Gay & Lesbian Services of Western New York

Strained Relationships

A 16 year old female asks: What can I do about my 18 year old brother who refuses to talk to be because I am a lesbian?

There is a saying in my field, “As goes the marriage, so goes the divorce” How does this relate to this young woman’s question? Well, the relationship you had before you break the news, I am gay or lesbian, has a lot to do with how the information is received and what sort of relationship you have after. In the situation of the questioner, she informs that her relationship with her brother has always been strained and that he has been the target of “faggot” slurs at school. Not a lot of warm fuzzies between them before or after. More on this in a minute.

Sometimes relationships are strained by physical distance and lack of meaningful contact. In this circumstance, the news about your orientation can be felt like a ton of bricks because the receiver of the information has little relationship with the teller in the first place. Case in point. My boyfriend has been out for over 12 years and his family and friends here in town are cool about it. Thanksgiving three years ago we went to his family’s traditional meal at his paternal aunt’s house. My debut to his family beyond his parents. At the dinner were his aunt and uncle from the South whom he had only seen sporadically over the years. Everything seemed fine and so we invited the Southern contingent over for a dinner party along with the other adults that weekend. Last minute the uncle cancelled and it turns out it was because of our gayness! Result: that uncle and his brother, my boyfriend’s father are barely speaking. So now the last two Thanksgivings have been strained, all about who is going where, talking or not talking to whom about you know what! There is other back story to all this but a lot of the problem has to do with lack of contact and intimacy with the Southern relatives as a result of distance and that they have not been exposed to his gayness and had a chance to get used to it and incorporate it as part of their reality. So if your relationship is strained or if you have infrequent contact then information with any controversy or potential conflict usually widens the gulf.

So what can you do? I have two thoughts:

FIRST: If you goal is to work on the relationship and improve the connection then focus on things that you share and have in common. This, after all is the building block of any relationship. I am not suggesting that you hide or deny your sexual preference reality, only that it be put more in the background for now. (Even though oddly, you both have been marginalized and stigmatized by real or perceived perceptions about sexual orientation so you have that pain in common.) A strained relationship is not the place or time for political activism. Instead focus on strengthening the bond to allow for later (often much later) discussion of more conflictual issues.

SECOND: Family does not always equal close. Some families or family members can be toxic generally or over certain “hot” topics. Get from them what you can and don’t expect much more or you will be in a constant state of disappointment. Build a sense of family with people who love and accept you for who you are and with whom you can be open, vulnerable and real.

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