Going Home Queer for the Holidays
Written for Shondaland.com by SWS Creator, Kristen McCallum
Honey, have you set your boundaries yet?
The holidays are upon us and you’re going home queer. Honey, have you set your boundaries yet? No? Let’s talk.
My name is Kristen. I’m the lesbian daughter of a Jamaican mother, and a living testimony that failure to plan ahead for the holidays can potentially cause some serious self care setbacks.
Self preservation is KEY to spending time with [my family] and protecting my queerness.
I love my family, and have tolerated many a dysfunctional event on their behalf, but I had to learn the hard way that self preservation is KEY to spending time with them and protecting my queerness. Two years ago, I had pretty much retired my presence at family gatherings and was attempting to create new traditions with my now ex-girlfriend and my mother. Admirably, my mother was able to put aside her "my daughter is a gay" shame for the sake of hospitality: She cooked up a ton of food, and only served her shade as she entered the cab home. To me, this felt like progress — and I let myself get comfortable. Too comfortable.
Two weeks before Thanksgiving this year, my grandmother passed away, and my entire family was summoned home for her funeral services. For the longest time, I assumed the older and more successful I became, the less it would matter that my relationships were different from everybody else's. Well, I’m in my 30s now, and at the funeral, I still ended up drowning in comments about girl-on-girl action; my lack of children and husband; and the power of baptism for strays. In the midst of my ascending grief and anxiety, I gave way to shame and self doubt, and ended up suppressing all of the self assurance practices that had kept me afloat.
I assumed the older I became, the less it would matter that my relationships were different.
On the last day of the services, two days before Thanksgiving, I noticed my sister, cousins, and other family members were all finding comfort in their heterosexual partnerships. I thought really deeply about what it meant that I'd denied the woman I’d started dating the same opportunity to be there for me — and I was incredibly disappointed in myself. Hours later, I packed my things and said my goodbyes as an act of restoration for myself and my sanity. I was met with a lot of resistance, but reassured everyone I would return before heading back to Brooklyn.
And I do plan to go back. But whenever I do, I also plan to hold myself to some hard and fast guidelines.
If you're reading this, chances are, you’ve been living your very queer life someplace else without the pressure of invasive questions and invalidating ignorance; and home is where the stress is. In some cases, this might mean that your family tries to "lovingly" guide you back to straightness with "reason" or some other tactic, dependent on your vulnerability and self respect. (I could also just be projecting.)
If you could use some advice on going home queer for the holidays, then these "commandments" are my gift to you. Remember, your safety comes FIRST. Once you’ve secured that, here’s how to make it through.
1. Don’t shrink.
So, I kind of created a pretty popular #QTPOC visibility podcast. I also write some really good stuff about my life as a queer black woman. Yet when most people in my family, who don’t follow me on social media, ask me what I’ve been up to, I conveniently left all that stuff out. It felt horrible to hide things about myself I’m so proud of, and I won’t do it again. I deserve to be seen — and my mission for visibility should include my family. Likewise, don't be afraid to share your accomplishments with your family. Who knows? They might even be proud.
2. Do discuss.
My mother recently suggested that I marry my best friend (a straight guy) in order to have a stable life and kids who are proud of me. I mean, honestly, comments like these are hurtful, and, frankly, disrespectful — and who really has time for that? This particular day, I decided to take the opportunity to respond in a way that showed I was confident in my choices, to see what response I would get. I reinforced that I’m gay, and that my kids would be proud of whomever they had as parents — then threw in an "LOL, mom" to soften the delivery. Surprisingly, she ceded, and it hasn’t (yet) come up again. Try to be open to similar discussions, and use your best judgment to determine how and when to engage as the situation arises.
3. Don’t entertain.
A lot of my culture involves homophobic music and ideas, so growing up listening to adults engage in homophobic conversations or make jokes at my expense was normal. It was something I learned to laugh off as to not raise suspicion. On my most recent visit home, however, I heard the younger children in the family joining in on a joke steeped in homophobia, and realized the danger of entertaining this behavior for so long. Not only is it harmful for me to endure, but I could be saving someone else a lot of pain by correcting the behavior before it gets too far. Each one, teach one — right?
4. Do check out.
Of all of the things I've learned since coming out to my family, I've had the hardest time accepting that it's OK to step away. I felt I needed to explain myself to everyone that asked; like I needed to apologize to everyone for their shock — and I drove myself crazy trying to be accountable for everyone's feelings. A lot changed when I realized that I didn’t owe anyone anything extra for being different. It's totally OK to check out as much as you need to in order to check in with yourself.
5. Don’t deny.
For the few years that I refused to go to family gatherings, I really missed being around my family. Yes, they make me uncomfortable sometimes, and yes, they can be really triggering. But on this last visit home, amidst all the invasion and ignorance, I finally realized an important truth: It’s OK to miss and love my family without dismissing their behavior. I have to allow myself to feel my feelings — and so should you!
6. Do forgive.
The guilt of missing so many gatherings over the years has weighed heavily on me ever since my grandmother passed. She was the only person that I never came out to, and I have to forgive myself for deciding that I wasn’t good enough to be accepted by her for who I am. I will forgive myself — for ever thinking that I am not good enough for love and acceptance. I will also forgive those who haven’t come to accept me, because their lack of anything shouldn’t dictate the pride I have in myself.
7. Don’t give up.
It has been a long journey, and allowing myself to live on my own terms is an act of resistance. There will always be people, in my family and otherwise, who refuse to see the strength in that, or the validity of it — but that’s their problem. I will continue to practice prioritizing myself while making room to educate folks where and when I have the capacity to do so. My visibility — and yours — is non-negotiable, and I will no longer give up my right to it.