Friday, December 28, 2012

Confronting Family Shame

 It was a really wonderful Christmas this year, so much nicer than last year’s trapped and desperate feelings that I questioned the worth of my entire dating life. (As I write this, it’s exactly one year after that terrible-hot last day with Bill.)  This Christmas was made extra-festive by the addition of two brand-new family members—Sweetie and I spent most of the trip hugging our brand new baby nephew and bonding with my brother’s new girlfriend, who seems like she was never not in the family. All that plus bonus-visits with old friends made it such a joyous trip.

The worry came when I got home—I was checking the Kitten Calendar Twitter and reposting all the nice holiday shoutouts (superthanks, pals!) and discovered that my brother’s new girlfriend had followed me. My initial reaction was to feel flattered and relieved—there is a little strain to having a secret identity, and the idea of being outed was a little liberating—until I realized the full scope of what she’d be able to read. Then I felt my safe little bubble of a blog close around me and felt trapped and creepy. I became fully conscious of how this might all look to an outsider—just the fact that I was age-play adjacent seemed like enough to get me kicked out of the family. I felt so exposed that I was forced to sympathize with Fireguy’s reaction all those months ago. (Says Sweetie: “Hope you didn’t sympathize for too long…”)

(Really, the reason the Fireguy situation, especially the jealous-partner aspect, freaked me out so much was that it seemed to confirm a fear that I had about myself—that I was inherently harmful and could not get what I wanted without destroying things.)

Anyway, after I found the follow, I called Sweetie at work and just broke down at the idea of my family being able to read this. “I’m so dirty!” I kept saying. I imagined having my nieces and nephews taken away, never being able to hug the baby again. Because I’m an excellent catastrophizer, I extrapolated out to losing potential students as well. If a new family member could find me, then teacher friends could too, and everyone would know. (I found out you can search using a phone number and some phones even autosearch, but that’s an easy box to uncheck.)

Besides wife, family member, teacher, there’s another role I’ve always worried about having: Ruiner. I grew up in an unhappy family that somehow morphed into a happy one the year my niece was born and I met Sweetie. (They both came into my life in 2001, not long after 9/11.) I’ve always suspected that if I messed things up with Sweetie, then the whole happy-family thing would come crumbling down. Though I’m theoretically out to the family (via facebook and many non-Sweetie themed poems) about being bi and poly, I’ve only talked directly to my parents about it, and only when I was sad. (“Aren’t you just setting yourself up for heartbreak after heartbreak?” said mom, not unkindly.)

For some reason, my brother is the one I’ve always worried about telling, even though he’s an up-to-date reader of my poetry. I’ve always been sure that if I mentioned it directly, he'd tell me what a terrible, selfish jerk I am being to Sweetie and it would ruin whatever occasion it happened to be. I’ve always known that if I didn’t work out between me and Sweetie, I’d be the bad guy, and I’d have absolutely no one to turn to.

For all of the work I’ve done here, for all of the rooms and waves I’ve walked into naked, all it took was an accidental misfollow to bring me face to face with deep-seated shame, not just the suspicion but the knowledge that deep down, I’m dirty and bad and have nothing but destruction to offer.

These idyllic Christmases are wonderful and I wouldn’t want to trade them, but I know that to keep them the same, I’ve suppressed an important part of myself—the Christmas that I want someday, with a guy partner and his family and Sweetie would effectively end Christmas as we know it. When we got in the car to come home Tuesday night, I was so desperate to talk to her, to be our true selves, that we didn’t even put on the radio or podcast for two hours, just talked and talked.

My brother’s girlfriend has been blocked, and it’s likely that she didn’t see a thing. I’m glad that the whole thing opened my eyes to the shame that I still have to work against. I’m 38, for crying out loud, and I can’t keep worrying what my family will think, and I certainly can’t keep half-hoping that I’ll be suddenly be not-bi and able to keep things the way they are. As far as I’ve come, I still have to work hard to get myself to a place of authenticity, of naked safety. Other writers have found ways to write through (real or imagined) family suppression, so hopefully I can too.

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