Sunday, December 25, 2011

Coming Out to Family, Do They Need To Know

Many people find the holidays a stressful time, with holiday shopping and cooking and making plans to travel. For people who live alternative lifestyles it can be even more stressful. Perhaps there is a part of your lifestyle that your parents do not know about and would not approve of. Maybe they know and are openly judgmental. As the holidays approach and people go home to visit family, many people wonder if they should come out to their family.

Many people have this idea that they want to be able to tell their parents anything and everything. Some feel that they already do. If you already tell your parents everything, then there is nothing to come out about. You already told them.

If you haven't, the question is: should you? Do they need to know? If you are gay, that is something that they probably need to know. If they expect you to come home for Christmas with Eve and you bring Steve instead, they are probably going to figure out that something non-traditional is going on.

However, what about being poly or kinky? Let us address each question separately.

For many in the kink scene, it is more than a sexual proclivity, it is a community and a lifestyle. You may go to munches and have many friends you met through the scene. Your main hobbies may be scene related like rope or building rigging equipment. Obviously, the judgment of whether you should or should not come out is entirely up to you, but consider this question, does any part of this lifestyle affect your family at all. If you are only kinky in the bedroom, I would suggest that there is no reason for your family to know. You don't know what your family does in their bedrooms and you are likely happier for the lack of knowledge. Why would they what to know what you do with a rubber chicken suit and a seventy feet of silk rope in your private time? Of course, if your full time profession is making sex toys it might be good to let them in on the secret. Otherwise, simple conversations like, "how's work going, honey?" could get quite awkward.

When it comes to coming out as poly, it is a similar issue. Do they need to know? Does it affect them? This would largely depend on the nature of the polyamory that you practice. If you have a primary and a few friends with benefits, this probably falls into the kind of behind closed bedroom doors information that you family does not want to know. On the other hand, if you have two primaries who are both equally important, then you might want to explain ahead of time why you are bringing both Eve and Steve home for Christmas.

Should you decide that coming out is the right choice for you and your family, I offer two pieces of advice. Don't make it a bigger deal than it really is, and find common ground.

When I say not to make it a bigger deal than it really is, I mean that if you don't make a big deal of it, they may not either. Don't preface your explanation something like this, "Mom, Dad, I need to tell you something and I'm not sure how you'll react. I know that you always raised me to be a moral and proper person, and I hope that you approve of what I'm about to tell you but I'm not sure if you will..." That's how you introduce a confession of guilt. You should not be guilty about your lifestyle, and, if you are, you should get straight with your own morality before you go dragging your family into it. Rather, introduce the concept with confidence. If you act like there's nothing wrong with it, no one else will have a reason to think so either.

Second, find a way to explain the concept so that others can understand it. You're not coming out as a martian. We all have the same psychological needs, and we all fulfill them in similar ways. Your way might just be slightly less common than theirs. Also, it is important to understand that your family may have difficulty understanding exactly what you are saying. They may have pre-existing notions from television or other media which may be completely inaccurate to your situation. Understand that their questions are likely not meant as judgments, just as a way to gain better understanding. Unless your parents are quite disturbed, they probably have your best interests in mind and want to make sure that you are making right choices to be safe and happy.

Candy Says: I once had a very interesting discussion with a friend's grandfather about bisexuality. He asked all kinds of questions. Turns out he had no problem with homosexuality but he only knew gay and straight and was confused by bisexuality. He asked, "How do you decide which one you are? Do you flip a coin every morning?" It wasn't meant to be offensive at all. It was just the best question he could think of with the background he had.

Let's also remember that if you haven't come out to them, they haven't come out to you. For all you know, you might not be the only poly or kinky person in your family. Wouldn't it be a kick if you came out and some family member said "yeah, me too."

Whether you are out to your family, completely closeted, or about to come out this weekend, I wish you the very best holiday.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Uncoupling: Separating Marriage, Sex, and Child-Rearing

Conservatives will tell you that the advent of reliable birth control redefined sexual morality. They are entirely correct, although I would not agree with the implications of their statement. Sexual morality prior to reliable birth control was built around creating a social structure in which children would be raised in a stable family situation because it has been understood since time immemorial that children are best raised in a family of some kind, thus the premium placed on virginity traditionally.

With the advent of reliable birth control, it became possible to have sex with a minimal chance of unintended pregnancy. Suddenly, the groundwork was laid for a sexual revolution in the 1960's, when a new generation discovered that the traditional reasons to avoid premarital sex no longer existed. The concept of withholding sex until marriage was no longer as vital as it had been.

As feminism increased equality, allowing women to enter lucrative careers where they could support themselves, the need to marry for economic stability almost completely left the picture. No longer would a woman need to preserve her "virtue" to trade for economic support, as she could now support herself.

This progression opened up a vast variety of lifestyle options. With sex no longer leading to parenthood, people could have satisfying sexual relationships without them needing to provide economic support necessary to take care of children. The stability of a monogamous relationship, traditionally needed to support the family unit, is no longer necessary for many people who do not want children.

Interestingly, this same social progression has led many people to believe that marriage is no longer even necessary for raising children. In my work, meeting with parents, I find that less than 20% of the parents I meet are married to the parent of their child. Single parenting is no longer shameful, as it was in previous generations. In fact, it is not even seen as irregular.

As marriage ceases to be the norm, people feel less social obligation to take care of spouses and remain committed their relationships. As many act less trust-worthy, many choose not to trust. Expecting that they will eventually be abandoned, many people chose to develop their own independence, financial and others.

The traditional American family is no longer. The future which conservatives fear is here, and it happened long before gay marriage was legalized. Yet, even with all these fundamental social changes, society goes on, the farmers still farm, the sun still rises and sets, and chaos does not reign. We live in uncharted territory, and most of us have lived in for our entire lives.