Coming out is never easy — but coming out to family members is, for some LGBTQIA+ folk, the hardest part. For many of us, our families are forever. And the thought of not being accepted by them can be terrifying.
Check out this video by Camille Beredjick of GayWrites for a wonderful reflection from an accepting grandmother about how to deal when families don’t accept you the way you are.
Click for the Transcript
Today I had lunch with my grandmother. And whenever I do that, I always make sure to bring a tape recorder or a notepad and a pencil, because she is full of one-liners and amazing wisdom, and I want to make sure I remember it all. And so today, I thought I would bring my camera. And I learned some cool stuff.
So I have not talked about my grandmother before, I don’t think–at least not into this particular camera. But I have written about her! My grandma is an 86, 87…88? I’m really bad, I don’t remember her age. She’s a woman in her 80’s who is a Holocaust survivor. She has traveled the world. Her husband, my late grandfather, was in the United Nations, so they traveled the world together. She’s just this awesome, worldly, wise lady who knows a lot about a lot. And she didn’t really like it when she found out that I was gay for the first time.
So, I didn’t actually tell my grandmother that I was gay. My mom did that for me without my permission, but we’ve moved past it. Everything was fine, it all worked out okay. So my grandma found out I was gay. We didn’t talk for maybe three weeks afterward for reasons that I never cleared up–I think I was scared to initiate conversation after that point, and she felt like she didn’t know me anymore, and it was just weird for a while because she wasn’t speaking to me, but apparently she was still talking to my parents everyday and trying to wrap her brain around it. So we had some tension there.
But eventually she met a girl that I was dating and we talked a little more about it and she asked if I wanted to get married, if I wanted to have children, and we acknowledged that those are things that can actually happen in the 21st century because of evolving laws and because of evolving technology and science and things like that. So she has come to a pretty good place about it.
It’s really hard for me to capture my grandma’s innate quirkiness and charm and wit and just how she operates as a person, so I thought that I would bring my camera with me today and talk to her a little bit about my coming out and my queerness and things like that on camera, while it was rolling. She said, “Yes, sure, I’ll talk to you. But you have to cut my hair.” (laughs) So I interviewed my grandma while giving her a haircut today! So, see what happened.
CAMILLE’S GRANDMA: Just straight line here. Only from the bottom.
CAMILLE: Okay. Grandma, what did you think when you first found out that I was gay, which I didn’t tell you, Mom told you. What did you think of that?
GRANDMA: I will be very honest.
CAMILLE: Please do.
GRANDMA: I had a feeling that I am losing you.
CAMILLE: Really, why is that?
GRANDMA: I don’t know why. I thought, you know, I imagined kind of a different life for you. And I thought at the beginning that I am losing you. I came to the conclusion that in life, a person has to choose. And this is the best thing–having the freedom. Because there are many countries where one cannot say how he feels sexually.
GRANDMA: Yes. But I felt that you are a grown-up person. You are not a baby. You’re a grown-up person. You have to decide what is what makes you happy in life. And this was the most important thing. So I thought, “Who am I to think that I am losing her? Why should I lose her?” And the contrary, “If she would be happy, I will be happy too.”
The more I talk about it, I realize that exactly what I told you, that now I am going to have two granddaughters.
GRANDMA: Instead of having one, I will have two granddaughters.
CAMILLE: Wonderful. What message would you like to say to a young gay person who doesn’t have a grandma who’s as cool as you, who thinks that it’s awesome for them to be gay? What advice would you give that person?
GRANDMA: I would like this person to find himself friends that will understand him. That he will be able to talk openly. Yes. Because friendship is a very, very important thing in life. So he will have to go to friends, and to be able to open up with them and talk with them and say that he has the right as a human being, and he has the right to choose the source of his happiness.
You can talk to me about anything you want to, Camille. You know that. I’m very open.
CAMILLE: I know, I love it.
GRANDMA: And I will tell you how I feel.
CAMILLE: Isn’t she adorable?
The most common question I get asked on Tumblr and in real life is, “How do I come out to my family? How do I know if they will be supportive? What do I do if they’re not?” Things like that. And that’s really hard to answer because there’s no one coming out experience. There’s no one family whose reactions you could gauge. It’s really impossible to say how your experience is gonna go.
With my grandmother and I, it’s been really a learning process and a learning curve for both of us. Like I have to change how I explain myself to make sure and make sense to her for the year that she was born, and the place where she comes from and things like that. Likewise, she has to understand that things are different now than they were 20, 40, 60, 80 years ago in the period that she’s grown up, so that there are things that I can say openly that somebody probably wouldn’t have said when she was growing up.
At the core of it, she knows that this is something that makes me happy. And if she thinks that this is my “chosen path” to making myself happy, awesome. That’s fine. At least she realizes it and knows that it’s okay and that it’s a good thing for me. That’s really the most important part.
I am so lucky to have a family that accepts me exactly as I am, but I realize that not everybody in the world is and I think that the way my grandmother was looking at it was actually spot on. You have to find people in this world who accept you, and those people do exist.
In queer culture, and also in the rest of the world, we hear this term called “chosen families,” which is the people you consider to be a part of your family, even if they aren’t part of your blood line or whatever. Family isn’t decided by whose genes match up with whose. It’s by who supports you, and who’s there for you, and who takes you as you are and who loves you unconditionally.
They might be your parents and your siblings and your grandparents and aunts and uncles. And they might also be friends or coworkers or just people that you see on a regular basis who you feel really close to. We can make our families as big or as small as we want to. And what’s the harm in having a giant family full of people who adore you? That’s awesome!
So I have a super cool grandma. If you also have a super cool grandma, I would love to hear about her in the comment section. If you have a super cool grandpa, I guess that’s okay too. Thank you so much for watching this. My grandma and I really appreciate it, even though she doesn’t know what YouTube is. Please subscribe to the channel if you want to see more videos like this. I will see you next time.
GRANDMA: Is the camera still on?
CAMILLE: It is.
GRANDMA: Okay, we don’t need it now, right?
CAMILLE: We don’t.
Camille Beredjick is a blogger and LGBT rights activist living in New York. In 2010 she started GayWrites, a daily blog covering LGBT news, media and culture, and last year she launched a YouTube channel where she talks more personally about issues of queer identity, representation and self-acceptance. She studied journalism and gender studies at Northwestern University and works in communications at an LGBT nonprofit. Follow GayWrites on Tumblr and YouTube, or tweet Camille directly at @cberedjick.