The holidays are officially upon us. The next week will comprise the busiest travel days in the United States as people fly and drive and train- and bus-ride to visit their families for Thanksgiving, and then spend December listening to everyone from Bing Crosby to Whitney Houston to Michael Bublé to the Beach Boys croon about being home for Christmas. Home. It’s such an innocuous-looking word. Even the consonants are soft. But it holds within its four little letters lifetimes of hope and heartache and hurt and healing and dreams and disappointment; and, for a lot of queer and trans folks, at least a little bit of trauma.
Because one things many of us have in common is: we are not who our families thought we were for a very long time, or who they wanted us to be. Our names, our gender, the way we present who we are to the world, who we love, how we love, even the people we consider family and the reasons we consider them so. We may look like our parents and grandparents, talk like them, even gesticulate wildly in exactly the same way about how much sugar belongs in cornbread (none! none sugar!) — but we don’t move through the world the same way they do, and in some cases, we spend a lot of our lives trying to rip apart the only world they know (a straight, cis one) at the seams. Almost everyone goes home to ghosts, but we’re often in the strange position of spending our time at home with families who prefer our ghosts to the flesh-and-blood versions of the people we truly are.
Home is complicated.
Which is why, at this time of year, we get so many questions from so many of our readers about how to navigate it. How do I come out, and do I really have to? Like right now? Do I have to do it right now? What if I stay in the closet and how do I handle how the necessity of that, at this moment in time, crushes my spirit? How do I take my partner home? How do I visit my parents and leave my partner behind, when they’re both my home and they’re both my family? How do I stand up for my politics? And when? Every time someone quotes Fox News, or do I pick my battles? Which battles? Do I have to battle? I’m so tired. What do I do if they misgender me, misname me, keep calling my “wife” my “roommate”? …what if I just don’t go?
The first and most important thing to know about all of these very valid questions is: There is no right or wrong answer. I know, I know — Twitter and Instagram would have you believe everything can be shaken down to the lowest common denominator, and that it’s an urgent and ethical imperative that you make the absolutely correct decision about every one of these things. That the future of all our intersecting communities rests on your ability to hurdle your uncle Allen’s homophobia and your aunt Judy’s incessant Tucker Carlson-isms and your mom’s uncanny ability to make you question whether or not you actually should change out of that tie and cardigan and put on a skirt; standing firm and unwavering in the fullness of who you are, quoting queer and feminist theory from memory in ways that are both engaging and convincing; and, under no circumstance, sneaking out and hiding under the bed in your old room.
That’s a lot of pressure, buddy!
There’s almost never a perfect answer. Not many decisions you make are forever. What you do at this holiday gathering is not a promise for future holiday gatherings.
It might be more helpful and healthy to frame your questions like this: What’s the most reasonable way for you to maneuver through this specific holiday at this specific moment in time? What’s physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually the safest way for you to handle this trip home? What firm but manageable (and maybe even very small, if you’re new to it) boundaries can you set that will help you maintain your sense of self and your agency? Your boundaries are your boundaries and they deserve to be respected.
For right now, do you want to take your strongest anti-anxiety meds, smile politely, make it through the weekend, and get back to your dog, your cats, your succulents? That’s just fine! For right now, have you had it up to here on behalf of yourself and the people in your community and you’re ready to flip over the table about it? Also fine (metaphorically; you should probably not actually destroy any property)! For most of us, for right now, we’re going to find ourselves in the middle of those two things, and that’s just fine too!
The second — and also very important — thing you need to know is: you deserve to be seen, affirmed, and loved for exactly who you are. Maybe your parents or grandparents or aunts or uncles or siblings or former church friends or classmates can’t or won’t grant you that basic human right at this moment in time, but you are worthy of it, regardless of what they think or how they behave. If they refuse to see you and wholeheartedly accept and cherish you, it’s not your fault. You are who you are and who you are is a complicated, nuanced, messy, glorious, perfect perfect perfect journey of humanity. I honor it. I honor you right now for having the courage to step outside all the lessons hammered into you by the political, cultural, and religious structures you grew up inside to try to actually figure out who you are and what you want to be in this world. That’s so brave, friend. And I honor it.
I’ve written so much and so openly about my lesbian life on the internet over these last 11 years, but one thing I’ve avoided for over a decade is writing very specifically about my relationships with most of my family. It’s because I can’t explain what’s hard in a way that’s full or fair to the people I love.
I could tell you my dad recently told me his wife’s been holding a grudge for five years that I wore a bowtie to their wedding, but I could also tell you he sneaked me queer magic in the form of Tracy Chapman and Stevie Nicks when I was a lost little girl because it was the only way he could get it past my youth pastor, and the gentle way he taught me to read and throw a baseball and drive a car. I could tell you my grandpa doesn’t believe in climate change (except maybe as a way to hasten Jesus’ return), but I could also tell you about all the times he rescued me from the side of the road when my dilapidated old pickup truck died in some new way I couldn’t afford to fix, or how I was once broken so badly from my mother’s abuse that I opened my grandparents’ front door in the middle of the night and fell into his arms and he was just standing there to catch me. I could tell you most of my family begged me not to come out to my grandparents, but that they accepted my sexuality without question in every other way. I could tell you the north Georgia air is so thick with painful memories it can choke me; and I could also tell you there’s nowhere else I can breathe as deeply.
For the first 27 years of my life, I abandoned myself to maintain the peace in my family. And I’ve spent the last 13 years figuring out how to gather up all the disparate pieces of who I am and knit them together and be a champion for me, and for other people who are oppressed in similar and also very different ways. I’ve been quiet sometimes because I’ve had to, to survive. And I’ve flipped tables too, when I was confident and strong enough to do it. I’ve made myself small, nearly invisible, because I just needed to make it through the weekend. I’ve taken up every bit of space I deserved and been a fearless truth-speaker. I’ve worn dresses and I’ve worn suits. There’s no perfect way to be who you are — if you’re lucky enough to even have that figured out — anywhere in the world, and especially not in a place that can be as haunted as home.
The best advice I can give you about going home for the holidays isn’t about how to handle anyone else; it’s about how to handle yourself: with gentleness and compassion, and with the knowledge that there’s a vibrant, thriving, boundless community — during and on the other side of your travels — that considers you family, including me. You are family to me. And you will always have a home in my heart.