It's that time of year when we're all expected to spread cheer and celebrate. As every commercial and TV show will tell you, the holidays are for families. That's true for a lot of the population, but for LGBTQ+ people, this season can be deeply stressful because, for many of us, our chosen family and friends are the ones who understand us -- far better than the families we return to during the holidays.
At first, coming out felt like my biggest obstacle, but the work didn't end there. Afterward, a whole new set of challenges manifests, as it's not easy being the family's token queer. Sometimes when you come out, the family dynamic changes. It can feel like your queerness takes up all the space in the room, so much so that people we love and grew up with seem to have forgotten who we were before they knew we were queer or trans--and now that's all we'll ever be. It's because of this that my common instinct before the holidays is to brace myself.
I remember the anxiety and fear I felt bringing a boyfriend home to meet my family for the first time. I lost sleep and stressed about how we'd be setting new normals for the trajectory of our relationships. For straight family members, a visit like this may indeed be an exciting thing and they may genuinely want to make you feel welcome. But as they extend their olive branches, or even show sincere interest in your experiences, it can also feel like you're the main attraction at a holiday festival that isn't bringing you much joy.
There's no shame in that. In our ever-evolving relationships with those we love, it's OK to digest and process things, such as how to gradually move the needle further in our family social settings. Navigating the new dynamics of encountering our straight and cis family members -- even extended ones -- requires time and effort, and doesn't happen overnight, especially if we sense that some of those people might not approve of our orientation or gender identity. It can feel like starting over, and not everyone excels at starting over. That's OK. Don't beat yourself up.
It's important to remember that any anxiety, stress, nervousness, or pain we might feel is not only valid but also a representation of some of our strengths as queer people. By existing openly as ourselves in these situations, we are creating change, even if it feels like we're not. We are exposing people to life experiences unlike their own and, we hope, helping to normalize those experiences. Not everyone can say that about themselves or their existence. It's one of the perks that can make queerness feel much more like a gift than a curse. And all of that discomfort is something others have been leaning into for decades -- it's a reflection of the change we've sparked in the world, which is no small thing.
That change and power is, in a huge way, due to our chosen families. The people with whom we found understanding and solace. They've given us the courage to stand strong in these moments. The language to express how we feel without shame, but with pride. Be thankful for them. Whenever you feel uncertain or afraid over the holidays, lean on them as you have in the past. That's what they're there for and it's exactly where they want to be. Chosen families don't view you as albatross, but as foundation or a part of their life that brings them joy. Perhaps you're both going through the same thing. Maybe they don't have a family to go home to and it reminds you that you're not doing so bad. No matter what, we'll always have each other. That's the magic of queerness and it's not just during the holidays, it exists also year round.
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This post was originally published on Nov. 22, 2018.