Merry Fucking Christmas To You Too

In December of 2006 I packed up my car with a blanket, food, and presents, filled with anticipation and excitement for the holidays, and set out from my apartment in Los Angeles to make the long trip back home to Utah. I had only moved to the big city the year before, though it was my second attempt at making it here, being a small-town Utah boy with very little idea of how to get employed and settled in such a huge and complicated place as Los Angeles, having utterly failed the first time around.

The author with his mother at home for Christmas, some time ago.

The drive to Utah from Los Angeles is one of the most peaceful, scenic, and quiet drives in the country, especially after you leave Las Vegas, the vast and varied landscapes slowly ascending to a wintry clime that goes on and on for almost an entire day’s journey. I chose to drive home because I hated flying. If flying was the way it used to be, with people dressing up for the occasion, walking out onto the tarmac in their Sunday best to board a sleek, chrome, twin-prop Douglas DC-3 without being zapped by invasive radiation from security scanners or forced to disrobe because one inventive terrorist made a single, failed shoe bomb, nor subjected to the suspicion and invasion of government overreach (and ineptitude) I would love flying even though my six-foot-seven frame might fit even less well in those old seats of a pre-jet-engine airliner with even longer flight times. The romance of travel was long a part of why people traveled, but now the journey is something to be waited out and put up with, rather than relished, and so the thought of braving LAX over the long drive home filled me with too much anxiety to make the comparatively shorter flight.

But as I was ascending out of the Los Angeles basin I was suddenly overcome with a panic attack so intense I had to turn around and head back to my apartment. My current social and economic status was too eerily familiar to my last drive in this direction on I-15, defeated utterly, my heart broken and dreams shattered, and now suffering more severe mental and emotional complications from my waning health (discussed at length in my book, Fuck Portion Control), not yet enlightened to the cause of anxiety and panic attacks was literally frightened by my return to the ghost-town sight of an empty Los Angeles which occurs during these holidays, called my Father in tears to ask for help buying a flight which, given his history of withholding any kind of financial assistance, surprised me with a show of compassion and an enthusiastic purchase of last-minute airline tickets home.

My parents had absconded back to Hawaii a few years earlier, having left me alone in Utah to fend off suicidal depression in the midst of a conservative social wasteland, and I much preferred Christmas in Hawaii than returning to the place of my origin, which had contributed so painfully to my struggle for love and acceptance and which always felt like defeat on returning, even for short holidays. While many LGBT youths find chosen family to help replace those who have rejected them, this never materialized for me, and without any real friends or close bonds to fall back on my only option for love and togetherness was an attempt at reintegration with these people who considered my sexual orientation to be something despised, disparaged, or dismissed, whom while recovering from my thankfully unsuccessful suicide attempt just a few years previous had compared me to pedophiles and murderers. So the next day I swallowed my fear with the help of two Xanax and took a cab to the Long Beach airport where while waiting for my flight I downed two or three small glasses of wine, fell in love with the intimate and historical beauty of that airport, thrilled at being able to board a plane by tarmac and fulfilling some of my fantasy for yesteryear, then continued subduing my anxiety on the flight with three or four (or five) more glasses of wine brought by a bothered stewardess, and metaphorically kissed the ground when landing at Salt Lake International just a few hours later, greeted by the warm, smiling faces and open arms of my yet unmarried siblings.

Christmas in Hawaii

Gay men often cherish the Christmas Holiday even more than those religious adherents which use their faith as an excuse to discriminate and persecute us, because the holiday represents a rare time in our lives when family attempted to drop emotional abuse, and the home became filled with the scents of Christmas cookies or banana bread, besparkled with glittering decor, the incessant loop of holiday music preaching unconditional love, a holiday which made best use of our God-given talents for singing, decorating, and merrymaking. My Christmas playlist is literally ten times longer than either of my parent’s combined, and I casually switched out my auxiliary cable from my Dad’s as we made the last thirty-minute journey up the mountain to the condo they rented in Park City to slip in some Mariah Carrey, Celine Dion, Barbara, Mannheim Steamroller, Whitney Houston, or Sarah McLachlan’s new Christmas album, Wintersong inbetween austere Mormon-Tabernacle-Choir loops.

The last few years of my Parent’s lives had been as tumultuous as my own, though entirely of their own making, so I wasn’t too upset realizing on arriving in Park City that while a good attempt at decorating a tree had been successfully undertaken, no one had made an effort to honor our long-tradition of preparing my mother’s incredible Christmas Sugar Cookies, and so I took it upon myself to retrieve the ingredients and some inexpensive cookie cutters from the nearby grocery store. With my loud, incessant Christmas playlist providing the soundtrack and motivation for our festivities (and none of my siblings yet married off and distracted from being together) we undertook uproarious games of Monopoly, Uno, and Charades, and after a magically assembled traditional prime rib and Yorkshire pudding dinner (magical on account of my father conjuring it despite having to use the insufficient cookware provided by the rental), we slipped into our sleeping bags on the floor of the great room in front of the fireplace feeling that our family was going to survive the tumult of our various separations, the complications of my homosexuality, and the uncertainty of the future.

But the lights had been off no longer than five minutes, our tired eyes fast beginning the last sleep before “Santa’s” arrival, when suddenly they flashed back on, and me and my disgruntled siblings sat up to witness our unsettled Mother returning to the scene with an unquiet announcement for the necessity of a Christmas story, in her hands a folio bound in red and green felt, the cherished collection of Christmas stories which had existed in our family not the entirety of our lives but long enough now to come with some sense of nostalgia. We begrudgingly gathered around to humor our mother, though our night had been sufficiently filled with Christmas cheer and goodwill, since she appeared to be in some sort of panic at the necessity of finishing the night with something meaningful.

But where many Christmas stories begin in settings of old-world towns or with make-believe creatures and anthropomorphic animals, this particular story took place in a High School Mormon seminary class, which in all Utah schools are questionably and suspiciously located adjacent to public school property, and most students highly “encouraged” to secure excused periods from secular education in order to attend. The story said that the teacher of this particular seminary class produced a box of doughnuts for the students for no special occasion (it wasn’t even Christmas, exactly) and the students were thrilled to receive a special treat in what truly are bland and overbearing discourses on Mormon religious doctrine and history. Doughnuts sounded like a great way to segue into a Christmas tale, and I was further entranced at learning the main character was one of the varsity football players, which the text took great, almost inappropriate lengths to immortalize his athletic physique and youthful appeal, the story clearly written by someone also fantasizing about such a lad, something I had also done many times during the very same kind of classes, especially when becoming more aware of the futility of my involvement in them and their disconnect with who I was. But then the story took an unexpected turn. The teacher required that for each student to receive a doughnut the incredibly hot football star must execute ten pushups, and he would not receive a doughnut himself. The student agreed and began to do pushups each time the teacher passed out a doughnut. The story went on to tell how the other students soon felt distress at seeing their peer grow tired from his sacrifice, to the point that the girls began to cry and refuse doughnuts in order to spare their friend. But the teacher rebuked their refusal and forced each of them to take a doughnut, and the athlete to continue his pushups, until all of them had received one and the boy collapsed from utter exhaustion.

Even though I don’t believe in Jesus, or any particular theology for that matter, the idea of celebrating baby Jesus and Christmas is palatable to many gays and lesbians because Christmas is supposed to represent beginnings, hope, and the cycle of life. Before Christmas became usurped by the Catholic church the holiday was a Pagan one, our traditions of decorating a tree, exchanging gifts, even the particular date of Christmas were all aspects of a Pagan tradition which celebrated the seasons and the hope that winter eventually ends and when it does will bring forth new life, which the entire Western world would still be practicing had Christian conquerers not threatened our forebears with death if they failed to accept this new tradition, even integrating Pagan traditions so the idea of Christmas was less difficult for native populations to assimilate, because seriously — what the fuck does decorating a tree have to do with Jesus? All these traditions make Christmas accessible and inclusive, and even somewhat logical or at least contextual, thus joyful to those of us who don’t particularly believe in the core concept, and inclusive in ways which it would otherwise not. There was absolutely no Christmas angle to the hot jock doughnut story, other than a morbid allegory for the murder of Jesus, giving his life for the sins of the world. It left a bitter taste in our previously jovial Christmas Eve, a story of judgement, of guilt and shame rendered in harsh dogma by a sadistically creative storyteller. My mother shut the book and smiled as if she hadn’t just dowsed our entire Christmas spirit, nor used the opportunity of Christmas to implicitly condemn me and my absence from their ideology, destroying what would have been a badly needed season of catharsis and healing for our family, or at least for myself, with a harsh reminder that I was welcome among them only on the condition of passive acceptance of my condemnation. Very Merry Christmas indeed.

Since that year my family has demonstrated some Herculean efforts (by their standards) to make Holidays more inclusive for me, such as when my Dad began saving unopened bottles of wine from their vacation rentals for me to imbibe even though they believe that drinking is immoral, not the least concerned as I wandered around our Christmas Eve party with a mug of Cabernet disguised as hot chocolate, even participating in the proposal of marriage to me one Christmas by my ex-fiancé, all of which had begun to seriously portend a vastly improved future of real belonging and togetherness which I had yearned for all my life, even in spite of those traumatic events of Mormon persecution during Prop 8 in California or their church’s increased discrimination in response to other concessions since, such as requiring the children of gays and lesbians to officially denounce their parents if they want to join the religion.

Donald Trump, Fox News, and the collection of fear-mongering propaganda outlets have killed all of that. The political divisiveness of the past few years has caused the entitled, vengeful generation of Baby-Boomers and their prejudice machines to rediscover and recommit to their selfishness and hatred. After my ex left me when I came down with cancer I felt unguarded and stayed in Los Angeles during the Holidays, sensing the increase in rhetorical vitriol and resentment in the way my parents conducted themselves. Though I had not been home for three years, when I finally gathered the courage to make the trip again my parents treated me as a geopolitical adversary, though I had taken great strains to avoid any talk of politics and to keep my activities with them limited to cooking, family, architecture, and popular culture, their disdain for everyone who is not like them, their bitterness, their lashing out at family members even too young to understand what is happening became a breaking point. Many LGBT children must make the choice to join with family who emotionally abuse them or have none at all, but there comes a point where engaging with such people literally risks our own welfare, not even the presence of our beloved parents being worth the damage, and choosing loneliness becomes the horrifyingly more attractive option.

My family is gathered for yet another Christmas in Utah, and the thought of missing out fills me with such a great sadness I think at times I will simply break from it. But even this is less burdensome than being there with them, knowing what they do and say about me, playing with my nieces and nephews knowing someday soon they too will not invite me to their weddings, thinking it’s a totally normal thing to do, then talk about me as if I am a problem while their parents and my parents discuss my exile as if the problem is with my perception of their beliefs toward me and not the beliefs themselves. Maybe one day I will finally have a family of my own, to love and cherish, to make Christmas cookies with and sing with Mariah Carey at the top of our lungs, no stories of death and shame, or shouting and condemnation of family members, only to celebrate family and the joy of living, to enjoy food, the seasons, and love unconditional. That would be quite a day. The idea of it keeps me going even in times like this, even though I often feel pressed for time, because I love Christmas. I want to be able to listen to Christmas music again without breaking down into tears. Is that too much too ask? It often seems like it. But it is the only thing I want for Christmas.