When the holidays arrive, my partner of 10 years goes to her family and I go to mine. Afterward, we come together and meet up with our friends to celebrate.
Lately, my partner has been complaining that this isn’t working for her anymore and that we should be going to each other’s families together – like married straight couples do. This is creating a lot of anxiety for me, as I don’t know how my family will respond. We each like each other’s families, but in mine we sort of have a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. They know but we don’t talk about it.
Should I keep things the way they are or bring her home and risk a family uproar?
Homo for the Holidays
Dear Homo for the Holidays,
Each year as the holidays start to approach, I always ask the couples I’m counseling (both gay/lesbian and straight) what they plan to do. Most straight couples say they are going to one of the partner’s parents’ places, or are celebrating in their own home, where families and friends will visit and blend together.
Gay and lesbian couples, however, often have different scenarios. Many times, they decide to go separately to their own respective families, just as you and your partner do.
I wonder why you haven’t done what many couples do—take turns going to each other’s families each year, so you can spend the holidays together. Although some couples prefer to separate because they do not like the partner’s family, this doesn’t sound like the case with you and your partner.
I will tell you, I am biased and believe that it strengthens relationships to spend holidays together.
It does harm to the relationship in subtle ways by not going together as a family unit. The message you are giving to yourselves as a couple and to your families is that you are not “really” a couple and that you could operate as singles at will without being affected. Imagine heterosexually married relatives doing the same. They might want to - as they might not like or enjoy the other’s family – but they do it because they are a unit.
I wonder if you have internalized homophobia and if this is an expression of that. Even though your parents accept that you are lesbian are you out about it? Do you talk about your partner as a partner? Do you receive invitations and gifts as partners or do things come separately? What has caused you to continue a holiday tradition as a single and not allow it to evolve as a couple? Some lesbians and gays feel it is confrontational and might be reflective of their going from child to adult within their family.
No matter what, if you separate only on holidays, your refusal to declare your relationship verbally and behaviorally would inevitably affect your relationship. Not identifying overtly as a couple minimizes the attachment to one’s partner and keeps it from growing into a healthy adult relationship. This wears away at the closeness and connection you have with your partner in subtle and covert ways. Over time I have seen couples having intimacy issues by not joining together for things that our heterosexual counterparts do, such as holidays and special events like weddings and Bar Mitzvahs.
Being with our family and our partner brings with it a special familial feeling and closeness that you cannot achieve on your own as a couple. In the end, I hope you decide to sit down with your family one-on-one and tell them that you are a lesbian and that you will be celebrating the holidays with your partner present from now on, which means that you will spend one year with one family, and the next year with the other family or go to both each year—whatever works for you.
The only time I do not advise this is if someone is concerned about or knows they will suffer negative consequences for doing so, such as physical violence, cutoffs from the family or some other verbal or emotional abuse. Those are harder decisions and people have to decide for themselves if it is worth it to do or not.
In your case, your family sounds like they might be open to this conversation and your partner is pressuring you to do it anyway. I am in agreement with your partner and know it is the right thing to do.
BE HOMO for the holidays!
Joe Kort, MA, MSW, is a psychotherapist and Board Certified Sexologist who specializes in gay affirmative therapy, relationship therapy, sex therapy and sexual addiction. He is the author of 10 Smart Things Gay Men Can Do to Improve Their Lives, 10 Smart Things Gay Men Can Do To Find Real Love, and Gay Affirmative Therapy for the Straight Clinician. He provides workshops for gays and lesbians as well as trainings for straight clinicians around the country. His website is www.joekort.com.