MTV "Real World’s" Ruthie talks with Abby Dees about surviving your family holidays.
If you ever watched MTV’s "Real World: Hawaii," then you know the out and fabulous Ruthie Alcaide. Ruthie is a poster child for the idea that being comfortable with yourself is key to being a happy person. And since this is supposed to be the joyful season, I thought I’d ask her how she’s dealt with family holidays past – a time that can send the most seasoned gay off to anywhere but back home. Personally, I’m going to Egypt this year because a revolution seems like more fun.
But Ruthie’s probably braver than me and reminded me that worrying about being home for the holidays is usually a lot worse than actually showing up and eating the turkey.
Although her own family doesn’t celebrate the holidays, Ruthie’s been to friends’ and girlfriends’ family gatherings and has learned some important things. First of all, the best way to make the yuletide gay (or your Hanukah homo) is not to make a big deal about it yourself. She’s not being glib, just realistic. Once, she recalls, she’d learned that her girlfriend’s step mom was a serious homophobe. She says she was told, “I should try not to be ‘gay’ in front of her. I laugh when I tell this because what is that supposed to mean?”
Her story reminded me of the one time I asked a guy friend to be my beard for Xmas. No one bought it. In fact, my drunk aunt just hit on him and then gave him a bottle of aftershave with a hastily scribbled card that read, “So you can smell as good as you look.”
Ruthie’s efforts were also a bust and she spent much of her evening looking at her girlfriend’s high school yearbook with said stepmom, who kept pointing to pictures and saying, "This is when she used to date boys; what was she thinking?"
Yes, she remembers, she once dated a woman whose family absolutely couldn’t deal with their daughter’s sexuality. Wisely, Ruthie and her girlfriend went to visit friends instead rather than endure the inevitable homophobic drama. But most of the time, she says, “it’s not about making sure people are okay with who you are. You need to be comfortable with who you are. The rest will follow.” Even if that means that grandma is still calling your partner, “your friend.” It comes down to being relaxed in your own skin first.
A few years back I introduced my partner to my extended family over Xmas. I carefully instructed my mother not to refer to Traci as “my special friend,” as she’d done in the past. We practiced the word “partner” together before the family arrived, and as requested, she introduced Traci to my arch-conservative uncle as my partner. Then she turned to me and loudly asked, “How was that?” with a mischievous grin on her face. Together we watched as his discomfort fully percolated up to his face. To my delight, my usually polite mom had turned into a gay elf for the holidays. It took a while, but she finally got it – and then some.
And we LGBT folks don’t always get it right at first either. First of all, Ruthie wonders, why should we feel the need to announce “I’m gay” at holiday gatherings when straight people never have to declare their heterosexuality that way? And too often we assume our sexuality is bad news, which only reinforces the negative attitudes our family might already bring to the table. “‘Hey, Mom and Dad, I'm dying.’ Now that's bad news,” Ruthie says. “Being gay is not. That's why I don't treat it that way.”
I’m right with her on this. If you aren’t feeling happy about who you are, then you really can’t expect anyone else to be thrilled about it. This also goes for being proud to introduce your partner to everyone. But if being out feels perfectly in sync with the holiday spirit, then go for it.
And if you’re feeling particularly elf-like, you could try Ruthie’s other suggestion: “"Hey Mom and Dad, I'm pregnant!" They might freak out, but then you can just say, ‘Just kidding, I'm just gay.’ Hey, it works. Sometimes.”