*Note: This article was originally published on Pride Pocket prior to merging with MyUmbrella*
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 with bigotry, erasure, and hostility.
If this is your first holiday season out to your family, this may be especially true. 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 – here are some tips, suggestions, and things to avoid to get you through this festive season.
Coming out for The HolidaysIf your family does not yet know about your gender and orientation, the easiest solution may be making an announcement when everyone is relaxed after a few glasses of wine, 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 often need time to process information that changes their perception. 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 could also prepare you for any criticism that you are ‘ruining the holidays’ or ‘making it all about you’.
- Your safety comes first. Even though you want to be your true self in every part of your life, you should take caution to 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 at the bottom of the page.
- You don’t need to tell everyone at once. Or at all. Unless you are planning to invite everyone who will be present at you and your partner’s wedding in the spring, it may be best to look at your family as a series of concentric circles and to handle them one at a time. Remember 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 a 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 labor 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 than 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, but so is acceptance.
- 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 affect the extent to which you challenge or ignore this – but this behavior is often caused by cognitive dissonance between the person’s love for you and any homo, trans, or biphobic sentiments they may hold. It does take some time for people to come to terms with new 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 being asked to present in a way that is uncomfortable for 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 against 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 on 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 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 the 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
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