When your family doesn’t accept you
For LGBTQ people, the holidays can be very stressful
It was a typical L.A. Christmas—quiet, uneventful and a little too warm for sweaters.
My extended family had crowded into the dining room for a traditional holiday feast, one of the rare occasions we could all gather together to share a meal and catch up on life. Light conversation and idle gossip flitted around the table.
Toward the end of dinner, everyone’s attention shifted to my uncle as he began to tell a story.
My uncle has always been a great storyteller. He loves to regale audiences with fantastical tales of his adventures climbing the Himalayas, or stumbling across a grotesquely large snake. This time, the story was about a bathroom at the airport, and it went a little something like this:
My uncle was in a bathroom at the airport. Suddenly, a woman walked in. My uncle said, accusingly, “You are in the wrong bathroom!”
It wasn’t until he got closer that he realized the person was, in his words, a man dressed in women’s clothes. A classic twist!
The dinner table reverberated with murmurs of shock and disapproval. An ill-informed debate over the political correctness of the term “transvestite” occupied a small corner. Uninspired jokes made the rounds. All in all, my uncle’s story was a hit.
It’s a moment I’ll always remember because I learned what my family really thought of queer people—and what they really thought of me.
For some LGBTQ people, coming home for the holidays and visiting family isn’t always a joyous occasion. Sometimes, the holidays bring more anxiety than good cheer.
It can happen at any moment—a lazy comment or a hostile confrontation. You never know when a family member is going to remind you that you’re different, or unwelcome.
According to a 2016 study published by the Pediatric Clinics of North America, LGBT youths who are rejected by their families are more likely to have higher levels of depression than those who are accepted.
It doesn’t seem far-fetched to suggest that these experiences can extend to adults with unaccepting families, or that depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts can intensify during the holidays.
Many LGBTQ people deal with unique stress during the holidays. Some are gearing up to come out to family, introduce a new partner or announce that they’re transitioning. Some go back in the closet and temporarily erase who they are.
Some may not even have a family to go home to.
For me, growing up queer in a largely conservative, Christian family had an isolating effect that kept me from coming out as gay and non-binary for a long time. And while my gender-nonconforming appearance clued people in, visits with extended family always took on an unspoken “don’t ask, don’t tell” rule.
My uncle’s bathroom story and the ensuing table talk wasn’t just a disappointing revelation; it also served as an unpleasant reminder of all the times I’ve been on the opposite side of those public bathroom mishaps and the associated anxiety.
But I didn’t bring that up at dinner. I didn’t want to kill the holiday cheer.
This season, if you know someone who’s dreading the holidays and family reunions, let them know that they aren’t alone. Having supportive friends and accepting family members may seem small, but it can make a huge difference.
If you feel isolated, don't be afraid to reach out. This Thanksgiving, the Sacramento LGBT Center is organizing a meal for anyone seeking good food and good company.
And if you absolutely have to tell a story, tell the one about the grotesquely large snake. That’s a classic.