Surviving Christmas When You're Queer
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Making the yuletide gay isn’t always that easy.
Love it or hate it, anyone can admit that Christmas can be a stressful time of year. Whether you’re searching for a Secret Santa gift for that office worker you barely know, or preparing to spend time with the in-laws, there are many reasons why a lot of us tend to get stressed out around this time of year. But for LGBT+ folk especially, Christmas can be a difficult time of the year to get through.
For most of us, Christmas means hectic family gatherings and seeing relatives that we may not always have the chance to visit, or coming home from university to see our parents again. Whilst this can be nice for some of us, this can often be anxiety-inducing for LGBT+ individuals. If you’re in the closet, there’s the awkwardness that comes with your extended family asking you whether you have a significant other or not. If you’re out the closet, there can be uncomfortable questions and gritting your teeth through mildly-homophobic comments from your extended family. Either way, having to spend time with homophobic and transphobic relatives can be difficult and hurtful - hearing family members talk negatively about your identity can be a toxic environment to be in, which can be difficult to deal with at a time of year when ideas of comfort and family are being promoted almost everywhere we look.
If you are at home with homophobic relatives this Christmas, self-help coach Gina Battye has some tips on how to make the experience less stressful: she says to try and avoid topics that could trigger you, which of course is easier said than done, but if you do find yourself upset or uncomfortable, ‘acknowledge it, breathe into it and feel the emotion. Don’t react or respond in that moment. Simply be’. Take a break if you need to, spend just five or ten minutes making a cup of tea or going on a napkin run. Removing yourself from the situation can give you an opportunity to breathe and review the situation.
Christmas can also be difficult for a lot of LGBT+ individuals as sometimes they are disowned by family members, or have made the difficult decision to cut off contact with their family themselves. Many people will be spending the holiday period away from their family, alone. The LGBT Foundation says that ‘members of the LGBT community – particularly older LGBT people – are significantly more likely to be isolated and struggle with depression. Dark evenings and early nights can lower mood, many people/services are less available, and the perception that other people’s Christmases are ‘better’, can make us feel worse.’ Their advice is to remind yourself that it’s just one day - no matter how you feel at that moment, remember that it will pass. Focus on yourself and what you enjoy, go for a walk, reach out to friends and loved ones.
No matter what the specifics of one’s situation are, Christmas can be a difficult and isolating time for many LGBT+ people, particularly older LGBT+ people and LGBT+ teens. There can be a lot of pressure to have an enjoyable time around this time of year, and a pressure to spend time with your family. If you’re not having a good time, however, or if you’ve made a conscious decision to keep your distance from your family this year, know that you’re not alone. Forced family bonding can be tough-going, especially if your family has a tendency to ask invasive or personal questions, but remember that you are under no obligation to have fun at all times. Embrace your inner Grinch if you want! Not enjoying the festivities for any reason doesn’t make you a bad person, and there are plenty of support hotlines out there that can help you if you find yourself truly struggling.
You could even spend this year creating new traditions; if you don’t get along with your family, why not cook a meal with your friends and celebrate with the people you do get along with? Volunteer somewhere local - plenty of charities run events over Christmas and are always looking for help, from soup kitchens to care homes. There are also several LGBT+ specific online events, such as Queer House Party who are running an NYE event this year.
If you need any support, the LGBT+ helpline Switchboard is open from 10am-10pm everyday at 0300 330 0630, and the National Trans Support helpline is open 24 hours at 07527 524034.