It is the night before Thanksgiving, and I am sitting at home on my couch. I worked earlier today. Then, I came home, fixed dinner, and then headed off to the nearby Starbucks to work on a group project that I will be helping to present for a class next week. I know that I could have put it off until the weekend, but I wanted to be able to head into tomorrow without it hanging over my head. Now, I have given myself permission to take the last few hours of tonight just for me. My plans for the remainder of this evening are simple. First, I want to write this blog post. I actually have some urgency about it because I have some things that I want to say and that I know some may need to hear. After that, I am torn between diving into my copy of Tyler Oakley’s Binge or embarking upon the first disc of Modern Family Season One. I actually have never seen a single episode of the show, and I am feeling like quite the bad gay for it. Plus, I actually want to see it.
All that having been said, I want you to know that I am very much looking forward to tomorrow. I genuinely am. I also want you to know that I have not always felt that way about Thanksgiving or many other holidays and other occasions for family gatherings. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that every moment of every family gathering was awful all the way through, but these types of events always came with a dreaded sense of anticipation because I knew that, at some point, some well meaning aunt or uncle would turn to me and say, “So, Josh, when are you going to bring a nice girlfriend for the family to meet?”
Now, in retrospect, a much more mature me wishes I could go back to that much younger me and say, “Look. They’re going to ask the question. It’s fine. Let them ask. In fact, it might even mean that they already know, you know, that you’re gay. Just tell them that you’re being selective or focusing on yourself. You don’t have to answer them.”
To a much younger me, this was a terrifying and traumatizing question. I would feel the gears inside my head begin to lock up, and I could begin to feel that sense of impending dread fill the pit of my stomach. I would begin to tell myself such dreaded statements as, “They know,” and “I hope they don’t tell my parents.” These were usually followed by internal questions to myself like, “How did my voice sound? Was it too gay?” and “What about this sweater? Can I possibly look straight in this sweater?”
Please know that, if you are young (or even not so young) and you are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, asexual, intersex, questioning, or any other points along the spectrums of sexual orientation or gender identity and you find yourself having these thoughts, asking yourself these questions, or dreading the assemblage of family for the holiday, know that you are not alone and you are not the first person to feel this way. Also, be smart. You can’t control for everything, but make a plan for the things that you can anticipate. I’ve made a list of the things that have helped me in the past.
1. That aunt or uncle is going to ask the question about your significant other. Decide in advance what your response is going to be. Don’t leave it to the nervousness in the pit of your stomach in that moment. Don’t invent a fictional boy/girlfriend either. That will blow up in your face. It’s okay to say that you’re really trying to get an “A” in ________________________ class or make the ________________________ team. Adults take time out from dating at time to focus on themselves. It’s okay for you to do it at 10, 12, 13, 17, or however old you are.
2. Know who your allies are in the room. Is there that aunt who is always talking about Broadway show tunes and refers occasionally to her gay friends? What about that cousin who left home to go away to college or moved to the big city and seems to be a bit more enlightened now? Is there anyone in the room who knows the truth, your whole truth, and they’ve accepted you for who you are?
3. Thanksgiving often involves family members watching football. Sometimes people become animated and very critical of the teams and players during this time. This may manifest in the occasional gay slur or gender-degrading outburst. Know that. Be prepared for it. Don’t let the words of others define you. If you are offended by their words, take note of that. Remember who said them. Decide whether it is in your best interest to acknowledge it while refusing to let it tear you down or, of you feel safe, decide if you should voice that it offended you.
4. If possible, plan your exit in advance or, at least, know where you can retreat to if you need a moment. If you’re old enough to drive, can you find a way to make sure that you have your own car there? Do you work? Is your place of employment open? Maybe you can pick up a shift that leaves you available for part of the family gathering but not all of it so that you can time limit your exposure. I used to pick up shifts on holidays when I was younger so that I could control my schedule and so that co-workers with young children could be with their families. If you can’t control your escape, is there a quiet corner of the house or a spare bedroom that you can slip off to in order to collect yourself if need be. Sometimes we just need a moment or two to regroup before going back into the throng.
5. Finally, if you need help, ask for it. If you are a young LGBTQIA person, reach out to a friend or relative you can trust. Things really do get better, but sometimes that is hard to see when you are young and college and adult life seem so far away. Know that you are not alone. You are part of something bigger. You have worth and value. Don’t let anyone take that from you. If you need to talk to someone and don’t have a safe confidant around you, call The Trevor Project at 1-866-4-U-TREVOR (1-866-488-7386) or, for any age, The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
I hope that we all make it through this difficult season. If you need help in doing so, it’s okay to ask. I would love to hear about some of your challenges in navigating the holidays. Let’s just accept that, sometimes, life can be awkward. Please feel free to reach out to me by e-mail or comment before. Happy Thanksgiving, and may the holidays be a time of joy and time spent with those you care about!