“No matter how others may feel about your relationship, it’s about a lot more than sexuality. It’s about love,” says Steven Petrow, author of Steven Petrow’s Complete Gay and Lesbian Manners. He recommends that you convey this whenever you’re introducing someone new.
Petrow also offers other practical ideas. Before you go, be sure to thoroughly prep your partner with basic information about family members, explaining who has and hasn’t been accepting of you in the past.
He suggests preparing your relatives, too.
“Whenever someone is going to bring home a new partner, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, you want to tell the family what’s up,” he says. “Tell them who you’re bringing, be honest about the fact that you are in love with this person, and share a little bit about them so that the relatives will have some material to work from.” An easy way to do this might be on social media, or in a group email.
During the gathering, appoint an ally so you’re not perpetually on the spot. “Maybe a sibling or a cousin who’s accepting of you, who can help deflect negativity as well as answer questions,” Petrow says. “If Cousin Louis says something homophobic, your ally can point it out with a gentle but direct remark: ‘Hey Louis, I’m sure you meant well, but what you said is pretty homophobic.’” Ideally, your ally will have a sense of humor, he adds, so as not to humiliate anyone who misspeaks.
There may be less-than-tactful questions. Yet, Petrow thinks even uninformed queries, such as “So, which one of you is, like, the girl?” can be “an opportunity to talk seriously about your relationship.”
“‘We’re both women. But I do the shopping and cleaning and she does the gardening and home repair.’ Underline how roles correspond to your abilities rather than gender.”
You may hesitate to show affection, but Petrow encourages being authentic. “Don’t slobber all over each other, of course — that’s just good manners. But if you normally hold hands, hold hands.” If someone can’t handle this, he says, “that’s their problem.”
And if someone insists on being rude or hostile? “Leave if you’re being disrespected. There are no extra points for participating in a family ritual that’s hurtful.”
But don’t despair if it doesn’t go well. “Time is on your side,” he says. People need time to let down their guard and discover their similarities, and as likely as not, this will eventually happen with your family.
This originally appeared as “My same-sex partner is meeting my family for the first time. How can we ensure this will be a positive experience?” in the December 2018 print issue of Experience Life.