How Are You Meant To React?

My baby cousin has a girlfriend.

My baby cousin is Sarah, a 22-year-old woman. The two of us are good friends and I’ve always felt very protective of her.  Yesterday I found out that she’s told the rest of her family about her girlfriend.  

I first found out months ago, when Sarah told me that she had a huge and heartbreaking crush on Jess, a girl at work.  I didn’t really react to the revelation of the crush being on a girl, just to the unrequited suckiness of it.  I can’t help but look back and wonder if that’s ok.  I mean, I know it’s ok that I don’t think it’s an issue for her to be attracted to a woman. I’m very ok with that.  But perhaps she needed a bigger reaction from me, as the first family member she told? I don’t even know whether or not she’d told her friends at that point. Should I have given her a bigger, more obvious acceptance rather than just normalisation? But maybe normalisation is the most obvious way of showing acceptance?  

They eventually got together; later on the day she told me I sent her a text saying “Just so you know – I think having a lady-romance totally suits you. =o) I’m glad it’s working out.” Again, I still don’t know if that was the right thing to do. It came from second-guessing myself – I wanted to make sure she knew that I’m ok with it. Because I hadn’t actually said that.

I wasn’t sure for months whether or not I was the only one in the family who knew. I thought as time wore on that she would’ve told her mum, as they are very close, but seeing as we hadn’t talked in ages I had no way of knowing. Yesterday we finally caught up properly on the drive back from the family BBQ down the coast. She was able to tell me everything.  

As I suspected, she told her mum first. Her mum was fine with it and said she had kind of wondered because the two girls had been spending a lot of time together. 

Next she told her younger brother. He was fine with it and as he works with them both, he said he’d totally seen it happening before it had even happened. 

Then she told her dad. 
He didn’t take it well. He wasn’t fine with it.

It hurts me so much and makes me want to cry thinking about her going through this.  Her dad cried for a day or so, saying that all his dreams and hopes for her were shattered. He said to her “I’m not saying it’s not normal… but… it’s not normal.”  He said “What am I going to tell people?” That makes me furious and sad.  He’s an old-fashioned guy, especially when it comes to his kids, but he’s not someone I think of as an active gay-hater. 
The way Sarah told me her dad reacted makes me think of The Weekly Sift’s “The Distress Of The Privileged” article. I mentioned it to her while she was telling me how he reacted, but I don’t know if that was right either, and whether or not I should send her the link in case she’s interested. 
She said he couldn’t look at her for a week. She said he wouldn’t voluntarily tell her he loves her for a month. This is a family who I, as a divorced child who lived with but barely communicated with her own father for years, have often held up as a perfect happy family. They sit down and talk about their day at dinner, and they actually care about it. They always offer you a drink when you come around to their house, even if it’s just to drop something off. My aunt and uncle have been married for over 20 years and still kiss in the kitchen, in a way that’s cute and not gross. All four of them tell each other they love each other all the time. So for Sarah’s dad to stop saying this is a big deal.
He still won’t look at or talk to my cousin’s girlfriend, which leaves her understandably uncomfortable and scared to come around. (Thankfully, Jess’ family have accepted Sarah and made her feel totally welcome, and I’m so so glad she has that.)
As she told me all this yesterday I just wanted to be in contact with her to express some tiny portion of the sympathy and heartache I was feeling for her – I put my hand on her knee, I stroked the back of her head, then I burst out “I just want to give you a big hug right now but I can’t because I’m driving!”

Sarah said that when her brother found out how their father had reacted, he got really mad and defensive of his big sister.  He was at the house when I dropped her off yesterday and I gave him the biggest hug I’ve ever given him. Today I sent him a text to tell him what she’d told me, and how much of a champion he is for being the world’s best little bro. I just want to give him a billion hugs for being so caring for his sister and so incredibly supportive. It means a hell of a lot to me so I can’t even begin to imagine how much it means to her.

So in addition to that emotional bundle, for every tear I feel like shedding when I think about how my uncle has reacted to his daughter’s coming out, I have another tear for how our Granny reacted.

Sarah told her this weekend. She had no idea what reaction to expect. She sat Granny down and told her that the girl Granny had briefly met a few weeks earlier at the house is her girlfriend, and they’ve been dating for five months, and are very happy. 

Granny took her hands, and looked her right in the eyes and smiled. “I’m glad you’re happy.”

I love her so much for that.  I’m not religious but my 84-year-old Granny is. God Bless my Granny. I can’t put it any simpler than that.

So in my emotional and overtired state last night, I got a picture message from my baby cousin of the two of us at our spontaneous ice-cream stopover earlier that day.
I wrote back to her. 
“Thankyou. And can I just say that I’m so proud of you for being so brave and honest and true to yourself despite the heartaches it may have brought you from some people. 
You’re an amazing young woman and I’m really glad that Jess makes you so happy. Other things will settle. I love you and I’m proud of you. xoxoxoxoxo forever.”

I haven’t heard back so I’m second-guessing myself again.  I just want her to know that I don’t think of her as a different person. I don’t think it’s a big deal – but there’s a chance it’s been a big deal for her getting to this point so I don’t want to diminish that.  In a way I’m internally making my reaction a big deal, probably much bigger than it is.
I’m honoured to be the first family member that she told, way back before there was even a relationship to tell about.  I just hope that I’m giving her what she needs and living up to the honour.

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