Setting Boundaries With Un-Supportive Family

When I set a boundary now, I wait until I am in a healthy space.

So I want to start off first by saying that I’m not a therapist. I’m not licensed as a counselor and I’ve never practiced in a professional setting. What I have to pass on comes from either my own experience, advice that I’ve passed on to others, or advice that’s been passed on to me. That being said, let’s talk about coming out to a hesitant or un-supportive family. This is a topic I’ve had plenty of personal experience with as I’ve had the opportunity to come out twice in my life. Much to my parent’s chagrin!

The first time I came out was one week before my 23rd birthday. I was had been married for 4 months and was still heavily involved with my Fundamental Baptist Cult. So I decided, what the hell! Let’s shake things up and come out as a lesbian. (Not really, but it seemed that’s how everyone viewed this sudden announcement). If you know anything about the IFB (Independent Fundamental Baptists), then you’re probably wondering if they even allow gays in their clique. And the answer is no, no not at all, not even a little. So I left and started over while trying to figure out how to have some kind of relationship with my fanatically, religious family. It took a lot of time and a lot of arguments but eventually, I learned the beauty of boundaries.

Boundaries are a wonderful thing because they allow us to keep people in our lives but with as little harm as possible. Now, this is only if you WANT to keep someone in your life and as long as that relationship won’t bring you physical or mental harm. I still have my parents in my life, but it is very limited. Our conversations aren’t always healthy for me; however, I do find some peace in staying in contact with them. And I do believe they honestly want to be a part of my life even if it’s ever so slight. So for now, I maintain some contact. I say all this to point out that it’s okay to cut people out of your life, yet it’s also okay to try to find a relationship that works if you wish. But you have to have boundaries, or at least I do. So here are some hard lines I’ve learned to draw through the years.

1. I Don’t Hide Who I Am

Boy is this easier said than done. Almost 8 years later I feel like I’ve finally worked most of this one out. About a year after I came out as gay this boundary was tested when my stepfather pulled me aside to talk to me about the Facebook. For a YEAR I had been as quiet as a mouse on social media about being a lesbian. As I was coming up on my first June as an open homo I put up a small post about my excitement. My stepdad told me flatly that I was welcome to live my life how I wanted but I shouldn’t disparage the family name by blasting my lifestyle all over the internet. I responded by going home and covering my profile wall to wall in rainbows, and Pride memes, and posts about how I proud I was to be queer. To be fair I went a little overboard, but the point was made that I was done hiding in a closet.

2. Occasionally We Have To Compromise

However, the next time my family asked me to hide who I was I had a much more difficult time. My baby sister was getting married and to this day I don’t know that I love another human more (other than my other siblings of course!! In case you’re reading this ;)). Two months before the wedding I shaved my head, which is a whole other story in itself, and my family was flipping out. I was getting calls from every member in the family tree, folks I didn’t even know were in the tree! My sister was insisting I wear a wig if I wanted to be in the wedding because guests might suspect I was gay. I had been out for nearly 2 years at this point…EVERYONE knew I was gay. My family just wanted to give the impression there might still be hope for me, and we ALLLL know that all hope is lost for the butch lesbians. I wrestled a lot with their proposition. I was finally living authentically and this seemed like a lie.

But I love my sister and this was her day so I swallowed my pride and wore a wig. I looked like Jackie freaking Kennedy. It was hot and scratchy, and the woman who prepared my wig (who wasn’t in our church/cult)  seemed very perplexed as to why I would do such a hideous fur. Honestly, it wasn’t that bad once we tamed it down and bit, and I don’t think most people suspected I was nearly bald underneath, but I knew. And it ate at my core because I had betrayed myself. To this day I don’t know what the right decision was in that situation. I don’t regret being in my sister’s wedding, but I do still feel ashamed when I think about the wig. We are all going to face compromises when it comes to family and my only suggestion is to pick a line you can live with. I decided I couldn’t live with myself if I ever had to hide like that again, so when my brother got married last year I wore my normal men’s clothing and short haircut*. I was not in the wedding, but I was happy in my own skin.

3. Don’t Let Fear Make Decisions

Throughout the years my family has pushed my boundaries and I use to feel shame or even fear when trying to hold them in place. Being the over-thinker that I am, I often wondered if I was being selfish or unfair so I constantly caved under pressure. Of course, this left me frustrated and hurt time and time again. I realized that I wasn’t moving my boundaries out of compassion or love, but rather out of fear. Fear that I might fully lose my family forever. Fear that I might end up all alone in this world. In recent years I have worked to take fear out of the equation and it has not been easy. When I set a boundary now I wait until I am in a healthy space. That means I try to not set boundaries in the heat of the moment; you know, as you’re fighting with your parents and screaming “Fine! Then how about we just never talk? How about we never talk ever again!!”.

Rashly set boundaries are almost certain to be broken and this sets a precedence that our boundaries aren’t meant to be kept. When I set a boundary today I examine it carefully, I look to see how this is going to look in a few weeks, months or years. And most importantly, I look hard at WHY I’m setting a boundary. If I’m setting a boundary out of fear, then I am more likely to hurt myself and those I love with this boundary. When I set boundaries out of love, both sides benefit. If I don’t draw clear lines with my family then they will continue to cross those lines and our relationship will crumble under the bitterness and hurt. And if I set guidelines out of fear, and then I will break those guidelines when I’m feeling good, the confusion will again cause the relationship to crumble. Fear-based decisions are rarely healthy and rarely helpful.

4. Make Boundaries Clear

I realize these thoughts aren’t groundbreaking but I hope they are helpful. I would challenge any reader to think of a few lines you are not willing to compromise on and communicate those clearly to your family. Often it is easier to set clear boundaries through a letter or email. And if you’ve already set these guidelines, then examine why you set them. And above all, remember that its okay to walk away completely if the people in your life refuse to respect your boundaries. I found this out especially in my transition. In coming out as transgender I have had to make these lines sharper and more rigid, and it has caused relationships to decrease and even go away completely. What I do know from my past is just because someone isn’t in your life today doesn’t mean they’ll never come around. If I stand firm in who I am, those who respect me enough will respect my terms for being in my life. And those who have no respect for me aren’t healthy for me, no matter how much I may miss them.

Remember you are always welcome to reach out to us here on Your Queer Story. We are also on all forms of social media and you can find us using @yourqueerstory . In addition, we have an online support group on our Facebook.

And if you’re in or around Rhode Island, we have face to face support groups posted almost every week so check out our calendar page.

Stay queer my friends,

-Evan Jones

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