That time of year is approaching once again. Tis' the season for social obligation, and my cousin has already started in about Thanksgiving via text messages. This year has brought a bit of a twist in that she asked me to bring my new partner...

I'm not opposed to spending time with my family, most of them are good people, most were supportive when I came out. But I'm very hesitant to introduce my partner to my extended family in the context of a very large Thanksgiving dinner with 30-50 people in attendance.

My partner and I are both pansexual, and she is transgender. She's a very strong person and is accustomed to the usual nonsense of dealing with folks who are, well, not as polite and considerate as they could/should be when it comes to trans issues. I know she can deal, but I don't feel comfortable putting her in that situation, with that many of my tone deaf family members, for an extended period of time.

I'd like to be honest about why I may not be there, but I don't want to be cold or come across as being disinterested in being apart of the family. I know my cousin is accepting and means well, but I know some of my other family members are not and don't.

I've already hinted at being hesitant to go with my cousin, she seems to understand my hesitation, but she tends to be the pushy sort. She's sort of adopted the matriarch role for my generation of the family, so she tends to be the organizer of family functions and the mama-bear who sees to it that people show up and bring a dish. I'm admittedly worried about alienating myself from the family members who "get it" in my effort to avoid conflict with those that don't.

I'd likely only need to respond to my cousin's invite. As the organizer she tends to disseminate information through the ranks.

I've already talked to my partner about the invitation. She's not opposed to going, as I mentioned, she's tough and knows how to deal with abrasive people (she is dating me after all), but she also understands that it will likely be a bit much.

How does one tactfully decline an invitation in this case?

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    It might be best to explain exactly who you are expected to tell and how (e.g. Just this one cousin over text? Or should you be explaining why to all of your close relatives in person? Or everyone in the one text chain?) We don't know your family expectations and the less assumptions the better. – Jesse Oct 24 at 3:14

First, be sure you want to decline the invitation

You're asking about how to decline the invitation - I'm not sure there is no middle ground where you can attend and the event can be altered in a way where you feel safe and comfortable.

Just because you or your partner have thick skin doesn't mean you have to put up with insensitive or intolerant behaviour. It is your holiday and family time too and you want to attend it in terms you also enjoy.

Just because your partner is transgender and is used to bigotry does not mean she or you should put up with bigotry in a family setting.

The fact you said most of your family was supportive indicates that some were not so supportive. I would consider talking to your cousin directly about it and trying to find a way for you can attend the event and not be judged or attacked.

Then, be direct and honest with your cousin.

The fact you understand and choose to be honest is great. It indicates to me you want to have a meaningful and real relationship with your cousin. I think it's a really good judgment call on your behalf.

Hey cousin. I really appreciate how you're trying to get everyone together for Thanksgiving. I also really appreciate the fact you are making an effort to accept my partner into the family and are inviting her to a family gathering. I am not comfortable with my partner in such a setting yet.

It is important for me to explain that this is a me issue and not a you issue. I love our family and I enjoy spending time with you but this sort of gathering is very stressful for me and may negatively impact my wellbeing. I hope I am in a position to attend next year (but no promises).

Then, only if you are interested follow up with your cousin.

I would love to be able to ease into this and gradually introduce PARTNER into the family. This is challenging for me but I really want us to be an active part of the family. Would you be open to sitting down with me and thinking about this? I want to have a discussion about what the challenges are.

Then - sit down (buy your cousin a coffee maybe?) and talk to her about why this is challenging. Acknowledge together that you are struggling with a real issue of acceptance and think together about how you and your partner can feel safe in this setting and feel accepted.

You don't need to solve this or figure this out all at once - I'd focus on opening a dialog and letting your cousin in and then gradually letting other people in.

The fact you don't want to introduce your partner to 50 family members is very understandable in my opinion and it sounds like a very stressful and tough situation even if all your family members were accepting and non-judgmental. Work with your partner and your cousin (if she is willing) on improving this situation.

I would also involve your partner in your concerns and fears about the situation and share your emotions and doubts with her. One of the benefits of being in a relationship is to have that someone you can talk to about these things :)

It's very understandable you feel this way and it's great you are willing to be honest with your cousin.

If it were me, I would emphasize the fact that the sheer numbers at the gathering make you and your partner feel overwhelmed. And then you might trying to make arrangements to meet with family members on an individual or small group basis.

Ask for your cousin's help. Maybe she can arrange several smaller get-togethers during the season and invite your and your partner to those. If she keeps track of the family, she will know which people not to pair you up with. Your stated goal might be to allow your partner to get comfortable with enough of the family so that she can be able to show up to the bigger events and not be presented with a bunch of strangers who she would be expected to socialize with.

This would accomplish several things.

1) It would allow your partner to become more comfortable with mingling with your family. It is much easier to become intimate and comfortable with people in a small group setting than a large group. In large groups it is easy to observe without mingling or meeting, and that can lead to misinterpretations, gossip and speculations without any real basis. In a small group setting you are much more likely to interact with the person(s) in question, and therefore to create a relationship with them.

2) It would gain your cousin's help in integrating your partner with the family. It sounds like she has a lot of influence in the family, and her championship will be a powerful factor in shaping your family's attitude toward your partner. The fact that she loves to arrange your get-togethers and makes herself responsible for them tells me that she is a person who likes control. People who like control love to be asked to help. Ask for her help with your stated goal, that of making your partner and your family comfortable with each other. It's a win-win.

3) It would demonstrate to your family that your unusual partner is not a threat to their relationships with you. I have seen many times that when a person chooses to have an intimate relationship with a person who is not, for whatever reason, approved of by the family, it causes them to avoid the family. The family then blames the partner (ever since he started going out with her he has been avoiding us, she doesn't approve of us and she's trying to separate him from us...). Eventually this gets back to the person, who has all the more reason to avoid family. Each side's attitudes just feed the estrangement. If you can stomp that fire out before it begins, you will have done yourselves a favor.

4) It would allow you to share the partner that you love with the family that you love. Your family is part of your history, part of you. Of course you want to share this part of yourself with your partner. Once you have had a sit-down meeting with someone, it opens the door for more of the same. Getting in a habit of meeting with family strengthens the support network that you two will need.

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    Hey, thanks for the answer! Can you please explain exactly why you think that this is a good idea? What’s the thought process behind this answer? As this currently stands, this is essentially a “Try this!” answer. We require that answers provide some sort of explanation for why they are suggesting this solution, and unfortunately, at the moment this answer doesn't appear to do that. I'd also advise taking a look at How do I write a good answer?. – Arwen Undómiel Oct 26 at 13:53
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    @Arwen Undomiel, I have expanded on what I think this idea will accomplish and why. Is this explanation sufficient or do I need more? – Francine DeGrood Taylor Oct 26 at 16:49

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