How to make it through winter break when your family is unaccepting of your LGBTQ+ identity
By Sassafras Lowrey
The holiday season is here, and for many LGBTQ+ people that can be overwhelming and stressful. Especially in our current culture/political moment where the Department of Homeland Security has named the LGBTQ community and our events as a group at risk of potential terrorist attacks, and some states consider enacting anti-transgender legislation that will make it difficult for transgender and nonbinary people especially teens and young adults to access gender affirming healthcare. The news can be overwhelming, and if these topics are going to be brought up by homophobic/transphobic relatives many LGBTQ+ people are left dreading holiday gatherings. Having a queer strategy for navigating awkward conversations is one way to make holidays a little better this year, but it’s also important to prioritize self-care.
Enjoy Queer Holiday Culture:
An act of self-care can be to surround yourself with LGBTQ+ affirming messages and media this time of year. Spend some time reading your favorite queer books or watching your favorite LGBTQ+ movies or tv shows. If you’re wanting to get into the holiday spirit, consider loading up on queer Christmas playlists! Mary Lambert’s entire Happy HoliGAYs album is one of my favorite LGBTQ+ holiday albums. I’m also a big fan of Sir Elton John (with Ed Sheeran)’s Merry Christmas song. There are even gay Christmas playlists on Spotify you can listen to (note not all artists on that playlist are LGBTQ+ identified) if you’re looking for some fun and affirming holiday music!
This season if you’re feeling isolated, try to find ways to get connected or stay connected with the broader LGBTQ+ community. Follow your favorite LGBTQ+ artists and content creators and try to go to queer events virtually or in person so you get quality time around accepting and affirming people. Many LGBTQ+ community centers and groups host community holiday dinners, holiday drag shows, and other gatherings this time of year. These events can be a great way to get support and connect with other people who might also be feeling lonely, isolated, or struggling with homophobic/transphobic family.
The most important act of self-care you can do is to prioritize your physical and emotional safety. If you feel like seeing a specific relative for the holidays is going to be dangerous to your physical or mental welfare you don’t need to see them. Your safety comes first, and I more important than any pressure that might be put on you to make nice with relatives who are homophobic or transphobic. If you believe that visiting your relatives would be unsafe, reach out for support, create safety plans with those who support you, and make other holiday plans whenever you can to keep yourself physically and emotionally safe.
Educate, Or Not:
If you feel like you have the capacity to be your authentic self at a holiday gathering, and at the same time interrupt oppressive or incorrect language when you hear it, then that’s a wonderful thing to do. But you are not obligated to confront explicit homophobia and transphobia. Educating others and listening to and trying to correct hateful language or beliefs can take a toll and be the opposite of self-care. Some of those conversations can really help to change the hearts and minds of people who are well meaning but misinformed about LGBTQ+ people, however it is not your job to fix your family and their belief systems. If your family is open to learning, and you have the energy to educate your willingness to help them learn is commendable. However, if your family is hostile, or talking to them about your identity or their incorrect ideas about the LGBTQ+ community would be emotionally or physically harmful or upsetting for you it’s always ok not to do so as an act of self-care and self-preservation.
Set Boundaries & Take Space:
One way to prioritize self-care for yourself is to set boundaries. You can put up boundaries for what holiday gatherings you attend, how long you stay, or if you go at all. You do not owe anyone justifications or explanations about LGBTQ+ identities, including your identity with this in mind you can create boundaries about what questions you’ll answer. If you don’t want to spend the holidays with your family, and it’s physically, emotionally, and financially safe for you not to do so then make whatever decisions feel safest and most affirming for you. You can tell your family the truth about why you don’t want to spend the holiday with them, or say you’ve made plans with friends. It’s ok to set boundaries about what family members you’ll see to protect yourself, and if you do see relatives, you can set boundaries about what topics you are up for discussing if you do go to holiday gatherings.
One form of self-care that can be especially helpful is to try to have backup for any holiday events or gatherings you are attending. Do you have any allies in your family? Talk with those supporters ahead of time if you have them about how they can help support and affirm you during holiday gatherings and interrupt any homophobic or transphobic language or topics that come up. Don’t have any allies in the family, consider asking if you can bring a friend with you. Make sure that you give any friend you bring a heads up about what the gathering will be like, so that they can be prepared for what it will be like, and for how they can support you.
Make Your Own Traditions:
Part of self-care around the holidays can be figuring out what traditions matter to you and creating your own queer holiday traditions. Instead of going to your family’s holiday gatherings, or in addition to those holiday gathering considers creating your own holiGAY plans with friends and chosen family members. This is an opportunity for you to celebrate the season with people who are affirming and supportive. People make new traditions all the time — it wasn’t until 2005 that Elf on a Shelf launched, and now it’s practically a universally recognized image of the Christmas season! Spend some reflective time thinking about what your favorite parts of the holidays are, and what parts you don’t enjoy. As part of your holiday self-care try to prioritize those holiday traditions and experiences you do enjoy, while minimizing or eliminating the holiday pressures that don’t feel affirming.
About the Author:
Sassafras Lowrey’s novels and nonfiction books have been honored by organizations ranging from the American Library Association to the Lambda Literary Foundation and the Dog Writers Association of America. Sassafras’ work has appeared in The New York Times, Wired and numerous other newspapers and magazines. Sassafras has taught queer writing courses and workshops at LitReactor, the NYC Center For Fiction and at colleges, conferences, and LGBTQ youth centers across the country. www.SassafrasLowrey.com