Consider the fraught relationship that many apostates of more-involved religions have with our families of origin. If the relationship still exists, it often is predicated on mutually-agreed-upon deception.
Though it may be expressed as a personal opinion, it is possible for “the way I see it” to end up sounding prescriptive or superior. This is especially true when that opinion reflects a more mainstream understanding and/or experience than the alternative. Specifically, in this case, assertions about why hiding anything from one’s parents or other relatives is always wrong can come off as exclusionary for those of us for whom the situation is more complicated.
For many of us who have left more-involved religions and/or are from conservatives cultures, disownment (or at least threats of it) was part of the experience of leaving the faith. Those who have been wholly cut off from their families are free to live mostly as they please but often have to deal with the intense emotional pain that comes from having one’s family of origin condemn and exile them. For those of us whose disownments either never quite happened despite threats or didn’t last indefinitely, the existence of the relationship means that our lives are a bit more complicated.
We have a lot more secrets is what I’m saying, and, as a result, face more intra-community criticism.
There is nothing wrong with That Thing You Hide From Them.
The argument here is that if what you are doing is not legally, morally, and/or ethically wrong, then there is no reason to hide it from your family unless you have some sense of internalized guilt or shame. The claim rests on a false premise: That the only reason to not openly show something to your family is that it is either capital-w Wrong or you must secretly still feel bad or ashamed of it.
Neither is true for me. I think that I’m living ethically overall, but I don’t see the need to start a fight or terse conversation with family members over the things in my life that can be readily hidden. I’m out about a lot of things that upset and disturb my relatives, but not everything about my life is a hill I’m willing to die on.
You aren’t really hiding that well. I don’t see the point.
I can’t blame any of you who may be wondering how the heck any of the aforementioned sneakiness is relevant to me of all people. I am out and loud and proud about pretty much all of my life at this point. My Google search results have been called “unemployable” and I cannot honestly say that the assessment is much of a stretch.
There is a difference, however, between “I have a blog and other Internet presences where I say all the things about all of my life under my real name” and “I openly talk about all of these things around my family.” As annoying as it can be to self-censor, my more, ahem, heinous (at least to filial eyes) dealings are not something that that I openly discuss with relatives.
Religion and other big controversies aside, there is a great deal of precedent for mutually-agreed-upon deception in many first-generation American families on issues ranging from pre-marital dating to level of religiosity to amount of skin exposed. Within that setup, as long as something isn’t disclosed in an open way, it doesn’t have to be addressed. Most of the time, almost everyone knows nearly all of everyone else’s secrets, but the lack of discussion of them renders their existence much more palatable to the immigrant generation. It is a system I do not agree with and requires the kind of game that I am bad at playing, but I do my best to keep the peace.
You aren’t living an authentic life if you hide things. Be proud.
Does “living authentically” and “being proud” mean I am obligated to leave the booze out when my parents come to visit instead of placing it in a more discreet location? Tell my aunt who asks about what I’m doing that night that I’m going to a kinky party on Saturday instead of just saying “a party”? Wear halter tops and mini-skirts to family gatherings instead of tunics and jeans?
Switch out “parents” and “family” with “employer” and most people get the picture. You’re no less of an authentic person with pride in who you are if you don’t act the same around coworkers as you would around friends. Most people do so. This isn’t very different.
They’re wrong for thinking that thing is wrong.
It’s also wrong that women get clothing-policed but that doesn’t mean that any woman who doesn’t go to work wearing what she would like to wear rather than what is acceptable at work is making the wrong choice. We all do what we have to and make compromises in order to live our lives as well as we can. Everyone draws the line somewhere.
Many people in my family lower their eye when they see a sexualized billboard, change the television channel when nudity and/or sexuality is depicted (even a kiss), and don’t go to beaches or pools when they are crowded with people in bathing suits. As for alcohol, they behave similarly, forgoing social situations that involve drinking and muting the ubiquitous beer ads during televised sports games. The list goes on. It may be silly to me and I may disagree, but their actions reflect a very dear and important belief. I’m willing to concede a little for their comfort as long as it doesn’t harm me, which it doesn’t.
Why do you care about their feelings?
I have been “disowned” a few times over the years myself but none of the “disownments” lasted longer than a week. Those brief periods were some of the most difficult of my life. The idea of not seeing my siblings until they were fully-grown adults and then only if they sought me out, as well as being cut off from my extended family network (my cousins’ kids, my aunts and uncles, my elderly grandmothers, etc.), filled me with a pain even my garrulous self could not articulate. I do not cry easily or frequently, but I sobbed myself to dehydration, exhaustion, and eventually severe physical illness during those periods of disownment.
Sure, I would have survived being disowned had it lasted. I’m fairly tough. However, it wouldn’t have been an ideal or happy situation for me. Disownment is no longer much of a threat for me, but when family members say things that cast me as a villain over petty things, the sting is there. I’m happy to, say, not order a pepperoni pizza and a beer when out for lunch with my family if it means avoiding tantrums over it. I can get pork products and booze during the 90% of the time I’m not around family. It’s no huge sacrifice.
Why do you need them, anyway? Why not have a chosen family instead?
I have a wonderful network of people I’ve chosen to have in my life and who choose me. They are the people I rely on for emotional support and advice and understanding. That doesn’t erase my family.
I honestly find it bizarre that I have to defend my love for my family and their emotional impact on me to people. As much as we disagree, I love them and they love me. I’m immensely gratified and touched by how much they’ve grown as people since I came out to them as an apostate back in 2006. I don’t feel like throwing all that progress on important issues away for the sake of what I consider to be less important matters.
Not all people are open about everything with their parents and families, and discretion may be the best choice for some situations. In order for the secular community to be more welcoming towards people who may have complicated relationship histories with their families, we need to be more understanding towards people whose family ties might not match what we expect based on a mainstream American understanding of family and filial love.