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Dear Lezzies Advice Column 4
for Lesbians On The Loose (LOTL)
Online Magazine in Australia:

Question: I don't want to be with my partner's family for the holidays.

Dear Lezzies,

My partner wants me to go to her family's (sister's) on Christmas Day because my family is scattered around the country and my mother died last year. The problem is I don't want to go. When I get there I always feel uncomfortable. Her sister and husband are Christian (Catholic) and we are not allowed to hold hands or even sit next to each other at the dinner table. He refers to me as my partner's "friend" when the children ask who I am. The whole thing makes me sick and angry but my partner says that Christmas is about Christian values and we have to respect their wishes? I don't believe so. What do you think? Should I go? If I don't, the sister and husband will have shamed me back into the closet?


Dear Lezzies Answer:

Dear Beverley,

You don't say if you were close to your Mother or not. If you were close to her and she was supportive of you and your partner, then you may want to be in a more supportive environment than what you describe. The friction there may trigger anger and resentment, which could renew your grief. If you are doing something out of a sense of obligation to your partner, or to keep things smooth between the two of you, it could also trigger those feelings, because you may feel that you are sacrificing your needs for hers when you need support in a time of grief.

If you were not close to your mother, and she wasn't supportive of you and your partner, then being in that type of atmosphere could bring up anger and resentment toward your mother. The reason being that this could remind you of the validation that you never got from your Mom, which is what you are not getting from your "in-laws."

Grief and loss are not reasons to avoid your partner's family forever. If you continue to have enduring and persistent feelings of grief and loss, then you should consider therapy and/or a grief and loss support group to help resolve feelings of bereavement.

Symptoms of grief and depression are very similar. They include but aren't limited to: sadness, anxiety or feeling things are pointless; guilt, worthlessness, irritability, worry, frustration, feeling restless or detached; isolating, having no energy for anything including hobbies or activities you once enjoyed (including sex); questioning your life decisions or the purpose of your life, and feeling unanchored. Even anger at God can be common. Having difficulty concentrating or remembering details can also be factors.

Continuous thoughts about your mother, in the form of her being on your mind a lot, or associating many things you do through the course of your day with her is also a symptom of grief. Difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much, losing your appetite or eating too much, constant aches, pains, and headaches are also signs. Don't dismiss digestive problems. If they develop during a loved ones illness or the loss of a loved one, and they don't get better even when under treatment, then it is time to find a good counselor to help you deal with your grief.

If this was a question asking about going to your "in-laws" home and you hadn't suffered any loss in the past year, my advice would be a bit different. If her family is important to her, despite the discounting environment you describe, then you would need to reach some type of compromise in regard to spending time with them. Otherwise, it could cause anger and resentment on her part toward you--just like you already are having anger and resentment toward the idea of going there. She could even feel that you are pushing her to choose between you and them. It is important that you both find a solution that is comfortable to each of you.

The compromise can be in any number of forms such as: one year with them and one year with your family; you and your partner having your own Christmas celebration and visiting relatives at another time, like Christmas Eve or the day after Christmas; or you could create something for the two of you for that day with no outside family involvement at all, and then do something with family on one or both sides the weekend before or after Christmas, or whenever everyone agrees to celebrate.

It might even be as simple, or complex, as having a talk with the sister and her husband before you come over, and setting out ground rules for both sides.

First, you and your partner would need to agree on a united front with her family--what you both are comfortable with doing and accepting. Then, when the four of you talk it might sound something like: "Thank you for inviting us over. We all would like this to be a comfortable day for everyone, so we'd like to sit down and work out ways to do that before we get together for Christmas." Then open a conversation as to what would be comfortable for them and for your partner and you, and how these issues can be addressed so that everyone feels comfortable. It might include things like: it is important that you sit next to your partner; you agree to no public displays of affection;and people need to refer to you by name and not as "friend." If the children have questions then the parents can tell them it will be discussed when there isn't a lot going on, and you don't have to be there. Ground rules you set up for one event can then be agreed upon as how to handle all gatherings with them.

I have not answered questions you asked regarding should you go or not, nor the question about respecting their wishes. The reasons are that there are no simple yes or no answers to be had in situations like this.

The main issues are that it is their home, and they are raising their children as they feel best. It doesn't matter that you don't agree with them. They deserve the respect to do that, just as you deserve the respect in your own home concerning displaying affection in front of whoever is there, and to be honest about who you are and how you conduct yourself and your life. If the four of you can't reach a compromise on what all parties need to do to feel comfortable, then the issue boils down to what compromises you and your partner are willing to make, or not, under these circumstances. Finally, as to feeling the sister and husband will have shamed you back into the closet, no one makes us feel a thing without our permission. Being uncomfortable with you and your partner's sexual orientation is their issue.

You choosing to allow it to shame you is yours. If you go to this gathering it doesn't mean you are in the closet, anymore than not going means you are out of it. It boils down to how comfortable you are with yourself as a lesbian, and being fine with that even though you may be dealing with those who have issues with it. Remember, in a battle of wills, no one wins. See if there is a common ground all can agree on and walk there.

NOTE: The advice in this column is the opinion of the writers and is not intended as a
substitute for medical or psychological treatment from a health care professional.

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