Saturday, March 23, 2013

On the Outside

When I was married to K, we really integrated into each other families.   When we would visit her mother or her sister's house, I did not feel like I was K's boyfriend who was visiting for the day.  I really felt like I was part of the family.

Even now, they all know I know I am gay and I have been divorced from their daughter for almost 2 years, I still feel like family when I am there.  

Once or twice a week I am at T's house and around his family.    Usually I have dinner with them and then hang around the house for a few hours before I have to go home.  

His family's attitude toward me is always polite and usually friendly.  His 2 younger sister make a point to say Hi.  One of them will often engage me in conversation.  His mom is friendly and will usually smile when I come in.  She remembers the foods I like and if she makes one of my favorites, will often send me home with enough for the next day.  His dad will acknowledge me, and make sure I get enough to eat.  He is somewhat hard of hearing, so conversation is not something he does much of.

Despite their friendless I always feel like an outsider.  It's kind of like, they are OK if I am there, but  doubt I would be missed if I was not there.  I am not part of the family.  I am T's friend.  It even occurred to me the other day, if something were to happen to T, would anyone in his family even think to call me?

To be fair, part of this is my fault.  I do not speak Vietnamese and I have not put much effort into learning.   They have most of their conversations in their native language and it's not reasonable for me to expect them to change just because I show up for dinner.  So in that regard, I have put outsider status on myself.

Part of it is because his family does not really accept him as a gay man.  To me it feels like a dirty secret that everyone knows about.  Like the uncle in the family who has been in prison or used to be a drug addict.  Everyone knows about it, but no one talks about it. 

I also think part of it's because we don't live together.  He lives with his family and I am an occasional visitor.  When I was married to K, it was rare that K would see her family without me. Over time, it became natural to them that she and I were a unit.  We (the two of us) were a new, complete family unit within the larger family.

Despite our love, T and I are not a family unit.  We are not together as a family.  We do not function as a family unit so why should his larger family think of us that way?  They shouldn't and they don't.

So, I even though T and I think of each other as partners, his family does not.  I can tell and it makes me feel like an outsider.

OK, so I told you that story so I could tell you this story.

The other day, T invited me out for dinner with his family.  They were celebrating some good news in T's business and he wanted me with him. (Which was totally sweet!!).  During the course of dinner, T did something that was very embarrassing to me.  What happened is not important, but I was very upset about it.  I know he did not mean to embarrass me, in fact until I told him afterwards, he was not even aware that I was upset about anything. 

After it all died down, I reflected on it.  If K had done the exact same thing to me with her family, would I have been upset? Of course, was my initial reaction.  The more I thought about it, however, the more I knew that was not true.  The fact is, I doubt I would have been upset about it at all.  

Then I had to figure out why not? What I think it boils down to is feeling about being the outsider.      With K's family I am in insider.  With T's I am not.  When you are on the edge of a tight knit group that you want to be part of, you are self-conscious.  Because you want to be accepted by the group, what they thing of you is important. T is always going to be close to his family.  The scenarios that have us living together mostly involve us living together with his family, so it is important they like me.  It is important they accept me.

T has assured me for everyone else, this was a non-event.  They didn't even notice anything was out of the ordinary.  But still it nagged in the back of my mind.

Will we (he and I as a family unit) ever be really accepted or will I always be an outsider looking in?


Anonymous said...

You're going to have to accept that your partner is from a different culture. With that comes many fine and some not so fine things. I've had many friends of different cultures. All of them to some extent are this way with "outsiders" with Asians being perhaps being more insular than most. You'll find that it is also generational and changes as there is more time in and more exposure to the culture in their new country. It would be the same whether you were a gay partner of their son or the "American" husband of their daughter.

But rest assured that it is not personal although you will have to resign yourself to it or it will cause tension between you and your partner

Elaine said...

I'm Asian (and straight, btw) but wanted to just say I'm of the same mind as Anonymous: 1) it's generational; 2) it's cultural; 3) the language barrier doesn't help.

When I was dating a Filipino Chinese, I was made to know I AM an outsider because I couldn't speak Chinese well enough (I was brought up in a 3-generation English-speaking Chinese family), I wasn't Chinese enough, my parents were divorced, and I was a few years older than my boyfriend. These 3 things made me "not good enough" for their son.

I've read all your posts and after catching up and now following it daily, I can't help but say you're an awesome man. Please don't let those "outsider moments" come between you and T. I'd venture to say when T says or does things that don't come across right to you (and yes, they hurt!) it's HIS way of dealing/interacting with HIS family and doesn't reflect on what you are to him.

My grandparents were exactly like that to even family members and my very-westernized parents were like this to me and my siblings!

T said...

I was not going to comment. But i will...LOL. What happened was: Jim texted me during the dinner that my 6 y.o. nephew said his mom (my ex-sister-in-law) threw away his baseball bat when he liked baseball. It didn't occur to me that Jim didn't want the others at the table to know. So, I asked my little nephew about it. And the rest asked him about that. That's usually what we do when something happened to a family member. To me, Jim was family. So, I didn't think twice. I just automatically jumped into the issue without thinking that this would embarrass Jim. If I had any thought at all that Jim was an outsider, I would have been more cautious. I speak English and have lived in the US for 32 years, and I never feel belonged in a group of Americans. It is what it is. I chose to accept it and make the best of the situation. Jim know I love him very much. I hope this makes him more happy than sad.

Anonymous said...

Have you thought about learning Vietnamese? T's family would probably be surprised if they knew and it would probably make them realize that you are committed to being with their son & brother. If you tried, I'll bet that they would be impressed and think of you differently.