of hatred or phobia or a combination therein, latch onto the first thing they can find to dismantle the lived reality of other people and refuse to let go of it for any reason.
It’s Monday, though, and I need to grab a hold of some positivity, so I am going to assume that your momma is going to at least allow a conversation to happen. Cool? COOL.
Here is what I would say:
“Mom, the things you said about Caitlyn Jenner coming out as trans as ‘a publicity stunt’ upset me. I know that Caitlyn is someone who has lived much of her life in a spotlight of some kind, but her experience as a person on this planet deserves to be believed as much as anyone else’s. Especially for trans people, who many discount or disbelieve whether they are in the spotlight or not, it is so important that we remember that we cannot know any person’s experience better than they can know their own. It’s also so important to remember how scary and difficult it can be to tell anyone about parts of our gender identity and sexuality… let alone the entire planet.
That said, I know that most of us don’t have a lot of knowledge about what it means to be transgender, and so it could be a bit confusing. I put together a little list of articles** that I think could be really helpful in getting a better understanding of trans communities, and was wondering if you’d consider reading them? We could even read them together! Before you even get there, though, I would love to watch the speech that Caitlyn gave at the ESPY Awards with you – in it she directly speaks to some of the feelings you’ve been having, and explains how important her visibility is to the thousands of trans youth across the world.”
Now, your mom may interrupt you at various points while you talk – maybe she will say she does understand what transgender means and counter you, or maybe she will say she doesn’t understand how her opinion could upset you personally. Think about each of these sentiments that you are speaking so that if she pushes back, you can (calmly, if possible) explain yourself further.
The biggest point, in my mind, is to ask her how she would feel if she shared something about herself and was met with people who thought she was simply doing it for attention. My biggest successes in these kinds of situations happen when I draw parallels to something that the asker/non-believer (in this case your mom) has been through. We are humans, after all, and we tend to be pretty self-centered. If we can pull on mom’s experience to show her that not being believed when we share a part of ourselves with anyone is very hurtful, she may develop the empathy she needs to be supportive of both Caitlyn and the thousands of trans people across the planet who also desperately need to be believed, respected, and celebrated.