This guest post by Carrie Dee brings up so many feelings for me. I'm reminded of the shame I felt (pretty much from childhood until halfway through college) because my family was different from the idealized nuclear families I saw all around me. I never met my biological father because he didn't want to have anything to do with me, and I was also abandoned by a stepfather (I came home from school one day, and all his stuff was gone).
But this isn't a post about my story. It's about Carrie Dee and her courageous journey. I so appreciate her strength and honesty.
By Carrie Dee of committed.
I got married last May. It was a perfectly simple wedding—everything my husband, Paul, and I had hoped for. But in the months leading up to the big day, I was worried sick over the wedding day. Not so much over things like “will the food be good” or “did I choose the right dress.” Like many brides, those fears were present, but for me, my biggest fear was that my husband’s family wouldn’t accept my mom.
I learned a few years ago that my dad is transgendered. I’ll be perfectly honest—I was floored. Some people say they had a feeling all along or knew something was amiss. Not me, I never suspected that this was the cause of her depression. After learning the truth, there were some issues that I needed to resolve. Mostly I needed time to “mourn” the male father I felt I was losing before I could completely welcome an honest and open relationship with her as a maternal figure. It was a hard time for me. I had just lost my biological mom to cancer the year before. There was already a lot of change going on, and this was a big one that I wasn’t prepared for. Even though it took some time to completely understand both my feelings and hers, I never wavered in my support of my mom. She just seemed so happy and finally content with who she was. Eventually, after the emotional bumps in the road were smoothed, we established a better relationship than we had ever had before.
Crazy enough, most of the issues and confusion I had during that time stemmed from traditional wedding ideals. Paul and I were not yet engaged, but we both knew it was on the horizon. Plus, I’d been thinking on and off about my wedding day since I was six when I would wear an old tee-shirt on my head and pretend it was a veil. Now that I didn’t have the “traditional” father, I wondered who would walk me down the aisle. Who would give me away? Who would provide that “fatherly” support? Blogs like this one helped me realize that weddings do not have to follow a traditional path. I learned that I could make the day my own. I finally realized that I never actually wanted to be given away or walk down the aisle anyway, so we just threw those traditions out. Problem solved!
What the wedding blogs didn’t provide much of was support for children of an LGBT person. I commend the blogosphere (well, at least the blogs I read) for being very supportive of LGBT families in general, but there still remains a gap in resources for brides who what to honor their family member, while being fully aware that the spouse’s family may not be welcoming. I struggled with how to tell Paul’s family. We knew his parents would likely be supportive, but we didn’t know how his more conservative, East Coast family would react. I was scared. The last thing I wanted on my wedding day was a scene or for anyone to feel uncomfortable or surprised. Looking back, I realize that much of my worry was for nothing. In the end, everyone was fine and the wedding day went off without any issues (that I am aware of).
In my fear, I ended up making some mistakes. I told Paul's family about Mom with the expectation of blow back. I was so sure there would be negative reactions that I became the one who over-reacted. Nearly everyone’s response was along the lines of “OK, no problem. What time is the wedding, again?” I learned that there is only so much I can control about my own wedding day.
While my particular situation revolved around issues of gender, I think we all have tricky situations when it comes to family relations. I hope the lessons I learned can be helpful to others who, maybe don’t have an LGBT family member, but who still have some uneasiness about bringing two families together for the first time. Here's a few of the significant lessons my family taught me:
- Don’t project your own fears on to others. I was so sure that there would be a negative reaction that I became overly-defensive. The truth is, most people just didn’t care that much. The feelings I had were caused by the close relationship and history that I have with Mom. Others don’t have that emotional stake and so their reactions are probably going to be more tempered than you realize. It’s a big deal to you, but not necessarily to others.
- Be open and honest. While you don’t want to tell everyone your personal life story, be honest with them. Be open and available to questions and frank in your responses. This will put everyone involved more at ease.
- Allow time before the wedding for everyone to meet. Mom was able to spend time with Paul’s parents and close family the week before the wedding. They all got to know each other a little and get comfortable. Sure, there can be tension, but meeting before the wedding day can help diffuse much of it.
- Just breathe and know that you cannot control the emotions of others. Families are complicated entities in and of themselves, and blending them can be stressful. You cannot control anyone’s reaction but your own. If you remain confident and relaxed, most others will follow.
Weddings are about a lot of things: commitments, statements of your personalities, a party to celebrate your shared love. Ultimately though, they are the building of two entirely new families—the baby family between you and your partner, and the melding of two extended families. This melding can be tricky and stressful, no matter the situation. We must all go through moments where there is concern that our family won’t get along with our partner’s, but in the end have confidence that it will all work out. Who knows, that new extended family you’re building could become just the family you’ve always wanted.
Carrie Dee is enjoying the adventures of the first year of marriage and the first year of graduate school where she is studying Archaeology. She is a science geek and loves to cook, read, and beat her husband in fantasy football. Read more at her blog, http://committedca.blogspot.com