I’m bisexual and genderqueer, and I live with my long-term partner, also genderqueer. I have a very uncomfortable relationship with my mother due to her alcoholism and drug abuse and the fact that she stole my identity to open credit cards before I turned 18. She also waged a hate-mail campaign against me when I came out and brought a lot of abusive men into my life growing up. I now live in another country and limit our contact to phone calls on birthdays and holidays. She recently moved, and during one of our holiday calls, mentioned that she’d found a box full of letters, poems, and pictures from my first high-school boyfriend.
This boyfriend was verbally and physically abusive. He raped me, threatened to commit suicide to keep me from breaking up with him, and forbade me to come out as bisexual. I have told my mother this before. Because he was the only straight, cis man I ever dated, she idealizes him. She announced a plan to set up a place in her office where she would display these items, which made me feel sick to my stomach. I told my mother to burn them and reiterated how violent he had been. She started shrieking, “You’re LYING, he LOVED YOU” over and over again.
My mother refuses to acknowledge my current partner. She has done the same with every other woman and queer person I have dated. But I had no idea she was obsessed enough with my first (and last) boyfriend to build a shrine. I consider this the last straw and now wish to cut off all contact. I know that if I do, it will trigger a campaign similar to the one I received when I first came out, where I can expect hate mail and endless harassment, and so can my boss and my friends. Do you have any advice for beginning the process of estrangement in a way that is safe and preserves my well-being, as well of that of anyone my mother might target? The upside of COVID is that with the border closed to American travelers, she cannot show up in person to threaten me, but how do I handle the rest?
—A Shrine Too Far