The holidays. It’s time to hang tinsel and unpack ornaments. Time to get that last-minute shopping done and wonder if anyone really sends cards anymore.
It’s also time to steel yourself for another visit to your Aunt Betty’s house and to face the family once more.
For some LGBTQ people, that family trip becomes more challenging than simply gritting your teeth when your uncle starts in about who is taking his job this year. Instead, it can be a trying time of failed pronouns and awkward conversations about why you don’t have a boy or girlfriend yet.
With that in mind, here’s a few strategies for coping and making sure you get a little self-care while surviving the holidays.
1. Make a plan
You know yourself best: get together a list of your boundaries before you even cross the threshold. What are the things you’re not going to want to deal with and what will it take to keep you on an even keel? Write them out and keep those in mind.
You also know the things you need to de-stress when those times crop up, so plan some time for those too. Maybe there’s a favorite diner nearby you can escape to, or a good book you’ve wanted to delve back into?
You may even want to plan a call with friends in the same situation, so you both can get some mutual care time in. Misery does love company!
At any rate, plan for “me” time to get away from a stressful situation and re-center. You’ll thank yourself later.
2. Practice makes perfect
Preparedness is your friend if this is the first holiday back home after coming out and/or starting a gender transition. Spend some time now to plan out what you want to say when you hit the door, and how you’ll handle those awkward moments.
Having all the words in mind for how you’ll share your feelings will save you a lot of trouble later. Plan now how you’ll ask for your orientation to be respected, as well as anything like name or pronouns.
You may wish to have a few resources at hand, too. Helpful URLs or even books you can share for those who might be receptive and willing to get a push in the right direction.
The more you can share your truth – and how well you can – will help others to respect your needs.
3. Hold it in, or hold your head high
This is tricky. If you haven’t yet come out, be aware that the holidays are a hard time to do so. You may be tempted by the chance to have the whole family together as a moment to come out to everyone at once, but bear in mind that doing so at the holidays will usually not be taken as well.
At the holidays, there’s a level of stress that is always just beneath a veneer of cordiality, and this may be what brings it to the surface. In addition to any other homo- or transphobia, some may view you as selfish, and wanting to make the holidays “all about you.”
In short, if you can weather the holidays without taking that first step, it might be wise. Consider maybe coming out quietly to a possibly supportive family member present instead, and building some confidence, then plan to come out once tinseltime is finished.
If you are already out, however, then the opposite may be true. Walk in with confidence, and be proud of yourself. Exude confidence, so they can see that coming out is serving you well. Living well is the best revenge and it will set you above your “haters.”
4. Be ready to correct people, over and over
You have lived your life knowing who you are, and have spent a lot of time figuring things out. Your relatives haven’t. They’re going to flub pronouns and names, and suggest you talk to “that nice guy/girl she knows.”
It’s important to not just shrug this off, but to gently correct. Not only will it help keep you centered, it will help them to know this is an important part of your identity and allow them to learn. Be clear, but also patient. Old habits are hard to break and they may need some time to adjust.
Of course, for some these little errors are intentional. For them, you may need to be a bit more forceful in your response, letting them know that their continued actions are hurtful and will not be tolerated.
This will also be a time when having an ally in the family will benefit you, allowing you to make it less of a one-on-one confrontation.
5. Get some “me time” after the holidays
Once the holidays are over and done with — at least with the family — get some time in with your friends and peers. Getting away to a place where you can be affirmed is key to shaking any lingering ill feelings from the family.
You may even plan a holiday right after time spent with family, to get away and have some fun on your own or with those close to you. You can even make that part of a family visit if you have to travel to see them: simply add another stop onto the trip.
Even if you can’t get away, plan for a little “me time” after the holidays with a cup of your favorite warm beverage, some cozy socks, and your favorite calming activity.
No matter what happens, know that you remain you, and no family member can really take that away from you.
Here’s to a happy and healthy holiday season for you, and may we all get through it in one piece.