10 Tips For Surviving Your First Family Holiday After Coming Out

feature image via shutterstock


The approaching winter holidays means a lot of things — mailboxes full of cards, malls packed with frenzied shoppers, raucous boozy work parties, Grumpy Cat in a Santa hat, and the endless onslaught of relentlessly cheery Christmas music pouring from every speaker. (At least I assume that’s what’s playing; I wear earplugs in public from October to January to avoid such things.) For people who still have a relationship with their blood relatives, it also generally means some kind of family togetherness. For us queer folks, even when families are fairly accepting, the cultural divide between us and our mostly-straight families can make holiday get-togethers a little (or a lot) awkward. There’s nothing quite like your weird uncle dropping a slur in the middle of Christmas dinner to liven the mood!

Sure, there are definitely families that are just so open and accepting of their queer and trans family members that the entire occasion looks like a movie on ABC Family. But for the rest of us, there can be a bit of trepidation when the yearly trip to Grandma’s approaches. Over time, we adapt to our particular brand of family weirdness. But the first Christmas after coming out can be a downright terrifying time. While our queerness might not be literal news at this point, Christmas is often the first time we’ve had to deal with the entire clan all at once since our momentous coming out. It might be the first time our families meet our partners. For trans people, it’s not-infrequently the first time our families see us presenting as our true selves. Much of this was the case for me last year. It wasn’t easy and it wasn’t comfortable but I survived. Now I want to share my experiences and help all of you survive your first out Christmases, too. So here are ten suggestions for getting through the big day.


1. Start With Self Care

You’re going to be in a much better place to deal with the family complications if you’ve taken the time to take care of yourself first. For a day or two or five before the big event, make sure you take some time to do things you love and that bring you emotional comfort. For some folks, that might be exercise. Take a long run, or do a few good sessions of yoga, or squeeze in a quick buzkashi match (but only if you have a goat readily available). For others, it might be mental stimulation like reading, writing, meditation, or 3-D invisible chess. Recharge your social batteries by either spending time friends you really enjoy (for you extrovert weirdos), or take some quiet time alone (for us introverts). Treat yourself to something nice like massage, a mani-pedi, or a new haircut. If you’re partnered, indulge in some sexytime and cuddles to get your endorphins up, though I suggest avoiding hickies unless you like weird stares from Great Aunt Theresa. In any case, self-care helps put you on good emotional footing. The better emotional state you are in to start, the more likely you are to come out of the day mostly intact.

You deserve something nice. (image via  tumblr )

You deserve something nice. (image via tumblr )

2. Prepare yourself.

They’re your family, so hopefully you have at least a reasonable idea of what you’re getting yourself into. Try to imagine which relatives are likely to cause trouble so you make a point to avoid them. Put some thought into the kinds of questions your family might ask you and mentally sketch out some answers. Have some witty retorts ready to combat invasive questions from that cousin with boundary issues or passive-aggressive comments from that one mean aunt that everyone has. You don’t to have a canned answer on queue cards for every situation, but taking a little time to be ready for what’s coming can do wonders to boost your confidence. Having that confidence will set a tone for your interactions for the duration of your visit.

3. Form alliances.

This is particularly helpful if you’ve got other queer folks in the family, but really, having anyone around that you absolutely know will be on your side can make a world of difference. Find other people who are likely to draw ire or scorn from the rest of the family and make a pact to stand up for one another if things get uncomfortable. Maybe it’s your cousin Greg who ran off to grow marijuana in Colorado, or your niece Zoey who dropped out of college to open a food truck. If you have family members that you know are super queer or trans supportive, connect with them before hand, too. Civil tongues and cool heads are more likely to prevail when no one is being singled out. Go Team Likely-To-Be-Judged!

4. Set firm boundaries.

Coming out doesn’t mean that your entire life has to be up for examination during the holidays. You are just as entitled to your privacy as anyone else. You are not obligated to give an in-depth recap of your current dating situation, or tell Aunt Marcia all about the ins-and outs of scissoring. Share as much or little of your queer life as your are comfortable, and if things get too personal or too invasive, just kindly inform Uncle Dave you just aren’t interested in discussing how you find dates.

Seriously, don't ask about my sex life! (image via  tumblr)

Seriously, don’t ask about my sex life! (image via tumblr)

5. Laugh through the awkwardness.

Sometime, families do or say truly bizarre things. It can help to step back from situation mentally so that you can find the humor in what’s going instead of getting upset or frustrated. Giggle at the fact that your cousin with the biology major seriously asked you if you could get pregnant after transition. Laugh at the sheer sitcom-level ridiculousness of your sister’s boyfriend asking if you if you’re the boy or girl in your relationship. In all likelihood, if you’re laughing, you won’t be crying, and that can help you get through the day.

6. Help yourself stay chill.

When all else fails, refill your wine glass (or get another beer, or make another cocktail). Drinking to deal with your family at the holidays is a time-honored tradition, and I see no reason to abandon it now. It gives you something to do with your hand, and putting the glass to your lips is a good way to signal avoidance of a discussion. Plus, the alcohol will take the edge off of your nerves and help you care a bit less about any drama that will erupt. Take care not to become scene-making drunk, though. Leave that for Uncle Ed. (And, definitely do not drink if you need to drive yourself home.)

If you don’t drink, the holidays can be even more stressful, because they often mean you’re surrounded by alcohol and drunk people. You can treat yourself with a festive and delicious non-alcoholic drink or mocktail. Think about what strategies you might need in the moment, whether that’s prescription medication you take for anxiety, calling a sponsor, or pretending to take a phone call so you can step into a quiet room and do breathing exercises for five minutes.

If all else fails, have another glass. (image via  gifatron)

If all else fails, have another glass. (image via gifatron)

7. Find ways to escape.

Sometimes you just need to get a little air and a little space. Taking a break from interacting can help you center yourself, cool off from a brewing confrontation, or just end an uncomfortable conversation. Pretend to need something from your coat, or just take a few minutes of quiet in the bathroom. Tell everyone you need to take a walk around the block to help your food digest. Offer to make emergency runs for more rolls/napkins/booze. Smokers have a built-in excuse for these situations, but I strongly recommend against taking up smoking for this purpose.

8. Engage only on your terms.

The age-old wisdom is that nothing ruins a party faster than someone bringing up politics. But, it seems like there’s always someone in the family who wants to turn the holidays into a campaign trail debate. You are not at all required to oblige your Republican aunt’s desire to discuss the Affordable Care Act or the merits of repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. If you do choose to engage in political discussions, you have every right to the set the terms of those discussions, especially if the issues being discussed are personal to you (like gay marriage, Laverne Cox, or ENDA). Feel free to walk out of the discussion if things get too charged, or if slurs and bullshit stereotypes enter the conversation. You don’t have to be the queer political whipping post, particularly if you come from a family that leans heavily to the right.

9. Bring a friend.

If you’re comfortable and ready, consider bringing your significant other for moral support. If you’re single or not ready for the big meet, ask a friend to come along. A fair number of people don’t have anywhere to go for the holidays and would be glad for the chance for a little holiday dinner and merrymaking. And Christmas drama is WAY more amusing when it’s not your own family! Having someone there whose support for you is absolute can make a difficult day more tolerable, and it gives you someone to laugh/commiserate with about the experience later on. Plus, in my experience, families are a lot less likely to start trouble when there are outsiders present to judge the shit out of them for their bigotry. Your guest will ensure everyone is on their best behavior!

I'm just here to watch the shit show. (image via  reactiongifs)

I’m just here to watch the shit show. (image via reactiongifs)

10. Get the f*ck out when you’ve reached your limit.

Just showing up to begin with is a HUGE victory. You only have to stay for as long as you want to be there. If things start to get ugly, or there are a few too many people who’ve had a few too many, start your goodbye hugs and make for the door. Make an excuse of you feel you need the cover; after all, you’re a busy, important queer person with lots of busy, important queer things to do and you really must be going.

SorryGottaGoLoveYouBye (image via tumblr)

SorryGottaGoLoveYouBye (image via tumblr)


I feel like I’d be remiss if I didn’t also include some suggestions for folks who find themselves without a family to visit for the holidays after coming out. Getting through this time of year can be especially difficult if you had strong family bonds before your coming out. Focus on taking care of yourself, and connecting those who do accept and support you. If it’s within your means, consider taking some time to host or organize a non-family holiday gathering for the queer folks in your life. Spend some time volunteering with local queer groups. Or just say fuck it and spend your Christmas drinking fruity umbrella drinks on the beach (or in your living room, watching Blue Crush). They taste better than eggnog anyway.

Mari is a queer lady scientist and educator from Detroit, who skillfully avoids working on her genetics dissertation by writing about queer and trans life, nerd culture, feminism, and science. You can frequently find her running around at science-fiction conventions giving panels on consent culture and LGBT topics or DJing at fantastically strange parties. She is a contributing writer for TransAdvocate, maintains a personal blog at TransNerdFeminist, and can frequently be found stirring up trouble (and posting selfies) on Twitter.

Mari has written 36 articles for us.

27 Comments

  1. #10 is especially important, I think, though that’s just me. I will definitely keep these points in mind while dealing with my mom in the future, holiday or not.

    My parents divorced my first semester of college, and I always visited my dad for holidays. Since my mom despised my dad by then and disliked me almost as much, I knew that things would be much better staying with my dad. And since my sister has always been my mom’s favorite, she’d visit our mom, so our mom at least would have some family visiting). And my dad was always a much more accepting person than my mom has ever been, so that helped things as well. 

    Rambling aside, I wish everyone the best for their holiday days (or daze)! I really enjoyed this, and I feel like I really could have used some of this advice 5-8 years ago. Thanks for writing it, and I hope it helps some folks here!

  2. Oh how I wish I had read this article last year! Still recovering from the sting. Thank you so much for sending this out into the universe, I’ll take a deep breath and remind myself of all of these tips as I re-enter the breach.

    Good luck, everyone xo

  3. As a corollary to number 10, I also want to throw out the option of not going. The holidays are a fucking hard time and they come with buckets of history and obligation and pressure and likely a whole lotta people demanding you just not rock the boat.

    But you do not have to go. You can hang with your partner or find some friends or volunteer or get drunk on schnapps and watch Netflix in your underwear. Those are just as valid ways of doing holidays as dealing with BS.

  4. Everytime articles like this come around I am reminded of how lucky I am to have my amazeballs family, no matter how loud and ridiculous they are.

    I seriously wish I could lend my parents out to every sad little trans/queerdo in the world even if it was only for a day, bc hugs and cookies and all the things is *literally* the only way they know how to be.

    So for everybody out there dealing with shitty ‘family’, know that there is one small herd of slightly eccentric, extremely loud Canadian beef farmers who think you’re awesome and anyone who doesn’t like you “just because you’re trying to be a person, same as the rest of us,” in my dad’s words, “is a real judgmental prick.”

    xo

    • YES THIS.

      Same with my progressive Christian mother who believes we are all made in the image of the Creator and my curmudgeonly agnostic father who believes we should live and let live and the rest of my nutty but wonderful family.

      • I remember some time after coming out to my mom, I asked her how she was doing with the whole thing, and she just looked at me totally puzzled and said “What do you mean?” And when I explained what I meant she said “Oh! Pfft. Are you happy? Then what the hell else do I care about?”

        So, yeah. I’m super lucky.

        • yeah, that sounds like my mom too… not long ago -completely out of the blue – she said something like “you know I’m so glad you figured this out about yourself, because a lot of who you were growing up makes a lot more sense…”
          aw, mom…

          of course, my path was smoothed by having an awesome pair of lesbians come into the family thru marriage years ago & my mom loves them – that made things much much easier for me & underscores the importance of being out and present for the next generation. even in -especially in – less accepting places & families… whenever possible.

  5. Thank you for this.

    My parents have thankfully been great about the whole thing in their own quiet way, but I’m spending boxing day with a selection of my most judgemental family members, none of whom have yet commented on my now facebook-official relationship.

    Then I get to spend the following weekend meeting my girlfriend’s entire extended family for the first time.

    The temptation to run away and assume a new identity until December is over is getting harder to fight everyday.

  6. I actively avoid going home/any family gathering. So, that’s totally an option, too.

    I have so much respect for people who a) come out and b) go home after coming out. That takes so much courage. But do it at your own pace. If this isn’t the year, that’s totally fine. I still think you’re rad.

  7. I’ll add that if you can’t actually bring a friend (because they have to go deal with their shitty family too!), find someone you can text. Potentially nonstop. And hey, my friends and I turned in into a “whose family is shittier” competition, which helped to remove some of the awfulness from the situation (because now, when you’re getting misgendered, boom that’s a point. Get told you’re going to hell? 1000 points! Make up your own scoring system.)

  8. I really appreciate this article right now. Im not going home for the holidays, at least anytime in the next couple weeks, but I like JUST came out to the fam like a week ago and I cant even imagine encountering my moms side of the family at this point. i’ll keep this bookmarked for next year.

  9. You guys are amazing – all of you who are out and braving family gatherings. I don’t really have to worry about this, since I’m spending Christmas day alone (and the weekend after with only a few family members), and I’m also still in the closet to family. I have nothing to contribute to this thread – I just wanted to say wonderful list, and I wish everyone the best. *queer holiday hugs all around*

  10. Thank you for this! Next week is going to be my first time seeing my extended family since coming out 6 months ago. My mom sees them regularly and said they’re all cool about it, but there’s sure to be some awkward questions.

  11. I really appreciate the first note on self care! Going home for the holidays fills me with great anxiety and I know that nothing help cures it better than partaking in yoga and finally drinking that last beer in the fridge. It’s an important part of loving yourself that we seem to forget!

  12. I like these tips. I like them a lot! Christmas isn’t really a ~thing~ for my family (PHEW) but I’ll keep these ideas in mind just in case someone invites me to spend the day with their family in the future. You never know…

  13. #6 here really spoke to me. I’ve already filled up my flask with my favorite bourbon in preparation for tonight’s family Christmas party. God speed to myself, and to all my other beautiful queer sisters and brothers. May you all have a good holiday (or at least non-horrid) by any means necessary!

  14. I recently moved clear across the country alone, away from my entire family so I’m slightly relieved that all this isn’t happening this year. I’m out to most of my friends but letting my family in still sends me into a spiral. These scenarios are probably exactly what would get me through though.

  15. This article is exactly what I needed to read today. Next Saturday will be the first family do since I’ve come out openly to everyone, and although I have been super lucky to have received positive responses from everyone, I’m still a bit nervous because I know that a lot of that side of the family are quite Catholic. Thank you for this article! And good luck to anyone else in a similar situation. I *know* I have been lucky with acceptance, and I know a lot of people aren’t that lucky. So good luck and happy holidays!! <3

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