Whether you’re dreading going home for a month-long winter break between semesters, or you’re anxiously facing a big dinner with tons of extended family, spending the holidays can be stressful no matter what. Being an LGBTQ person heading home for the holidays often adds extra stress to family situations.
Unfortunately for members of the LGBTQ community who are out, holidays can provide an opportunity for family members to make insensitive comments or ask awkward questions. Sometimes these remarks stem from innocent ignorance, other times they might be driven by bad intent. Either way, I would advise you to treat those comments as if they’re not intentionally rude, even if you know they are. It’s frustrating to have to be the bigger person, but I believe it’s the best first approach to take because if you act unfazed by someone’s rude comments they’re less likely to make them.
However, if you’re being treated too unfairly to remain calm, or the comments continue, I would recommend catching another family member’s eye and asking them a question to divert the attention away from yourself. In my case, I find that my sister is very accepting, and I know she would defend me if I needed her to. I always try to sit next to her at holiday dinners. I don’t necessarily want her to have to jump to my defense, but it makes me feel more comfortable knowing I have a supporter sitting next to me. Usually, this provides me with enough strength to handle situations on my own. And if all else fails, remember that there’s absolutely no shame in excusing yourself and having a few moments alone.
Bear in mind that no family is perfect. We all have this tendency to paint a Norman Rockwell style picture in our mind of the way the holidays are going to play out. This forces us to put unnecessary pressure on ourselves, and possibly even blame ourselves for disrupting the ideal holiday image. Try to remember that every family, whether there’s an LGBTQ family member sitting at their dinner table or not, is bound to have disagreements around the holidays.
Over the years I’ve developed a set of coping mechanisms that work well around the holidays. At the top of this list is keeping in contact with someone who can validate your identity. This works well for people still in the closet. If you’re out to your friends at school, or you have an accepting best friend that you trust, give them a call every few days. Call to wish them a happy holiday or chat about mundane things – don’t just save their number for emergencies. This little slice of normality will go a long way.
As for the times spent with your family, I recommend focusing on shared interests. Watch a sports game with your dad, or a classic movie with your mom. I know that in my house, not a single person can be in a bad mood when we’re watching Elf. Find a fun activity to do together. Worst case scenario, it will serve as a fun distraction – but you might even wind up having a good time.
My favorite thing to do around the winter-time is to re-read favorite books, especially ones with Christmas scenes. I’m partial to my well-worn copies of Harry Potter, a childhood favorite, and Annie on My Mind, a classic lesbian novel for teens. I find comfort in these old stories. If you aren’t a big reader like me, you might find similar comfort in your fave TV shows or YouTube videos.
Finally, be aware of your moods and what you need. I suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, which means I experience depression during a certain time of year. For me, and for a large number of people with SAD, that time is winter. SAD amplifies any stress or discomfort I feel about being home for the holidays.
Even if you don’t suffer from seasonal depression, you might notice yourself getting bummed out when then sun goes down earlier in the evening or when you spend more time in your house because it’s so cold outside. Either way, I advise keeping track of your moods and learning ways to cope. Exercise will keep your spirits up, so take a walk outside if it isn’t too cold. Bring a pet for company if you have one, and enjoy the fresh air and sunlight.
Sticking to a schedule might help as well. This can be something simple, like waking up at the same time each morning, taking a warm shower and cooking a healthy breakfast.
Be kind to yourself. Keeping track of your moods and doing your best to manage them will not only benefit your overall well-being, but it could also help you keep a level-head to avoid confrontation with family members during the holidays.
If all else fails, remember that the holidays won’t not last forever. Soon, you’ll be back in your own home, or you’ll return to school or work – so take comfort in looking forward to the future, and try to make the best of the short holiday time you have.
Do you have any advice for LGBTQ readers who are struggling with the thought of awkward family conversations during the holidays? Let us know in the comments below!