All Over the Map | December 2015
By Liz Massey, December 2015 Issue.
As this issue of Echo goes to press, we’re literally poised on the precipice of yet another holiday season. My clan and I celebrate Christmas, and my enthusiasm for this time of year has rarely wavered. I love Christmas music to an extreme degree, possibly an over-reaction to the fact that my family only had three holiday albums to choose from when I was growing up. I also love the season’s shiny decorations and baubles, as well as the specialty foods that only get made and shared during November and December.
But I realize that as a queer person, I am lucky. The holidays are hell for many in our community. Family traditions and gatherings are a cornerstone of how Americans celebrate the season, and as many as 40 percent of all LGBT people report being rejected by their families for being gay or trans.
This season is also steeped in religious overtones, and a good chunk of our tribe has been driven out of their faith community for being openly LGBT. Even if you’ve made peace with your family and your belief system, or lack thereof, it can be hard to avoid the public accusations of dominionist Christians who insist that “Jesus is the reason for the season,” and that everyone else who doesn’t celebrate the exact way they do is ruining it for the fundamentalist minority.
That’s a lot of stress to pile upon a time of year that’s advertised to us as being “merry and bright.” Add to that all those extra parties, family gatherings, concerts and gift markets, and
you have a monumental time
A lot of LGBT people cope with the stress of the holidays by being a bit “bah-humbug” and pooh-poohing public displays of holiday cheer. Even if my own holiday backstory were less cheery than it is, I don’t think I would take this route to combatting the darker side of the winter holidays, for several reasons:
1. It requires you to isolate yourself and it alienates others. Unless your entire friendship circle shares your views, your Scrooge act is going to negatively impact your popularity.
2. It’s like holding back the ocean. I can definitely appreciate how difficult and marginalizing it is if your faith (or secularity) isn’t represented in the typical winter holiday pantheon. But pretending Christmas doesn’t exist in America is like trying not to breathe seawater under the Pacific.
3. It’s a non-action. Holiday grumpiness is a reaction, not an action. It’s always easier for me to move in a direction I want, instead of fleeing what I don’t want.
So what can an honest LGBT person do, if the holidays are a challenge? I’ve always found that it works best for me to go into this season with a plan, and a purpose. Good self-care during the winter holidays can include …
• Committing to reinterpret tradition and ritual. You don’t have to celebrate the way your family or culture always has if that doesn’t work for you. Use your creativity. And make sure you throw in lots of tinsel!
• Focusing on holiday elements that resonate for you. As I mentioned earlier, I love Christmas music, food and decorations, as well as the season’s goal of radical hospitality and generosity. So that’s what I pay attention to.
• Communing with like-minded people. Find or convene a gathering of people who are in the same boat as you are – non-believers, those estranged from their family, people who live far from their hometown, whatever. Have fun in a place with no judgment and lots of support.
• SLOWING DOWN!You can do anything you want this season, just not everything. Be a discerning reveler.
• Live love. Most religious traditions have a message of unconditional love embedded somewhere in their gospel. Practicing this in your everyday life, especially at this time of year, gives you a choice about how you experience the season, and connects you to the mainstream culture in a way that respects your individuality.
I take a lot of my direction for how to cope successfully with the holidays from “Mister” Fred Rogers, the late public television children’s show host. He said, “I like to compare the holiday season with the way a child listens to a favorite story. The pleasure is in the familiar way the story begins, the anticipation of familiar turns it takes, the familiar moments of suspense and the familiar climax and ending.”
No matter how hard other holidays may have been for us, we can rework this season of celebration into a story that combines the best of our past and incorporates the best of what’s in front of us right now.