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.
Thank you so much for this, Heather. I’m bookmarking it because I think I’ll need to read this every time another holiday comes up. The fam doesn’t want me at Thanksgiving or Christmas again this year, so hopefully the advice will come in useful for another holiday in the future.
Hmm, I just bought new stamps and have this weird desire to send your family poop in a package, delivered to their doorstep.
I’ve marathoned Harry Potter over one Christmas (we don’t celebrate Thanksgiving where I’m at), and I also listen to the audiobooks, because at one point it says in the books, “You’ll always have a place at Hogwarts.” and that’s been strangely comforting in darker times.
I hope you have a plan for Christmas and I hope it’s going to be nice and chill! Also I hope you have great food!
I love this:
‘Twitter and Instagram would have you believe everything can be shaken down to the lowest common denominator, and that it’s an urgent and and ethical imperative that you make the absolutely correct decision about every one of these things.’
Allow me to offer you an Old World Witch-y thought experiment: do they not look like Judge Hathorne and Cotton Mather, these two, Twitter and Instagram? If you look closely? And, why would you stand in the place of the accused before the Court of Oyer and Terminer of Queerlandia, perpetually in session? And, do you really believe it is sexy to wear your belt buckle on your hat? ( Hint: it isn’t) So, why would you stay in the moral, or rather, moralizing, 21st century equivalent of the Massachusetts Bay Colony? For, it would appear to me that you would do much better with friends and lovers and chosen family who have your back because you are you, instead of these scarecrows who put moral pressure on you. The Puritans give me the creeps, and for a reason.
Happy Thanksgiving, you lovelies Over the Ocean.
Oh, and I also love the adorable cat picture!
thank you for this, heather – I made the decision to not go to my usual family christmas this year for the first time and it’s been challenging but also feels good, and this is a really affirming reminder of that; I appreciate it and you so much!
Ugh, thank you for making me cry from feeling so loved and affirmed!
Thank you thank you thank you
i knew this would make me cry and lo and behold, once again, heather hogan, you’ve made me cry. thank you for this lovely and necessary reminder, and for giving us so much of your kindness.
Oh wow, thank you for this, Heather :)
Welp this tugged all the heartstrings I knew it would.
I know that I am very lucky to have faced only minor consternation in my various coming outs to loved ones (though I haven’t tackled the non-monogamy thing yet but that’s a whole other story), and I wish it could be the same for everyone.
If you’re struggling this season, know that you are worthy of love and validation, even if the people closest to you don’t know how to give it. 💚
*cries at the public facing desk at work while reading this*
I love you and I love this and wow, “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” – thank you for seeing us and for affirming that sometimes we’re strong and sometimes we just need to fucking grit our teeth and get through it and sometimes we just need to be by ourselves for the holiday.
“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.”
I feel this so much as a queer disabled person. They prefer the less-disabled, overachieving ghost me who had A Bright Future (of their definition). Instead of truly loving me (as I am with no agenda), they stay wedded to the hope that I will “get better” and be able to function within capitalism well enough to be “independent” someday. It is painful.
Thank you, Heather.
Really relate to this. Thanks for validating <3
Also I just wanna give folks permission to destroy some property if they need to!
“For the first 27 years of my life, I abandoned myself to maintain the peace in my family.”
cried reading this. still trying to figure out how not to do that. thanks for this.
As a retail employee far from home, I thought family holidays were off the table forever, but my roommate’s parents are visiting AND HE JUST FAKE SCOLDED HIS DAD FOR LEAVING THE LIGHTS ON, LIKE ELECTRICITY GROWS ON TREES
I have a turkey I got free from work, no one in this building is prepared for my experimental cooking methods, but they bought a lot of vegetables to go with it.
Heather Hogan is right, is what I’m getting at, there is no wrong way, the limit does not exist
Also, you can be estranged! (Not you specifically, Heather, you seem like you’re having a complicated but worthwhile experience of family that I actually really enjoyed reading about.) But if being around your family makes you stressed and miserable and you’re not getting anything out of it but fulfilling your obligation to interact with these creatures, it’s okay to ask yourself if you actually want these relationships in your life, and it’s okay if the answer is that you don’t.
Your family doesn’t have to have beaten you and locked you in the shed for Christmas in order for you to have permission to break up with them, you can just do it because the relationship hurts and you can’t see it getting any better and the damage is done. You probably shouldn’t make this decision lightly, and if you go through with the estrangement, there will be times when you’re sad about it. But those things are also true about divorce, and we recognize that there are so many divorces where positive memories about the relationship exist and where no one’s being unambiguously abused, but it’s still a really, really good thing for these people to finally throw in the towel instead of gritting their teeth and trying for the umpteenth time to make it work.
It’s amazing that we’re making progress toward a world where LGBTQ people can be part of the family, but it’s also okay if, on an individual level, some of us don’t want to.
This piece is so exquisitely beautiful, loving, generous, and compassionate. Thank you, Heather.
Heather, this was beautiful & touching, thank you!
A beautiful, compassionate and important piece.
This is so beautiful, thank you for writing.
Also I didn’t read the by-line before reading and I got to the (Correct!) line about no sugar in cornbread, I said to myself, this must be Heather.
No doubt this is the best thing I’m going to read for awhile, thank you Heather <3
thank you <3
Wow, just catching up on the week at autostraddle while on a 12 hour shift is apparently a risky proposition. I shouldve known this one would just reach up and yank the tears right out of my eyeballs. My North Carolina history is woven with so much of these same complications and you said it so truly. Thanks for putting words to this experience.
Thank you for writing this. I think I really needed this reminder before the holidays this year.
I don’t often comment on Autostraddle, but when I do, it’s to remind you that you are the best writer on the internet and that I love you. -Kunkle!
I love you, Kunkle! 🧡