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How do I get my sister to stop making gaydar jokes?

Q: Okay, so. I've been dating my boyfriend long-distance for almost a year (since last August). We've met multiple times, but he's only ever met my friends, not my family. They don't know he's trans (nor do I plan to tell them. They're not hostile or anything, but it shouldn't matter, and it's not my place nor any of my business to tell anyone).

He's coming to visit in a couple of weeks, and I'm very excited, as I know my family will love him, but I'm kind of nervous about my sister. She's in high school, she's bisexual and genderqueer, and she's going through kind of a constantly joking phase, I guess? Like, I have a cousin who isn't out to anyone but me and one other cousin. My sister loves to poke fun at him and tell him 'the closet is glass,' no matter how often I tell her to shut up. I don't know how to tell her that people's journeys with their identities are not her business.

How do I tell her to stop without inadvertently outing anyone else (my cousin, my bf, etc. I'm willing to come out myself if that's what it takes for her to take my input seriously)? I'm thinking of sitting her down and just asking nicely, like over lunch or something. I don't want to make her feel like I'm scolding her (I'm only a couple years older), but I want to get my point across.

S: First, it's possible that we're not fully understanding what you're asking, so here's what the situation sounds like to me; please let us know if this isn't accurate. Your sister has a habit of "joking" about people's identities, sometimes in ways that suggest other people can tell they're queer even if they don't want that. I'm not sure whether this is only with people she knows to be queer, but it's harmful either way. You're concerned that she'll say things like this to or about your boyfriend, which could out him to your family or at the very least make him uncomfortable.

How to approach this effectively depends a lot on your relationship with your sister and what she responds to from you, so I can't tell you for sure what might work. That said, I do think your plan of asking directly and kindly is probably the best/only option. I can't tell whether you've actually told her why her comments aren't okay, but if not (or even if so), that's what you'll need to lay out since she apparently doesn't understand the potential for harm. (I will say that a sibling telling you to shut up is so normal for a lot of people that unless you've explained why, that likely had zero impact.) And this kind of thing is harmful--outing people is an awful thing to do, and it sounds like she's saying things that could have that effect. Even if not, she's making people worry about being outed, either directly by her or because somehow their identity is more obvious than they want it to be. That's pretty horrible. It's possible she doesn't realize any of this, and it sounds like you haven't discussed it any more than telling her to stop without any explanation, so start by talking to her as an equal about your concerns. You may find that she's very willing to listen and engage on the topic; some people who talk like this just haven't had enough experiences or interactions with different people to realize that their level of openness isn't comfortable or safe for everyone, and learning that is enough to get through.

There's definitely a big-picture conversation to be had here, but you may get a better response if you frame it specifically about the upcoming visit. By mentioning the sort of things she's said in the past and explicitly asking her not to do anything like that when talking to or about your boyfriend, you're more likely to get a positive response--it would be really shitty of someone to refuse to respect that request, though she still might. If that leads to a broader discussion about why saying this sort of stuff hurts people, great! But your goal right now is protecting your boyfriend, so focus on that. This doesn't have to (and shouldn't) be framed as scolding her, and you should go into it as a dialogue since just telling her not to do something probably won't make much difference. That explanation doesn't mean outing your boyfriend, or you if you don't want to--you can just ask that she not make any comments or speculation about his identity, since that's both extraordinarily rude and potentially harmful. If she pushes for information about the specific people involved, you can use that as an example of exactly what you're asking her not to do. Divert the conversation to hypothetical examples to demonstrate the risk of harm or discomfort.

The other thing you should do is let your boyfriend know what to possibly expect. In any situation where someone is going be interacting with people who might make them uncomfortable or put them at risk, transparency is essential. Tell your boyfriend the kind of things your sister says, let him know your concerns, and ask if there is anything he would like you to do while he's around your family or in preparation for the meeting. If nothing else, that will give him forewarning to think about how he wants to respond so it's not a nasty surprise if your sister does say something. Maybe he'll tell you that he doesn't care and is fine being outed or is already open about his identity (that wouldn't make your sister's uninvited comments okay, but it would mean that in this situation there's minimal actual harm). Maybe he'll decide that he's not comfortable going into that situation at all, which you'll need to respect. A lot of people will land somewhere in between--the risk of someone making unwelcome comments about their identity will be unpleasant, but not a dealbreaker in meeting the family.

So you basically need to talk to everyone involved with transparency (not about people's identities, but about the behavior, its impact, and what you're asking for to your sister, and what he can expect to your boyfriend). You can't control anyone's behavior or reactions, but you can lay out the information they need in order to understand the situation and decide what to do accordingly.

K: Agreed that the approach should be kinda casual and kind and not feel like she's being scolded. Beyond that, I agree that it does depend a lot on your sister and your relationship with your sister. I also agree that, even if you've done this before, you need to explain to her how it is harmful even if the person is in an environment where it is safe to be out. People should get to choose where, when, and how they come out. Your sister doesn't get to choose for them. Additionally, she's making them coming out more difficult, because she's making it a joke. People come out when they feel ready, and part of that is tied to safety. Right now your sister is making it where if they do come out, they can just expect even more jokes in response. If she wants the cousin to feel safe coming out, she's not helping that happen. If she isn't interested in that, then she's just kinda bullying a family member, whether or not she realizes that. This almost feels like when parents do the "look who finally decided to join us" thing when their teenage kids leave their room to come hang out with the rest of the family. It might not be the intent, but the result is that they're punishing the behavior they want to see by making the target of the comment uncomfortable. Whenever your cousin seemingly does or says something that hints at their identity, your sister is there making a joke about it. This likely makes your cousin police their own mannerisms, comments, behavior, etc. whenever they're around your sister, and potentially even the rest of the family. If you discuss your cousin specifically at all, be clear that neither of you actually know how they identify, but that her behavior is harmful regardless. I agree that your boyfriend should be made aware of this habit of hers. I suggest you discuss where and how you both interact with her when he visits, based on his comfort levels. Maybe he doesn't meet your sister this time. Maybe you both meet with your sister, but only away from the rest of your family. Whatever your boyfriend is comfortable with. I agree you should not out your boyfriend to your sister, or even hint at anything with your boyfriend unless he suggests that. Personally, I would not bring your boyfriend into the conversation with your sister at all unless he tells you to, because asking her not to speculate or do that to him could just call attention to there being something to notice.

Overall, I'd start with talking to your boyfriend to inform him of this behavior of your sisters and that you plan to address it. Decide on a plan of action together around his visit and any information about him/you both that you do or don't share. Then, talk to your sister. Report back to your boyfriend on how it goes (since that might have bearing on how or if he spends time with her on the visit). Keep in mind that it might take more than one conversation before your sister really gets it. Additionally, if you haven't already, I'd talk to your cousin at some point about how you can support them when your sister does that.

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