By Jen Harris
Let’s Not have the same holiday, again.
I look up from the 2020 survival trek and oh, it’s that time again. No, not my period. Christmas. I’m talking about Christmas. I’m surprised to smell apple cider and hear holiday music. Are we really celebrating this year, after everything that’s happened? It feels remarkably disrespectful to healthcare and essential workers, the dead, the dying, and those isolated in the purgatory of uncertainty to be glutenous after such a disparaging year, but it appears there are those who are going forward with holiday plans under the guise of being grateful for what remains.
It’s the holiday season (holiday season) // Whoop-dee-doo (Whoop-dee-doo)
Or at least, I think those are the words. Nonetheless, that’s my overall vibe about this year’s holidays. I struggle with holidays. It’s been my experience that many of us struggle with holidays, especially within the queer community.
Look, I’m not trying to exclude anyone, I’m just saying, when it comes to queers and holidays, any holiday, MOST holidays: it’s loaded. Proceed with caution.
In the Before-Fore times during most holidays, for many of us queers: we had to contend with: the passive, aggressive, oppressive, suppressive, phobias, isms, divorced, bitter, unrelenting, scrutinizing PRESSURE surrounding: gender and socioeconomic conformity, EXPECTATIONS, conversations: what to avoid like hell and what to dive into (this requires research on the queers’ end to preemptively make a list of shit we can totally talk about as to stay away from RED ZONES like I don’t know… politics and religion), BOUNDARIES.
“Do I finally just tell them that the reason I don’t ever bring anyone to the holidays is I’m asexual/aromantic or, because I’m afflicted by my upbringing and working out my shit in therapy before unleashing it on another person, or maybe I have a partner and NOW WHAT?”
Partners: Ahhhh, the age ol’, “Do I bring you and disappoint my parents or do I leave you at home and disappoint you? Do we do the separate families, separately, do we go to the shitty parents’ houses first and end at the good ones? Or do we just volunteer to be scheduled on a holiday so we can say we have to work and skip this altogether?”
Then there’s the arguments surrounding food allergies and various dietary restrictions:
“I am getting enough protein.”
“Yes, it would kill me to eat what’s put in front of me if I’m allergic to it.”
“No, I’m not refusing to eat this meal you worked so hard on, I just also brought a Tofurky.”
“I don’t need to lose a little weight.”
“I don’t need to put on a few pounds.”
“Stop objectifying my body… oh, fuck.”
That’s a flag on the play. The referees are discussing it and YEP! They’re calling it, “Objectifying the Body” is a political statement at this gathering and well, let the slaughter begin.
I am more than skin and bones.
There’s Traveling: TSA debating your gender in front of everyone when you already, discreetly attempted to clarify the difference between your sex and your gender because your driver’s license hardly looks like you anymore, and most states don’t have a gender-alternative identifier on them so you endure that humiliating, invalidating hell to LEAVE a queer-friendly oasis (against every rational bone in my body) to be spewed out into some segregated shit-kicking dustbowl…
The financial burden, the employment burden, THE HEALTH RISKS, the pet-sitting, the plans, the outings, the outfits, code-switching, butch, femme, boy, girl, son, daughter, costumed, masked…
If we were even welcome at home, if we were even allowed to come home, if we even had a home or a family to visit for the holidays…
If you and I are going to celebrate this fucking year, Let’s Not have the same holiday, again.
Here are some tips on how YOU can avoid suffering this holiday season.
1. Insist that all gatherings be masked.
If this cannot be achieved, you must ask yourself if this risk is justifiable to you in the first place
2. Say No.
If they suck, just save yourself the hassle and don’t bother. You can communicate to (them) in any fashion that feels safe to you that you’re not coming home this year. Hell, blame it on the pandemic and stay out of the personal weeds altogether. You’ve got enough shit on your plate.
3. Do the hard work ahead of time.
If you must, for whatever self-rationalized reason, if you must gather, do the hard work ahead of time.
a. Yes, you can come out to your family while they’re all gathered in one place, if it feels safe to do so. What a joyous occasion that would be.
b. If you’re planning on coming out during the holidays, be sure it’s safe for you first and foremost. Have a backup plan for if it doesn’t go well.
c. If you haven’t come out yet, and you’re not sure how your family is going to take it, maybe don’t come out AND introduce your partner all at once. That’s a lot to put yourself and a partner through.
d. Communicate your truths ahead of time. Talk to your family about who you are. Secure your own safety, first. Prepare your partner for what they might encounter within your family dynamic that’s counter to the beliefs you hold and share.
e. If you are the partner of someone who’s family dynamics are… challenging, you too must practice being supportive, healthy boundaries and self-care.
4. Everyone needs to be committed to self-care.
It’s really difficult to practice self-care when away from home AND in the midst of gut-wrenching tension. Make a list of self-care tactics, techniques, and resources on your phone before you travel. Your mental and emotional health should not suffer as a result of spending time with your family. Make a plan.
5. Examples of Self-Care tactics include:
Bring headphones. No matter how cheap, get yourself some. When you need some space, pop those bad boys in, crank up some tunes, a podcast, an audiobook, a guided meditation, your favorite show or movie, and just disconnect for a while. If your disappearance requires an explanation and you don’t feel like monologuing, just say you have a headache and need to lie down for a while.
Get outside. Any chance you can, get outside from some deep breaths of fresh air. If you’re able, take a walk and call a supportive friend.
Challenge yourself to finish a book before the New Year. This is another way to hold space for yourself within an overcrowded dynamic. When you need to retreat for a spell, just mention reading that book to complete your goal. If it feels like you’re making excuses, it’s likely because the relationship you’re up against doesn’t have a healthy balance of boundaries and respect. Do your best to hold space for yourself.
Book a hotel room. Look, I know we’re not supposed to be traveling because of the pandemic. I am not traveling for the holidays despite living halfway across the country from my family. But if you are traveling and you’re contending with this bullshit, I want you to be safe and prepared. Book a hotel room. You are not obligated to reside under the roof of anyone you need some breathing room from. You can spend all day and half the night with family but if you would benefit from a place to retreat, don’t torture yourself. Sleep where you’re peaceful.
Write. When I am trying to work shit out, I often document my feelings very matter-of-factly. “Today I saw ________ and they made me feel ___________.” Or “Today we spent the day wandering around ________________ and it made me feel ___________.” These are important for future you. Future you, who is safely back at home, in their regular life routine, among a supportive community, will be able to go back and read these passages and ideally, process the experience. Processing the actuality of what happened, and not just our unreliable memory narrator, will clarify where there is work to be done and allow us to feel more validated and justified in the way we establish future boundaries within our family dynamic and partnerships.
There are plenty of resources clearly communicating that we should not be traveling during this unprecedented pandemic.
However, if you do make the decision to travel and you are traveling to a place that holds the weight and complexity of life experience and some of that is unresolved and feels… quite frankly, shitty, you’re not alone. We’re all experiencing this to some degree.
Bottom line, you deserve to be safe. You deserve to feel safe, respected, seen, balanced, heard, understood, welcome. You deserve to be validated as you are, and you do not have the pretend to be anything you’re not for anyone. There’s a lot of concise therapy-based knowledge and therapeutic resources woven into what I’ve shared here today. I’m not a clinician. I’m in now way credential. I’ve traveled this road as a broken person in search of a cure. It’s taken me a very long time to have this level of clarity and the audacity to fight back. I hope that I’ve opened the door on a level-playing field, so that you feel like these truths and this pushback are accessible to you.
Do not do anything that makes you feel unsafe. If you are struggling and need support you can call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline 24/7/365 at 1-800-273-8255.
Poet Jen Harris (she/her) is a creative entrepreneur & performance artist. Her ongoing community projects include The Writing Workshop KC & Kansas City Poetry Slam. Featured on NPR, TEDx, Button Poetry, Write About Now Poetry & Netflix Queer Eye, Harris is the author of 3 books of poetry, confessional assortments of her queer life in America.