Depending on your situation, family get-togethers and special occasions as a queer person can feel like a joyous blessing or a major curse. If you’re a member of the LGBTQIA+ community and you’re hanging out with family members who are supportive and loving, let me wish you all the best and say I hope you and your loved ones make many beautiful memories this year. If, however, you’re a queer person with less-than-supportive, or even outright hostile, family members, this is my love letter to you.
A little of my own story, for those who may not know me. I am, as the kids might say, queer AF. I’m bisexual, non-binary (they/them, please), openly kinky and ethically non-monogamous. I’m the only Slytherin in the family. I went to school for literature (undergrad) and psychological science (grad) and yet here I am talking about my sex life and encouraging other people to talk to me about theirs, for a living. You could say I’m a bit of a reverse Marilyn Munster. My family loves me, even though I’m the resident sore-thumb. I was raised by youth ministers and spent much of my childhood and teen years in church. When I came out, it wasn’t easy for many people in my life. My family loves me, but coming to terms with who I am – and how “in your face” I tend to be about it – can be overwhelming for them, and it hasn’t always been smooth sailing. In coming out, I’ve lost friends and loved ones, and there are people in my life who aren’t close to me the way they were before I started living out loud. I’ve been around this mountain more times than I can count, and I’ve learned much. I’ve also coached and supported many, many other people through their own familial distresses.
So, I, your sex coach and elder queer, would like to offer you some tips and tricks for surviving family get-togethers.
1. Pick your battles.
No matter how young or old you are, you get to decide if you’re going to let someone drag you into an argument. Only you know what you can get away with saying, and what the costs will be for saying. Size up your audience and put your own mental, emotional, spiritual, and maybe even physical, wellbeing first. You absolutely do not need to be a doormat, but real life isn’t a Hallmark movie. This may not be the day you convince your racist uncle or bigoted grandmother to change their tunes. You do your best, but don’t throw all your spoons away in the first 5 minutes. Change may happen in your family, but it will very likely come slow and steady and doesn’t need to come at your expense.
2. Find someone who sees you as you are and keep them close.
Maybe you’re headed into a weekend of pretending and being misgendered. Maybe you’re bringing a loved one home to meet your kin and you’re not sure how it will go. Perhaps you’re gearing up for another round of “when will you just settle down with a nice boy/girl” or “when will you have kids”. People who have known us our whole lives can often be the most resistant to changes in their perceptions of us. Find someone – a cousin or sibling or best friend or literally any human at all – who sees you exactly the way that you are and loves you for it. Keep that person close. If you can, invite them to share your celebrations with you. Even abusive family members can often feel much less brave being assholes in front of company. Or, keep them on text alert or near their phone. Come up with a support signal you can use to communicate you need some TLC to help you get through the day.
3. Feel free to step back.
Literally. Feel free to get up and go for a walk. Take some deep breaths. Get some fresh air. You don’t have to stand there and be anyone’s punching bag.
Less, literally, you can also take a step back from a conversation. You don’t have to answer every invasive question asked of you or take the bait for every emotional trap someone might set. Recognize the patterns and feel free to remove yourself from those cycles.
4. Honor your boundaries and insist that others do the same.
This is the other side of the “pick your battles” coin. Decide what really matters to you and hold your ground. That might be asking folks to respect your pronouns or refrain from using your deadname. That might be insisting on an extra place setting for a partner. Remember that you don’t owe anyone anything. You don’t owe anyone an explanation about your identity or relationships. You don’t have to understand/be able to explain everything about all non-binary people in history to ask to be called they/them. You don’t have to be the token gay boy that reveals information about your sex and love life during family events. You can set boundaries that feel right to you and you can do this with compassion for yourself and others. Setting a boundary isn’t about keeping others out, it’s about protecting yourself and honoring your needs. If someone has an issue with your boundaries and reacts poorly, that’s someone your boundaries are protecting you from. Their reaction is about them, not you. Stay strong, fam.
5. Keep a comfort item close to you.
This could be a cherished necklace or bracelet, a special charm, a secret pin on your undershirt, a small stuffed animal, a pocket full of Hershey kisses, a game on your phone, a favorite hoodie, or your special cozy socks under your boots. This can be something visible or something you keep close and hidden – whatever feels safe and comforting. In times of high stress, use this object and some deep soothing breaths as a touchpoint to help ground you and remind you that you are valid, and this moment is temporary.
6. If you’re traveling to visit family, do some digging to find a safe space nearby.
Many towns have social spaces where the local LGBTQIA+ folks gather and hang out. Before heading out on your journey, use social media and friends from back home/wherever you’re heading to help you find the queer watering holes in the area. Then you have the potential option of a safe retreat and friendly faces on your journey.
7. Find the most supportive family members/people at the event and stick with them.
Remember, this is your holiday or special occasion, too. You totally have permission to buddy up with your favorite cousin and ride the chaos wave together.
8. Put a lifeline in your phone.
PFLAG (Parents and Families of LGBTQIA+ folks) has an amazing resource list of hotlines made for just these occasions. Go through this list, see if anything speaks to you, then plan ahead by putting one or more of the numbers in your phone. https://pflag.org/hotlines
9. Remember, I see you. You matter. You’re valid.
I hope this was able to offer you some support and give you some ideas for staying strong through what is, for many people, a challenging season. Remember that the opinions of other people do not define you. You’re beautiful and perfect and you don’t need their approval. That said, it’s totally okay to need some extra layers of support. Exercise some self-care and create a game plan for staying sane this season.
Happy HoliGays, my queer dears. Love you all.