I’m blessed to have a loving family – a husband who’s a true partner-in-crime, an unconditionally supportive mother, welcoming in-laws. But when we gather around the table for Christmas dinner, there will be a glaring absence – my father.
I haven’t had a relationship with him for almost four years. Though he was initially receptive to my coming out, my engagement and subsequent marriage proved too much for him to handle. So this holiday, like so many others, there won’t be a complete merging of families. My father, stepmother, and step-siblings won’t take part in the festivities. Though I’m so grateful for the support that I do have, I can’t help but imagine the extra stockings on the fireplace mantle. I remember what Christmas was like when I was younger – I never thought that the man I once found assembling my new bicycle in the middle of the night on Christmas Eve would be the same guy who go on to disown me.
For so many of us queer folks of color, the holidays aren’t just about White Elephant gift exchanges, spiked eggnog, and Motown Christmas classics. If you’ve been shunned by a part of your family, or included but treated as other, this time is perhaps the biggest reminder of your place within the family hierarchy. You might not get a gift or a holiday card; you might not get invited to the big dinner; you might not even be acknowledged.
With this kind of treatment front and center during the holidays, there’s no string of lights or strand of sparkly garland that can pull you out of your dark place. Regardless of how healed you think you are, the holiday season can throw you right back into your trauma. Thus, it’s crucial to find a way to move forward and participate without losing your sense of pride.
Set your boundaries
It’s hard to remember sometimes, but you don’t have to engage your crazy uncle who wants to pull you in the corner and share his favorite scriptures about how marriage is between a man and a woman. Before you walk inside, know what subjects you’re willing to talk about and which ones you want to avoid. There’s nothing wrong with respectfully declining and sneaking off to hang with your favorite cousins. Know where the lines are so you know when they’ve been crossed.
Keep your support system near
If you can bring a friend to the family dinner, do so. Having your bestie present can help you counter any negative energy. If you can’t bring a friend along, keep them in your pocket. Reach out via text or video calls when times get tough. Or gravitate to the family members who accept you as you are. Find support where you can. What’s most important is that you always have an ally at your disposal.
Take a breather
When the conversation gets a little heated, step away. Grab your coat and go for a walk, head upstairs to read or scroll your Twitter feed, or find a quiet place where you can get a few minutes of meditation. You are not obligated to stay engaged in unproductive conversations every day of your visit.
Find the locals
You’re probably not the only person suffering through the annual holiday visit with the family. Call up your old buddies, head to your favorite watering hole (preferably a queer one), and trade jokes over cocktails. Family holidays aren’t just for blood relatives – make time for your chosen family, too.
Put in the bare minimum
A 2018 SleepZoo survey found that 65% of respondents refused to sleep over at a relative’s house during the holidays. They came, they saw, they ate, and they left. And you can do the same. Holiday visits don’t have to be marathons, especially if they’re traumatic or upsetting. Show your face, make your appearance, and move on to the next place.
As a queer person of color with fractured family ties, the holidays can be difficult. But they can also be manageable.
I’m surrounding myself with an army of allies this year. Though my father’s absence looms large, the love from everyone who is here is so much bigger. The holiday may not be 100% ideal, but still, it’s just right.