What does it mean when you can”t go home for the Holidays? What does it mean when you can’t go home because your family would not accept the person you were meant to become?
This is the reality for so many LGBTQ people. This is my reality. This is my story.
Thanksgiving and Christmas have become difficult holidays for so many of us. It is difficult for a multitude of reasons. I know people who have lost loved ones during this time and it brings back all the memories of their parent or sibling or grandparent. Those memories become tinged with the grief for that person. For myself and countless other LGBTQ people, we can’t go home because our families have chosen to not respect or accept us and even to shame us..
I have so many feelings this time of year. The Holidays were always a time of gathering and celebration for my family. My grandmother would go to great lengths to cook these amazing meals of homemade pasta. We would all gather around and eat more than our fill. The cousins would play and wreak general havoc among the adults, but we were happy and enjoyed ourselves. The adults would play cards and drink and just be merry! On the other side of the family we would gather and eat huge meals of homemade foods, everyone would bring a dish. And it was more of the same at Christmas, the family table was surrounded by our loved ones and there was always the “kids” table. Dinner would be followed by the gift exchange. So many wonderful memories. One of my favorite memories was about my mom and great grandmother. I would always ask for seconds, and sometimes thirds, I loved the food!!! When I would ask, my mom would say no, but my great-grandmother would step in and say, “now it’s a holiday” and I would get to eat more! Funny the memories we hold onto…
As we grew older, and we grew apart, the Holidays were still important, but the gatherings were smaller. I loved hosting the family meals. I loved cooking and preparing for the family to come to my home. I wanted to bring everyone together and create more of those special memories. It wasn’t easy getting everyone together. We were all living in different places and had different schedules. I really enjoyed having the full house filled with the people I loved the most. My favorite memory from that time was my Grandmother looking at me from the table while I was doing dishes. She looked at me and said “you know, you would make a beautiful girl”. This was before I had come out to her. I still swell up with tears at the memory. I felt like she saw me and who I was becoming before everyone else did. That was the last Christmas with her.
After I came out to my family, everything changed. It changed because I asked to be acknowledged, to be accepted, to be respected, and to be loved as I truly am. Everything changed because they were unable to give me those things.
The Holidays became a time of depression and loneliness for me. I would spend Thanksgiving alone or working. It would be me, whatever I chose to cook, and enough wine that I wouldn’t feel the pain that was tearing my heart apart. I missed the joy of having a house full of my family… I missed the warmth of the laughter… I missed the banter and the hugs and even the cleaning up. Christmas became more of the same. The saving grace was my son and spending Christmas morning with him. One of the most difficult things to face was that my family was still gathering together. And I was not accepted at those gatherings. I was not accepted as the person I was meant to become. The Holidays became a time I dreaded. They became the loneliest time of my life.
The pain, the sadness, the depression during these times was so deep. As I look back I do not know how I found the will to live through this time of my life. I sought solace in all the wrong places. I did even more harm to myself by doing those things that were not healthy. I did all of those things so I would not sit there wondering what my family was doing, and missing them, and feeling that break in my soul. And yes, part of it is my choice to not go back. I chose to not allow my family to disrespect my identity. I chose not to be gaslighted. I chose not to be shamed. I chose not to be deadnamed or misgendered. I chose to put my happiness, my mental and physical health, and my self-esteem first. I chose myself over making them comfortable.
After moving to Denver, I found a new way to celebrate the Holidays. I found a better way to spend that time rather than putting myself into the wrong situations. I found friendship and family. My first Thanksgiving in Denver was amazing… I hosted a Friendsgiving in my tiny apartment. There was about 12 of us squeezed in around some folding tables. Everyone brought something besides their appetite. I found all of these other people that were scattered and we came together. That day filled me with so much joy and so much happiness. I no longer felt alone. I realized that there were so many people out there like me. The reason they couldn’t be home didn’t matter. All that mattered was that on that day, we all found family. Since then, I have not spent a Holiday alone. Since then I have found family that love and support me as I am, not how they think I should be. I have found acceptance and my chosen family in a new city.
My story has a happy ending. I have no regrets. I am grateful for the people in my life. I am grateful that I found happiness and acceptance. I am grateful that the Holidays have become something I look forward to rather than dread. I wish that all of my LGBTQ brothers and sisters stories had a happy ending. Sadly the truth is that this time of year hits an already marginalized population even harder. If you have an LGBTQ family member or friend, please reach out to them and show them love and support. Please let them know they are not alone. If you are unable to go home for the Holidays, reach out and find the support, community, and family you deserve.
My Christmas wish this year is that one day, loving and accepting your LGBTQ family is not an extraordinary thing, I hope it becomes the most ordinary thing we do.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline