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My family hates that I’m gay – should I take my boyfriend to a wedding?

Guillaume Paumier via Flickr

I am from a large religious family. I wouldn’t say they’re homophobic but they are quite prejudiced and coming out to them was a nightmare.

They made it clear they weren’t happy and whenever I see my mum and dad they don’t like to talk about it. I am lucky to have found a man I love and we are planning to move in together.

My brother is getting married later this year and all my other siblings are taking their partners. My boyfriend thinks it would be a good opportunity for my family to meet and get to know him and I do want him to be there – why should it be any different from all my other brothers and sisters – but I don’t want to ruin the big day.

My brother has said I can bring whoever I want. I know my boyfriend will be hurt if I don’t take him and that most of my family will freak out if I do. I feel in the middle and stressed about it all. What should I do?

Stephen, by email

The Guyliner replies:

Weddings. What a nightmare they can be. And, thanks to marriage equality, there are so many more of them to endure.

Weddings are stressful for everyone involved: months and months of planning, pettiness and disagreements which, if you’re lucky, become instantly worth it on the morning of the joyous day itself. This should be a happy, positive occasion for you, seeing your brother get married and having all your family around you, but circumstances beyond your control – and they are beyond your control, none of this is down to you – look set to tarnish it, if not prevent it happening altogether.

It sucks for you that your family would put their own pride and religion above your own happiness, but that’s relatives for you. You certainly won’t change their mind overnight, and very definitely not in the course of one afternoon, but I like to think only the most ice-hearted of parents would not soften their views when they see their child living as their true selves, whether in a committed relationship or not.

You need to get a clear idea of just how open this invitation from your brother is…

I can see why the idea of taking your boyfriend along to a wedding might be appealing – people tend to get caught up in the moment and it is very difficult to hold a grudge when there’s so much love and positivity around you, but it’s important not to romanticise things like this, to get carried away in hunt of a Hollywood ending. Miracles can happen, of course, but they usually don’t.

That said, you can’t live a double life and I do think there is a way to use this wedding as a catalyst for bringing your man and your parents together, to make each understand how important the other is to you.

I think first of all, you need to get a clear idea of just how open this invitation from your brother is. As someone with raging impostor syndrome, I have to say that “bring who you want” is too vague for me. Organising a wedding is a pain in the arse, and he may be sick of hearing about everybody’s plus-ones. Perhaps he’s past caring and doesn’t mind if you bring a troop of circus folk or a Tasmanian devil with you.

While you may not want to bother him with this, I would certainly get him to clarify what he means. Does it mean he supports you bringing a boyfriend, or would he rather not be involved? You don’t want to give him more hassle, no, but you also don’t want to be blamed for any tension should you turn up with your man unexpectedly. “I want to bring my boyfriend. Is this OK?” is all you need to ask. And I would say at the very least you should introduce your boyfriend to the bride and groom before the big day.

I remember a friend telling me that her father had organised her wedding and the entire guest list – she hated that every time she looked out at the room, it was 50% strangers. This is also a way of getting the bride and groom onside without making it a big deal. The chances are that once they meet him, they’ll be championing your cause and will be eager for you to come as a couple.

Involve your boyfriend in as much pre-wedding build-up as you can, and suggest to your parents you all meet up for drinks or dinner – somewhere neutral would be good but you may have to bite the bullet and go somewhere they like to put them at ease. Once you have the confirmation, explain to your parents you’d like to being your man to the wedding. Tell them, honestly and without whining, why you think it would be a good thing.

Ask any other family members who are on board to do a bit of positive PR on your behalf. Keep things calm, adult, without histrionics. It’s all too easy for a bigot to paint you as unreasonable if you get mad. And, yes, you might think “well why should I have to check my behaviour?” and I’m sure many people would say you mustn’t, but I think playing this one with dignity will work in your favour. We have to work 20 times harder; it shouldn’t be this way, but it is. Let your parents see that if they get uptight about this, or cause a scene, it’s they who are ruining the big day, not you, your boyfriend, or your inconvenient sexuality.

Ultimatums might seem a powerful way to solve disagreements, but they tend only to make things worse, and lead to a stubborn silence. Keeping talking is the key. The wedding is not about any of you but your brother and his wife-to-be. If anyone is going to be soaking up the attention, it should be the bride and groom.

We have to work 20 times harder; it shouldn’t be this way, but it is.

At big family events like weddings, things like sexuality can become a hot topic. Relatives who haven’t laid eyes on you for ages will be wanting to know all about you. They may well gawk at you like you’re an exhibit. You may become a big deal. Prepare for this. It doesn’t really matter what extended family think of you and your life, so forget them immediately – keep focused on the bride and groom. If they want him there, and want you there, then that’s all that matters.

As I say, however, the wedding should not be the first time your parents meet him, nor should your attendance at the wedding be a huge statement or a “fuck you” to bigotry. Your parents sound like difficult people – painting them as martyrs in front of a collection of their nearest and dearest isn’t going to help your cause. There is no room for activism at a wedding – apart from your own, if you choose. Just be calm, dignified, exemplary young men attending a wedding together. Make it impossible for anyone to object – don’t let your family blame any tension on you and your wonderful boyfriend.

If your brother’s invitation is ambiguous, or you feel he doesn’t mean it, you can still make it happen – look to create a relationship between your boyfriend and your parents that means attending the wedding together is seen as the only possible default, that it would be preposterous if he didn’t come. Once they see he’s a person, and not merely an obstacle, or a vessel for their prejudice and hatred, there’s every chance they will reconsider. It’s amazing what eye-to-eye contact can do.

If you can’t make that work, I’d consider going to the wedding solo and making your boyfriend understand that Rome wasn’t built in a day. But don’t give up.

I really hope you do go, though, both of you. I don’t think you’ll need one, but if you are looking for a “fuck-you”, make sure one of you catches the bouquet.

Here’s what Twitter had to say about this particular dilemma:

You can follow The Guyliner on Twitter – @theguyliner

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