Dear Prudence

I’m Undocumented. My Future In-Laws Keep Asking About My Immigration Status.

I’m scared they’ll think I’m taking advantage of my partner for a visa.

Torso of man and woman in wedding attire
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Rachael Crowe on Unsplash.

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Dear Prudence,

How and when should I come clean about my immigration status to my future in-laws? When I met my significant other, I told them I was undocumented early on, because I saw a future together but couldn’t do a lot of things (like international travel) due to my legal status. My partner was very understanding and supportive, and we’ve now been together for five years. I’ve never told their family, in part for fear of discrimination against myself, but also because my family is undocumented too. I’ve been able to dodge questions but on one occasion was painted into a corner: We were all at a restaurant together, and the discussion turned to immigration. One relative started asking me if I “had [my] papers.” I panicked and said I did before changing the subject.

Now we want to get married, and I’m terrified about breaking the news to my partner’s family. I’m honestly scared they’ll think I’m taking advantage of my partner for a visa when I dearly love them. Should we tell them before the marriage? My partner wants to keep them in the dark forever since they’re worried about my anxiety, but I’m worried that it’ll only backfire on us when they eventually find out.

—Scared of In-Laws

I’m very much on your partner’s side here. You have real reason to believe that your partner’s relatives view immigrants with suspicion and hostility and might very well exploit your documentation status to harm you and your own family members. Your potential in-laws do not need to know the date of your next visa application. Please do not expose yourself or your family to any unnecessary risk.

There is also a broader question here of how you and your partner can best protect yourselves within their family, and I’d encourage the two of you to have serious, in-depth conversations about your values, priorities, and goals on that front as you move toward marriage. (You may find this analysis of various terms such as undocumented from the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project useful.) You are not proposing keeping your in-laws “in the dark” about information they’re entitled to or that would change the way they lead their own lives. Instead, you’re attempting to navigate a byzantine, often xenophobic system of certifying your right to continue to live and work in your own home. I wish you nothing but the best and hope your wedding day is lovely.

Dear Prudence,

I work in a big city with a relatively high cost of living. I work at a nonprofit that I feel very strongly about and am happy to have gotten away from the small town where I was often harassed for being gender-nonconforming. However, the grind of living paycheck to paycheck (even when saving often and spending frugally) is wearing me down. I was recently approved to be an egg donor from a very reputable agency and could make $10,000. But I worry about my siblings. No one in my family has ever done anything like this, and I can only imagine the judgment and prying questions I’d face if it ever came to light. My partner knows my plans and is supportive. If we ever have children in the future, I’d obviously share my status as a donor when they’re old enough to understand. But do I need to tell my own siblings? I know they’d be horrified if they found out years later via one of those genetic sequencing companies. But the idea of just keeping it to myself seems vastly easier at this point in my life—especially when I already face so much judgment from them for being gender-nonconforming. What should I do?

—Egg Donor Loner

Certainly you have the right to keep medical information private from your siblings, for the rest of your life, if you want to. Even if they were to learn from someone else, years down the line, you’d have the right to decline to answer prying questions. It is worth weighing that possibility of later discovery as you make this decision, especially since whatever money you make as an egg donor will be a one-off and not a reliable source of future income. There are also health risks associated with egg donation. I don’t mention that to discourage you from pursuing it, but part of the reason egg donors are compensated as they are is because of the risks they run and the challenges they face. That’s hard-earned money, and if you don’t feel like the agency in question is offering a sober, serious account of what will be expected of you, I hope you’ll give yourself permission to walk away.

But I’m not here to discourage you from making up your own mind. If you decide to donate your eggs, and you feel prepared to deal with the possibility that someday your siblings may learn you’re biologically related to children in other families, then by all means do so. As long as you feel comfortable with this decision, you don’t have to justify it to anyone else.

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Dear Prudence,

I’m in my second month of social distancing in NYC, and it’s going OK, even though I haven’t seen anyone but my roommate in weeks. We’re both women in our late 20s and have become a pseudo–family unit, making dinner together, sharing shopping responsibilities, and juggling household expenses together. Given that we met randomly back in the fall and were never especially close, I think it’s going pretty successfully. My sexuality never came up before we entered “lockdown” and became friends. I’m bisexual, although people usually assume I’m straight upon meeting me. Back when we could still have overnight guests, she only met the guys I brought home, never the girls (this was due to random chance, not avoidance), and I hadn’t disclosed my sexuality to her because we didn’t speak often. Now that we’re actually friends, I want to come out. How do I do this? Especially considering she’s more open with her body than she might be if she knew my sexuality—I don’t want her misunderstanding casual nipple talk or chatting in the doorway on the way to the shower in a towel. But we’re close enough friends now that I want her to know this important part of me. I also wonder if I should’ve been upfront from the beginning, but (as we were strangers) it seemed irrelevant. Do you have a script for me?

—Nervous Roommates

Please don’t fault yourself for not coming out sooner to a roommate you barely knew, or feel guilty for having friendly, platonic conversations with a woman freshly out of the shower just because you’re bisexual. There’s nothing inherently sexual about sharing a bathroom or discussing nipple hairs, and you didn’t “owe” your (presumably) straight roommate information about your bisexuality before you moved in together. This sentence of yours in particular—“She’s more open with her body than she might be if she knew my sexuality”—gives me pause, because the implication there is that it would be obvious, natural, and normal for her to treat you as if you were deeply in lust with her and trying to take advantage of your relationship as roommates to try to sneak a peek at her naked body, just because she found out you were bisexual. I don’t believe that it would be, and I hope you can be a little easier on yourself.

You can be as casual as you like about coming out to your roommate or as formal—the choice is entirely yours. You can offhandedly mention an ex-girlfriend or talk about a time that you came out to someone else or append an unrelated anecdote: “I remember this one time, right after I came out as bisexual but before I moved to Chicago … ” Whatever you like. You don’t need a script to account for why you didn’t come out to her sooner, because the answer there is simply that you didn’t have to and you didn’t know her very well. I hope it goes well (I’m sure it will) and that you two continue on as excellent co–household managers.

Help! A Former Friend Is Lying to Solicit Money for Her Nonprofit.

Danny M. Lavery is joined by Jack Doyle on this week’s episode of the Dear Prudence podcast.

Subscribe to the Dear Prudence Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Dear Prudence,

I have been fat all of my adult life. I finally decided to stop dieting, as the cycle of losing and regaining weight over and over wreaks havoc on my body. I am working hard to lose the decades of deep shame about my body. Recently I have experienced so many incidences of straight-size/thin people talking to me about their fears of gaining weight during “lockdown.” Some friends, some neighbors out on a walk—it’s always a bit of a shock to me when this happens. Do they somehow not notice I am fat? Do they think that because I’m fat, I’m especially concerned about their weight? Are they just clueless?

I can never come up with a good response because I am always so surprised. What can I say the next time this happens? I don’t want to go nuclear on anyone, just gently encourage them to shift their perspective. I also hope that if any of your thin readers feel the need to talk about their fears around gaining weight, they don’t choose their fat friends and neighbors for that conversation.

—Unwelcome Weight Loss Talk

I can think of a few ways to respond that balance challenge with kindness:

“I’m sorry you’re worried about your weight. I hope you can find someone else to talk to about this.”

“I’m sorry you’re worried about your weight. It’s taken me a long time to treat my own body with kindness and not try to punish myself for being fat, so I’m afraid I’m not available to discuss this sort of thing with you.”

“I’m not quite sure how to respond to that. I wonder if you consciously intended to share your fear of fat with a fat person. I’d rather you didn’t.”

I do hope you’ll give yourself permission to use the first, blandest, and least-person example, especially in conversations with neighbors or acquaintances you aren’t especially close with. You can politely extricate yourself from a too personal conversation without having to share private information about your own body image issues (unless you feel up to it). But if you’re feeling particularly tired or self-conscious and don’t want to discuss a decadeslong struggle toward self-acceptance, you can simply indicate your lack of interest and change the subject.

Dear Prudence Uncensored

“I would not ask a dog if he had his papers—and not just because dogs cannot talk.”
Danny Lavery and Nicole Cliffe discuss a letter in this week’s Dear Prudence Uncensored—only for Slate Plus members.

Dear Prudence,

I’ve been in therapy on and off my entire life. I mostly like my current therapist, and we’ve had a great relationship, but it might be time to start searching again. In the last few months, I’ve considered whether I might be nonbinary, and I don’t feel comfortable bringing it up with her. My partner is nonbinary, and while my therapist has been supportive and worked to understand what that means, she clearly still struggles with it. It’s been a year, and she cannot get their pronouns right consistently. This hasn’t been a huge problem, since we don’t spend most of our sessions discussing my partner, but it makes the idea of bringing up my own possibly nonbinary identity seem fraught. I’ve previously wondered if her straightness and lack of familiarity with queerness was an issue. I know I can be avoidant, which is part of why I go to therapy, but I’m not sure what I’m avoiding here. Is it time to break up with my therapist?

—Weighing My Options

If it weren’t for your own questioning, I’d recommend bringing these concerns up with your therapist so you two could experience some (professional, respectful, low-key) conflict together, since there’s real value in discussing difficult things with one’s therapist, particularly difficult things that relate directly to the shared therapeutic environment. But if you’re interested in puzzling through matters relating to gender identity on an ongoing basis, I can see why you’d prefer to seek someone out with relevant expertise, rather than having to explain something you’re just starting to understand yourself to someone relatively unfamiliar with something as fundamental as gender-neutral pronouns. That makes a great deal of sense to me, and I don’t think you’d necessarily benefit from staying in this relationship just because it would be more challenging. There can be a tendency to want to overcorrect if you know yourself to be avoidant, but that doesn’t mean you should try to force a dynamic that doesn’t fit.

You may want to keep seeing your current therapist until you’ve found someone with experiencing working with trans and nonbinary patients, or you may decide to wrap things up first before starting the search—either one is fine. Therapists end relationships with their patients all the time and know how to handle it professionally. What may feel like a big deal to you is commonplace for them. Think of it this way: If your therapist has been practicing for 10 years and sees 20 patients a week, she’s likely been through dozens, if not hundreds, of “final sessions,” or client breakups, or cessation of services, or whatever you’d like to call it. Just let her know when your final meeting is going to be, pay her on time, and thank her for all of her help.

Dear Prudence,

The past months have been tough, but unexpectedly enlightening, in that the time alone with my thoughts has made me finally realize I want to transition after a long period of uncertainty. I would like my co-workers and friends to start using my new pronouns. However, I’m unsure how to do that when I can’t have casual, one-on-one conversations at the office watercooler. I don’t want to make an announcement on social media for a few reasons, and I haven’t seen anyone but my partner in weeks, so it’s not like I can convene a group dinner either. I thought about scheduling a few Zoom calls, but I really don’t want to have a lot of follow-up conversations right now. What’s the best way to share my new pronouns in a casual, low-stakes environment when all my socializing is now via Zoom?

—Transitioning and Distancing

That’s the real downside to sharing even exciting news over the phone or via video chat—you might start out excited for the first call, but even if everything’s going swimmingly, it’s hard to stay engaged after the seventh or eighth time. With friends, I think either sending out a group email (BCC-ing everyone so they don’t all get caught in a reply-all chain for days) or copy-pasting a text script (while using everyone’s individual name and a personalized opener) is the way to go. You can tell them what you told me: that you’ve been considering transition for a while and time spent alone has provided you with clarity, that you’re going to start using new pronouns, and that you’d like them to join you in doing so. You can also talk about how you’re feeling, or what you’re excited about, or whatever other personal details you’re interested in sharing at present, if you want. You can add something like “I realize this isn’t the ideal way to have this conversation, and I’d much rather talk in person, but times being what they are, I think this is the best way to update everyone” and thank them for bearing with you. When it comes to your co-workers, keep things relatively brief: All they need to know is that you’ll be going by a new set of pronouns at work. (And congratulations!)

Classic Prudie

After several years together, my fiancé and I are finally getting married. A simple beach wedding is set for early spring. The trouble is, my mother is disappointed that we are not making a big deal of finally saying “I do.” Her most recent complaint is our lack of engagement pictures (or any pictures at all). She bought us picture frames and a gift certificate to be photographed so that we would not have any more excuses. What she doesn’t acknowledge is that my fiancé and I look terrible together. Separately, we are fine. However, while I love my fiancé with all my heart, our features just don’t complement each other. I am almost certain that I will despise any formal pictures of us. Instead of letting the gift certificate go to waste, I was planning on having pictures taken of just our kids. But I fear that my fiancé will think that I am ashamed of him. How do I tell my husband-to-be that pictures of us are just not for me?