Ask Richard: Newly Out as Gay and Atheist, Treated Hatefully by Uncle

Dear Richard,

I recently came out to my family and friends as gay and atheist. Throughout all of it, I have received an overwhelming amount of unexpected support. But, in every family, there is at least one bigot.

I have an uncle who, when I came out as gay, instead of rationally discussing it with me, decided he was going to start screaming Bible verses at me in front of the whole family. He ran off afterwards. I’d hoped that it was over and that he would just leave me alone, but he will not.

First, I started getting messages on Facebook telling me that I have “chosen” to lead a very wrong and sinful lifestyle. He said that he “loves” me, but I am going to burn in hell for “choosing” to be gay. He said I am a dark person and I am just angry at God.

I tried to explain to him that I did not choose to be gay and that I am not angry at God because I do not believe in him. He completely ignored this and just started spewing hate and bigotry again. I finally just blocked him from Facebook because I had enough of it.

Fast forward a few days. He found my blog that I write about atheists. He started to comment on the posts telling me I’m a horrible person, I am choosing to live the wrong lifestyle, that Darwin was an idiot atheist who didn’t know what the hell he was talking about, and saying that science has proved there is a God, etc.

Anyway, I guess my question is how do I handle a person like this? I have tried to just calmly talk with him about our differences in a rational manner. I have realized that he wants to be anything but rational with me. He wants to continue to spew hate until I “realize that I have done wrong, repent, and accept God and Jesus.” This wouldn’t really be a huge problem, but he lives in my hometown. I am in college right now, but every time I go back to town I’m going to have to deal with him, as he is at every family gathering.

Any advice would be greatly appreciated!

Thanks,
Dustin

Dear Dustin,

My congratulations for your coming out about both things, freeing yourself of two of the shackles of shame from society’s ignorance. You have made it a little easier for other GLBT people and for other atheists to free themselves as well.

Firstly, I think you have thoroughly confirmed that continued attempts to calmly and rationally talk with your uncle are futile. It is apparent that he only wants these interactions so he can continue to verbally abuse you and to inflate himself with his self-righteousness. Trying to educate him or argue with him any more is a demeaning waste of effort and only gives him the opportunity to further humiliate and frustrate you. Don’t participate in your own mistreatment.

One day a skunk got into my house, and my two cats confronted and cornered him. Instead of letting that interaction continue to its inevitable malodorous outcome, I managed to get the cats out of the way, let him out, and then made sure he couldn’t get in again.

Your uncle is a troll both in your life and on your blog. I’ve seen his comments. Multiple “spamming” entries with dozens of cut-and-pasted childish “arguments” and links from third parties is not acceptable blog etiquette. Like the trolls who too frequently infest this blog, don’t feed him and don’t give him a forum. Just ban him from your blog as you did on your Facebook page. Your blog is your property. It is like your home. If guests don’t honor your hospitality by minding their manners, they deserve being permanently shown the outside of your door. If they twist that into some kind of “victory” for them, so what? Trolls will twist everything you do and don’t do into food for their withered little egos anyway. I didn’t care what that skunk thought; I took control of who can be in my home.

Secondly, one of the functions of a healthy family is to prevent any member from abusing any other member. You mentioned that when coming out you received unexpectedly strong support from your family as well as your friends. Now is the time to put that to work. This is where your family’s support can be more than just verbal, and can mean something very real. Tell your supportive family all at once what your uncle has been saying and doing, and ask them to, as a unified group, get him to stop. His behavior is the unacceptable, hostile, unloving behavior, not yours. This would not just benefit you; his loathsome negativity affects everyone in the family to their detriment.

I know that this will be emotionally difficult, but taking a strong, assertive stand now will be easier than later. If he is allowed to continue berating you, your family will begin to get used to it, and they might become more prone to advise you to just shrug it off. Don’t take that advice. Such behavior when tolerated usually just gets worse. Make it clear to your family that unless they want more and more of his screaming, hateful, bigoted antagonism at family gatherings, they must make it unmistakably clear to him that if he’s going to act like a skunk, skunks are not allowed in the house.

Hopefully the third step will not be necessary, but you should also be prepared if for whatever reason your family fails to correct your uncle’s reprehensible misconduct. At the next family gathering where he is also present, if he starts in on you again at any level of intensity, immediately announce to everyone all at once why you are leaving, and why you will not be back until and unless they put a stop to one family member attacking another with hateful contempt and disdain.

Then walk out. Don’t yell, don’t swear, don’t slam the door. Always, always be the rational adult in the scene from beginning to end. Your calm equanimity will leave it to your family to have to supply the outrage rather than you, and they’ll have your uncle right there to vent it upon. Go be with your accepting and supportive friends where you can let out your anger and hurt. Have that arranged beforehand as a contingency plan just in case. If your family calls you, accept their love and express your love for them, but tell them also that love does not mean accepting unacceptable treatment, and loving families do not permit members to treat other members hatefully. One way or another, they need to keep the skunk from stinking up the house.

Stand strong, but also let allies come to your assistance. Be patient and resolute, keeping your dignity, but don’t just stand there taking some ignorant bigot’s crap. Take deep, slow breaths whenever you feel tense or tongue-tied. You don’t have to answer his absurd “challenges,” and you don’t have to justify yourself to him. In your most charitable moods, perhaps you can feel sorry for him. His world of self-assured privilege and superiority is rapidly crumbling around him, whether or not he acknowledges it. He is of the past. You are of the future. Keep building a future full of fairness, equality, compassion, freedom, and truthfulness. I wish you a happy outcome of this challenging situation. Please write again to update us on how things develop.

To all the readers, please visit Dustin’s thoughtful and candid blog at http://wvuatheist.blogspot.com and give him some support there as well as here. Thanks.
Richard
***UPTDATE: Dustin’s blog is now open to receive your supportive comments!***

You may send your questions for Richard to AskRichard. Please keep your letters concise. They may be edited. There is a very large number of letters. I am sorry if I am unable to respond.

About Richard Wade

Richard Wade is a retired Marriage and Family Therapist living in California.

  • Miss_Beara

    I am pleased that you received support from most of your family. I do find it amusing that your uncle chose to link debates from the Center of Inquiry and claimed it it was on the pro-god side.

    • islandbrewer

      Oh, give him a break. His uncle is new to the whole “horrible screeching troll” business.

  • Mel Johansson

    I’d be happy to leave positive comments on Dustin’s blog but they seem to be disabled for all but “team members.” So I’ll do it here:

    Well done, you!

    Congratulations on your courage, honesty, and strength!

    • UWIR

      Was the commenting policy changed to block the uncle?

      • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

        They’re open now.

  • http://bearlyatheist.wordpress.com/ Bear Millotts

    Hey Dustin,

    Open comments on your blog. I’d love to wade in!

    • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

      “To wade it?” I’m now a verb? :)
      [edit] Oh, you changed it.

    • http://faithlikeaman.blogspot.com/ Ryan Blanchard

      This! Tried to comment, couldn’t.

      • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

        Comments are now open.

    • Baffled By Faith

      Agreed! I *so* wanted to reply to that guy!

      • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

        Dustin has opened the blog for comments.

    • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

      The comments are open now.

  • http://www.yamanoor.com/ Yamanoor Srihari

    Call the cops, get a restraining order.

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    Dustin, uncountable people you don’t know have your back.

  • ufo42

    Great advice, the “skunk” analogy is very apt. Uncle Bigot will doubtless scream about free speech, but there is a clear difference between that and verbal abuse.

    • smrnda

      People seem to fail to understand that ‘free speech’ does not mean you have a right to demand that a particular person listen to you after they’ve made it clear you should piss off. You are allowed to speak, but not entitled to an audience.

  • cyb pauli

    I think his uncle might have a few secrets of his own…

    • God’s Starship

      This was my thought as well. It’s as if it hit a little close to home….

    • midnight rambler

      He appears to be not-so-secretly in a relationship with (married to?) a Filipino woman >20 years younger than him. Creepy.

  • Mario Strada

    I have not read Richard’s advice yet, and I may change my mind after I do. However, I would think a steady dies of “Fuck you” and “Fuck off” should at least help you keep the volume over his.
    Also, ban his ass from your blog. When invited around town, make it clear that one word from this bigot and you will pack up and leave. If you are in your own home, call the police and have him carted away. Else, pack up and leave. If your family doesn’t support you by making sure this uncle is out of your way at all times, then their support is not complete.

    I try to imagine if I had a brother that spoke and acted like that with my son or daughter. For starters, he would have to yell or recite the gospel through his wired jaw. Because that would be the consequence of his first insult directed at my son/daughter.
    Second, he would be banned forever from any family function held at my home. A shotgun loaded with rock salt would make sure those boundaries would be respected.

    I am sure Richard’s advice is going to be more accommodating and practical, but make no mistake: This guy is venomous and he does not deserve to walk the same dirt we do.

  • L.G. Keltner

    Dustin, your honesty about who you are will be rewarded by a sense of freedom that you can’t have when you’re constantly trying to hide. Hopefully that far outweighs the negativity of this one family member, who seems entirely unfit for the label of “family” anyway. No matter what happens with your uncle in the future, try not to let it get you down. You’re brave, intelligent, strong, and you have the support of some great people.

  • Rebecca Anderson

    I tried commenting on Dustin’s blog, both to give support and to respond to some of the BS being spewed there.
    Seems all comments are now restricted.

    • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

      The comments are open now.

  • katiehippie

    Yay Dustin. I wish you well.

  • http://bit.ly/glUAR7 Calladus

    Your uncle is unintentionally hilarious. But only from a comfortable distance. Keep your space from him, just in case. Be safe. And congrats on coming out of two closets at once!

  • StuckNtexas

    Richard’s advice is thoughtful, wise, and beautifully and eloquently written.

  • Trickster Goddess

    I had a similar problem with my brother when I came out as trans. I finally got him to stop when I pointed out that being hostile to someone and treating them like shit was highly unlikely to bring them around to his point of view.

    He was cordial the last time we had a family reunion 4 years ago, but otherwise he ignores me and never initiates contact. A bit disappointing since we used to be fairly close, but much better than forcing his bigotry on me..

    • C.L. Honeycutt

      I’m sorry about that. I’m still trying to figure out how to bring it up to family after far too many years of being repressed and feeling like trash. “Fortunately”, I’m only close to a handful of them, who are progressive sorts, but still bound up in convention. It sucks that I don’t feel confident enough to bring it up to them or RL friends, though several long-distance friends know now (and ask so, so, so many questions!)

      A trans atheist who uses Coyote symbology? *holds out hand* Low five!

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    Who made the earth rotate at such a speed that day and night take (approximately) 12 hours each , which is so close to the amount of time of sleep we need per day? Wasn’t it possible that each day would be years long (just like other planets?)..so who “designed” the speed to be that suitable for us humans?

    Wow. That is some profound ignorance right there. I expect even William Lane Craig, whom Kevin is fond of, could give the correct answer to that one.

    And

    How come there are so many kinds of fruits , and all of them come in sizes that are enough to feed a person or a family? If fruits were just a coincidential outcome of nature , why weren’t at least some of them the size of mountains , or why weren’t they as hard as metals?Doesn’t it seem that some Being made them the way they are for our own comfort?

    Right, that’s why coconuts are so easy to open and raw cashews won’t kill you and bananas come with a handy tab.

    Are we sure he’s not a Poe?

    • MD

      Fruit size as an argument! Really? The man needs more variety in his diet. Berries are teeny tiny

      • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

        And many fruits that we do eat (apples, tomatoes) are only as large as they are because human desire is a strong selecting force in- dum de dum- evolution!!!

        • islandbrewer

          Actually, there are almost no cultivated fruits that bear any resemblance to their wild uncultivated ancestors.

          Persimmons, I think. Tomatillos (and ground cherries and such related local delicacies). And most berries – although all cultivated berries are bigger and have a higher sugar content than their wild counterparts.

          And coconuts, of course.

        • Stev84

          Even the unaltered ones are often just bait for animals and thus need to be small so they can be eaten by them.

    • BeasKnees

      LOL, fruit.

    • Stev84

      The last one is like Ray Comfort’s banana argument.

  • Miranda Flemming

    Ban him from your blog. Good job taking him off your FB – your page should be safe place where you are comfortable being yourself without being judged. Do not discuss anything to do with being gay or religion etc with him. He will not see anything rationally and you will get upset and frustrated. Don’t invite him over. If he starts ranting and raving, assertively tell him to butt out. If he doesn’t, consider leaving the occasion. Spend time with family & friends that are accepting of you. Basically avoid that uncle until he grows up, but realise that might not happen. It is possible that eventually, he might stop over-reacting to your presence and may even talk to you civilly about some things, but don’t go anywhere near the topic of religion & gays. His over-reaction says more about him than you. Ever watched that movie “American Beauty” – the homophobic man was a closet homosexual in denial

  • Guest

    Dustin, I wish you the best…and remember, it’s not that hard to close down a profile, start anew, and find a community you can join and make friends with. You’re still young, so please pick your battles, and let these two (uncle and “Ole’ Miss lady”) stew in their self-righteous condemnation completely devoid of anything even resembling compassion. Try to avoid them as much as possible, keep calm, and let them look the fools that they are.

    In the meantime, keep frequenting blogs like this, The Thinking Atheist, and many others, go over the current trends in science and if you can engage with rational people, you’ll be prepared.

  • http://boldquestions.wordpress.com/ Ubi Dubium

    I checked out some of Uncle Kevin’s comments on Dustin’s blog, and shared them with UbiDubiKid#1. She immediately broke up laughing, started talking about blueberries and pineapples and coconuts, and proclaimed that this guy is “The Puddle.”

  • TravellingBeard

    Best of luck Dustin. Everyone has said good things already, so I guess the only thing I can add is be calm, let the haters make fools of themselves and don’t engage them. May I also recommend reading some of the philosophy like Stoicism.

  • Cafeeine

    Well Done Dustin for your courage and persistance, as well as your forebearance in dealing with your uncle on your blog.

    My gut is telling me to request that you open comments so that we can
    address his comments, but it would be ultimately pointless, as most of
    them are copy/pasta* that he probably hasn’t even read. There is no
    progress to be made that way between you two.

    I agree with Richard and other commenters that you don’t need to take his abuse on your blog.

    *And what copy/pasta that is! I don’t think I’ve seen worse stuff outside of FSTDT.

  • http://www.everydayintheparkwithgeorge.com/ Matt Eggler

    Funny how you don’t see Joe Klein defending people from their abusive relatives.

  • Dustin

    Thank you so much for all of the support guys! It means so much to me. Also, I didn’t realize that comments were still restricted, but I have opened them. I really appreciate all of your heartfelt comments! <3

    • Mads Andreas Elvheim

      Stay strong. Don’t let yourself be abused. If nothing else works, remove yourself from the difficult situation :-)

      Much love from Norway.

  • Carl

    “Don’t participate in your own mistreatment.”

    Richard, that one sentence alone is a pure nugget of philosophical gold.

  • Drakk

    Cut him out, I mean, why not? It doesn’t seem like he provides anything positive in your life. Poison is poison, even if they’re related to you.

  • Silent Service

    Dustin,

    To bolster Richard’s advice, talk to your parents about your Uncle first. Make sure that they know that his stalking you and attacking you verbally and emotionally is not tolerable. And that as such, you won’t be staying whenever he makes a stink. Tell them that you love them, but you are not obligated to tolerate abuse like this. Let them deal with his inanity for you.

    • Silent Service

      Also, keep an eye on him to make sure he isn’t going to become violent. Once his channel to abuse you dries up, there’s no telling if he will become reasonable or even more unreasonable.

  • Ogre Magi

    and people wonder why I hate christians so much

  • LarryCook

    What great advice! I’m sure I’m going to read that Dustin’s family came to his aid. Even a person who might agree with the uncle on a lot of his ideas might still be likely to be against abusing a family member in any way. And I’d bet there are other members of the family who have had their problems with this uncle too. Good luck, Dustin. Remaining calm in the face of attack drives the attacker crazy. If you can get him to see that he has no power over you at all, you win, no matter what he does, because it will drive him crazier than he already is.


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