Are My Relatives Introverts Or Just Jerks?

Please help me understand and deal with my introverted relatives! I am extroverted and thrive on interaction with others. When I have been left alone without human contact for too long, I begin to go a little batty. Over Thanksgiving, my sibling + spouse + kids came over to my folks’ place for dinner. I watched as my sibling + spouse spent the entire time, except while eating, playing with mobile devices and reading magazines. During the meal they did not talk, but just ate and then left the table. I did not get a greeting, nor a word of conversation from either of them, and spent most of the time talking with their children under the age of 7 and my other family members.

Here’s my dilemma: I want to respect their introverted and shy tendencies and not force them to talk if they don’t want to. But I see them rarely, only maybe 3-4 times per year, and I feel like it’s not too much to ask for them to put down the iDevice and magazine, and make a small amount of conversation over the two hours they spend with the family. I have tried to chat with them in the past, and they are either very awkward in answering, or they give one-word, conversation-ending answers, so I don’t feel like my usual tools are cutting it. (Note: Sibling + spouse are both in the early 30s age range, and have jobs which deal with the public, so I don’t believe either are incapable of making conversation.)

How can I encourage conversation respectfully, and have it feel to them like a welcome invitation rather than a stressful obligation?

Gratefully yours,
Extroverted Black Sheep

Dear EBS,
As a raving extrovert myself, I wrote a whole letter to you suggesting that you offer to play board games or giving them even more space or something something, even though I was thinking: “Actually, I think maybe EBS’s sibling and spouse are just rude.” So I showed my answer to my deeply introverted partner. She threw up her hands. “Those people may or may not be introverts,” she said, “but they are definitely assholes.”

So I guess my new answer is this: ignore the assholes and talk to the other relatives. Fuck them.

This letter originally appeared at bitterempire.com on December 29, 2014.

It’s Complicated

I’ve seen a lot of talk about combating bi and femme invisibility lately, which is pretty great. But I’m still struggling with some conflicting feelings. How do I, a bisexual, femme woman in a long-term relationship with a man celebrate who I am without seeming like I’m just trying to join a Special Pony parade?

Let’s be honest – Regardless of what identity turmoil goes on inside me, I have the privilege of resting comfortably in the Republican-endorsed bosom of heteronormativity. I have never ever experienced the kind of discrimination and fear that my open, and visibly queer friends have. I don’t ever have to have those conversations with family or coworkers if I don’t choose to. And even if I do, the impact is minimal. I’m married to a dude! I have a child! I’ve fulfilled my required role as a lady-type person.

To tout my sexuality, in my situation, feels like a bid for attention, and feels utterly disrespectful to those who fight the fight every day. But I don’t want to just write off that aspect of myself either; it’s an important part of who I am.How can I quietly, respectfully but openly own my own queerness? Or am I condemned to ally-dom for life?

Signed,
Rainbow Dash

Dear Rainbow Dash,

You are not an ally. You’re queer.

And I understand your struggle. Oh boy, do I. Although I’ve never been femme, I have been married to a man, and for years I actually identified as straight because of my straight-passing privilege. (The ‘privilege’ of not being seen for who you are is a dubious one indeed; this is probably part of why bisexuals have the worst health outcomes of all queers.) I felt like I had no right to pull back the Rainbow Curtain. 

But I was wrong. That is letting the terrorists win. Seriously. I am not joking about ‘terrorists.’ Gay bashers are terrorists. Family matriarchs who insist on heteronormativity are terrorists. Preachers who call for the killing of all queer people before the end of the year: terrorists. The thing about being bi, as you well know, is this: as most people are monogamous, the world defaults them one way or another after they settle down with a partner. This is one of the key cornerstones of bi invisibility. Even nationally-known bisexual activist Robin Ochs was defined as a ‘lesbian’ in news stories about her marriage to her partner. Odds are, however, due to the overwhelming numbers of straight dudes compared to queer ladies in the world– lots of bi/pan women are going to be partnered with guys.

Due to this math equation, part of being bi/queer/pan is this: we are always coming out of the closet.

It sucks, but it just is.

You belong under this rainbow banner as much as I do. So what if people didn’t mutter ‘dyke’ at you in the hallways when you were a kid? You still had to quietly subvert your desires, or hide them from yourself, same as I did. So what if people assume you are straight? You have straight-passing “privilege,” it is true.

So use it.

This means coming out in the worst times: to your Republican uncle. (I have. To several of them!) This means quietly saying quietly and respectfully, when someone at work claims they don’t know any queers: “Yes, you do. I’m one of them.” This means making awkward statements on Facebook on Coming Out Day (quietly and respectfully, if that’s your style).

If you can’t come out yourself (and no one is required to; only you know whether your are safe to do so and never let anyone pressure you into it), stand up for queer rights to marriage, safety, job nondiscrimination, and anti-bullying. This means, if you feel safe to do so, identifying yourself, firmly, as queer — especially when children are present, some of whom might think they are the only queers in the room. This means, probably, being a bit of a pain in the ass to people who don’t want to think too much.

But this also means going to queer events for women and flirting shamelessly. It means joining local groups dedicated to good, dirty, queer fun and being a part of the community. It might mean ignoring a few Gold Star Sneers thrown in your direction, but I think you should flip your hand and keep dancing with the pretty girls.

If you are a far quieter sort than I am, and much of what I say above is not possible for you, be out to your child. This is very very very very very important. Extremely very. One of my best friends, like me, is a bi woman married to a man. She is out, and has talked about it with her kids. This turned out to be a good thing, because when her own daughter came out as bi at school last week, part of what she said to the kid hassling her is: “My mom is bi, too!”

Solidarity. Your kid could be as queer as you are. S/he will most certainly have queer friends that might need support and might need to know their friend’s mom is queer—either as a role model or as someone to talk to if their own families do not feel safe for them.

You belong here, in Queer Nation. You do you do you do. Own it, sister. Rejoice in it. Go to Pride and wave your purple, blue, and pink flag. ONE OF US. ONE OF US.

A version of this letter appeared on December 1, 2014 at bitterempire.com. It has been revised for Gentle Butch.

How Do I Avoid Talking About My Illness At Work?

People at work seem to want to know details about my chronic condition. I’ve told them that I have fibromyalgia, which is why I sometimes miss work. They ask questions about my medications and doctors. I’d rather not discuss these things. It doesn’t help that they talk freely about their colds, headaches, surgeries, hot flashes, etc. What should I do?

I know this one! I know this one! Instead of answering questions you’d rather not, I’m loaning you the phrase I use with people who are just too damn interested in my health: “Oh my god I can’t imagine a more boring topic than my dreary doctor appointments,” and then I quickly ask them about their colds, headache, or hot flashes. It helps that I am actually interested in their colds, headaches, or hot flashes, but if you are not, practice assuming a rapt expression during their recitation.

When all else fails, pretend you just got a super important phone call.

You could also just say: “I’d rather not discuss it,” but I’ve tried this and it never works. Ever.

This letter was originally published on December 2, 2014 at bitterempire.com.