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Nine tips for navigating the holidays while queer

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The holidays should be accessible to everyone who wants to celebrate, but that isn’t always the case. Considering how many families ignore, misunderstand, shun, disparage, or disown their LGBTQIA+ family members, it’s no wonder that many members of the Queer community have conflicting feelings about spending time with the families they grew up with. For this reason, the holidays can be a especially difficult time for Queer people.

While the overall acceptance of LGBTQ people is higher now than ever before, we’re still only at 63%; only 63% of people say they believe homosexuality should be accepted in society. That might sound like a lot, but imagine if your employer only sent you 63% of your paycheck, or if your parachute only worked 63% of the time. This means 37% of people are flat-out OK with being homophobic and anti-LGBTQ. Depending on what state or city you’re in, this can make a huge difference in your quality of life. As a Queer person, your decision to visit your family for the holidays is greatly impacted by whether or not they are accepting of who you are.

As a queer man, I’ve found my own ways of navigating the holidays, and I’ve learned some helpful tips that I wish I’d known long ago. I hope this list helps you navigate this time of year with more self-care and compassion. You deserve good things and good people in your life and you are worthy of love.

1. You Are Allowed to Decide If  and How You Want to Celebrate

I don’t know who needs to hear this but how you spend the holidays is up to you! You may not have been in control of many things in life until this point, but you get a say in the rest of what happens. It’s your life. You decide how you want to spend it.

If you want to celebrate the holidays, you can! Put up a tree, get a Yule log, light a menorah or Kwanza candles. Whatever it is you want to celebrate, light it up!

If you choose not to celebrate any holidays, that’s ok too. Maybe the time of year is traumatic for you, maybe you see it all as religious, and you’re not religious, maybe you just don’t want to celebrate holidays at all. That’s totally up to you and you have the right to not celebrate.

If you want to celebrate your own version of the holidays, go for it. You can celebrate Winter, the Solstice, Yuel, Sweaters, Sweatpants, Llamas, Sloths, Cookie season, Soup season, snow; friendship, My Little Ponies, the possibilities are endless.

Whatever you choose, claim it, make it your own!

2. Avoid Toxic Family and Friends

You heard me; you don’t have to put up with toxic people because it’s “the holidays.” Is your Great Aunt homophobic to you? Does your Uncle intentionally misgender you? Guess what? You don’t have to spend time with them! I am giving you (clap it out with me) PER-MISS-ION to let their hateful energy go and move on with your life.

I know what you’re thinking; but they’re my family so I have to go visit them. They’re getting old and won’t be around forever. They raised me so I owe it to them… No. I have news for you: Family is who treats you with love and respect. If those who raised you commonly don’t respect you and love you, they aren’t your family. Your family are the people who love and respect you. They don’t have to be related to you. They are the people who show up for you time and time again and consistently do their best to love, support, and defend you.

If your family is homophobic, or racist, or just down-right mean, find a reason not to visit this year. Maybe they’ll get the hint. Maybe they’ll respect your boundaries. Whatever they do, it ain’t your problem. 

Note: If your parents are abusive and/or homophobic I highly suggest the book Toxic Parents. It covers a lot of ground and offers perspective as you journey toward healing.

If your parents are loving and accepting of you, by all means, go and spend time with them if that’s what you want to do. 

If your parents just “generally accepting” consider going, but only for an hour or two, or a day if they’re far away. And consider staying in a hotel if you can and if it makes you feel better. If your parents may or may not be accepting, have a backup plan if you decide to go. Give yourself an easy out if you need it. If you don’t actually feel safe, don’t go or get out.

Whatever you decide, prioritize how you feel and what you need and want. You don’t owe your family anything if you don’t want to.

3. Make an Effort to Spend Time With Supportive People

Lean in to your people, your community, the people that love and support you. Have a group hangout, a potluck, a present exchange, a secret Santa, something, anything that will help you all feel better. It doesn’t have to be a big thing or an expensive event, just an excuse to hang out with mutuals is enough. 

Virtually scheduling time with those far away is also a good way to connect. Watch a movie together via Zoom. Do an old fashioned phone call. Send holiday cards a month early, so they have time to send one back. Making the time for others in this way can help you feel more connected.

4. Treat Yourself and Others

Don’t have anyone to buy presents for you this year? Consider buying or making a few presents for yourself, wrapping them, and putting them out for yourself. Get or make something for your friends, your neighbor, your dog or cat. 

Feeling nostalgic? Put on one of your favorite movies. Binge a quality TV series. Read a favorite book. Go for a walk in your favorite place. Order takeout for yourself. Take yourself on a date. Treat yourself to good things, not just now, but regularly. Make yourself a priority.

5. Get Creative

OK, I’m crafty by nature. I’m always, ALWAYS, making something (see my Insta). If you’re into it, sew a quilt, crochet a hat, knit a scarf, paint a picture, do a collage, heck, a coloring book. Put on some nice music and make something. Getting creative is a great way to relax, relieve stress, and let your mind have a well-deserved break.

If you’re into baking and cooking, make some quality food for yourself. Make cookies, pies, bread, whatever makes you feel good. Sharing extras with a good neighbor or a friend can also help you feel connected.

6. Write Down Some Quality Affirmations

Do you have sticky-notes? A notes app on your phone? A blank piece of paper? Whatever your go-to is, write down any of the following affirmations that speak to you, and put them where you will see them regularly. You can also journal these affirmations and make space in them for your own ideas and thoughts.

  • I am awesome and powerful.
  • I am deserving of love and respect.
  • I deserve to be treated with kindness.
  • I am worthy of living a full life.
  • I will continue to show up for myself.
  • I am allowed to have my own feelings and thoughts.
  • My identity is my own. No one else can tell me who I am.

7. Stay Off Social Media (or limit it)

For those of us who use social media a lot, this might be a good time to stay off it, or limit your time. Lots of people will be posting over-the-top happy pictures of families, presents, food, and events that probably look better online than they are in real life. For as much as social media might connect you the rest of the year, it can be isolating if you’re not going to “all the events” and doing “all the things.” Make something else your go-to this time of year, like an audiobook, or a podcast.

8. Schedule a Therapy

By “a therapy” I mean anything from an official therapy appointment, to a telehealth appointment with a counselor, or even a dedicated LGBTQIA+ or other support group. Ideally, this is a safe place you can talk openly about your feelings, thoughts, concerns, or anything you want. If you’ve never been to therapy, I highly recommend it. If you’ve been through trauma, I highly recommend it. If you’ve been alive on this planet for the last few years, I highly recommend it. Think of it like a tune-up for a car, or a necessary support system. Everyone needs a little help sometimes. If you’re going through a lot of trauma or drama, you especially need help and that’s ok. There’s no shame in it. Getting into the habit of semi-regular monthly or weekly sessions can be really helpful when it comes to navigating life while Queer. Your insurance might even cover it.

Looking for a good therapist? Psychology Today has a great “sorting tool” to find one that can meet your needs. There are also virtual options like Better Help. Your local area might have an IRL LGBTQ+ support group as well. For members of the trans community, Trans Lifeline is a literary lifesaving network for fantastic supporters available to help you.

9. Prioritize Yourself

One of the biggest things I’ve learned over the years is that good things and good feelings don’t always “just happen.” Sometimes you have to put in a little effort, or do a little planning. Sometimes you have to go out of your way to find and connect with good people. Sometimes you have to set boundaries to protect yourself. Learning to show up for yourself and care for yourself takes time and practice. Remember; you are worthy of good things. You are worthy of love and equality and acceptance. Show up for yourself and those who love you. You deserve joy and a full life.

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