How should a lesbian aunt come out to her nieces?

Q:

I am a lesbian, and I am wondering how to help my sister talk to her kids about my partner and me. My nieces, ages 5 and 9, used to come spend one weekend a month with me, but since my partner moved in, my sister won’t allow them to stay with us.

After going through a litany of excuses, my sister has admitted that she is not sure how to explain our relationship to the kids. The girls keep asking about when they can come over and it is getting very awkward. My partner and I are having a difficult time deflecting their questions.

My feeling is that kids deserve to know the truth and it is best to be honest with them so that they will grow up to be open-minded and tolerant. My sister has been pretty accepting of my being gay and always includes my partner in family activities, but since she has not yet felt comfortable enough telling her kids that I am gay, I wonder just how accepting she really is.

A:

I agree with you that your nieces deserve the truth. Having their routine visits to their aunt’s house abruptly discontinued — and with no explanation — is not fair to them at all. (Not to mention confusing and heart-wrenching for them and you!)

Before, you could just assume your sister was supportive, but now that a situation is forcing her to take a stand one way or the other, you begin to question that assumption. I call this phenomenon a “family-defining moment,” a pivotal event when validity of LGBT families is affirmed or rejected. It can be a painful discovery, but please don’t give up yet. (For more on tensions among extended family members, see Chapter Five of Families Like Mine.)

Explain to your sister that it hurts you deeply to not be involved in your nieces’ lives like you once were. Try out a few practice coming-out conversations with your sister to figure out what information she imagines you would tell her kids. Her concern might be about talking about lesbian sex, which for young children is not necessary. You certainly can explain that you are in a loving partnership without talking about the mechanics of sexual behavior.

What if you and your sister planned to talk to them together? That way everyone — you, your sister, and the girls — all have the same information. Your sister would be reassured that your explanation is not inappropriately sexual, and you could make sure your sister’s explanation is not homophobic.

4 thoughts on “How should a lesbian aunt come out to her nieces?”

  1. I am the youngest of 6 kids, and I have 10 nieces and nephews. They range in age from 1 – 11. I came out to my parents, sisters and brothers about a year and a half ago. I have been with my partner for 4 years.

    My family has been accepting of the relationship. We go to family functions together, and my nieces and nephews even write my partner letters or talk to her on the phone.

    The problem is that the last few times we have been home, comments by the oldest 2 nephews have been made (age 9 and 11)………..”Why does Amy get to be in the family picture if she isn’t part of the family?”

    My 11 year old nephew asked me, “Why do you have Amy and not a boyfriend?”

    My 6 year old nephew asked Amy, “Why aren’t you in this family picture?”

    The list of comments and questions goes on and on. My partner and I do not feel comfortable going home to see my family anymore unless my sister(s) address the issue.

    When I asked my sister if she told them about my relationship with Amy, she said that she made them aware that we are roommates and best friends, and that is why Amy is always present at family functions.

    To me, this is a hurtful comment. I have never considered Amy my roommate, and although she is a best friend, she certainly isn’t defined in that way. She is my partner, and that is the first thing I think of when I think of who she is to me.

    The particular sister that has the kids who have been making the comments says that the kids are too young, and she would appreciate it if I would just lie to them if confronted with a question by them. I am not willing to go along with her lies, and because of this, my partner and I are left to make the choice of going home for family functions or keeping our distance until my sister decides it is time to talk to them.

    My mom had the idea of if the kids ask Amy or I questions about our relationship, we should just refer them to their Mom. This to me is wrong too, because in a way, we would be telling them that their questions are too sensitive or scary to answer, when all I would like to say is, “Amy is here because she is part of the family – we are a couple and we are very happy.”

    The thing my family doesn’t understand is the word sex, gay, or lesbian doesn’t even have to be used. All I ask is that these kids grow up knowing that their Aunt is in a healthy, happy relationship with another girl. My sister(s) believe they are too young because some of them haven’t even had the “sex talk” yet. My reponse to that is this has nothing to do with sex. The kids learn at a VERY young age about different famliy structures and different types of families, so my partner and I are just one of those types.

    I am at a loss trying to figure out what I am supposed to do. Do I lie to these kids when the comments and questions are thrown our way, or do I continue to say that I will not lie to the kids about this. I believe it is my sister(s) responsibilty to address the issue, and I will help if needed, but at the same time, I will not lie for the sake of her not wanting to address an issue.

  2. I think that the children should be told the truth, that you are in a love with eachother like their own parents. I doubt very much they will ask for more of an explanation than that. My own children are five and eight and they are completely accepting of my relationship with my partner. I explained that she and I loved eachother and they see for themselves that we are happy and treat one another with love and respect. They love her for who she is, and how she treats both them and me. They don’t question anything sexual or even why we sleep in the same bed, it all seems like normal things they know people in love do…straight or homosexual. I think the earlier the children are told the better.

  3. My partner and I recently got engaged and are planning to have a ceremony in about a year to a year and a half’s time. I have an older brother and sister, both heterosexually married, who each have two children who are ages 10, 10, 7, and 5. I maintain relatively close relationships with my siblings and am very close to my nieces and nephew and have been since they were born. We are geographically separated but I see them several times a year and all have come to know and love my partner.

    My siblings are against telling their children that my partner and I are a couple, believing that they are “too young” and “wouldn’t understand” and insisted on introducing her as a “friend” the first time they met her. I only allow this because I feel it is the only way that I will be able to continue to see the children and have them get to know my partner. I have had numerous conversations about age-appropriate ways to talk with children about same-sex relationships and to introduce it as part of every day conversation, and I have sent them educational materials from APA, AMA, etc. but they will not budge.

    My parents are generally supportive but maintain that it the parents’ right to decide when to introduce homosexuality. I can sense that the kids are struggling to make sense of who my partner is and how she belongs in our family, and I would love nothing more than to be open with them, but am honestly afraid that if I push it too much my siblings will keep the kids away from me. The other bothersome piece is that it’s not as though they have a moral or religious objective to homosexuality – my sibs maintain that they are happy for me and consider themselves to be very supportive and accepting of my relationship.

  4. On the things I’ve read about the actual parents disclosing to their children their own gay identities, it’s easier for children if they are told from the get-go and raised with it. I agree with the above poster that children grow up learning different family structures, and they adapt. It comes pretty naturally to children, but it’s important to leave the door open to discussions if they have questions. I think the most difficult thing is when they’re lied to, and at an older age, say 14 or 15, the real relationship dynamics are revealed.
    When it’s not your children, you don’t have much control over what’s disclosed. But you can refuse disrespectful treatment towards you and your partner. Age-appropriate discussions are relevant whether you’re hetero or homo.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

 characters available

By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.