Home for the HoliGAYS
Visiting your family for the holidays can be pretty stressful regardless of your circumstances, but for members of the LGBT+ community, ordinary family tensions can be compounded by bigotry, erasure, and hostility.
If this is your first holiday season out to your family, this especially true, so, whether you have recently begun to transition, are bringing a same sex partner home for the first time, or just need your family to understand that this is who you truly are – then here are some tips and suggestions and things to avoid to get you through this festive season.
Coming out for Christmas (Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Ramadan, Diwali, etc.)
If your family do not yet know about your gender and orientation, it may seem like the easiest solution to make an announcement when everyone is relaxed after a few glasses of wine1 , or to bite your tongue for yet another year, but below are some more workable suggestions for spreading the news to your immediate and extended family.
- Come out to as many people as possible before going home. However supportive your family might be, people quite often need time to process information that changes their perception as a person. Telling your family by telephone, text, letter or email gives them some time to do that when you are not living in each others’ pockets. It also pre-empts any criticism that you are ‘ruining the holidays’ or ‘making it all about you’.
- Your safety comes first. However much you might need to be your true self in every part of your life, please do not do anything that will put you at risk. If you are afraid that coming out has put you in danger, then please consult our list of agencies who can help you: http://pridepocket.org/do-you-need-help-right-now-resources-for-lgbtq-individuals/
- You don’t need to tell everyone at once. Or at all. Unless you are planning to invite everyone present to you and your partner’s wedding in the spring, it is sometimes best to look at your family as a series of concentric circles and to handle one at a time. Remember also that families gossip – they share news and follow each other social media. Straight and cis family may not understand the concept of “outing” someone. While this could be risk if you are predominantly closeted, it can also alleviate some of the burden coming out to large numbers of people. Think about who you need to tell and who you can reasonably expect to find out.
- Know your advocates and allies. Before coming out to family members, try to gauge their engagement with and understanding of LGBT+ issues. Be aware of who among them supports you unconditionally – come out to them first and ask for their help. They may be willing to do some of the emotional labour of educating and outing you to less tolerant family members, correcting those who misgender you, or making it clear that slurs are unacceptable.
- Sometimes being out is more important that coming out. Obviously, the most important people in our lives have some claim to being told, but after a certain degree of separation, it is unreasonable to ask LGBT+ people to explain their identities endlessly. After a point, you can just assume that people know: social media can help with things like this – posting pictures of you with your girlfriend, changing your screen name to a chosen name, sharing LGBT+ links, etc. can all communicate or clarify your identity.
Surviving the holigays…
Your family’s reaction to your sexuality or gender will vary immensely based depending upon the type of relationship you have with them, their politics, religion, age, or just character. Violent rejection is a possibility (and please see the links above, if you face this), but so is complete, immediate acceptance. Most reactions will be somewhere in the middle.
- Be prepared to take some (very) deep breaths. Your patience is likely to be taxed to its limit – either by well-meaning ignorance, deliberate micro-aggressions, or passive-aggression. Your exact family dynamic will effect the extent to which you challenge or ignore this – but this behaviour is often caused by cognitive dissonance between the person’s love for you and any homo, trans or biphobic sentiments they may hold. It unfortunately does take some time for people to come to terms with some information, and it is up to you whether you give them that time.
- Be clear about your limits and boundaries. This can be difficult to do, but no one should have to deal with threats, slurs, or insults. Neither should not be asked to present in a way that is uncomfortable to you, or to use pronouns and names that are not yours. You should not be afraid to put an ultimatum upon interacting with people who use these to you.Yes, people need time to adjust to changes – but not at the expense of your dignity or selfhood.
- Try to keep some personal space. This can be difficult when an extended family is crammed into one house and you’re sleeping on someone’s sofa, but try to take a little space every day away from your family, or at least any toxic members of it. Find a quiet corner to read. Pop on some headphones for a bit, or go for a walk.
- Know where you can vent. If you have a supportive partner or a good friend, then talk it through with them – either by message or in person. Make a running joke of it, if it helps. If not, try and look up any LGBT+ spaces in your family’s vicinity – depending how long you are ‘home’ for, an evening out can restore a lot of equilibrium. Online spaces are also great for this – most identities and orientations have positivity blogs, pages or tags. Alternatively LGBT+ message boards are great places to share your woes.
- Remember you are not obliged to keep people in your life. While your identity and relationships should be accepted without question, the reality for many LGBT+ people is far from this. Neither you nor your partners owe it to your family to face ridicule, erasure, or hostility in order to stay in touch. If they wish to remain in your life, then they need to treat you with a baseline decency. You are not a bad child, grandchild or sibling for insisting upon that.
- Have an escape plan. If this is your first holiday season around your family while being out, it might help to have the fare/petrol money in reserve to get back home if things become dangerous or unbearable. You can always write or call to explain when you are calmer.
- Finally, remember that the festive season can be tough. If you’re finding it tough, many territories have LGBT focused support organizations who offer online chat support and phone counseling:
USA – The Trevor Project www.thetrevorproject.org 1-866-488-7386
UK – Switchboard LGBT https://switchboard.lgbt/ 0300 330 0630
Australia – Qlife https://qlife.org.au 1800 184 527
New Zealand – Outline NZ http://www.outline.org.nz/ 0800 688 5463
- I’ve done this. Don’t do this.