Sometimes our families surprise us and are just waiting to be asked
We create our own families. That’s what we say in the LGBT community. What we mean is, historically, our own families have disowned us. So instead, we create new ones.
And it is with these new families of friends that we celebrate holidays and share our griefs and joys and hopes.
We rely on these created families for daily support and emotional sustenance. We love them, exactly as they are, and they love us, exactly as we are.
It is a beautiful tradition, created families, and one that makes the gay community bond even more tightly together.
But now it is time to go back home.
I don’t mean that we should abandon our created families. How could we? They are where we rest our hearts.
But we each also have families we were born into, and the holiday season is a perfect time to reach backward and help pull us all into the future.
Families are changing as the world is changing. Even conservative families are becoming more open to gays and lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders. There is less of a sense of shame and more of a sense of Pride.
But not all of us realize this, because we have built a wall between ourselves and our families of origin out of deep hurt and crucial self-preservation.
Growing up, we felt different, unwanted, unloved. We were rejected once (or more than once) as younger gay and trans people. We don’t want to be rejected again.
So we send presents, but we don’t visit. Or we visit, but don’t share the facts of our lives. Or we cut off contact completely.
Some of us haven’t spoken to our families in so long that we can’t remember what their voices sound like, or recall the planes of our faces.
But a new decade is coming, my friends.
All of us have become more activist in the past few years, as more of our issues have come up for public debate and more of our bills have come up for a vote.
We march. We write our legislators. We wear stickers and pins and explain our positions to strangers.
Now it is time to go home and explain our positions to our families.
There are some exceptions, of course. Some families are so dysfunctional that they can never hear us. Some families are emotionally or physically abusive and it would be dangerous for us to darken their doors.
But in the majority of cases, I think, what separates us is not violence or the threat of violence, but a wall built of bricks of misunderstanding, silence, anger and denial.
It is time for us to break through — not only for ourselves, but for the greater good of our civil rights.
Studies have shown that people are more likely to vote for our rights or otherwise act on our behalf if they know (and presumably, are fond of) gay people. But results must be better if those gay people also use love and gentle persuasion to show them why bills like ENDA and gay marriage are important to us.
Sometimes, our families surprise us.
I tend to think that my family doesn’t care at all about gay civil rights. Yet recently, when marriage was up for a vote in New York, I took a deep breath and called or e-mailed all of my New York relatives to ask them to call their legislators.
All of them did.
My family can’t be the only one that seems indifferent but is instead only waiting to be asked to help.
So go home this Christmas. Or call home. Let’s start building a bridge back to our families. An intact family will not only warm our own hearts, it will eventually help our cause.
Jennifer Vanasco is an award-winning, syndicated columnist. Follow her at Twitter.com/JenniferVanasco
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This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 18, 2009.