Note: I’m not really fond of “alternative lifestyle”. It implies choice where there may not be any. It also sounds frivolous and trivial. And I don’t believe either of those things. But I don’t really have a better term for something so vast, varied, and life transforming. So I’m using shorthand.
If you decide to tell y0ur family about your alternative lifestyle, you should have a talking plan. The talking plan is basically an outline of points you want to make about your alternative life.
When you first broach the subject of your difference, you are trying to do a lot of complicated things all at the same time. You are trying to inform, foster understanding and/or soothe distressed or angry feelings.
It’s best to keep that as clear (without complications or asides), positive (you are probably bucking negative perception, so the more positive you can be, the better) and concise (because this is usually a lot for your family to absorb, and you want to leave time/energy for questions).
The talking plan covers both the biologically directed difference, like sexual preference or gender identity, and the chosen difference, like BDSM, polyamory, or religion.
An argument can be made that the last three are not chosen either, rather, they choose you. I agree with that assessment. However, the common perception frames them in the choice category. And you will get asked, “Why did you choose _____?”
For the talking plan, you will need to do research. What is the common perception of your alternative lifestyle? What research has been done to contradict that perception? If there isn’t any research, what about anecdotal evidence?
Once you’ve done your research, fit it into the clear, positive, concise model. Then take a look at it from your personal perspective. How do you feel about your alternative lifestyle? Are you buying into societal misunderstanding or prejudice yourself? If so, why?
Then add that new information to your talking plan. Not to express doubt when discussing it with your family, rather to resolve any issues YOU may have with your alternative lifestyle.
Then, find a place where everyone will feel safe and a time when you have ample time to explain/discuss/clarify anything they may want to know.
And see what happens.
If you are outed,a talking plan is still important. But realize you are starting from a disadvantage. Because you have been outed, your family is probably either confused or frightened. And here’s why.
Outing happens primarily two ways, divorce/breakup or children.
In a divorce or breakup, especially if it is acrimonious and/or the other person is blaming the divorce or breakup on your alternative lifestyle in whole or in part, then their account will be negative.
Now, there are some families out there that will listen to your ex’s account and say, “You are divorcing/breaking up with my son/daughter, therefore you are angry, and we can not take what you are saying at face value. So we will talk to our son/daughter in a loving, nonjudgmental way and discover for ourselves what is happening.”
That, unfortunately, is not the common response.
So if you are getting a divorce or breaking up with someone, make a talking plan. If the gods are kind, you will never have to use it. But it’s better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it.
There is also the occasional unpleasant person that will try to blackmail you into making agreements about your divorce or breakup based in the threat that they will tell your family about your alternative lifestyle. Don’t let them. They can’t blackmail you if you are willing to share yourself.
The other most common outing mechanism is your children. Children see us do things that they don’t understand, so they ask us for an explanation. Even if you keep your children totally separate from your alternative lifestyle, they can still stumble upon something that is confusing for them.
If we give them an honest, age appropriate answer, they will share that information. If we don’t explain it, they will go ask someone else. So, if you have children, you should have a talking plan. Again, you may never need it.
Since you’ve been outed and are at a disadvantage, there are a couple things that you should try to avoid.
Don’t be angry with your family (how you choose to deal with the person that outed you is another story). It’s not your families’ fault that they are frightened or confused. They love you and want what is best for you, and have just heard this strange/odd/disturbing/disgusting thing about you.
Be patient. They are working through their feelings about what they have heard. Your alternative lifestyle may be the death of a dream for them. Your alternative lifestyle may run counter to everything they believe is good and right in the world.
Be firm. They may come at you with a desire to change you back to the person they want. Don’t do it. You are the person you are for a reason. And despite what you think, if you renounced your alternative lifestyle and went back to the behavior they find acceptable, they will still always look at you and treat you differently.
As always, your mileage will most certainly vary.
Next time, I’ll talk about the aftermath.