by: Brad Kneeland
Let’s own it—under the glimmer and glisten, the hustle and bustle of the upcoming holiday season, this can be an incredibly stressful time. There’s travel, there’s shopping, there’s bad weather, there are crowds, and there’s family. The holidays can be even more stressful when you’re a member of the LGBT community. For many people, they can successfully navigate the holidays unscathed. Others are subject to awkward questions and interactions with those drunk uncles or overbearing aunts (No? Just me?) or even worse, some people in our community don’t have homes or families to come home to—their families choosing to disown them for their “lifestyle” or our brothers and sisters choosing to not go home for their own mental sanity and physical safety.
My family has always been really cool about me being gay, but that doesn’t mean I don't get my share of awkward questions. I feel like the first 15 minutes of any family get-together is a press conference and I’m fielding inappropriate and backhandedly offensive questions.
“Brad! You look like you’ve been eating!”
“Thank you, you look like you’ve been aging!”
“Brad! Have you met any cute girls back east?”
“Yes, many! In fact, I think a bunch of us are meeting up for pedicures when I get back!”
“Brad! How is the whole being gay phase?”
“Stronger than your marriage! Last question.”
“Brad! Why haven’t you found a nice girl to bring home?”
“I’ve chosen vows of celibacy and have decided to focus on school and getting a job. Thank you for your questions, please enjoy the antipasto spread. Wine is being served.”
Welcome to the last decade of my life. But despite the inappropriate and offensive questions, I’m incredibly fortunate to have a home that I can come home to and a big family that I can spend the holidays with. Others in our community aren’t so lucky. So I’ve chosen to compile a list of important holiday reminders as we move into the holiday season.
1) Own the Awkward
a. The first holiday after you come out or the first holiday you bring your significant other home for is going to be awkward. To wish otherwise would be like jumping into the ocean and hoping you don’t get wet. Somebody is going to say something, you’re going to say something, and it is going to be cringe worthy. That’s okay! Awkward can be good—just go with the flow. Laugh it off. Think of something funny to say. I’ve often found that if you can take ownership of any situation, there’s nothing that can stop you. If you can own the awkward situation, remain calm and in control, you’ve already won the battle. That doesn’t mean you have to own offensive or mean comments/questions. But for good faith, awkward slip ups, just roll with the punches. The fact that your weird uncle is asking you questions is a good sign—it shows an interest in your life, an attempt to extend a hand.
2) Find Your Ally
a. A crowded house during the holidays is a war zone. Honestly, you should see some of the family get-togethers that have gone down with my family; less planning went into D-Day than some of the parties we’ve thrown. It can be overwhelming to be surrounded by so many people that you know (or don’t). The solution to this is to find your ally—that person or people you can hang out with during the holidays who is going to be chill, who is going to be supportive, and who is going to be a good wing person to fend off the onslaught of family members asking you who your “roommate/special friend/life partner” is. This can be your stoner cousin, your niece/nephew, a sibling, your radical feminist aunt, whoever—just somebody who is going to have your back and keep you laughing in the trenches.
a. During the holidays, you need to make sure above all else that you are in a good place—mentally, physically, spiritually speaking. Get a massage. Go on a run. Go see a movie. Netflix and chill. Do whatever you need to do to make sure you are in a good state of mind. The holidays are supposed to be fun and relaxing. You owe it to yourself, to your family, to your significant other and to everyone that you are doing well. Have a drink, have several. But remember that . . .
4) . . . Everything in Moderation
a. I love a drink as much as the next person, but everything in moderation. The first holiday after you come out or the first holiday you bring your lover home shouldn’t have to be about making first impressions, but it is, and you can’t make a good impression if you are sloshed on sangria. A little liquid courage is great—it breaks the ice, can put everyone at ease, and make things more enjoyable for all parties involved. But when you’re falling down, airing dirty laundry, and being loud and obnoxious, you’ve gone too far, and you’ll regret it in the morning when you have to apologize for telling everyone about what you and your lover did on Fire Island or how you weren’t so much going to youth group at church on Wednesdays as much as you were hooking up with that Colombian foreign exchange student up on airport hill. You don’t know my life.
5) No Family to Go Home To? No Problem.
a. There is nothing more heartbreaking than being disowned by your family or having to disown your family yourself. There is also nothing in the books that says that you have to have a traditional Thanksgiving or Christmas; one of the best parts of our community is our resilience, our ability to break with the stereotypes and cultural norms to establish our own traditions. Host your own holiday get together. Reach out to our brothers and sisters who are on their own this holiday season. Turn to the family that you’ve made for yourself, with your friends, co-workers, whoever. Surround yourself with the people who love you and put you in your best place possible. This could be the start of a new and fun tradition for years to come.
6) Volunteer for Those Less Fortunate
a. Sometimes it is hard to remember that we aren’t the only ones celebrating the holidays. And for all of our own struggles, there are always those who are worse off. If you don’t have plans for the holiday, consider volunteering in your community and giving back to those less fortunate, whether in a soup kitchen, a homeless shelter, whatever. I believe it was Buddy the Elf who said “The best way to spread holiday cheer is singing loud for all to hear”. Not pertinent to the matter at hand, but you could always try singing while you volunteer. There’s really no wrong way to go about it.
7) Ain’t No Shame
a. Being gay is not shameful. There is nothing wrong with being LGBT, and you should not be shamed for who you are. In the event of hostility, remain calm, be poised, and do not take shit from anyone. It is important to remember that you are valid. Your identity is valid. Your relationship with your partner is valid. Do not let others shame you into thinking otherwise. If you are forced to sleep in separate rooms, respect the house rules, but don’t be the exception to the rule. Did your parents make your brother and his girlfriend sleep in different rooms? There is no such thing as separate but equal. Be respectful, but stand your ground. You’re not an inconvenience; you’re not an exception; you are an individual deserving of the same courtesy and respect as everyone else.
8) Charm and Disarm
a. For better or worse, for right or wrong, the first holiday after you come out or bring your lover with you is an audition. Time to sparkle, baby! You are presenting yourself anew—you are re-marketing yourself, so to speak, and introducing the new you. Remember that being nice is cool, and good manners go a long ways. Don’t forget to bring a gift for your host, don’t forget to be polite, and don’t forget to smile. Be your sweet and funny self, and you’ll be surprised how far you’ll get.
9) Be Present and Participate
a. When things get awkward or stressful, it is easy to try and escape to the comfort of the warm blanket that is our phones. Put the phone away and be present with your family and friends. This is time to make a good impression but also to be a part of the family, whether it be yours or your lover’s. Be sure to participate in the activities—game night, caroling, cooking, watching football—if they are making an effort to include you, put on your party pants and partake in the festivities.
10) Don’t Be Afraid to Send an SOS
a. In a perfect world, you’d be able to do it all on your own. But real life is a place where you have to smile and you can’t take off your pantyhose, and nobody can do everything by themselves. If things get hard, remember that there is help out there. Reach out to friends, call a hotline, get out of there, do whatever you need to do. Your well-being matters.
May your holiday season be one of light and laughter. May your drinks be strong, may the food be plenty, and may you always find the love and light you are so deserving of.