Ask Dr. Gramma Karen: Grandson Thinks His Grandmother May Be Gay


I never thought I would ever be writing to someone like you for advice, but my girlfriend’s mother suggested I contact you because she wasn’t sure how to advise me. Here’s my situation.

I am a college sophomore. I grew up in a great two-parent household with two younger siblings. One set of my grandparents lives far away and we spend time with them only occasionally. My other grandparents, Nana and Poppa, live a couple of streets over and I have always been really close to them. They are like my second parents.

Here’s what happened: A couple of days ago as I was taking the crosstown bus to class, I looked out the window and saw my Nana walking on the sidewalk with one of her longtime friends, Mora. They were holding hands and kissing as they walked along, and I mean like really kissing. I was shocked. I always thought my Nana and Grandpa had a great marriage. I am sure he would be shocked, too, if he saw what I saw. I am sure my Nana is gay.

So I am not sure whether I should tell my parents, or Grandpa, or just Nana, or all of them together. What do you think?

When you say, “I am not sure whether I should tell my parents, or Grandpa, or just Nana, or all of them together,” it sounds like you have already decided that you are going to discuss your conclusions about your grandmother’s sexual preferences with various family members. It seems like the issue for you is simply to decide whether you tell them individually, or as a group. However, before you say anything to anyone, I would urge you to think about a few things.

You have made some assumptions: (1) You assume your grandmother is bisexual or gay; (2) You assume your grandmother is being secretive; (3) You assume your grandfather, as well as your parents, need to be informed by you of what you saw and what you have surmised. I think you will agree that these are all assumptions on your part. But here’s the thing about assumptions . . .

As author Miguel Angel Ruiz points out, “ . . . The problem with making assumptions is that we believe they are truth. We make assumptions about what others are doing or thinking . . . That is why whenever we make assumptions, we’re asking for problems . . . we end up creating a whole big drama . . . ”. And in your case, I point out that you are thinking about creating a whole big drama that isn’t yours to create. Let me explain.

You assume that your grandfather doesn’t know what you think you know about your grandmother, and that he would want to know. It may be, in fact, that: your grandfather knows or intuits, but has decided not to discuss this with his wife; your grandparents may have accommodated various needs in their relationship that are different than what is typical in a marriage. The point is you don’t know, and you don’t need to know. This is between them. It is none of your business.

Even in this tell-all, share-all digital age, the fact that you know something about someone, or think you know something, does not automatically give you license to share it with others. (Unless, of course, laws are being broken and people’s health and safety are at risk, which is not the case with your grandparents.) For those situations that are none of your business – and I think this is an example – the mature, honorable, and respectful thing to do is to keep one’s own counsel, that is, maintain a discrete silence. In fact, there are examples where such a silence is professionally and ethically required, e.g., lawyers, doctors, the clergy.

The issue you present is really about respecting people’s privacy. This is about giving people personal space to live their lives. This is about being clear about your responsibilities and obligations to share personal information about someone that you serendipitously come across. I suggest you think long and hard about why you feel a need to share private and personal information about your grandmother with anyone, assuming it’s even accurate. If your grandmother is bisexual / gay, she would tell you herself, if she wanted you to know this about her.

Here are some critical questions I suggest you ponder:

  • What are the benefits of you sharing your suspicions about your grandmother?
  • Who is hurt or jeopardized by your remaining silent?

Keeping your counsel is not deception. It is a reminder that people construct boundaries in their relationships, and what they share about themselves is one of them. You may not like those boundaries, but you do have to accept them if you want to maintain a relationship. It is not your responsibility to “go public” with someone’s private and personal information – information that is not illegal, or putting anyone at risk.

You describe your grandmother in glowing terms, and if I may use this metaphor, she is a diamond, and diamonds have facets. As such, there may be facets to her that may confuse you or make you uncomfortable, but you need to accept that these are facets that she may or may not choose to share with you. She is still a diamond.

How fortunate for you to have a grandmother who is “like a second mother.” I suggest you simply treasure her.

 Ask Dr. Gramma Karen is published every other Tuesday.

E-mail queries to [email protected]

Karen L. Rancourt‘s most recent book is,
Ask Dr. Gramma Karen: Helping Young Parents and Grandparents Deal with Thorny Issues.

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