Anxious About Family Gatherings


Anxious About Family Gatherings

by Kristin Russo, co-founder of My Kid Is Gay

My daughter came out to us a few months ago as bisexual. She has been dating a girl for a little while, and is bringing her to a family wedding next weekend. I feel okay being around them both, but I am feeling anxious about having them be a couple so publicly around the larger family. Should I talk to my daughter?
— Anonymous

Kristin Says:

Oh boy, do I know this situation well. I came out to my parents when I was 17 years old, and my first few "out" family functions were not easy for my mom -- she, too, was uncomfortable with being seen so openly as the parent of an LGBTQ child. She didn't know what others would think of me, and in turn, what they might think of her. As you might imagine, those first few family functions weren't very easy for me, either.

What you are going through right now is a coming-out process. Yes, sure, your daughter is the one who identifies as bisexual, but that doesn't mean that she is the only one tasked with coming out in various ways and at various times throughout her life. You, too, are now tasked with this new experience. When your daughter brings someone with her to a gathering of any kind, and that visibly marks her as LGBTQ in some way, you know that others are noticing—whether in supportive or non-supportive ways—that she might be "different" than some (or most) of her other family members.

Before going any further, let me tell you: your daughter is no different than she was before she came out to you, nor is she different now that she has a partner to bring with her to family gatherings. She is the same person she always was, and if there were any difference at all, it would the fact that she now feels comfortable enough to express all parts of herself with those she loves.

I can promise you that, whether she is fully conscious of the experience or not, your daughter has to move through very similar feelings to the ones you are now having. To her, in most every way, she feels just the same as she did at the last family function...except now she knows that there is a chance that people (who she loves dearly) are viewing her slightly differently now because of her sexuality. It's a hard weight to carry in the beginning stages of coming out, and it's a weight that never entirely disappears. 

But don't despair! The beauty of this whole situation is that you and your daughter are likely sharing a similar experience in being out at a family function. It is okay to tell her that you are feeling a little nervous, and that this is something you are unfamiliar with overall. In the same breath, though, tell her that you love her. Tell her that you are proud of her and that, even though this first family function might be a little nerve-wracking for you (and maybe her, too!), that you are happy that you have each other, and that you know it will get easier in time.

Ask her how she feels about the experience, both before and after it happens, and use this as a way to help become closer to each other amidst a shifting landscape. 

The one thing you should never do is ask that she not bring her partner. It is important that, even when it's new and scary, she feels that she can express who she is and be in attendance with the person she is dating. You may get some sidelong glances that make you feel sad or upset...but you may also find that her presence, openly, at this function inspires family members to come up to you and tell you that they admire your support of your child, and they admire her courage as well. 

Take it one step at a time, talk to her about some of your fears, and know that you can do this, together. Also know that, just like anything else in life, if it is difficult for you at first, your perseverance and patience will make it easier over time. <3

Kristin is the CEO & Co-Founder of both Everyone Is Gay  & My Kid Is Gay. She also hosted & produced the first season of First Person, a video series on gender and sexuality from PBS Digital. She co-authored the book This is a Book for Parents of Gay Kids (Chronicle, 2014), is the co-director of A-Camp, and holds a Master’s in Gender Studies from the CUNY Graduate Center in Manhattan.