I wrote to all my family asking them to support the Yes side. No one replied
PROBLEM: I thought the referendum on gay marriage would be one of the best days of my life, and it was, but it was also the beginning of a complete break-up with my family. I had been campaigning for a Yes vote and was on a high of optimism. With all the support in the media, it felt that the world had actually changed, and this led me to the stupid idea that my family might actually support me.
I wrote to all my family asking them to support the Yes side and saying that I hoped one day they would be in a position to attend my wedding. No one replied. Not one of them wrote back to say “good luck” or “of course I will support you”.
I still have one sibling who I know is behind me, but he too is cowed by them and so says nothing. Some time afterwards I discovered that most of my family voted No, and I cannot believe how let down I feel. They were defensive and angry when I asked them to explain this, and it only highlights for me that I’ve always felt this way: I’ve always been on the outside of the family and only accepted on a grudging basis, and even then only if I did not raise my head to be in any way different.
I decided that my life is better off without these people and so I have stopped all communication since. I have such good friends in my life that I feel supported and okay. However, I am still raging with anger. There is a family event coming up that is being organised by my one good sibling, and I don’t want to let him down by not going, but how am I going to spend the whole day with my cruel and rejecting family?
ADVICE: To be estranged from your family is a familiar Irish story. It creates huge hurt and upset, often for generations. A battle between belonging and independence often rages, and it can take decades to come to a head, but when that does happen, the crisis that ensues can be of huge proportions. It sounds like you are so angry at the rejection of who you really are by your family that you have no alternative but to alienate yourself from them. I wonder if you have been ploughing your own furrow in the family for years, and what influence that might have had on the whole group.
It sounds as though you have one sibling who might need your support to separate well, and this situation needs further investigation. Not only are you cutting yourself off from your siblings and parents, but also from your nieces, nephews and possibly other relatives. If you are to maintain your position, it may mean keeping the fire of anger and injustice burning inside you, and you have to question the cost of that to yourself and your emotional wellbeing.
Is it possible to have some engagement with your family that is not fake or untrue but that allows acceptance and acknowledgement? This does not mean putting on rose-coloured spectacles, but rather seeing them as they are and letting go expectations that they be different. If you can engage with them in a respectful and dignified manner, this might demonstrate a way for all of your extended family to behave without it degenerating into blame and defensiveness. However, this is very hard to do at a family event where tensions are high and where perhaps alcohol is being consumed.
Could you go to this event (possibly with a partner so you are not alone) and stay for a short while to show support to your sibling and also to show that you do not need to change your behaviour – they do. You have the opportunity to demonstrate how a person should behave in such a difficult situation. This does not mean that your defences have to be high: if you have an attitude of superiority it will draw a reaction from your family, so the best way forward is to have an open attitude to them while holding a position of self-care for yourself.
You do not need your family to approve of you, as you have clearly chosen your own path in life and have lots of richness in that life. But your family might benefit from learning that all differences and positions can be tolerated if there is love and acceptance. No doubt future generations of your family will need this change to happen.
If you want to have your own marriage and family at some stage, you could begin to assert the qualities now that you wish to emulate in the future. This does not mean that you give in to your family’s position, but rather that you offer them an alternative way.