Ho, Ho, Home for the Holidays?
It’s that holly jolly Christmas time of year again. Unfortunately, the expression does not apply to all of us during what is to be a season of joy, friends, family, and merriment. For some the holidays read more like the tale of Scrooge … minus the happy ending.
This year I was able to hop a plane and spend two weeks back home in Nebraska over Thanksgiving, welcomed in the embrace of my, sometimes, ridiculously loving family, awaiting friends, and even an old flame.
How I couldn’t wait to see my mom’s friends who were regular attendees every holiday meal. It hadn’t even crossed my mind how those unrelated came to celebrate our intimate family holiday meals. They lacked local family to spend the holiday with, and it was best for their spirits to be part of ours. After all, they practically are family.
I realized I had carried the tradition down to Tennessee with me. I commonly have an open holiday meal for friends, ensuring we all are surrounded by love on days when we all should be.
I think back to the first holiday after I came out, and the terrifying thought of facing a primarily Catholic family during sacred religious traditions. It scared the heck out of me, but I was fortunate enough to be surprised by my family’s overall acceptance.
As ages pass, more and more spectrums of the “rainbow,” begin to feel comfortable in coming out, regardless of the implications this may have on their family and social relationships, not to mention the possible psychological affect this may have during this already stressful time of year.
RJ Robles is the Program Leader for the Trans Buddy Program, an organization sponsored by Vanderbilt Medical Center that provides support for emotional support to transgender patients during healthcare visits.
Robles recalls their first holiday season out as gender-queer about 7 years ago: “I could feel the uncomfortabl[eness] with my parents with the way I dress, so they tolerate my gender expression. Obviously because it’s the holidays they have been able to see past just the clothes I wear.”
While this is the feeling amongst most of the family, Robles brother that is gay himself but is still coming to terms with his sexuality is unable to engage in conversation about his brother’s sexual identity. This not stemming specifically from RJ’s trans queerness: rather, it has always been an issue between them.
Robles offers words of wisdom to those facing similar situations this year: “I would remind trans folks that we are beautiful just the way we are, and that we are fierce. Whether or not we have families that understand our gender identities, we hold onto the community for support.”
I also spoke to 22-year-old Erik (anonymous), whom has always known himself to be pansexual, even if he didn’t fully understand it. Pansexuals are attracted to sexual partners on a “case-by-case” basis—as Erik describes it, “I just love people, whether it’s a girl or a guy, as long as they’re the right person.”
Erik feels like the black sheep of the family, and therefore doesn’t spend much of the holiday surrounded by his family. Rather, he chooses to just dine and dash.
This is definitely not uncommon for many during the holidays for those in his situation.
The holiday season can be particularly difficult for those not fully out, like Kenny (anonymous). Expectations around dating and masculinity can create a tense situation.
“It is kind of awkward in conversation,” he explained, “for example watching football games and my lack of a girlfriend, especially with pressures to be in a committed relationship.” Rather, Kenny brings his self-proclaimed best friend to nuclear family gatherings.
“I don’t want to feel singled out and having attention drawn on me.” He added that he “doesn’t want to become a focus of conversation at Christmas dinner.”
He encourages those who share his circumstances to, “Try to always stay positive, and don’t always assume your family will have a negative response.”
The holidays are probably most difficult of all for those who face rejection by family due to religious or culture clashes. Lesbian Amanda Caum, who battles alcoholism, feels an increased drive to self-medicate during this season, and her feelings of depression are especially acute due to her disconnection from her family and distance from her 8-year-old who resides with his father in Oregon.
While in days of past she would celebrate the holidays with her main family, and then make the rounds to other relatives, just as many do, this sadly is no longer the case.
She only came out just this past year, and describes an intense “anxiety of being around my family.” She continues to note, “My mom and I have always been close, but she doesn’t know how to react around me now, she’s not the only one that has reacted negatively in the family.”
In spite of this year’s difficulties, she is falling back on the support of her friends. Similar to my friends’ dinner, she and a group of friends have plans to come together to make the best of the season.
She encourages others, “Not to dwell on the things that you think you should have, but to focus on the things you do have and to appreciate them.”
But where’s that *It’s a Wonderful Life* happy ending? It isn’t all gloom.
AR (anonymous), a bisexual raising a daughter of her own, remembers her best Christmases: “My favorite was my grandma’s house, because she used to get a huge tree… Every year it just seemed to get bigger, and the whole family would come over to her house.”
She loved that the celebration included her extended family, and that ever so ornery uncle that gave all the children gifts that were certainly intended to drive their parents crazy for the rest of the year.
AR’s reaction from her family after coming out, and the annual holidays thereafter, were nothing but a shock. “We have great times together,” she continues, “Our relationship has really improved over the years… If you would have asked me 15 years ago, I’d be like no way.” However, she feels that despite all the changes over the years the challenges have done nothing more than strengthen their bond.
After all her experiences, she reminds us to remember, “Every situation is just temporary. I think if you’re a faith based person go back to your faith… Whenever you go to that dark place do whatever makes you feel positive…stop it and refocus.”
In considering the challenges our community faces, I consulted with Michelle Stevens (Ph.D, LPC, MHSP), a professor at MTSU. She highlighted some warning signs that can alert us to friends and community members in distress.
Common signs include self-isolation, if a person is social and suddenly withdraws, an overall abrupt change in behavior, depression, and unhealthy coping skills, such as increased self-medication, are all indicators that someone may need a friend.
Dr. Stevens encourages the following for those roughing it: “Seeking out some professional counseling would be one of the most obvious things. Talking about it with a friend, pastor, or someone within your safe zone and self-expression including journaling and any other creative activities may serve as coping skills.”
She also encourages, “From a professional stance [don’t] go through it alone.”
Positive or negative outlooks on, or indifference to, the holidays are all valid, but it’s also important to be aware of any potentially unhealthy behaviors that might arise from the stresses of this time.
Look-out for your friends. Be confident and love yourself. And plainly remember the reason for the season is not something tangible, or even the hope of being accepted; rather, it is to love yourself and your fellow mankind regardless.
Happy holidays from all of us at Out & About Nashville, and have a fantastic New Year!
Photo credit for Robles: Fernando Lopez