As we enter the biggest holiday week of the year many people will face their first holiday out. The next few days are sure to be filled with parties and get togethers of all kinds. From family get togethers to church settings, the end of the year is packed full of fun and sometimes awkward gatherings.
And what can make this time period even more chaotic and anxiety inducing is one’s orientation or identity being the year’s topic of conversation. Which often feels like the case the first holiday season after a person comes out. Or the first holiday one brings a new partner home or begins to show their true gender expression. As always we are here to help.
Two of the biggest hurdles of this time are religion and family. So here are some practical tips on navigating these spaces.
Of course there are many queer people of faith, but the holidays can make these experiences difficult. Often we feel required to attend sanctuary’s from our childhood, or ones for which we are not familiar. It can be especially hard and even triggering to return to a place of faith that once held negative memories. And when returning for the first time since coming out, the anxiety intensifies.
You don’t have to go
This is a constant reminder for every event and function. When feeling unsettled about returning to religious space, then tell a family member or friend. In some cases they won’t care or understand. For some families, going to church is a “requirement” during the holiday season. Which puts many queer people in a tough position.
Go back into the closet if necessary – Our strongest suggestion is to be safe. And sadly sometimes this means going back into the closet. An incredibly devastating experience that an outsider can never comprehend. If you’re an ally reading this, then please never ask this of your loved one. It is mentally and emotionally excruciating. But as a transgender or non binary person being forced to hide their identity. Or a gay individual who is not allowed to bring their partner into church with them. Or a bisexual or pansexual whose orientation is repeatedly ignored and invalidated, just know this will not last forever. These closet doors are no longer permanent and they don’t close the way they used to.
However, if the place of worship is a friendly and accepting environment then there are ways to the experience positive.
Making The Best Of The Experience
Take what you can from the ceremony – Perhaps the teachings are no longer believed. But rituals and experiences can be nostalgic, especially at this time of year. Finding appreciation in the ceremony does not invalidate one’s growth and journey away from the past.
Find an excuse to slip out – It’s always good to have a plan prepared. Tell parents or friends about an important and expected phone call. Mention an illness coming on or ask to sit near the back to make ducking out easier. Keep the Uber or Lyft app downloaded and ready.
Bring candy – Yes this tried and true method matters. Sugar increases our dopamine levels and gives a little boost to our happiness. If sugar isn’t available then another reward system will do. Drawing or coloring also works and is meditative. It provides a good distraction to focus on instead of the message.
Stand Firm – We don’t want to trivialize religious trauma with distractions and candy. These are simply small ways to make the best of a bad situation. But ultimately the best reward is found in being true to oneself. By wearing the clothes in which one is most comfortable. And by going by the pronouns and name that is chosen and CORRECT. Most importantly, by refusing to give into the momentary pressure of denying true identity.
Don’t expect the worst – After the backlash that coming out often incurs it’s natural to be on guard. Our defenses cause us to prepare for the worst. And there is a chance we face scrutiny or harassment. Having a polite and prepared answer in response to cutting comments is appropriate. Not because they deserve an answer, but because you deserve the respect.
However, there is also something to be said for embracing people for where they are at. Setting down the gloves and remaining open to positivity will often lend itself to surprise. As hurtful as religious spaces can be, they are also known for great healing. Perhaps allowing a spiritual encounter will soothe the open wounds of past religious pain.
Friends and Family
This is of course the hardest and best part of the holidays. If a person’s coming out experience happened earlier in the year, then no doubt most close family knows by now. However, there always seems to be at least one distant friend or a random aunt that somehow missed the memo. As we’ve said before,
Coming Out is a Lifelong Process
The first holiday out, one is rarely prepared for how many times they must come out again. Our best suggestion is to have a short and to the point speech to give anyone who asks. Something that doesn’t hide who you are but also doesn’t allow for follow up questions. Quickly redirecting the conversation also helps in this situation. Some examples are as follows:
“Yes I came out as a lesbian, this is my girlfriend Denise. When is the family game of Uno starting?”
“Actually my name is Joseph now and I go by he/him pronouns. I started transitioning this past year and I’m so happy. Is there anymore apple pie left?”
Of course this suggestion is not foolproof. It works very well in work and social settings. But the difference in family and close friends is the level of familiarity. Family will ask questions that no one else would dream of asking. So It is up to the individual to decide their boundaries..
Make Time for these Conversations – Our suggestion is to have a designated time for important conversations when returning home. Especially if family does not live close by or is not seen often. The reality is you are probably the best person to help them understand who you are and what you need. If the intention is to retain a relatively stable relationship with family, then it is probably helpful to talk this out. However, when maintaining a relationship is not the goal then refer uncomfortable questions to Google (or Your Queer Story) and drop the conversation.
Hold Strong Boundaries – Unlike the rare instances of the workplace or an occasional visit to a religious institution, family and friends are more permanent and constant. Any slight ignored today could mean years of battle for recognition ahead. This doesn’t mean anyone needs to cause a scene. Usually a gentle correction for a loved one will do. Smile and shut down any inappropriate questions as firmly and quickly as possible. Leave no room for the conversation to be reopened.
Take Space – It is very important for family to realize that their queer loved one is not less than. And therefore will not be subjected to subpar treatment. Insulting gifts that ignore a person’s gender or expression should be addressed. Abusive language should not be tolerated. And if everyone else is sitting on the couch holding hands with their partner then there is no reason the gay couple shouldn’t do the same. Perhaps standing up to insulting language or behaviour will cause a fight. However, that is the offenders hangup and their responsibility to find a way to treat their loved one equally.
Have Some Personal Time – Even if things are going great, spending the holiday educating people it’s going to be draining. Have time away from family and friends. Meet other friends somewhere, take the dog for a walk, go to a movie, or find a small cafe or bar. Don’t burn out trying to fix everything and please everyone. Some people will be mad that about the whole coming out situation. And they will choose to remain that way until the next holiday season.
It is not up to the queer person to make everyone okay with their decision to be honest and live in truth. That is not why people come out. We live openly in order to live authentically. In cases where family is supportive, it is still on the family to educate themselves. The greatest gift a loved one can give their queer friend or relative is self learning.
Stay Someplace Else – This is not always affordable and realistic we understand. But if there is a cheap motel or a good friend nearby, then better to be careful. We don’t say this to be alarmist, we say this from years of experience. Especially in homes where conservative family seemed okay. There’s always the ability to cancel the hotel or friends house if the holiday goes smoothly.
But many times, even after a person comes out, it takes a while for the truth to sink in. This can turn a happy and festive atmosphere into a chaotic and tense one rather quickly. Often queer people are told they have a safe place to stay only to find themselves on the side of the road christmas morning. Please do some research before you head home and at least find a good shelter nearby.
Have Your Phone Charged and Ready – Text friends, stay in contact with a support group, reach out to a mentor or counselor. Don’t stay in an uncomfortable situation alone. And remember to keep Uber and Lyft downloaded!
Don’t numb it out – One of the easiest things to do is drown out the holidays with mood altering substances. In the moment this can feel like the best option. But in reality it keeps us from properly addressing issues and from properly experiencing healing. No one wins when alcohol, or drugs is used as a coping mechanism.
Congratulate Yourself (next year will we even better)
Whatever happens this final week of of the year, remember the most important thing. YOU CAME OUT. You took a huge and courageous step and should always be proud. The first year out is always the hardest. But as they say, it truly does get better. Keep taking those small steps. Keep fighting the fight to be true to thine own self.
And don’t forget, stay queer! Don’t get a lobotomy.
-Evan and Paul