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‘She didn’t make the effort to talk to my girlfriend. She was cold; my girlfriend felt weird.’
Rappler’s Life and Style section runs an advice column by couple Jeremy Baer and clinical psychologist Dr. Margarita Holmes.
Jeremy has a master’s degree in law from Oxford University. A banker of 37 years who worked in three continents, he has been training with Dr. Holmes for the last 10 years as co-lecturer and, occasionally, as co-therapist, especially with clients whose financial concerns intrude into their daily lives
Together, they have written two books: Love Triangles: Understanding the Macho-Mistress Mentality and Imported Love: Filipino-Foreign Liaisons.
Dear Dr. Holmes and Mr. Baer:
I’m 25, a lesbian, and in a fairly new relationship. I’ve dated in secret: I’m not out to my parents but am to my older sister. I’ve confided in her, especially about my (failed) love life when I was a “baby gay.” I’ve always felt, though, like she didn’t approve of me dating.
I grew up in an Evangelical Christian environment. My sister still practices; I don’t. When I came out to her, she accepted me BUT when I told her about my first girlfriend, I felt shamed – maybe because she thought I was dating aimlessly; not like Christians in our church. I stopped sharing to her eventually.
I’m in a new relationship and have introduced my sister to my girlfriend. Maybe my sister was taken aback because I suddenly dropped this bombshell on her, because she didn’t make the effort to talk to my girlfriend. She was cold; my girlfriend felt weird. I felt I’d made a mistake introducing her without telling my sister I was dating someone. But when my friends met my girlfriend, it was also the first time they knew about me being in a relationship and they welcomed her warmly.
I’m frustrated. I feel that I’m still being shamed for dating. Had I been straight, would she be thinking the same way? I care about my sister but do not seek validation from her — but it also feels like I do because she’s the only one in the family who knows I’m gay. Am I not cutting her enough slack? Because who knows, maybe she’ll be warmer in different circumstances?
I want to have my love in the light, like most. How do I deal with my sister’s looming judgment toward my gay life?
Here and queer,
You seem to have confused expectations of your sister (let’s call her Alma). When you first came out to her she was apparently supportive yet when you told her about your first girlfriend you felt shamed. You chose to attribute this to her unspoken disapproval of your dating style, which was different to her (Christian) way and you decided not to share any more with her.
Now you have a new relationship and decided to introduce Alma to your girlfriend. Despite the previous shame and despite your decision not to share further with Alma, you went ahead without any warning and now you say you are surprised that she reacted coldly.
Surely the only surprise here is why you thought that she would react differently. After all, you had stopped confiding in her, believes that she disapproves generally, and you made no effort to prepare her to meet your girlfriend. Instead, you simply confronted her out of the blue and expected her to react positively.
As for the future, perhaps a better way forward would be to keep Alma informed occasionally and casually about how your relationship is progressing until she becomes more used to it. When (if) that day comes, you can then arrange another meeting and take it from there. In other words, take small steps towards your goal. Please write again and tell us how it is going.
Thank you very much for your letter. In answer to your question, “How do I deal with my sister’s looming judgment toward my gay life?” I suggest you consider the following:
- Mr. Baer’s suggestion re: keeping her informed occasionally and then more often and hopefully more honestly when you sense a smidgeon of “acceptance;”
- Ask yourself if you are second-guessing her (like every time you hypothesize reasons for her behavior). Maybe you’re right about her, but then again, maybe you’re not. Take a risk by sharing how you’ve interpreted her behavior towards your girlfriend and ask her if these interpretations are accurate.
- In my clinical experience, she may have other reasons for her behavior, and it isn’t not accepting your lifestyle. There are other possible reasons (but not necessarily hers – which is why more open conversation with her is vital BUT only if you feel safe self-disclosing).
For one, she might be worrying that she may not be doing what ates (older sisters) are “supposed to do; that her “accepting” your “lesbian ways” and not taking a “hard line”will encourage you even more (silly, but sometimes people feel this way).
For another, she might be worried she is breaking her Church’s tenets, which she takes seriously.
Finally, there may be a lack of awareness about how her behavior sends messages of disapproval, lack of acceptance (and then later, even JOY) of your love life, etc. When (if) she becomes more aware, she may take pains to ensure she comes across as delighting in your love now being in the light.
- Finding your own tribe and accepting that sometimes your friends are more your family than your biological one. If you don’t have everything riding on how your sister accepts you, you will probably send that message to her, thus making her feel more relaxed, less pressured. That too helps in making self disclosure easier for you both.
Again, I realize all these suggestions are more easily said than done, but if your sister’s acceptance is important to you, I hope you consider trying some of them.
All the very best,
Please send any comments, questions, or requests for advice to firstname.lastname@example.org.