Seeing my extended family on the holidays has always been a difficult part of my life. The locations have changed over the years, but the core group of people remain the same. There’s about 25-30 of us, but sometimes the group expands to just under 45. That’s a lot of people, a lot of voices, a lot of hugs, a lot of questions, and a lot of opinions.
It’s a large family with a largely open-minded mentality, for the most part. Teenagers always have it the worst at these gatherings, as they desperately want to be away from the adults so they can do whatever it is that teenagers want to do but are always forced to be sociable with the adults. During my teens, I would duck into a side room and hang with an older relative that was more interested in watching football than conversing. I’ve always enjoyed sharing silences with elders, emphasis on the silence, and if football wasn’t on, I’d find an old person and join them as they stared at the fire or whatever it is that old people want to do.
Most of the teens in my family were faced with teasing about dating, especially my slightly older cousins, Felicity and Teddy. They’ve always been the “good looking cousins,” and as time went on, they'd bring a significant other around. Teddy always brought the nicest girls and all the women in my family cooed.
The extended family generally left me alone when it came to the teasing about having a boyfriend. I think it’s because they’ve always known I was a lesbian, even before I did, but never knew how to approach the situation. Because to this family, it’s been exactly that: a situation.
I wasn’t out in my teens. During this time, my relatives didn’t want to outright ask if I was dating a girl, but also knew it could be awkward to ask if I was dating a boy. I think they were generally confused on how to react to my response should they ask if I was “seeing anyone” and it come back in the affirmative, so they never asked at all.
My Uncle Darren is clearly gay, but no one goes near that subject because of the whole “wife and kids situation.” But everyone knows.
When I was 16, word came through the family vine that Felicity was bringing a boyfriend from college to Thanksgiving…and that he was black. I remember my dad laughed at the idea that someone thought we needed or wanted to know in advance, as if to be prepared for the “shock.” My mother worried about comments that may come from Uncle Ronnie, the biggest asshole in our family.
Uncle Ronnie is loud, obnoxious, and generally wrong in just about everything he says or does. Not like my Aunt Paula, who, while also generally wrong about everything, at least poses it all in the form of a question, like“Did you hear about Isis reading all our emails through the Xbox?” Uncle Ronnie is a little more in your face, and I grew up with him calling referees “faggots” whenever they made a call he disagreed with.
The year of Felicity and her boyfriend, Dan, went by relatively smooth. Uncle Ronnie only said a few comments that could be deemed inappropriate, like asking Dan if the food was good enough for him, and apologizing that we didn’t have “Collard greens or any of that stuff.”
The next year was more obvious, when Dan wasn’t in the picture anymore. Uncle Ronnie openly made fun of Felicity for her “poor choices in men,” and was happy that she’s moved on because he didn’t want to see her “end up having a baby and no guy around to support.” Those comments are usually followed by someone yelling “Ronnie, enough!” But that’s it, just a vocal admonishing, usually followed by him saying something like “What? You know what I’m talking about.” One year, my mom continued the argument, saying “No Ronnie, I don’t,” and he grunted and waved her off before yelling at the TV some more. On the drive home that year, my parents said it best, “he’s an asshole and a bully.”
And that’s what he’s always been, an asshole and a bully. An asshole that made me scared to be openly myself around my family. A bully who jiggled the chest of my chubby cousin Zach and said “look at these tits!”
A few years ago, during my college years, word passed around the family that I was gay. That Thanksgiving, Uncle Ronnie sat next to me and said “I don’t really understand it, but we all love you, so there’s that.” That’s the closest he’s come to showing any sort of support, not that I need it from him.
Two years ago, I brought Ceci. It was the first time bringing any girlfriend to a family function, and I waited a long time to do this for a reason. It sucks that being in my position is seen as a disposition. Teddy brings a new girl every year to this day and no one ever questions anything about it. If I did that, there would be chatter about me being sexually “unsure” or even suggestions that I’m just doing it for attention. Uncle Ronnie suggested Felicity brought Dan that year for exactly those reasons and since then, speaks to her in a different tone that is less respectful, a little jealous, and a little creepy. As if Felicity has some fetish that everyone is now aware of and can openly comment about. I don’t need that sort of attention on me, and I don’t want it on my girlfriend either, whoever she is.
Ceci and I walked through the doors into the house and for one final moment, everything was still normal. We took off our shoes and looked at each other nervously. I didn’t know what to expect and neither did she. This would be an experience we discovered together. We kissed one last time (we talked in advance and decided to leave the PDA at the door), then walked toward all of the noise coming from every room in the house.
Introductions have never been easy for me. This time was the hardest, not only because of my family’s acceptance, but because I wanted Ceci to accept me too. As we entered the kitchen, everything stopped and all eyes were on us. This was proof for my family, in the flesh evidence that yes, I was in fact the oddity they always knew but could never prove. This wasn’t paranoia. For a moment, everyone was looking at us, every inch. They saw me as a new person, a sexual person, a person who needed a companion and gave and received affection. I could tell the men were imagining us having sex, wondering what that was like. I could tell the women were too.
Did I regret bringing Ceci? In that moment, yes. I was exposed. I felt like they were examining me, probing me with their eyes, like I was some new alien life form. I was the urban legend they’d heard of for years, now finally come true and living and breathing in front of them.
Then I looked at Ceci – my beautiful Ceci, with her dark curly hair and infectious smile. I knew she was scared too, but she didn’t show it, not for a second. She floated right to my mother (they’d already met) and gave her a big hug. Like that, the silence was broken in the house and everyone went back to what they were doing moments before our arrival.
It wasn’t exactly that easy. Throughout the night, every conversation I had with relatives felt different. I felt like they spoke to me with a slight attitude, a feeling of “I know something you don’t know,” directed toward me. Or an heir of “I told you so.” But who knows, maybe that’s how they always talked to each other, and this was just the first year I found myself with the confidence to talk to them instead of hiding in another room.
I was a new person with Ceci. It’s like she woke me up from my 23 year anti-social slumber. She won me over, and in front of my eyes, was winning over my family. And not only winning my family over for herself, but also winning them over for me. She was so perfect that day. She was so perfect most days.
Uncle Ronnie yelled hello from his couch, not wanting to get up for fear of shaking her hand and maybe catching the gay. At the dinner table, he made a comment at how beautiful Ceci was and openly wondered “how’d you pull that off, huh?”
Throughout the night, I felt eyes on the back of my neck. Whenever I looked around, there would always be someone looking at Ceci or me. By the end of the night, I felt raw.
Last year was easier. There weren’t any major introductions that had to take place and everyone pretty much left us alone. The main focus that year was on Teddy’s newest girlfriend, her large breasts, and her low cut top. The older women made comments like “are you cold in here, sweetie?” as beads of sweat dripped down their upper lips, or “couldn’t she put something on? There are children here.” From another room, I heard Uncle Ronnie’s booming voice say to Teddy “how do you find your way around in there? Tits so big you need a map.”
Then there was this year: my first year without Ceci. I thought about not going, but I haven’t seen my parents in a while and I know they miss me.
I walked through the front door and took my shoes off. In that moment, I remembered the feeling from years past with Ceci as we did the same. I felt like half of me was missing. I walked into the noisy kitchen alone and hugged my mom. News had already spread that Ceci wouldn’t be joining, so everyone left me alone about it. They were too busy dealing with Uncle Ronnie, who was more confident than ever. He was boasting about how he finally got to tell off his garbage man, asking him “how’s it feel to be on the other side of taking out the trash?”
I’d figured this year would be a little more political than usual, but not to this high a level. One of my Aunt’s asked Uncle Ronnie to keep it to himself, and he called her a sore loser and that he earned this right to voice his opinion after "years of letting everyone else have their moment."
I’m not sure what upset me more, the terrible realization that I’d have to deal with this behavior until he dies, or that Ceci wasn’t there to witness it with me.
I felt personally attacked, to have a family member gloat like that. To know he (and some other family members who kept it to themselves) was ok voting for someone who promotes such wild hate made me feel unloved during a time that’s supposed to be all about coming together. That my family left this behavior continue. I felt cast aside. Mike Pence supports conversion therapy, which means that Donald Trump supports it, as does anyone else that voted for him. My own family thinks I have a condition, a problem that can be fixed. That I shouldn’t be the way I am. That I’m made wrong.
The results of the election are everywhere, and I’ve felt it in a million different ways, but I wasn’t ready for what I should have been. Of course a chunk of my family voted for Trump. Look at the election numbers, a bunch of people voted for Trump, enough so that he actually won. Those people are out there, and now they’ve won. I always knew Uncle Ronnie was a piece of shit, but was willing to look past it because it was all just noise. But now it’s not just noise anymore, it’s actions with consequences, it's a situation, and I’m scared.
I’m glad Ceci wasn’t there for this. She would have argued with him and with everyone else. She would have made a scene. She’s stronger than me and doesn’t take that sort of behavior from anyone. I put my head down and took it. I’m not proud of this. I’m not proud of a lot of things anymore.
I told my parents I won’t be visiting for the rest of the holidays and while sad, they understood. I’m heartbroken and I have no one. My main person through the last few years is gone and I’m left wandering this beaten land alone, fending for myself against the world. Because I feel like the world turned against me, against a lot of us.
How am I supposed to find joy in this world when nothing makes sense anymore? People keep making jokes that 2016 can’t end soon enough. But really, based on our path, what makes them think 2017 is going to be any better?